FORT WORTH — A prominent Southern Baptist leader whose comments about spousal abuse set off a firestorm last week said in an interview Friday that he couldn’t “apologize for what I didn’t do wrong.”
Wearing a black cowboy hat as he led graduates down the aisle, Paige Patterson set off laughter at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary’s commencement when he joked about quarreling Baptists. Patterson’s advice to abused women not to divorce has set off a huge public backlash among evangelicals – but not at the conservative Texas seminary where the 75-year-old is president.
The seminary, which instructs women not to teach men and offers them classes in homemaking, this week fired a PhD seminary student from his $40,000-a-year job for simply tweeting about the Patterson debate, telling him that he was “indiscreet” and that his decision to speak publicly about the dispute “does not exhibit conduct becoming a follower of Jesus” and shows he was not properly deferring to “those placed in authority over you.”
As some wondered this week whether the seminary trustees could remove its president, Patterson appeared to double down on Friday, saying in an interview that “allegations have been given on me all my life” and adding that he was being falsely accused but declining to provide examples. During the ceremony, Patterson sat front and center in a red velvet chair, casually twirling his black glasses before addressing the graduates without directly addressing the controversy.
Patterson’s comments about divorce, which were made in 2000 but weren’t widely circulated until last weekend, caused Southern Baptist leaders to scramble to denounce domestic abuse. The most surprising remarks in the recording came when Patterson tells the story of a woman who came to him about abuse, and how he counseled her to pray for God to intervene. The woman, he said, came to him later with two black eyes. “She said: ‘I hope you’re happy.’ And I said ‘Yes … I’m very happy,’ ” because her husband had heard her prayers and come to church for the first time the next day.
In the wake of the #MeToo movement, numerous powerful men have come under scrutiny over sexist treatment of women. But Patterson, who has long held a special status within the nation’s largest Protestant denomination for his role in a conservative takeover of the convention going back decades, is known for not backing down from positions.
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