A good friend suggested that my surgery and hospitalization was suspiciously well-timed to avoid having to take any kind of position on the Patterson brouhaha that has raged this week. While that is not true, I can admit that I appreciated the excuse not to opine. I am waiting on the final orders to be released from the hospital and am feeling much better, so I thought I would commit the utter folly of entering that fray. I have friends who are supporters of Dr. Patterson and friends who are not and anything I say risks offending someone…or everyone.
My first word would build on something Ed Stetzer said the other day. The kind of dysfunction and recrimination we are seeing in the SBC is not normal in denominations. We need to able to have a reasonable discussion without people going nuclear on either side.
Here are my thoughts.
1. People’s opinions are set about Dr. Patterson and reasoned discussion is nearly impossible.
- To some, he is a hero of the CR who is above question or criticism. Any negative word is an offense against God and decency.
- To others, Patterson is a man who can do no right; a dishonest, scheming, arrogant blowhard.
The truth probably lies between the extremes but most people in the blog world tend to live on the edges. A word of criticism against Dr. Patterson will draw the harshest rebuke from some and from others, anything but, “he needs to be fired” marks you as a lackey.
2. The message can get lost because of the messengers.
I received a call from Ben Cole before I entered the hospital telling me about all of this. There is no question that Ben is not a fan of Dr. Patterson’s administration at Southwestern and hasn’t been for a long time. When Ben published his information, Wade Burleson joined the fray. Wade has been a constant and vociferous critic of Dr. Patterson for over a decade. Neither of these men would be considered objective critics.
It would be easy for supporters of Dr. Patterson to discount the whole thing as unreasonable criticism by men who are out to get him, but this goes far deeper than that.
3. My personal interaction with Dr. Patterson has been limited and positive, but that of some of my friends has been less so.
Dr. Patterson and SWBTS were tremendous helpers to us during the Pastors’ Conference. They hosted the colloquium for our speakers and were gracious and considerate hosts. I could not have asked for anything more from Dr. Patterson, Dr. Allen, Dr. McCarty, or any of the others involved in the school.
On the other hand, some of our leadership team have been on the receiving end of the blistering notes that Dr. Stetzer talked about in this article the other day. It is not mine to tell another’s story, but it seems that Dr. Patterson responded overly harshly to a young pastor’s reasonably worded question.
My impression is that Dr. Patterson is a gracious man but that he does not take criticism well, especially from social media. That this criticism came from Ben Cole and Wade Burleson may have made it especially onerous.
4. Patterson’s words 18 years ago were troubling, but his responses have been the real problem.
I know there is some discussion now about what the original situation was. Actually, the first time I heard the story, I heard that Dr. Patterson’s counselee was not being physically abused until after he told her to stay and pray. Still, the advice he gave her was troubling Most of us would tell an abused woman to separate – she can still pray for her husband even in a safe location.
But Dr. Patterson’s post-controversy responses have been troubling. They have spanned the globe from a sorry/not sorry response to a more belligerent response. Had he just said, “I’m sorry, I said it badly 18 years ago,” things might be much better. Bad apologies always make things worse. From what I have read and heard, the responses to Dr. Patterson’s apologies has been worse than to his actual statement.
5. Any leader who refuses criticism is headed for trouble.
This is a problem with many pastors, and with organizational leaders as well. My deacons feel every freedom to tell me that they do not agree with my ideas and that they think I am wrong. As a matter of fact, they practice that often. I believe they respect me as a leader but when we sit at our conference table they have no compunction about disagreeing with me.
When a leader attacks people who express disagreement with him, that is not a good sign.
6. On the other hand, employees should express disagreement privately.
I know very few of the details about the SWBTS employee fired for his social media activity this week.I was under high levels of Dilaudid and having trouble remembering what planet I was on. That’s fine. I don’t want to speak directly to that situation. I can say this. I have an associate pastor named Bob. Bob can come into my office and say, “I am angry at you, Dave.” He can tell me he disagrees with me. He’s done it more than once. Recently, I knew he had a different position than I did on a major business discussion we were having at church and I repeatedly encouraged him to express his views that were counter to mine. But if Bob got up at church and spoke against me or went on social media and called me names, we’d have problems.
There’s a time and a place for everything.
Any leader should be willing to receive criticism and rebuke but employees must be careful about how they level those.
7. This is why we have Trustees.
I don’t think I am letting any cats out of any bags when I say that SWBTS is a seminary with some issues. If the numbers I have seen are correct the FTE stats are not looking great and there are some financial issues that have to be faced. When I attended SWBTS it was the largest seminary in the world. That is no longer the case.
I have seen tweets and Facebook posts calling for Dr. Patterson to be fired. I will not do that. There’s a reason for that.
We have a Board of Trustees there and they have been given the duty to oversee the seminary. One of the men I trust most in the world is on that board and I believe that when they meet they will do what is best for SWBTS. I hope and pray they will make every decision based on what is best for this important institution and its future.
I trust the Trustees to handle this. If they don’t, my alma mater may be in a world of hurt.
8. The SBC Annual Meeting might be a zoo if we don’t deal with this.
If we thought the Alt-right kerfuffle was a mess last year, the #MeToo morass this year will make it look like a Sunday School picnic. We can argue whether that is fair or not, but whatever message we want to send is going to be lost in national media fury. The national media is not exactly sympathetic to a conservative, complementarian denomination. The leading critics of Dr. Patterson are hostile to our complementarian views.
This issue ought not simply to be left to fester.
I would encourage the Trustees at SWBTS and the leadership of the SBC seriously examine these things and make careful decision.