(Content note: Church-sanctioned domestic violence that is disgusting even by Christian standards.)
Washington Post brings us a timely story about the dubious morality of fundagelical Christian teachings. Paige Patterson, a bigwig with the Southern Baptist Convention (SBC), gave a speech in 2000 to a bunch of his fellow Christians about how women should respond to domestic violence. Someone remembered those comments recently. His predictably-toxic advice is a very potent reminder today about why those pews need to be emptied, now, STAT, completely. Today Lord Snow Presides over how not to reverse a serious organizational slump.
Everyone, Meet Paige Patterson.
When we think about the extreme politicization and polarization of fundagelical Christianity, we need to be thinking the name Paige Patterson.1 He stood right at the forefront of his tribe’s efforts to trap the flocks in a culture-war mentality back in the 1970s.
In 1999-2000, he was the President of the SBC. In 2003, he became the president of the Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary in Fort Worth, Texas. At the time, he swore up and down that he would tackle the problem of declining enrollment. Predictably, things only got worse. Even Christians themselves glance side-eyed at some of his more iffy decisions as leader of that school.
See, last year they had to do some downsizing. They blamed the Affordable Care Act, since that’s part of their long-standing culture war against the poor. Though enrollment at the school has risen somewhat, the number of tuition hours has shrunk dramatically–and with it, obviously, tuition dollars. And way fewer people have enrolled in their flagship M.Div. program.
So Paige Patterson really is a fundagelical’s fundagelical.
That fact makes today’s story all the more unsurprising.
The Internet Means Nobody Gets Left Behind… Or Forgotten.
Today’s audio clip comes to us from a talk Paige Patterson gave in 2000. (The source for it can be found on the Internet Archive. I’ve listened to it so you don’t have to.) In it, he discusses what married women should do when they face domestic violence from their husbands.
Even by fundagelical standards, this recording is vile.
First, the speaker on the tape notes that “the church usually jumps on the submission issue.” He refers, of course, to the SBC’s adoration of female submission to male dominance.
After this brief introduction, the speaker asks Patterson to respond to the question of women facing “genuine physical abuse.”
Yes. “Genuine physical abuse.”
If that phrase sounds a lot like “legitimate rape,” well, it should.
Attempts to Tame a Narrative.
Indeed, that’s the phrase that fundagelicals like Todd Akin use to differentiate violent stranger rape from other types of rape, like acquaintance/date rape and marital rape. After Akin used his outside voice to say the term around non-fundagelicals, the sheer outrage that erupted around it may well have pushed Barack Obama to a 2012 Presidential win. To be sure, Akin lost a political race that year that should have been a total shoo-in for him.
See, people knew that by recognizing only one type of rape as “legitimate,” Akin and his ilk were de-legitimizing other forms of rape. And yes, that was why they did it.
In fundagelical culture, marital rape doesn’t exist for several reasons. Acquaintance rapes shouldn’t ever be a problem either, they think, because of their idolization of purity culture. So literally the only form of rape that fundagelical leaders accept looks like the narrative they push: violent strangers leaping out of the bushes to assault innocent maidens on their way home from Wednesday Night Bible Study.
We see exactly the same mechanism at work in the fundagelical term “genuine physical abuse.” Those using it are very deliberately discounting the “genuineness” of all other forms of abuse.
So how does a fundagelical leader respond to the question of “genuine physical abuse?”
More Fundagelical Idolatry.
Years ago, fundagelicals embarked on a culture-war model of Christianity. They set up two boxes for their morality. The yes box contains all the stuff they think makes baby Jesus happy. The no box contains all the stuff that can’t fit into the yes box.
Fundagelical leaders place a great many forms of sex and sexuality into that no box. Everyone knows what fundagelicals hate! But everyone might not realize that pretty much everything else related to the modern age’s progress regarding civil rights and liberties goes into it as well: removal of Civil War monuments, feminism, healthcare mandates, contraception, Affirmative Action, voting rights, you name it.
And one of the things they put into that no box is divorce–especially no-fault divorce.
The only thing that riles fundagelicals up more than no-fault divorce is abortion. Unsurprisingly, both advances represent major life decisions that women can make without male input–or approval.
In a very real sense, then, what fundagelical leaders idolize even more than the Bible itself is male privilege.
