In many ways, I am a son of Paige Patterson. Some would describe me as a son of the Conservative Resurgence, the movement he helped spearhead. Over the course of my fifteen-year ministry, I’ve been able to serve in conservative churches and on conservative boards because of a conservative convention, and I have Paige Patterson to thank for it. Not personally. It’s not like he pulled any strings for me. We don’t have that kind of relationship. But he did spearhead a movement from which I’ve benefitted.
However, like many, I’ve been disheartened and demoralized by the recent scandal surrounding this once esteemed figurehead. The blogs, articles, and press releases have brought to light incidents which show a man who operated outside of blame rather than above it.
In my personal devotion time this past week I read Daniel 5, which describes a similar temperament in Nebuchadnezzar, that haughty king of Babylon. Nebuchadnezzar is described as a man with greatness and glory and majesty, the kind where all peoples, and nations, and languages trembled and feared him. “Whom he would, he killed, and whom he would, he kept alive; whom he would, he raised up, and whom he would, he humbled” (Dan 5:18-19).
You could say, “whom he wanted broken down, he broke down.”
In other words, Nebuchadnezzar operated outside of reproach and above accountability. You were either in or out with Nebuchadnezzar, but everyone was expected to kiss the ring. Nebuchadnezzar’s heart was lifted high and his spirit was hardened so that he dealt proudly with people (Dan 5:20).
But Nebuchadnezzar’s pride preceded his fall. God brought him down from his throne and removed his glory from him, and he was eventually driven from his own people.
Enough has been written about Paige Patterson’s demise that we don’t need to spend time discussing the parallels here. That’s not the purpose of this piece, nor is it to suggest that Paige Patterson is a modern-day Nebuchadnezzar. He isn’t. This piece’s purpose is found in what comes next.
Nebuchadnezzar’s demise is set within the context of an episode of a man who is described as his son, Belshazzar, who was enjoying a great feast one day, and, like his ancestor-father, exercised great pride and arrogance by taking the Temple’s treasures by using them as common utensils. He took the gold and silver vessels and he and his concubines drank from them while praising pagan gods (Dan 5:2-4).
This was an act of arrogance which operated outside of reproach rather than above it, because it ignored the God of the Temple’s treasures which had stood in the fire with the three Hebrew boys and interpreted uninterpretable dreams.
It’s at this point that a hand appears out of thin air and begins to write a strange message on a nearby wall. Mene, Mene, Tekel, and Parsin it read, which interpreted meant Belshazzar’s days were limited. He died that same night (Dan 5:30).
This brings us to the point of this piece. Belshazzar was a son of the Babylonian Empire, who had a father who lost his kingdom because he thought he was outside reproach. Belshazzar “knew all this,” but didn’t humble his heart. He echoed the sins of his father.
I believe there is a proverbial handwriting on the wall when it comes to the Paige Patterson scandal, one that’s encouraging us to consider our own sins as we talk about someone else’s. We may not have covered up rape cases, but we’ve all sinned and fallen short of the glory of God. Here’s a simile for you: Wallowing in someone else’s failures while ignoring our own is like Belshazzar is to Nebuchadnezzar.
I guess what I’m trying to say is that I am a son of Paige Patterson, and that scares me. I’m more like Belshazzar than I would like. And so are you. We’ve all said things we shouldn’t have said and done things we shouldn’t have done, and, to put this into context, we’ve all participated in the subjection and the objectification of women in our culture and in our Convention. Our culture of pornography and divorce and rape both inside the convention and outside of it proves this. We should not be like Belshazzar and ignore this.
J.D. Greear once said in a sermon on Matthew 7:1-6 (about 12 minutes in) that the same sin that’s in another person is the same sin that’s in us. John Owens says it this way, “The seed of every sin is in every heart.”
Greear offers the example of Walter White, the protagonist of Breaking Bad (Here’s a comedy break in the midst of a tense subject: Greear’s sermon is on judgment and he asks the congregation not to judge him for using Breaking Bad as an illustration), who started out as a normal chemistry teacher who over the course of five seasons becomes a horrifically bad person. The show as Greear tells it is presented with flashbacks which show how all the things White became were already in him before he became them.
The seed of every sin that’s ever been committed is in my heart and it’s in yours, too. When we see someone who has sinned we need to realize we’re capable of the same thing. And this should terrify us.
Does this mean we should keep our opinions to ourselves about the Patterson scandal? As Paul says, “God forbid!” (Rom 6:2). We should clearly and articulately stand up for the abused and disparage the activity of those who don’t. I’m grateful for those who have found the courage to share their stories, and for those who have helped to articulate the account well. It’s brought to light a darkness which has remained hidden for far too long. What it does mean is that we, particularly those of us watching from the sidelines, need to understand that the same sin that’s been manifested in Paige Patterson is the same sin that’s in us, lest we respond to someone who has acted outside reproach as if we ourselves are also outside reproach. As Mohler says, “We are broken down indeed. I pray for God to rescue us, and all those we are called to rescue.”
It’s fascinating to me that Daniel’s Babylonian name, Belteshazzar, is very similar to Nebuchadnezzar’s son’s name, Belshazzar. There’s only a two-letter difference. We are presented with two kinds of sons with similar names but different legacies. One was a son of God who was able to withstand a lion’s den, and the other was a son of a haughty father whom he imitated and who didn’t live through the night.
That’s the damning thing about pride. It keeps you from seeing it in yourself.
In a way, we’re all sons of Paige Patterson. The question is, are we going to be more like Belteshazzar or like Belshazzar? If we respond to the brokenness of a man who wanted to break other people down without realizing that we’re also broken down, then we’re more like the latter, and that ends in death and embarrassment to the Kingdom.