Some of you may have been surprised to read recently about the removal of Dr. Paige Patterson, a major leader in the 15-million-member Southern Baptist Convention. The May 23 headline in USA Today reads: “Southern Baptist Leader Removed as President of Seminary after Remarks about Abused Women.”
If you went on to read the article, you would find that Patterson had given an interview in which he told about how he advised a woman who was being abused by her husband to stay with him, kneel by the bed at night and pray over him and their relationship. She showed up a few days later with two black eyes and expressed her anger with the advice he had given. Patterson responded that he was happy, because her husband had attended church for the first time that Sunday and had gone forward to accept the Lord. The lesson she was supposed to learn was that her submission to abuse had led to her husband’s salvation.
In subsequent interviews, Patterson has shrugged off suggestions that he should apologize for these remarks. However, on May 6, a woman on the faculty of (very conservative) Liberty University put out a strong letter calling for his removal from leadership, and this has been signed by more than 3,341 Southern Baptist women in just a few weeks. Faced with such a strong challenge, the seminary’s Trustee Board decided that it was time for new leadership. However, they also voted to give him the title President Emeritus, continue to pay his salary and allow him to live on the seminary campus.
Since all this has been going on, a related scandal has surfaced. Paul Pressler, a retired Texas judge and powerful lay leader in the Southern Baptist Convention, was exposed for having sexually molested two young men and paying for their silence over many years. Paige Patterson has been named in a law suit as one of the Convention leaders who covered up for Pressler.
Now, let’s look one level deeper. Beginning in the 1960s and continuing to the present day, there has been a committed, well-organized effort to move the denomination toward a more hard-core theological position. Its proponents call it the Conservative Resurgence, but its opposers refer to it as the Fundamentalist Takeover. Leaders whose positions haven’t seemed conservative enough have been squeezed out of office and replaced. This has happened on every level: in administrative positions, among seminary and college faculties and even on the mission field. In reaction, 1900 churches have split off to form a new denomination. However, this has not slowed the movement to the right. The Baptist Faith and Message document, which is the Convention’s official statement of faith, has been tightened and narrowed in a number of significant places, most important for our discussion, in the view of Biblical authority and in the relative status of men and women.
Who have been the most consistent leaders of this Conservative Resurgence over the past forty years? Our friends Paige Patterson and Paul Pressler. No joke; they’re the leaders.
I want to continue this discussion in the next Messenger because I feel it sheds light on how our behavior in 2018 is affected by our view of how the Bible’s ancient teaching applies to our lives. Next week, I’ll focus on the tightening of the statements in the Baptist Faith and Message document and how it has inevitably led to hypocrisy. Meanwhile, please read as much background material as you can find.
— Pastor George Van Alstine