Church must take stand

By Racey Burden | Published Saturday, May 5, 2018

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If you weren’t raised as a Southern Baptist, you’d probably never heard of Paige Patterson until this week.

Patterson, the former Southern Baptist Convention president and current president of the Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary in Fort Worth, has come under fire for his remarks in past interviews about spousal abuse – specifically, that he counseled a woman in an abusive marriage to stay with her husband and simply pray for him. When she returned to church with two black eyes, he was “very happy” because the guilty husband came to church with her.

Racey Burden

I don’t think it’s difficult to say this is a disgusting point of view that places the vague hope of a man’s redemption over a woman’s life. It is not a woman’s responsibility to save an abusive man at the expense of her own safety.

I knew of Patterson before this week because I was raised Southern Baptist. My grandfather was a Southern Baptist preacher; my mother is a minister at a local Southern Baptist church. I dated a string of Baptist boys in high school and college, and the last one wanted to attend SBTS.

I remember us arguing about Patterson. I told him I was worried about what would happen to our relationship if he took his cues from a man who believed women should stand behind, not next to, their husbands. From what I’d heard of Patterson, he didn’t seem to believe in any kind of gender equality.

So when these old interviews with Patterson resurfaced, I can’t say I was all that surprised. Disappointed, yes, but not surprised.

Patterson’s public statement after the criticism hit was even more disappointing – he was dismissive and defensive. He made himself out as the victim of the “rigorous misrepresentations,” even though the interview in question is on tape and out there for anyone to see. He went so far as to say “minor” abuse happens in many marriages, and he still believes women should pray and stay in those cases.

Just the phrase “minor abuse” would be laughable, if any type of abuse – physical, verbal, psychological – was ever a laughing matter.

I’ve yet to see a statement from SBTS on the matter, other than Patterson’s own statement, where he attempts to walk back his on-record comments. The current president of SBC, Steve Gaines, is only vague tweeting about how people should get off the internet and read their Bible, ignoring how the internet has brought Patterson’s abuse of power firmly into the light. Patterson is supposed to speak at the SBC meeting in Dallas next month – no word on whether that’s still happening, either.

I have seen Southern Baptist leaders Thom Rainer, Russell Moore and Matt Chandler condemn Patterson’s comments. I’m sure others have spoken out, but my favorite response came from Beth Moore, who called out the sexism she and other women in the church have experienced firsthand.

“It’s grossly naive to assume every man who bruises up his wife, realizes he’s been outed, shows up at church and cries over how sorry he is, really has repented,” Moore tweeted. “Repentance bears fruit.”

Patterson hasn’t repented. There is no fruit here, unless it’s rotted to the core.

I hope that SBTS does the right thing and removes Patterson from leadership. For though there is forgiveness, there is also justice and accountability, and he does not deserve a seat at the leaders’ table.

“If Paige Patterson preaches at the SBC, he will, because of his past work, get a standing ovation,” said Ed Stetzer, another Southern Baptist leader at Wheaton College, his words calling to mind the standing ovation Highpoint pastor Andy Savage received after he downplayed an accusation of sexual abuse in front of his church. Savage later resigned, but only after a public outcry outside of Highpoint.

Stetzer went on the say, “Every news story will point to that moment … and say that Southern Baptists don’t take abuse seriously … It’s a message to women we must not send.”

I hope churches of all denominations see this moment as a reckoning and actually work to eradicate the sexism that is prevalent everywhere in this society, of which they are a part. That would be the correct message to send.

Racey Burden is a reporter at the Messenger.

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