Turning the Paige: When Accountability Must Outweigh Loyalty.

Dr. Paige Patterson, President of Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary, and prominent personality within the Southern Baptist Convention has come under criticism recently for statements that surfaced regarding issues related to divorce and domestic abuse [1], and sexualized language toward a young woman. [2]

Social Media, Main Stream Media, and Religious Media, including the Southern Baptist Convention’s own news agency, were quick to report and respond. It was big news in light of the current cultural attention on sexual and domestic abuse through the #metoo and #churchtoo movements.

I’m proud of the voices from leaders like Ed Stetzer, Matt Chandler, Russell Moore, Thom Rainer, and Beth Moore, who have expressed grave concern and appropriate criticism for the statements. Such voices, however, seem to be the exception among SBC leadership. It’s the response of my fellow Baptist leaders who have run interference for Dr. Patterson, made excuses, stayed silent, marginalized those who would speak up, or, as one colleague who is employed in an SBC agency, even suggest that doing so could endanger one’s career. Ed Stetzer shared his own experience with such pressure in his article when he wrote, “Again and again, no one says anything because that’s what we are told to do.” [3]

Unfortunately, such an approach gets noticed. A recent piece in The Atlantic highlights the problematic silence and sheltering comments from key SBC leaders:

“The tight-knit Southern Baptist boys’ club is not so easily unraveled, and many leaders have sheltered their colleague. Some have simply remained mum. The denomination’s Executive Committee has not acknowledged the controversy despite the media coverage it has received. Current SBC President Steve Gaines has also stayed silent, though today he curiously tweeted, ‘You must not speak everything that crosses your mind’ and encouraged people to ‘read your Bible more than you check [social media].’ Others have actually offered their support. For example, Atlanta-based pastor and former SBC President Johnny Hunt took to Twitter to praise Patterson as ‘a man of   God and a man of your word.’ It’s not difficult to denounce domestic violence, and it shouldn’t be controversial. And yet, America’s largest Protestant denomination now seems to be ethically schizophrenic when it comes to the topic.”[4]

The go-to responses of several other leaders have been to discourage conversation on these issues through diversion. A composite of similar statements go something like this, “We should celebrate the good things God is doing in our churches and communities and be focused on the work of the Kingdom.” Concerns over Dr. Patterson’s statements have been dismissed as “chatter,” “malicious gossip,” “demonization,” or “distractions.”

This post is a response to these types of responses. It is a perspective I believe is appropriate to share in light what some SBC leaders are saying, not saying, and discouraging others from saying. My intention is not to be divisive. Instead, my prayer is that what I share could be an accompanying source of light, so that we all might see better … but then again, I’m not always the brightest bulb in the socket … and I could be completely wrong.

However, for what it’s worth, here goes …

I agree that we should celebrate the great things God is doing in our churches and communities but is it not also a good work of God when we engage in exhortation, accountability, and correction when our brother or sister has said or done something that warrants at least clarification if not full on critique and correction?

I agree that demonization is never the right way to approach concern or criticism of another’s position but is it not a form of demonization or at least minimization to characterize the concerns over the damaging things said, done, and taught by denominational leaders as “chatter,” “gossip,” or “distraction?” While demonizing certainly hinders our work, so does minimizing and ignoring legitimate concerns.

Are concerned Southern Baptists out of line to call into question teachings or counsel that appear to take domestic abuse so lightly; even excusing such abuse in light of the salvation of the husband? How is it an act of distraction to voice criticism for an illustration that makes its point by describing a teenage girl in a demeaning and sexualized manner? If Beth Moore made the same point by saying a man was “endowed” (which would be a  synonymous term for “built” in the context), would there be the same closing of ranks and calls for silence masquerading as “Kingdom Focus” from our denominational leaders?

I agree that our focus is to be on Kingdom work, but is it not also true that such a focus must include concern for how the gospel of Christ’s Kingdom is represented to our world by both laity and leadership? Doesn’t the Bible call us to hold one another to account, especially teachers, and leaders? Why then is there such a pattern in the SBC of working to minimize or even silence voices of critique when those concerns are leveled toward a revered, accomplished, or even likable leader? Ed Stetzer wrote about his own experiences, but I know plenty of pastors, seminary students, and convention/seminary employees whose jobs and educations have been threatened over voicing concerns or critique toward a powerful or popular denominational personality. This is not healthy, nor is it Biblical. No human being and no institution is beyond the reach of critique and correction, no matter how popular they are, or what memorable and historic things they may have done.

If the gospel is not moving the church toward the truth and grace of internal accountability, then how can we expect the gospel to make sense to a world to whom we preach Christ’s Kingdom call to repent, believe, and follow? Our mandate is to do justice, love mercy, and walk humbly with God. But when our loyalty to denominational identity robs us of the humility to walk where God is walking (even if it’s on our toes), we display a level of consent to the injustices committed against the oppressed, as well as a limited capacity for mercy toward the oppressed.

I read late last week that Dr. Patterson has issued a statement of apology. In response, some have questioned the sincerity of his apology. I can understand the skepticism for two reasons. First, he does not apologize for the actual content of his statements, only that they were not clear. Not only do I believe his lack of clarity was problematic, but the actual content did not convey the seriousness of domestic abuse, and was demeaning toward a young woman. Second, it seems to have taken a petition with a few thousand signatures from concerned Southern Baptists to surface before a statement of apology appeared at all. The specter of not doing the right thing until it appears you have to does not bode well for the SBC, whose previous annual meeting failed to vote on a resolution condemning white supremacy until pressure from concerned ministers and social media forced the resolutions committee to bring the resolution to the floor for vote (it had been declined), and the body of Messengers back into session.

So, was Dr. Patterson’s apology sincere? I don’t know. I want to believe it was. I want to move forward with cautious optimism that Dr. Patterson’s apology will bear fruit through him wielding his influence in the Seminary and in the Convention toward a healthier and more biblically faithful approach to domestic violence, sexual abuse, marital issues, and both a recognition and celebration of our sisters in Christ for the image-bearing, redemptive and completing (see the Hebrew terms for “suitable Helper”) partners they are to us male rough drafts.

If this is not what Dr. Patterson is prepared and willing to do, then I believe his apology should be accepted only if it is accompanied by his resignation. There is too much at stake for this not to be taken seriously by Christians in general, as well as Southern Baptists and Trustees of Southwestern Seminary in particular.


[1] The specific statements regarding domestic abuse is here: https://archive.org/details/PaigePattersonsbcAdviceToVictimsOfDomesticViolence

[2] The statement about a young woman can be found here: https://youtu.be/gDRUVmcaQ3k

[3] https://www.christianitytoday.com/edstetzer/2018/may/paige-patterson-end-of-era.html

[4] https://www.theatlantic.com/politics/archive/2018/05/sbc-patterson/559532/


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s