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Social media stirs criticism of Patterson’s leadership

May 23rd, 2018 / By: Compiled from Baptist Press / comments

Social media stirs criticism of Patterson’s leadership

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FORT WORTH—An 18-year old audio clip in which Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary President Paige Patterson discussed his views on domestic violence was posted online April 28 by a blogger and widely circulated online, leading to online petitions and other comments calling for his resignation.

In answering a question asked at a conference, Patterson said the proper response of a wife to domestic abuse “depends on the level of abuse to some degree.”

In the audio clip at issue, Patterson was asked his counsel to women “who are undergoing genuine physical abuse from their husbands.”

Patterson replied, "It depends on the level of abuse to some degree. I have never in my ministry counseled that anybody seek a divorce, and I do think that's always wrong counsel. There have been, however, an occasion or two when the level of the abuse was serious enough, dangerous enough, immoral enough that I have counseled temporary separation and the seeking of help. I would urge you to understand that that should happen only in the most serious of cases."

Moments later Patterson is heard telling about a woman at one of his pastorates who "was being subject to some abuse and I told her ... 'Every evening I want you to get down by your bed. Just as he goes to sleep, get down by the bed and when you think he's just about asleep, you just pray and ask God to intervene -- not out loud, quietly.' But I said, 'You just pray there.'

"And I said, 'Get ready because he may get a little more violent, you know, when he discovers this,'" Patterson said. "And sure enough, he did. She came to church one morning with both eyes black. And she was angry at me, and at God and the world for that matter. And she said, 'I hope you're happy.' And I said, 'Yes ma'am I am.'"

Patterson went on to explain his happiness stemmed not from the abuse, but from the man's presence at church that day for the first time, his brokenness over the abuse and his decision to trust Christ as Lord and Savior. The abuse stopped, Patterson said in the audio clip, and "he's a great husband today."

"Remember," Patterson added in the audio clip, "when nobody else can help, God can. And in the meantime, you have to do what you can at home to be submissive in every way that you can."

Patterson clarified to BP he did not suspect any physical abuse in the relationship prior to the episode he recounted. Any hint in the audio clip that he did suspect prior physical abuse was an error in the recounting, he said, adding, "I'm sure I didn't tell it as well as I should have."

"For sharing this illustration," Patterson said in his statement, "especially in the climate of this culture, I was probably unwise. However, my suggestion was never that women should stay in the midst of abuse, hoping their husbands would eventually come to Christ. Rather, I was making the application that God often uses difficult things that happen to us to produce ultimate good. And I will preach that truth until I die."

A statement issued May 1 by Patterson and the executive committee of the seminary trustees included three main affirmations:

  • It affirmed "that law enforcement officials and civil authorities have a vital and God-ordained role in addressing abusive relationships."
  • It affirmed "the importance of protecting victims of abuse." In conjunction with that affirmation, Patterson and the trustee executive committee endorsed a March 2018 "statement on abuse" by the Council on Biblical Manhood and Womanhood (CBMW).

"We affirm that statement in its entirety," Patterson and the trustee leaders noted, "and draw particular attention to the affirmation that 'the local church and Christian ministries have a responsibility to establish safe environments; to execute policies and practices that protect against any form of abuse; to confront abusers and to protect the abused, which includes the responsibility to report abuse to the civil authorities.'"

  • It affirmed "that the gospel of Jesus Christ has led us to believe that there is no person in this world who is beyond redemption."

Critics then pointed to a video of a 2014 sermon in which Patterson illustrated the Hebrew word used to describe Eve as being “built” from Adam’s rib by quoting a teenager boy’s assessment that a teen girl was “built.” Patterson added that the girl’s appearance was “nice.”

In an open letter to SWBTS trustees, a group of Southern Baptist women objected to Patterson’s continued leadership, describing “unwise counsel” to women in abusive situations and “inappropriate comments regarding a teenage girl.” By the time trustees met May 22, over 3,200 signatures were listed as affirming the concerns.

A May 5 open letter of support for Patterson listed 595 signatories by May 22, in which writer Samuel Schmidt argued, “This isn’t about divorce at all with many individuals, but about forcibly removing Dr. Patterson from his role, due to decades old vendettas and other personal reasons.”

On May 10, Patterson released another statement to apologize for harm caused by his illustration. “Pastoral ministry that occurred 54 years ago, repeated as an illustration [of domestic violence] in sermons on more than one occasion, as well as another sermon illustration used to try to explain a Hebrew word (Heb. banah ‘build or construct,’ Gen. 2:22) have obviously been hurtful to women in several possible ways. I wish to apologize to every woman who has been wounded by anything I have said that was inappropriate or lacked clarity. We live in a world of hurt and sorrow, and the last thing that I need to do is add to anyone’s heartache. Please forgive the failure to be as thoughtful and careful in my extemporaneous expression as I should have been.”

—Compiled from Baptist Press