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Turn the Paige: Patterson Out at Southwestern Seminary. A Baptist #MeToo Moment?

Claims of victim-silencing, abuse-enabling end an SBC era. Can America's largest Protestant denom survive the reckoning?

This will (rightly) get worse before it gets better. Paige Patterson has been removed as President of Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary.

The media storm swirling around this monumental figure of modern Southern Baptist politics reached its zenith Wednesday as the school’s trustees voted to send him into retirement, effective immediately, following weeks of public outcry over recently-resurfaced statements by Patterson regarding women (see Merrie Soltis’ previous reporting on this). Especially controversial were comments he made objectifying a 16-year-old female during a sermon and counsel given to a battered wife to stay with her husband and continue to endure his abuse. Patterson, who has perhaps served as the cardinal face of the conservative movement in the Southern Baptist Convention for the past four decades, will now transition into the role of President Emeritus and continue to live on campus as a “Theologian-in-Residence”.

That may not be good enough.

Major voices within the SBC had been speaking out in recent weeks condemning his statements and in some cases calling for his resignation–most notably, Ed Stetzer, Executive Director of the Billy Graham Center at Wheaton College, and a coalition of Southern Baptist women who published a joint letter pleading for action. Loyalists have defended Patterson, arguing his long, distinguished career is by nature going to include a few gaffes that can be nitpicked by “the media” or less-conservative opponents. Patterson, for his part, had also given a public apology to any women he may have hurt with his words over the years (though you’ll seek in vain for an actual retraction of any of the substance of his offensive remarks).

But then Tuesday happened. I can’t outdo the raw, open-wounded words of more seasoned men already proffered in response, particularly here and here, and won’t try to. But I will cut to the quick: to any defenders still clinging to your “tribe’s” chief, after the Washington Post’s stomach-turning revelations that came to light yesterday, let go. Let it go now, while the world is watching you. While you still have your integrity.

The more-than-credible reports out now reveal, at least, one instance of a young seminary student who was sexually assaulted in the early 2000s by a fellow student at Southeastern Seminary while Dr. Patterson was President there (he moved to Southwestern in 2003). The woman was directed to the President’s office, where she supposedly met with Patterson and other men in person, and was discouraged from reporting the rape to the authorities. The attacker was expelled from seminary. That’s all. If you consider WaPo “fake news”, I would implore you to read this blood-boiling account of the woman’s first sharing of her story to a Christian blog. No, really. READ it. See if you can come out unscathed.

Some will point to all this as evidence that “complementarianism”–a belief in male “headship” in church and home–is inherently corrupt and corrupting. This is beside the point. An egalitarian or a complementarian can be a misogynist. A theology of male leadership does not entail justification of oppression of women or defense of those who would do them harm. Whether conservative or progressive, all Baptists, all Evangelicals, all Christians must be united in their repudiation of such abuse and unrelenting in their mission to stamp it out in the Church.

Though Paige Patterson is out (and Jeff Bingham is in as Interim President–a man of great integrity and scholarship, under whose teaching I once had the pleasure to sit as a student), there is still much skepticism surrounding the “resolution” of this situation. Despite his unquestioned commitment over the years and lengthy list of accomplishments, to many this seems akin to a “golden parachute” for Patterson. Dramatic as this decision may be, Southwestern did not fire Paige Patterson. He will have a salary; he will have titles; he will have a substantial residence on the school grounds. That will send a resounding message to women both within and without the Church. What that message will be remains to be seen. But we can probably guess…

“…[I]t is time for judgment to begin, starting with the house of God.”
1 Pet 4:17 (NET)

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