So Paige Patterson must craft an answer that protects his own male privilege while acting like he GAFF about the many abused women in fundagelical marriages.
When Abuse Has To Sound “Bad Enough” To Him.
After a mealy-mouthed concession that all abuse is bad, he immediately undermines that assertion.
Sure, all abuse is bad, see, but only in the most serious of cases–abuse so horrific and vicious that he can’t even voice aloud what he’s heard from women–would he ever suggest separation.2 Even in those aforementioned horrific cases, divorce never becomes an option, ever.
Instead, he recommends the usual stuff fundagelical leaders suggest to women facing abuse.
He tells them to pray and to be extra-submissive and obsequious toward their husbands.
Yes, because obviously they haven’t tried to pray already before seeking his help, and fawning over their abusers has worked so incredibly well at protecting them thus far.
And yes, because obviously “Jesus” wants to help his bruised and beaten daughters, but he won’t lift a finger unless they beg often and loudly enough.
Oh, but it gets worse.
“Yes Ma’am,” He Said; He Was Happy.
Remember, Paige Patterson told this story himself to toot his own horn about what a good little Christian leader he was. He’s downright proud of this story. It illustrates everything he likes about his tribe’s response to domestic violence.
In his very own anecdote, he relates the story of a woman who came to him complaining about physical abuse.
He did not call the police. He did not even suggest separation.
Instead, he told her to go home to her husband. Every night, he wanted her to think extra-hard at the ceiling. However, this time he wanted her to do it jussst loudly enough that her husband could hear her talking to the ceiling as he fell asleep.3
And then he told this abused wife, “Get ready because he may get a little more violent, you know, when he discovers this.” (Obviously he never offered her any tangible help for that eventuality either.)
And sure enough, he did. She came to church one morning with both eyes black. And she was angry at me and at God and the world, for that matter. And she said, “I hope you’re happy.” And I said, “Yes ma’am, I am.” And I said, “I’m sorry about that, but I’m very happy.”
Paige Patterson Sees Nothing Wrong With This.
Patterson felt so happy because her husband was also in church that morning, standing in the back of the church where his victim couldn’t see him. That husband came forward in the altar call and seemed really, really sorry for attacking his wife. As Patterson tells it,
And he’s a great husband today, and it all came about because she sought God on a regular basis. And remember, when nobody else can help, God can, and in the meantime, you have to do what you can at home to be submissive in every way that you can and to elevate him.
Of course, we only have Patterson’s word for the matter, not the wife’s. Given how seldom “Jesus” changes anybody in Christianity, what seems far more likely is that she learned there’d be no help coming to her from her ministers.
It’s important here to note that Patterson doesn’t expect his audience to wonder what happened to this woman, any more than the writers of the Creation stories expected anybody to wonder what women Cain and Abel found to marry. The story ends with the husband becoming a good little Christian. Listeners are supposed to be grateful to Jesus for the happy ending to this story. We’re expected to believe, as Patterson himself does, that the abused women in his flocks could easily find similarly happy endings–after a few black eyes of their own, perhaps.
Paige Patterson believes that the victims of domestic violence can totally solve their own problems through submission to his religious demands. Worse, he indirectly blames women for not being submissive and adoring enough to prevent their own abuse.
It’s downright chilling to imagine how many devastating abuse stories this grotesque parody of a shepherd has heard in his long lifetime without taking real action to help the victims involved.
The SBC Itself Sees Nothing Wrong With This.
Far from being totally shocked by Paige Patterson’s words, the Southern Baptist Convention made him the leader of their seminary a few years afterward.
A few Christians got upset over the years, of course. They always do. But they held no power. The broken system cannot be changed by powerless people. And so their anger went nowhere. The SBC could afford to brush aside their outrage, so that’s exactly what they did.
Why stop a trend, after all? Paige Patterson had sided with male abusers against female victims before, as the Wartburg Watch tells us in the above link. When he was the president of a much-smaller Christian college, he allegedly shielded sex abuser Darrell Gilyard repeatedly, dozens of times, when victims came to him for help. (Remember Darrell Gilyard?)
Well, “Jesus” didn’t make Paige Patterson a better person any more than he did Darrell Gilyard. Nor did “Jesus” stop Patterson from repeating these errors at every post he held. In fact, we can feel quite sure that that’s what happened.
