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

22 thoughts on “The SBC And The Paige Patterson Disaster: My $0.02

  1. ”Talibanized Christianity that bears no semblance to the liberty you get in Scripture.”

    I see opposition to Paige Patterson and the people he represents as God maybe using evil from without to destroy the evil within. And then destroying said wicked nations that served as his rod of chastisement.

    Wicked nations have served as the Rod of God in history before the external wicked nations faced their own reckoning. So it is with “complementarianism” and their opponents.

    Either they will reform or they will take the wrong lesson by compromising with the enemies of God from without which will wipe out those churches.

    • see opposition to Paige Patterson and the people he represents as God maybe using evil from without to destroy the evil within. And then destroying said wicked nations that served as his rod of chastisement.

      The secular media and many of the #exvangelical crowd were definitely in the outing of Patterson. But many of them were also Christians as well.

      What the SBC has done is akin to a homeowner treating the foundation of the house by easing the drainage and applying rebar to the foundation, but ignoring his termite problem.

      The SBC addressed their liberalism problem, but failed to address the abuse-coverup culture. In fact, the ministerial-industrial complex is set up in such a way that churches have been REWARDING Dark Triad Personality types–who ae narcissistic, psychotic, and Machiavellian–as many otherwise charismatic leaders have exactly those traits.

      This is why, when they get caught in scandal, they often resign, lay low for a season, then go on to another church, shamelessly continuing their “ministries”, often repeating their abuses.

      Patterson was a known bully who aggressively ran the tables. Only last week did anyone in SBC leadership stand up to him.

      The opposition to Paige Patterson included many parties: secular media, victims of abuse (many Christian, many not), and Christians of various persuasions, liberal and conservative alike.

      But yes, the secular media helped break this.

      • You are right. Reality isn’t that simple.

        ”This is why, when they get caught in scandal, they often resign, lay low for a season, then go on to another church, shamelessly continuing their “ministries”, often repeating their abuses.”

        For this reason this is also why Roman Catholicism has those scandals also.

        It will be just as disappointing for them to take the wrong lessons from this and compromise on God’s word subsequently.

        Hopefully they will deal with the abuse and fix up their theology to be in accordance with the word of God.

        ”Patterson was a known bully who aggressively ran the tables. Only last week did anyone in SBC leadership stand up to him.”

        Good riddance then. I think that will help to clear the path to dealing with this problem that has been festering.

        • Yep. The abuse-coverup problem may even be worse in the evangelical/Protestant sector than in the Catholic Church.

          I used to think it was worse in the Catholic Church. And maybe it was at the time.

          But the problem in the evangelical ranks has definitely snowballed badly. And it happened during the conservative era, in ostensibly conservative SBC churches and denominational entities.

          (There is a major bombshell that is about to be dropped regarding a former leader in a major SBC entity, who is also currently a minister. I am not at liberty to disclose the name of that person or the entity due to a criminal investigation that is in progress.)

          • This case is pretty ugly. The current leadership of that entity is not at fault in this, as the abuse in this case occurred during the mid-1990s. The real scandal here is the way the SBC powers that were at the time handled it.

          • Can’t help but think of the way those “conservatives” failed to conserve anything and keep compromising with liberalism at the same time this festering problem is going on.

          • Here’s my cynical take on it:

            (1) I think there is a lot of truth to that. At the end of the day, the Trustees shared Patterson’s mindset, but their hand was being forced.

            (2) SWBTS is in serious trouble. Enrollments were already declining before Patterson arrived, and have tanked since he got there. Even without the current fracas, Patterson had problems.

            (3) My guess: some wealthy donors probably got on the horn with the trustees and said something to the effect of, “If you don’t drop Patterson like a curveball, we’ll be pulling our money.”

            Patterson has his minions of True Believers. The same is true of Mark Driscoll. The same is true of John Piper. Ditto for C.J. Mahaney and Al Mohler.

            Patterson simply reflects the mindset of a large faction of Southern Baptists. They’ve been right about a lot of things, but they’ve also been wrong about a lot of things, too.

            The problem, however, is that Patterson is only one man. And he may not even be the worst offender. My gripe with him is that he insists on playing from an old-school playbook, ignoring the fact that the weaknesses of that old-school playbook have long been exposed.

