The trustees of Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary have a difficult meeting ahead of them on May 22. Their President, Dr. Paige Patterson, has come under fire recently for comments made at a 2000 CBMW event regarding abuse and a 2015 conference where he referred to a 16 year old’s appearance as “nice.” I won’t rehash the details of his comments here, but you can read about them elsewhere if you’ve just slid out from under a rock somewhere and have no idea what I’m talking about. Google will surely help you out.
This must not be swept under the rug. It must be dealt with appropriately. Though I do have some general thoughts about what needs to be done, I do not know the specifics of what that SHOULD look like. I certainly cannot predict what the trustees WILL do.
What I want to do is answer some of the objections I have heard from those who argue that nothing should be done.
1. Dr. Patterson has done nothing wrong.
This is the most incredulous of all the objections raised.
It is simply not true. Dr. Patterson said that he counseled a woman who was being abused to return to her abusive husband and pray. He warned that following his advice may lead to more abuse. According to his original story, it did in fact lead to more abuse.
The fact that he gave this counsel is bad enough. The fact that he told this story as an example for other pastors is even worse. But his refusal to acknowledge 18 years later that it was bad counsel is beyond comprehension.
If this were not enough, the video of Dr. Patterson telling a story of a time when he encouraged a teenage boy to objectify and lust after a young woman made in God’s image–and himself referring to the same 16 year old girl as “nice”–should anger every husband, father, and Christian who hears it. Rather than rebuking the young man for his objectification of a young woman, Dr. Patterson rebuked the mother for rebuking her son. And he told the story as if it was something to be proud of and amused by.
So if your response to this whole situation is that Dr. Patterson has done nothing wrong, you need to seriously consider the clear teachings of Scripture regarding these matters and spend some time in repentance toward God, or just go ahead and resign your church tonight at Wednesday night prayer meeting if you are a pastor.
2. Those who brought these comments back up are backslidden heathens.
What does this have to do with the price of tea in China? Actually, even if they are backslidden heathens, it makes matters worse for those who would excuse Dr. Patterson’s statements. Even backslidden heathens can clearly see that what Dr. Patterson said was wrong, but pastors of Southern Baptist churches cannot? I cannot help but think about the words of Paul to the Corinthian church: “It is actually reported that there is sexual immorality among you, and of a kind that is not tolerated even among pagans, for a man has his father’s wife” (1 Cor. 5:1, ESV).
3. Those comments were 18 years ago.
The problem is only partly what he said initially. The problem is also with his response. He has spoken generally about abuse, but he has not yet denounced his own comments from 18 years ago. He has not yet said a word about his objectification of the young woman at the conference in 2015. In fact, he told the Washington Post that he has nothing to apologize for. That is after he released the statement on the seminary website where he portrayed himself as the victim in all of this.
Dr. Patterson is the President of one of our seminaries. If he cannot acknowledge that his counsel was bad, how can we entrust to him the task of educating our young seminarians who will one day be dealing with situations of abuse in their local churches? If he cannot acknowledge that a preacher of gospel should never be heard objectifying women, especially not from the pulpit, then how can we trust him to teach the young men at SWBTS to respect and honor women?
4. You should go to Dr. Patterson directly.
Matthew 18 addresses conflict within the local church. Dr. Patterson’s comments were public comments. They have been distributed widely, thus leaving a watching world wondering what Southern Baptists really believe regarding abuse. He has even said publicly that he has done nothing wrong. The idea that every Southern Baptist who is outraged by these comments has an obligation to go to Dr. Patterson directly is beyond practicality. The trustees of SWBTS are the ones tasked with handling this situation. I am glad that they will be handling it with Dr. Patterson directly.
5. But, Conservative Resurgence.
I have not heard any Southern Baptist denying the essential role that Dr. Patterson played in turning our denomination around. I have heard some Southern Baptists using the CR and other accomplishments of Dr. Patterson as an excuse for his behavior in this situation. I am a lifelong Southern Baptist. I graduated from and am currently attending a Southern Baptist seminary. I realize that the seminary I attend would be very different if it were not for the Conservative Resurgence. I am thankful for Dr. Patterson’s tireless efforts in that regard.
But doing good is never a pass to do wrong. This particular situation should be handled on its own. It really has nothing to do with Paige Patterson’s work during the Conservative Resurgence.
I am sure other objections have been raised of which I am not aware. But in light of the seriousness of this situation, I cannot think of any objection that should prevent the trustees from dealing with the situation quickly. I am thankful that they will be meeting on May 22 to do just that. Let’s all commit to praying for them and Dr. Patterson as they prepare for that meeting.