A couple of weeks ago I announced on this blog that I was returning to the religious tradition that was responsible for my discipling – the Southern Baptists. I went into some of my personal reasons for coming back as well as the circumstances that led me there. I also stated that I plan on being a voice in that denomination as I believe it needs to make a transition from an old guard to a modern expression of what the Southern Baptists have to offer.
At this time there is a controversial issue troubling this denomination. Of course I am talking about the comments and advice of Paige Patterson particularly as it pertains to women. For those unaware of this issue, Patterson made an inappropriate joke about the way a 16 year old girl is “built” and offered horrible advice to women in abusive relationships. He has also been accused of telling one of his students who had been raped not to report the crime to the police. He has since apologized about the joke, but I am not certain if he has apologized about the advice. At any rate he has been removed from his job at Southwestern Baptist Theology Seminary (SWBTS) and put into an emeritus position as theologian-in-residence.
Let me admit that I have written and rewritten this post more than any other post I have written to date. First, because I want to tread carefully as I reenter my Southern Baptist heritage. Second, the events connected to his controversy keep changing at a rapid rate. My original post was started before the accusation that Patterson told a student not to report a rape and his being forced out of his presidency at SWBTS. Hopefully by the time this entry is posted it will not be outdated by further developments.
I figured once the accusation about his not wanting a rape reported came out that his forced resignation was inevitable. We were entering Joe Paterno territory. Reversing the damage done to the Seminary and Southern Baptist denomination will not happen as long as Patterson heads up SWBTS. But I wish no ill will on him and I hope others don’t either. Engaging in vindictive thinking about his shortcomings does no one any good. I think we conservative Christians should acknowledge the good he has done through the years. But he is a leader not ready for this current time in our society and his treatment of women at times has been downright shameful. It is time for him to go (As such, I hope he does not deliver the sermon at the Southern Baptist Convention.).
There are those concerned that even in his new position he will be able to unduly influence SWBTS and by extension the rest of the Southern Baptists. If the trustees allow him to do that; then they are making a serious mistake. SWBTS needs a new president with complete authority to take the school in new directions. My hope is that in making the deal with Patterson to allow him to stay at the campus as a theologian-in-residence that they made it clear that his power at the school is over. Many of us will be watching, and if that is not the case, we will put pressure on the trustees to remove Patterson from any semblance of real power.
But this issue was never about Patterson alone. It is about a culture among some Southern Baptists that has been too dismissive of the concerns of women. Patterson was the one who was caught and in some ways he is being made an example for other men who have engaged in such base behavior. We Southern Baptists (am I allowed to say “we” yet?) have allowed male/female relationship to become corrupted in this denomination. We have allowed them to be compromised by worldly standards. This is an opportunity for us to reset our gender relationships and to take steps to move them in a Godly manner.
What do I mean when I say that we have allowed our gender relationships to move in a worldly manner? We know that many men have a tendency to see women as sexual objects. We know that men have had the power in our society to dismiss the concerns of women. Furthermore we also know that women are often treated as second class citizens. These are the tendencies one should expect when we allow our sin nature to take control of our lives and societies. Unfortunately Christians have not been immune to these tendencies and sometimes have acted worse then others on such issues. Now we have the opportunity to move forward to repent of these wrongs and to move forward in reconciliation with our sisters in Christ.
So how do we move forward? We in the Southern Baptist denomination need to have a serious conversation about women and how they are treated. I am not arguing for acceptance of radical feminist theology. And although I personally do not have problems with women pastors I am not arguing for that either. But you know what. As I listen to the sisters who have brought up these issues, I do not see them advocating radical egalitarianism or anything like that. I see them wanting us men to address many of the blind spots we have had over the years and to move our denomination closer to what God wants it to be. And along the way we will create a denomination that better uses the talents and strengths of our sisters.
We must bring some of the women who are critical of the denomination into this conversation. So many of the women, such as Beth Moore, have eloquently discussed their struggles and point to a deep gender problem within evangelicalism. And we have to make real changes in how we have approached male-female relationships. It does no good to merely talk about our problems. What are we going to do to fix them? It must be a conversation that has some “teeth” to it so that we can make the alterations we need as we move forward.
As sympathetic as I am to the women who have been offended by us men let me add that victimization does not confer righteousness. I am not looking for a situation where men merely take notes and obey women. Both men and women are fallen creatures, and we both have blind spots. We both can misuse power that is unrestrained. What I want is a dialog with the mostly male leaders and the women who have to deal with the sexism in our churches and organizations.
I am not sure what format we need for this conversation to take place. Perhaps soon after the national convention next week, the new President can convene a select committee that will not only hear out the complaints of women but also develop a plan to improve our gender relations. It may be possible to commission to develop the materials we need to inform us about the depths of this problem and help us develop better gender attitudes.
In the past I have asked for such a dialogue as it concerns racial issues. I will continue to beat that drum as I do not think we will deal with racial alienation until we have honest communication between racial groups. I believe that we can apply some of the lessons about this racial dialog to this situation as well. For example, in the past I have talked about active listening on race issues as a way to go far down that path towards establishing true racial harmony. And while sin abounds in both men and women, I fear that often it is we men who have not actively listened well enough.
Update: The trustees that fired Paige Patterson just released information for their decision. Clearly they made the right decision.