Social media is abuzz with comments about the church and domestic violence.
The cause is not a new incident; rather, it’s the result of an old audio clip that has resurfaced with comments from the president of Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary, Paige Patterson. His statements in an institutional press release and Baptist Press interview have not helped the situation.
It may seem odd to outsiders, so I thought I’d share some explanation of what’s going on, why Southern Baptist leaders generally do not criticize one another, and why the comments from some of them now are more significant.
Who is Paige Patterson?
Many of my readers who aren’t Southern Baptist cannot fully understand why this is happening. People have asked me, “What’s going on?” and “Why is it so difficult for people to speak out clearly on this?”
The answer is in the dynamics of the Southern Baptist Convention (SBC) today.
Paige Patterson and a judge named Paul Pressler met in 1967. Over the next decade, they set out to turn the SBC in a different direction theologically. They started a grassroots movement that is one of the many reasons I am a Southern Baptist today.
They worked for years to turn the SBC toward greater conservatism, rallying around the banner of inerrancy—that the Word of God is truth without any mixture of error. This became known to many as the Conservative Resurgence and has been celebrated by many of us as a victory for almost three decades.
Judge Pressler is now being sued for alleged sexual assault and coverup. Patterson has been named as being part of a coverup. Both deny the accusations, but the situation is extremely troubling, especially since Pressler has been such a prominent figure in the Southern Baptist story.
Now, we face a troubling conversation surrounding the other prominent figure, but because of his continuing role in leadership, the situation is even more complicated.
Patterson didn’t just lead a grassroots movement. He went on to serve as president of not one but two seminaries. He served two terms as president of the convention itself. He has received numerous honors, awards, and more standing ovations than I can count.
He has been rightly appreciated for his service.
But this dynamic presents a challenge.
The Challenge of Paige Patterson
Because of the Conservative Resurgence and the role that he has played for decades, Patterson is one of the most significant leaders in SBC life, and one who does not often get criticized without the critic receiving significant backlash.
I know this first hand.
In 2008, I first publicly criticized Southwestern for the way certain faculty members were (repeatedly) registering disagreement with the results of our research. That day, several SBC leaders told me it was my last day as an SBC employee. As one son of an SBC entity head told me, “Nobody criticizes Paige Patterson and keeps their job.”
I still have the letter from Patterson. It was not the last.
It’s important to understand that this “no criticism zone” is the approach that the SBC often takes, and not just with Patterson. For example, when Christianity Today wrote about Russell Moore’s invitation of presidential candidates to the denominational missions conference, CT explained, “The ERLC’s press release … billed it as a ‘sold-out crowd of 13,000 evangelical pastors and leaders.’ That has led to a perception of the event as more arena-sized political rally than missions conference.”
Specific criticism from other denominational leaders, many who were uncomfortable with what happened, was absent. Jonathan Merritt explained why:
In conversations with multiple denominational employees, all said they felt varying degrees of discomfort with the decision to host Bush and Rubio but cited an unspoken policy against criticizing other denominational agencies and declined to comment publicly.
Do not misunderstand the silence as inaction. I understand that in 2018, if you are not on social media, you are not “speaking up.” However, social media quietness also happens because many leaders work in more behind-the-scenes ways to provide correctives.
Instead of putting their cards on the table via social media, they do so in private interactions with individuals or governing bodies, or they act through floor debates and ballots when the Southern Baptist Convention is in session. And that’s legitimate as well.
But because of this unofficial custom, it is highly unusual (and courageous) for Thom Rainer, president of LifeWay Christian Resources, the denomination’s publishing and retail arm, to tweet earlier today:
The ongoing discussion over recent comments by fellow Southern Baptist Paige Patterson remind me we live in a politically charged environment, both in our nation and in our convention. Any statement is almost immediately construed to be a statement of political posturing. Such is neither my intent nor my desire. However I cannot be silent on the issue of abuse of women. My silence becomes a reverberating echo of indifference at best. There is no level or type of abuse of women that is acceptable. We have been called by God to show honor and respect to all women and girls. They are our mothers, our sisters, our daughters, our granddaughters, and our wives. We thank God for them. And I stand with all who say ‘no’ to any type of abuse of women at any time and under any circumstance.
I imagine today that Thom’s phone lines are lit up.
Again and again, no one says anything because that’s what we are told to do—SBC leaders do not speak ill of one another.
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Source: Christianity Today