This asshat does, after all, feel that victim-advocacy groups like SNAP are “just as reprehensible as sex criminals.”
Meanwhile, Paige Patterson luxuriates in imagining himself as the chosen emissary of a real live god, doing that god’s work in telling abused women to pray extra-dextra hard and risk more beatings as long as it gets their abusers into church and nobody gets (*shudder*) divorced.
The Usual Blame Deflection.
Nobody ever went broke betting on fundagelicals to be horrible people. But maybe this time Patterson’s years-old comments will finally bite him where it hurts most: his power.
He’s been angling for the last couple of years to get a little retirement bungalow built on that Bible school’s land, you see, at the Bible school’s expense. He almost certainly wants to live out his sunset years on their dime as well. Maybe the outrage, coming as it does on the heels of movements like #EmptyThePews, #ThingsOnlyChristianWomenHear, #ChurchToo, and the like, will finally come home to roost and prevent this one last power grab.
Already, Patterson has had to scuttle away from his own past like a chittering roach seeking the dank safety of shadows. Instead of offering even a traditional fundagelical meaningless apology, he told WaPo yesterday that he’d “said enough.” He told them that “no one’s life is made materially better by entering these discussions.” In other words, he’d sure like everyone to SHUT UP NOW SHUT UP SHUT UP.
WaPo tells us that he whined on his personal site (reprinted here) about being “subjected to rigorous misrepresentation.” He’s just a poor widdle victim persecuted for his “stand for the family and for seeking to mend a marriage through forgiveness rather than divorce.”
Maybe Fundagelicals Themselves Damned Well See Something Wrong With This.
To criticize Paige Patterson, he implicitly declares, is to criticize fundagelicals’ most-beloved idols.
The funny thing is, he’s right about that.
And folks, that exact truth might well be occurring right now to many thousands of fundagelicals.
If they want to be fundagelicals in good standing, they need to be okay with Paige Patterson’s comments on that audio recording, and with the tribe’s attitudes toward domestic violence as revealed on that recording.
It’s hard to imagine that showdown resulting in anything but yet more sheep leaving the fold.
Hundreds of thousands of parents of fundagelical kids are deciding right now where to send their little angels for a higher education come September. They don’t even need to be aware of the many scandals regarding sex-abuse cover-ups at fundagelical colleges across the country. They only need to wonder if they’re really okay with their kids attending a school headed by someone like Paige Patterson–or run by an organization okay with him–to start wondering why “Jesus” keeps letting this stuff happen to his Church. And even if they’re okay with it, you can bet their way-more-savvy kids will have their own opinions about being thrust into such schools.
At a time when barely a majority of Americans even believe in the Christian version of the Bible’s god, Christian groups simply can’t afford leaders like this guy.
So today Lord Snow Presides over more good news!
NEXT UP: Jesus Aura evangelism–what it is, why it fails. Then we’ve got a look at why Christians get set up to fail. Then we’re examining what mayonnaise has to do with fundagelicalism, and yes, we’re going to zero in a little closer on that Pew report at some point soon. We have a full dance card this week! See you next time!
2 Separation is an attempt by married couples to salvage a seriously-distressed marriage. They live apart while they try to resolve their differences, then reunite. In many cases, these couples separate, discover that their problems are simply too big to fix, and then divorce. To fundagelicals like Paige Patterson, the expectation is that the couple will both wish extra-dextra hard at the ceiling for a while, declare victory, and then reunite. As long as the couple doesn’t *LE GASP!!* sign divorce paperwork, this limbo can last indefinitely! What’s hilarious is that fundagelicals haven’t felt bound by this vision since forever; they divorce as often as any other group, perhaps even more often.
3 It amazes me that Christians admit out loud constantly that prayer doesn’t work. That abusive husband sure wouldn’t have known his wife was praying through any other means whatsoever without personally hearing her doing it. And Paige Patterson knew that too. That’s why he told her to do it like that. I suddenly have no doubts at all that my own abusive then-husband, Biff, got told to pray loudly where I could hear it as a sign of his great concern for my soul.
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Lord Snow Presides… is our weekly off-topic chat series. I’ve started us off with a topic, but feel free to chime in with whatever’s on your mind! Lord Snow is my sweet, elderly white cat, who presides over my household like a good dog over his front yard.