In the wake of serious and heartbreaking statements from Paige Patterson concerning women, minor girls, and abuse, and now an allegation of a rape coverup (and potentially more) by Patterson while president of Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary, I have a few questions I would like to ask.
I sincerely hope any trustee, or any Southern Baptist for that matter, who might read this would consider answering these questions both personally and publicly. I think the women and girls in Southern Baptist Convention churches deserve answers to these questions. The countless people who give tithes and offering to cooperative missions deserve answers. Most importantly, the women who fall prey to misogynistic leadership, victim shaming/silencing, and even assault at the hands of leaders who silence and protect abusers deserve answers. So without further delay, here are my questions for the board of trustees at Southwestern:
Do you truly believe the Bible is the word of God? It seems to me that people who take the scripture seriously might heed Paul’s words to husbands, “love your wives, and do not be harsh with them” (Col. 3:19). And the countless calls of Scripture to stand for the victimized and oppressed. It seems harsh to tell a woman who is beaten by her husband (harshly, no doubt) that you are happy when she shows up bruised to your church on Sunday, because the man that beat her is finally present. It also seems harsh to counsel a woman to stay with her abuser while seemingly not counseling the abuser to not be harsh with his wife. How does Patterson’s retirement package and continued status at Southwestern model serving “the least of these?”
Do you truly believe in Christian mission and witness? After the news of Patterson’s new status as president emeritus and theologian in residence, a former missionary with the International Mission Board reached out to me by email, upset that Patterson is still in power and safely insulated. The missionary wrote: “I feel so blessed to have had opportunity to serve in missions, but feel that I could have done so much more, were it not for certain restrictions and limits placed on us — including the fact that although BOTH my wife and I were called to missions, that BOTH of us were appointed and commissioned, that BOTH of us attended the training at the International Learning Center in Goochland, Va., only ONE of us ever had a say at the table. Me. And that was/is wrong. That is one of the main reasons why we are no longer on the field — why we left in 2010 and decided to not go back.” This missionary couple still feels a deep sense of woundedness that her call was never seen equal to his. If Lottie Moon was called to missions today, the IMB would not commission her as a church planter. Moreover, if Lottie Moon was raped in an SBC seminary, it seems she would likely face silencing and shame. She would probably never even make it to China.
As a board, does your commitment to complementarianism and fundamentalist belief really come before your commitment to justice on behalf of a rape victim? If so, this is truly stunning. The disbelief I’m hearing, even from SBC loyalists, is loud and strong. Perhaps complementarianism and its inclination to devalue the equality and role of women in leadership within the church leads to the silencing of those same women — just in the hour their voices most desperately need a hearing. When Baylor University discovered their head coach had been party to covering-up rape, they had no qualms about firing him and hiring an independent firm to study how Baylor can respond better to accusations of sexual assault in the future. Even Al Mohler is asking if theological purity and power is worth ignoring and shaming victims.
Do you have the same moral courage as the Catholic bishops of Chile? Allow me to explain. Major news outlets recently reported that all 31 active bishops and three retired bishops in Chile simultaneously tendered their resignations over the child sex abuse scandal in that country. It seems the bishops may realize as a whole their role as leaders in allowing abuse to continue, in protecting perpetrators of abuse, and in silencing victims. The move is really unprecedented in modern Christianity, for so many leaders to realize their role in a system of abuse and victim shaming. The great thing at this point is the bishops in Chile have set an example, and there is now a precedent for the trustee board at Southwestern to follow. CNN reports that “Marie Collins, a former member of the Pope’s Commission for the Protection of Minors, said that the gesture was not enough. ‘No bishop removed — all allowed to resign. Really nothing changes,’ Collins wrote on Twitter.” Perhaps either way the board does, in fact, have the same moral courage as the bishops of Chile.
What does it feel like to pimp out thousands of Baptist churches one last time on behalf of Paige Patterson? As Patterson himself might say, I’m “just being biblical,” except instead of referring to a minor girl in a sexually suggestive manner, I’m referring to the minor prophet, Hosea. I would personally like to know how much of my church’s cooperative giving will fund Patterson’s ongoing salary, McMansion, and travel on behalf of the seminary. The words, “Hear this, you priests! Pay attention, you Israelites! Listen, royal house! This judgment is against you” (Hosea 5:1), were uttered against a faithless Israel, but it’s not a far stretch to imagine them being uttered against a seminary that protects, idolizes, and perpetually honors a misogynist who demeans those created in God’s image, who also sees covering up rape as the cost of staying in power. Perhaps Dr. Mohler is right — that the judgement of the Lord is upon the Southern Baptist Convention because of the sin of pursuing power and theological purity at the expense of Christian witness and integrity. Perhaps as a board your approach, like Patterson’s for so long, is to “sow the wind and reap the whirlwind (Hosea 7:16).” One thing I love about Hosea is that even though the people have been faithless to God, God calls the people to repentance again and again, which leads to my final question.
What would repentance look like for your school and for the SBC, for the shameful and sinful silencing and subjugation of women and victims of sexual abuse? Would it look like welcoming women to safely tell their stories of abuse? Would it look like hosting training conducted by SNAP (Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests), or even simply realizing that your new president emeritus has his very own profile on stopbaptistpredators.org? Might repentance even go so far as to rethink your theology, which has clearly wounded countless women, men, girls and boys over the last half century? Might this kind of repentance even lead your school one day towards a more egalitarian approach that fully embraces women deacons and clergy? Do you have the institutional capacity to see what Ed Stetzer, Al Mohler, and Thom Rainer all recognize — that the silencing of victims of abuse and the demeaning and objectification of women is sinful? Perhaps repentance, if not leading to a theological shift, might at least call you to reconsider your recent payout of Patterson, which reeks of cronyism.
I pray that someone can answer my sincere questions, although in the current climate, I am not holding out hope.
Finally, many SBC people have encouraged Patterson to retire for the sake of the SBC, which is incredibly tone deaf. He shouldn’t retire. He shouldn’t be moved to president emeritus, be given an indefinite teaching position and salary, housing for life, and be enshrined in an idolatrous stained-glass window. He should be forcefully terminated with cause, without severance pay, and be banned from campus for life for the sake of justice for those abused women he hurt with his misogyny, victim shaming, and silencing. Many across Baptist life are simply asking that you, the board of trustees, give Patterson the “Dilday treatment” — only this time it will be unquestionably theologically and morally justified.