Under pressure from the #MeToo movement, trustees of Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary in Fort Worth, Texas, have removed a president long praised for delivering the denomination from feminism.
During a 13-hour called meeting precipitated by his past comments on women, divorce and domestic violence, trustees bestowed 75-year-old Paige Patterson the honorary title of president emeritus with compensation.
A statement on the seminary website honors both contributions made by Patterson since his presidency began in 2003 and his longer avocation “to present the Gospel of Jesus Christ to every person in the world and to make disciples of all the nations by leading the way for the conservative resurgence.”
The conservative resurgence is a name given to a strategy hatched by Patterson and retired Judge Paul Pressler to curb the influence of cutting-edge scholarship in Southern Baptist Convention-owned seminaries.
Buoyed by the popularity of megachurch pastors like Adrian Rogers and Charles Stanley, the movement eventually produced schism in the form of smaller spinoff groups including the Alliance of Baptists and Cooperative Baptist Fellowship.
Breaking with neo-orthodox theologians like Karl Barth and Reinhold Niebuhr, resurgence leaders insisted the Bible is inerrant not only in matters of faith but in history and science as well. Needing a stronger rallying cry than “saving the SBC from neo-orthodoxy,” the organized turned to the playbook of hardball politics. They labeled fellow Southern Baptists as “liberals,” thus sparking a revolution that reshaped the face of the nation’s second largest faith group after Roman Catholics.
Early on, the reformation confronted the recent-but-growing trend of women preparing for pastoral ministries at SBC schools. Amid new-fangled arguments that Bible verses long used to keep women out of the pulpit were open to re-interpretation, Southern Baptists passed a resolution in 1984 “distinguishing the roles of men and women in public prayer and prophecy” and preserving “a submission God requires because the man was first in creation and the woman was first in the Edenic fall.”
In 1987 evangelical leaders and scholars including Patterson’s wife, Dorothy, turned to leadership of Reformed Baptist pastor and author John Piper to draft a theological statement articulating what they called the “complementarian” view.
“In the home husbands are lovingly to lead their wives and wives should intelligently and willingly submit to their husbands,” proclaimed the resulting Danvers Statement, founding document of the Council on Biblical Manhood and Womanhood. “In the church, some governing and teaching roles are restricted to men.”
Responding to divorce, homosexuality, abortion and abuse rampant in society, in 1997 SBC President Tom Elliff named Dorothy Patterson and Southern Baptist Theological Seminary First Lady Mary Mohler to a seven-member committee to draft a family amendment to the Baptist Faith and Message confession of faith.
The following year, 1998, the convention added to the consensus document of Baptist teaching language assigning the husband the God-given responsibility to provide for, to protect, and to lead his family.”
“A wife is to submit herself graciously to the servant leadership of her husband even as the church willingly submits to the headship of Christ,” the amendment declared. “She, being in the image of God as is her husband and thus equal to him, has the God-given responsibility to respect her husband and to serve as his helper in managing the household and nurturing the next generation.”
The New York Times characterized the 250-word declaration among the most prominent statements on family life by a major religious organization in years.
“They hope to make June Cleaver the biblical model for motherhood, despite numerous biblical references to women who worked outside the home,” commented Baptist Center for Ethics founder Robert Parham, who died in 2017.
Patterson, who previously led Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary, brought his patriarchal inclinations along when he replaced current SBC presidential candidate Ken Hemphill as Southwestern Seminary’s president 15 years ago.
He fired Sheri Klouda, a Hebrew instructor, because in his mind if women are unqualified to become a pastor they have no business in a theology program teaching future men of the cloth.
Dorothy Patterson joined the Southwestern Seminary faculty in a new women’s studies program with offerings including a 2013 Art of Homemaking Conference featuring Michelle Duggar, a reality television star and a “full quiver” mom who opposes artificial birth control and consents to sex with the expectation that God may bless the couple with another child.
Things for Paige Patterson went downhill quickly when controversial statements he had gotten away with over the years hit the Internet in the current climate of outrage over the abuse of women by powerful men. More than 3,000 people, mostly women, signed a petition denouncing his views as misogynistic and calling for his dismissal.
Patterson confessed to choosing his words poorly, accused enemies of twisting what he said and insisted he is opposed to any form of abuse. As trustees gathered yesterday for a called meeting to consider his future, another bombshell landed in a Washington Post story quoting a woman claiming Patterson mishandled her reporting of a rape at his previous seminary.
Southwestern trustees reaffirmed an earlier vote offering for the Pattersons to retire on campus as first theologians-in-residence at the Baptist Heritage Center, due to open in July 2018.
It is unclear whether Patterson intends to keep his assignment to preach a major address at next month’s SBC annual meeting in Dallas, a swan song for a holy warrior previously honored by his election as convention president in the late 1990s.