            It’s akin to a modern-day communist sympathizer, ignoring the lessons of the history of communism, insisting that (a) “it only failed because the wrong people were in charge”, and (b) “if my people are in charge, we can make it work.”

            The “keep the family jewels in-house” approach is disastrous. When criminal offenses are involved, you need to subject offenders to the public justice process. Church circles–from the Shepherding Movement to Sovereign Grace Ministries to Bob Jones University and many entities within the Southern Baptist Convention–have proven this to the tee.

          • (3) My guess: some wealthy donors probably got on the horn with the trustees and said something to the effect of, “If you don’t drop Patterson like a curveball, we’ll be pulling our money.”

            always, always, always follow the money.

          • My other gripe with Patterson is what I believe is an underlying contempt for women on his part.

            And don’t get me wrong: I’m an old-school, knuckle-dragging Biblical Patriarch. This, however, is not about whether you believe in the headship of the husband (which I do), or that you believe that women shouldn’t be pastors (which I think is a Biblical principle, but not a universal ban), or even if you believe that, in general, men ought to be the leaders in society (I do).

            OTOH, we have a situation in the SBC in which the leadership denies women basic dignities. It’s akin to the Cultural Patriarchy practiced by the Pharisees of Jesus’ day. Patterson is a major driver of that mindset, although he is not the only one.

          • My other gripe with Patterson is what I believe is an underlying contempt for women on his part.

            i’ve noticed that men who do not know how to rule women well develop a contempt for them.

            Genesis 3:16

            To the woman he said,

            “I will make your pains in childbearing very severe;
            with painful labor you will give birth to children.
            Your desire will be for your husband,
            and he will rule over you.”

          • Their problem is that they demonstrate that they do not truly believe God when he said both men and women are made in God‘s image the same way people who reject the Old testament reject the deity of Jesus implicitly

          • Absolutely. The problem is not that they oppose women pastors; the problem is their dismissal of women as second-classers. They say they don’t do that, but–functionally–they do.

  2. The SBC has a choice in dealing with the real problems within. Or compromising with the enemies of God without.

    If they take the wrong lessons from this like compromising biblical patriarchy by taking it in a more liberal direction even if that subsequently solves the abuses within.

    They will be destroyed. God will take no compromises either left or right from Righteousness.

  3. what is conceived must give birth. the gestation period for this has been long. from my own personal experiences with the sbc, i have no faith that the full truth has been revealed or will ever be revealed, and that they’ve created a ‘need’ to have things hidden proves these are bad things.

    it’s tragic how thoroughly complimentarianism and feminism and cultural patriarchy have seeped into all of the church, but the sbc has a long and ‘distinguished’ history of addiction to power and authority and therefore abusing power and authority … and their adoption of complimentarianism and feminism and cultural patriarchy is nothing more than a feeding of their addictions of power and authority and pride. they are clothed well, but inside they are rot.

    in biblical patriarchy, there is no room for pride or abuse of authority. power and authority are meted out by God with great expectation of great responsibility.

    i recently drove by one of their ‘honored’ churches and saw a group standing outside on their front steps praying in a circle. may God have mercy.

    it’s all so disheartening.

    – – –

    Jay has some very valid points. God always cleans house, and He has often used the evil of this world to clean out the houses of those who claim His Name.

  4. i’m not sure the sbc can be salvaged in any pure kind of form. like you said, it’s not simple. it’s complicated. and the full truth, regardless of what information and letters are presented, will continue to be elusive.

    • Righting the ship will take a great deal of contrition, demonstrated by apologies to victims they ignored, as well as calling out high-profile offenders at the risk of taking financial hits.

      It will require high-profile leaders to eat large servings of crow and humble pie, but it will also require a crop of new leaders to bring a different mindset.

      • trying to picture if this would be enough . . .

        and you’re probably right as people follow like sheep.

        i’m just sooo thankful i’m not in the middle of it all anymore. i want to believe there is purity somewhere up there in that hierarchy, but.i.just.can’t.

  5. 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’s also Guidestone Financial (formerly The Annuity Board of the SBC) – https://www.guidestone.org/

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