The SBC And The Paige Patterson Disaster: My $0.02

First, a few disclaimers:

(1) I don’t know Paige Patterson. Nor have I ever met the man. I have a former pastor who is a friend of his. But otherwise, I only know him by reputation.

(2) I am technically a Southern Baptist, as my church is an SBC affiliate for local purposes.

For those unaware, Paige Patterson is one of the iconic Southern Baptist leaders of the last 50 years. He and judge Paul Pressler were the co-architects of the “conservative resurgence”, which led to the conservatives retaking the SBC from the liberals.

Over the decades, those conservatives took back every SBC agency–the Home Mission Board (now the North American Mission Board), the Sunday School Board (which is now LifeWay), the Foreign Mission Board (now the International Missions Board), the Executive Committee, and, of course, the seminaries.

There are very few SBC leaders today who would not be where they are without Paige Patterson.

To hear the story, the SBC was in danger of going the way of the Episcopalian Church USA, the United Methodists, the Presbyterian Church USA, and other mainline Protestant denominations, until the conservatives rescued the SBC from the liberals.

And make no mistake, that story is 100% true.

The problem is that the SBC had more than just a liberalism problem; they had a longstanding culture that covered up scandals. When a pastor had an affair, it was treaed as just an affair rather than an abuse of of the power of the office. Conservatives didn’t invent the mindset, but neither did they confront it either.

Making matters worse, SBC churches became infiltrated with pedophiles, perverts, narcissistic pastors, and other abusers. SBC leaders, in many cases, covered up offenses. They let offending ministers and workers quietly resign, move on to other churches, and repeat their offenses.

SBC leadership did NOTHING to confront this epidemic.

Enter Paige Patterson.

On the surface, he was the face of the SBC. He would serve as President of Criswell College, two terms as President of the SBC, and then President of Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary (SEBTS) and Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary (SWBTS).

His impact was so great that he, and Pressler, are enshrined in stained glass at the SWBTS chapel. (That is so North Korea, but I digress.)

Unfortunately, we are finding out the sordid truth about Paige Patterson. And it keeps getting worse.

With the June meeting of the Southern Baptist Convention approaching, footage surfaced of Patterson claiming to have told an abused wife to submit and pray for her husband. More footage also showed him condoning actions and mindsets that would promote the objectification of women.

As the SWBTS trustees were set to meet, a report surfaced, in which a student at SEBTS reported a rape and Patterson urged her not to report it to authorities.

The initial action of the Trustees was outrageous: they retired Patterson, promoted him to President Emeritus with full retirement benefits and a new retirement home on campus.

In the days after that decision, more information surfaced, showing a culture of misogyny that Patterson fostered at SWBTS, and also more allegations of sexual assaults of which Patterson tried to quash the reporting.

Then, on Wednesday, 30 June, the Trustees met again, this time terminating Patterson immediately, with no benefits or title.

This ignited a debate about what information they had that prompted such a reversal. On Friday morning, a wife of Patterson’s chief of staff published a scathing letter that included confidential documents–a probable FERPA violation–seeming to contradict the narrative against Patterson.

Last night, however, the chairman of the board of trustees published a damning, scathing letter detaling the new information.

Among that information: a stated desire to meet with a student who was reporting a rape to “break her down”.

Make no mistake: that firing was warranted, and it was rightly unanimous.

If I were his pastor, he’d be under discipline, one step away from excommunication. What he did was every bit as serious as immorality and fraud.

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This begs a lot of questions, and a time of reflection. If you think there are easy explanations for this, you’d be wrong.

This isn’t about women pastors or deacons. I can point to sectors of Christianity and denominations–the Eastern Orthodox, and the Presbyterian Church of America (PCA), as well as the Orthodox Presbyterian Church (OPC)–that are Patriarchal but lack this degree of scandal. I can also point to egalitarian churches–like Willow Creek–that have a very pervasive culture that breeds scandal.

At the same time, the SBC has embraced a theology that denigrates women. Complementarianism is nothing but cultural patriarchy cross-dressed in Scripture, bound in genuine leather.

And yes, there is a difference between Biblical Patriarchy (BP) and Cultural Patriarchy (CP).

In the Bible, the Pharisees practiced CP. Women were second-classers. They couldn’t learn the Torah from a rabbi. They couldn’t even talk to men in public. The Bible prohibits neither of those things, but the Pharisees of Jesus’ day were too good to bother themselves with women who were unimportant. And home life? A man was allowed to divorce his wife for the capital crime of burning a meal.

Jesus hammered Cultural Patriarchy. He talked to women in public, even recognized their faith on at least two occasions. He taught women in the same manner that He taught men. And when questioned about divorce, He gave an answer–challenging their culture of divorce–the implications of which leave conservatives frustrated to this day.

Biblical Patriarchy (BP) is a different animal. BP accepts the premise that (a) the husband is head of the wife, just as Christ is head of the Church, and (b) in general, particular offices (overseers, pastors) are off-limits to women.

In the Bible, Paul ripped into both sexes. He chastised husbands for abusing their wives,suggesting their prayers weren’t being answered because of their abuses; he chastised wives for not submitting to the husbands; he exhorted husbands to love their wives as Christ loved the Church; he ripped men for being sexually immoral. Paul even had the stones to challenge Peter–to his face–over his preference of Jewish believers over Gentile believers.

And don’t forget Jesus, who–in addition to confronting disrespect for women–also opened the door for children, even warning that those who do harm to children would be better off drowning with a millstone.

THAT’s Biblical Patriarchy.

In contrast, the complementarianismcultural patriarchy we are seeing today has made the church safe for abusers and little else.

That needs to change.

Biblical Patriarchy has been the standard in the Church for 2,000 years, and yet the degree of scandal that we are seeing–from the top down to the local church–is a more recent phenomenon. It precedes the conservative takeover of the SBC, but it got worse under the conservatives.

If you think the problems are constrained to Patterson, you’d be wrong.

If you think the other faction of the SBC–the NeoCalvinist wing–is any better, you’d be wrong. Given the track record of the NeoCals, they may even be worse.

C.J. Mahaney’s church is Southern Baptist, and yet Mohler has not called him out. Mohler has never demanded a truly independent investigation of Mahaney and Sovereign Grace, even though there is damning proof that Mahaney has committed some terrible wrongs.

Nor is the problem restricted to the SBC. The Gospel Coalition has failed to hold any of their members accountable for flagrant scandal. And in their theological formulation of complementarianism, the CBMW has endorsed a very controversial model of the Trinity known as the Eternal Subordination of the Son, which is heterodox if not outright heretical.

Baptist leaders are going to need to rethink the way they approach gender relations. Complementarianism is Cultural Patriarchy, not Biblical Patriarchy. Like the cultural patriarchy of Jesus’ day, compers promote a mindset that treats women with contempt and disrespect.

That is not a Patriarchy that recognizes Deborah, Abigail, the Queen of Sheba, Huldah, Anna, Phoebe, or Priscilla.

In fact complementarianism–which seeks to impose dogma where Scripture does not–is more of a Talibanized Christianity that bears no semblance to the liberty you get in Scripture.

Baptists need to rethink this and endorse a Biblical conservatism that promotes a healthy, accountable form of leadership and protects the vulnerable, making the Church a refuge from the world.

That also requires a commitment to building that culture at every level, from the local church to the highest positions of leadership