May 26, 2018
Abuse of women isn’t the result of theological systems. It’s the result of sin
To the editor:
With apologies to William Shakespeare: I have come to praise Albert Mohler, not to bury him.
In the imaginations of moderate and progressive Baptists, Albert Mohler and Paige Patterson form a sort of two-headed bête noire. Mohler and Patterson, of course, were leaders in the “conservative resurgence” or “fundamentalist takeover” of the Southern Baptist Convention, and that fact alone leads to their intense dislike by moderates and progressives. More subtly though, I suspect that part of the dislike of Patterson and Mohler is that many of us thought that they represented sort of a throw back to religious and societal expectations of a time long ago when women “knew their place.” We believed that somehow they and their Neanderthal band of knuckle-dragging knaves would soon be banished to the dustbin of history.
Facts have not born out that belief. The SBC is doing well in comparison to most Protestant denominations in the United States, and especially in comparison to the moderate and progressive offshoots of the SBC. Perhaps, then, some of the dislike of Patterson and Mohler results from their successes.
Many moderate and progressive Baptists, then, could barely contain their glee at the demise of Patterson’s leadership at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary. Patterson’s remarks on women and actions in defending himself created enough of a stir that the seminary trustees had no choice but to end his leadership.
In reaction to Patterson’s removal from the presidency of SWBTS, Mohler wrote a fascinating article, which is nothing short of repentance. He repents of the abuse of women in the SBC and their poor treatment by some in SBC leadership. He ponders the theological roots of the problem, and notes that some within the moderate branch of the SBC warned that at the root of the takeover was a destructive view of women and a naked lust for power. Mohler, as one would expect, rejects this idea.
Here is where Mohler could draw on resources within the Reformed tradition he admires. The tradition argues the image of God in humans is irrevocably broken. We are totally depraved. Total depravity does not mean that humans are as bad as they can be, but that humans are fallen in every area. Even when humans believe we are doing what God would have us do, we are full of unspoken, ulterior motives as well. Even if these motives are not presently conscious, they exist. To suggest that the entirety of the motivation for the “resurgence” or “takeover” was entirely pure is to deny reality.
Much of the criticism directed at Mohler, however, does not focus on his account of the SBC civil war, but his theology of women. It is as if one of the necessary outcomes of the complementarian view of the SBC is the abuse of women. This is simply not true. The abuse of women and the denigration of women are the result of sin. Abuse and denigration of women has occurred in religious traditions of the right and of the left. It has occurred in Catholic and Protestant churches. It has occurred in political environments left, right, and center. It has occurred in business. It has occurred in Hollywood. It has occurred in recording studios. It has occurred in doctor’s offices. It has occurred in military command centers. In short, it is ubiquitous. The abuse and denigration of women occurs with or without reference to theological belief systems. To insist that it occurs because of the SBC’s theology is not only a denial of reality, but it is dangerous as it could lead to blindness to abuses in our own systems.
When someone with the position and institutional credibility of Albert Mohler writes a piece of soul searching and repentance, the best thing to do is to accept it and pray. The piece is remarkable in its denunciation of the abuse of women in general and the abuse of women in the SBC in particular. Mohler is praying for wisdom in how to lead the SBC during these difficult times. I, for one, pray that he receives it.
Layne Wallace, Roanoke Rapids, N.C.