My spiritual fathers and mothers of my early Baptist life came from Southern Baptist colleges, universities, and seminaries. These men and women were my Sunday school teachers, pastors, deacons, and youth leaders. They were educated at a time in the 1960s and 1970s when Southern Baptist institutions supported the 1963 Baptist Faith and Message. I was taught to love God and neighbor through Jesus Christ, with my heart, soul, and mind. My salvation, faith, and spiritual life are all rooted in these foundational biblical principles. I was taught that if we Baptists disagree on doctrine we can be in relationship and community with one another.
As the fallout of Paige Patterson’s remarks on women, lack of reporting sexual abuse, and supposed retirement have come to light, the Southern Baptist Convention has met the #MeToo movement in a way that was unexpected, for some. The Southern Baptist Convention is being “humiliated,” according to Al Mohler, president of Southern Baptist Theological Seminary.
My spiritual fathers and mothers of my Baptist life saw this coming. They warned us how the doctrinal fight was really a power grab — a male power grab in which there was no room for disagreement in our denominational Baptist community.
According to Mohler, he did not see any reckoning of the power-hungry grab of the conservative takeover of the Southern Baptist Convention. The firing of female seminary professors, enforcing and teaching complementarianism, and ignoring sexual misconduct within the Southern Baptist Convention are all things that Moher did not think contributed to a culture of misogyny and abuse in Southern Baptist life. Mohler said in his Christianity Today article entitled, “The Humiliation of the Southern Baptist Convention”: “Sexual misconduct is as old as sin, but the avalanche of sexual misconduct that has come to light in recent weeks is almost too much to bear. These grievous revelations of sin have occurred in churches, in denominational ministries, and even in our seminaries. We thought this was a Roman Catholic problem.” Mohler continued his ignorance when he stated plainly, “When people said that evangelicals had a similar crisis coming, it didn’t seem plausible — even to me. I have been president of the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary for 25 years. I did not see this coming.”
The problem for Mohler is that he was told it was coming, it was plausible. He did not listen. It is his humiliation, too, not just Paige Patterson and the Southern Baptist Convention.
I first met Al Mohler when he was the new president of Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in the mid-1990s at a District of Columbia Baptist Convention meeting. There, I met a man who was self-assured of the conservative takeover of the Southern Baptist Convention and the men who led it. They could do no wrong. Over the following years, anyone who disagreed with Southern Baptist male leadership was dismissed, ostracized, shown the door, or was fired. For years, both moderate Baptists and like-minded evangelicals warned and decried the destructive force that was used to enforce “God’s plan” for the Southern Baptist Convention: elect fundamentalist leaders to positions of power, install like-minded seminary presidents, enforce the authority of males, and close the door on all who oppose this vision. Mohler states that for some Baptists the “effort to recover the denomination theologically was just a disguised move to capture the denomination for a new set of power-hungry leaders. I know that was not true. I must insist that this was not true. But, it sure looks like their prophecies had some merit after all.” It does not “look like” my Southern Baptist spiritual mothers and fathers had merit. Their prophecy had merit.
It is obvious that I disagree with Al Mohler and his claim that the Bible clearly “reveals the complementarian pattern of male leadership in the home and the church.” I could go in depth about Deborah as a judge of Israel, Jesus’ inclusion of women in his ministry, or Paul’s praise for women in ministry like Priscilla, Phoebe, Junia, Julia, Tryphaena, and Tryphosa. In other places in the New Testament Paul teaches women to be silent for reasons beyond our understanding but seem to indicate a solution to a problem for a specific community rather than a broad teaching for the wider Church. Mohler knows these theological arguments, but he refuses to accept them — just like he refuses to see the harm the leadership of the Southern Baptist Convention caused, is causing, and will continue to cause women.
My Southern Baptist spiritual mothers and fathers taught me that women and men can serve God equally. In a way, they were prophets: speaking the truth about God at an inconvenient time. We read in the Bible that the plight of prophets is that their word is seldom obeyed. The prophetic call requires a message. The message is clear: Repent, for the Kingdom of God is at hand.
The hubris of Al Mohler, Paige Patterson, and the leaders of the conservative takeover has led to their own humiliation. The unfortunate fact is that their humiliation is a fraction of the humiliation that women, wives, sisters, daughters, aunts, and grandmothers have experienced at the hands of complementarian men who turned the Southern Baptist Convention into a power-grab game. Southern Baptist women have suffered at the hands of the men who preached “the will of God” while turning their back to the cries and abuse of women. Mohler cannot claim ignorance. It was happening and Southern Baptist leaders turned a blind eye.
Mohler ends his Christianity Today piece by saying: “This is just a foretaste of the wrath of God poured out. This moment requires the very best of us. The Southern Baptist Convention is on trial, and our public credibility is at stake. May God have mercy on us all.”
Al Mohler, this moment requires you and the men of the Southern Baptist leadership to repent — for the Kingdom of God is at hand.