Editor: This article was originally posted at Mike’s website, Borrowed Light, on Friday, May 11.
I really don’t want to write this. It is going to be seen as dog piling or as harboring bitterness and unforgiveness. I pray if those charges are leveled that they don’t have truth in them. I pray that my motives here are completely pure.
Yesterday Paige Patterson issued an apology to God’s people. And it’s not sitting well with me. And, honestly, I feel it puts into a precarious position the women who signed the letter to trustees and have expressed concerns about Patterson. Allow me to explain why and propose a way forward.
Worldly Sorrow vs. Godly Sorrow
In 2 Corinthians 7, Paul mentions worldly sorrow and godly sorrow. Worldly sorrow is almost exclusively horizontal. It is concerned with the consequences more than the actual offense at hand. It’s like the old preacher who heard a man praying that God would clean all the cobwebs out of his life. The preacher wisely prayed, “Lord, kill the spider”. Worldly sorrow doesn’t go at the root of things, it doesn’t want to go after the spider. Worldly sorrow desires to tame sin and manage it rather than pursuing root causes. It wants sin managed whereas godly sorrow wants sin destroyed.
Another mark of worldly sorrow is that its apologies ends up putting the issue on the other person. It puts the consequences of your sin on the other person. I call these half-apologies. “I’m sorry that you were offended. I didn’t mean for anyone to be wounded by what I said. I’m so sorry that your feelings are hurt”. Do you see what that does? The real problem here isn’t the offense it is that someone has been offended. If the person had not been offended or called you on your sin, then we wouldn’t be having this conversation. There isn’t really heart change taking place with worldly sorrow. It’s just sadness that you got caught. Present actions and apologies are just cobweb cleaning.
Now, I do not know Paige Patterson’s heart. I do not know the level of sincerity to his apology. I don’t want to make this about making sure you say all of the right words. You could give a terrible sounding apology but real heart change is taking place. It might look like a person is engaging in cobweb management but in reality they truly are broken, repentant, and pursuing change. This is why we talk about the fruit of repentance.
This is why I’m saying here, “I’ve still got concerns with this apology” and not “I refuse to forgive you”. The problem that I have is that I’m really not certain what Patterson is apologizing for. All I’m seeing in this apology is, “I’m sorry that I misspoke and that I’ve caused people to be offended and hurt by my statements”. To me that doesn’t get to the real root of the issues and concerns that people have. It doesn’t address firing a student for applauding an article in which Ed Stetzer recommended Patterson step down. Does he really ever say in this apology, “I was wrong. You are right to be offended by what I said. It was inappropriate”? All I see is, “I wasn’t thoughtful and wish I had said things better”. That’s not really the issue, is it?
But here is my real concern…
The Narcissistic Cycle of Abuse
In 1979 Lenore Walker developed the narcissistic cycles of abuse. The cycle begins when the narcissist feels threatened. Eventually this reaches a boiling point and the person lashes out in some form of abuse. At some point the one abused defensively fights back. At this point the abuser plays the role of the victim. This causes the abusive person to again feel empowered. Rinse and repeat.
Do you see where we are right now? He has offered a half-apology. And what happens if women who have been wounded by his statements do not accept this apology? What if they say, “I’m sorry, this really isn’t the issue”? They will be viewed as piling on and harboring bitterness. Patterson will then be positioned to be in the place of the victim. “I’ve apologized. Now let’s move on.”
Shortly after Patterson’s article many mega-church pastors and leaders within the SBC tweeted their thankfulness for Patterson’s words. Frankly, I’m saddened by his words. I’m grateful that these couldbe positive steps in the right direction. But I’m also a bit concerned that we are just perpetuating a cycle of abuse and manipulation. I’m concerned that rather than dealing with the core issues here this apology is a way of silencing critics. I pray that I am wrong and that what we see are positive steps in actually dealing with gender issues we have in the SBC. And that we really see repentance from Patterson for authoritarian abuses of power.
The Way Forward
In 2 Corinthians 7, Paul speaks of the result of godly sorrow. Paul says of the Corinthians, “…see what earnestness this godly grief has produced in you, but also what eagerness to clear yourselves, what indignation, what fear, what longing, what zeal, what punishment!” Godly sorrow kills the spider. It pursues reconciliation, indignation for personal sin, it pursues lasting change.
What I would love to see from Patterson is an actual confession of real sin. “54 years ago my counsel was wrong”. Or “It was a silly illustration to try to make a play on words to teach on the Hebrew word for build. Yet, I must confess the way that I spoke of that young woman was objectifying. I was wrong. I should never have spoken that way. But I’m also grieved because I believe what Jesus said about our words coming out of the overflow of the heart. I’m grieved that I still have places in my heart where objectification of women is present.”
Perhaps relinquishing power would be a good idea. Maybe giving that young man his job back and acknowledging error there. I would just love to see something which breaks that cycle. His last line, though, makes me think this isn’t going to take place:
I sincerely pray that somehow this apology will show my heart and may strengthen you in the love and graciousness of Christ.
I hope I’m not reading too much between the lines, here but notice where the focus is? It’s not on those who have been offended. It really sounds like he is saying, “I really hope this apology works”. It sounds like a husband who has ticked off his wife but doesn’t want to address the real issue. So he just apologizes in a way that he hopes will make her happy enough that she’ll stop being mad at him. That is what this sounds like.
Wouldn’t it be better to say something like, “I pray that God grants healing to those I have hurt, and that I might be an instrument in healing going forward.”
The way forward would be to actually acknowledge real tangible wrongs and to do things to remedy those. The way forward is not to offer an apology, wait for pushback, play the victim, return to power.
I will say it again. I’m not trying to dog pile on Patterson. I really don’t know the man. He has not direct influence or bearing on my life and ministry. I would gain nothing by seeing him step down. I want to say “I have no dog in this fight”, but I do. I want to see the SBC centered on the gospel. I want to see women within our convention honored and protected. I want to be part of the change there. But I have no direct relationship with Patterson which is motivating me to write this. But I do believe, for the sake of his soul we cannot simply sweep this stuff under the rug, allow him to remain in power, and move on. the cycle needs to be broken. For the good of the SBC and for the good of Paige Patterson.
Praying the cycle breaks…