The president of a Southern Baptist Convention seminary has defended an 18-year-old recording describing his counsel to a woman in an abusive marriage that is finding a new audience on social media in the age of #MeToo.
Paige Patterson, president of Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary in Fort Worth, Texas, issued a statement April 29 accusing Internet critics of “deliberate misrepresentation of my position.”
On Sunday, the Washington Post carried a story quoting from an audio recording of part of a presentation Patterson gave at a meeting sponsored by the Council on Biblical Manhood and Womanhood — a group that advocates different but complementary roles for husbands and wives in marriage — in 2000.
On the tape, Patterson — a key leader in a movement 25 years ago to move the Southern Baptist Convention away from mainstream evangelicals and closer to the Religious Right — took a question about what to say to “women who are undergoing genuine physical abuse from their husbands and their husbands say they should be submitting?”
“It depends on the level of abuse, to some degree,” Patterson said. “I have never in my ministry counseled anyone to seek a divorce, and 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,” Patterson said.
Patterson said the first thing he tells such women is not to forget “the power of prayer.”
“I’ll give you just one brief example of it,” Patterson said. “I had a woman who was in a church that I served and she was being subject to some abuse. And I told her, I said, ‘All right, what I want you to do is, every evening, I want you to get down by your bed, just before 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.’ 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.’”
“And sure enough, he did,” Patterson recounted. “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 said. “I’m sorry about that, but I’m very happy.”
“What she didn’t know when we sat down in church that morning was that her husband had come in and was standing at the back,” the story continued. “First time he ever came. When I gave the invitation that morning, he was the first one down to the front. His heart was broken, and he said, ‘My wife’s praying for me, and I can’t believe what I did to her.’ He said, ‘Do you think God could forgive somebody like me? He’s a great husband today, and it all came about because she sought God on a regular basis.”
Excerpts from the tape have been appearing on church survivor blogs for a decade — the Wartburg Watch, for example, called for Patterson’s resignation from the ministry in 2009 — but this weekend exploded for the first time onto social media.
“God doesn’t want you to be in an abusive marriage,” pastor and author Carol Howard Merritt said in a series of tweets. “Women are not sacrificial lambs to be beaten for men’s salvation.”
“I was a child in a violent home,” said Merritt, author of Healing Spiritual Wounds: Reconnecting with a Loving God After Experiencing a Hurtful Church. “Our church told my mother not to leave. It would be a sin. If she submitted, my father would stop abusing us. It doesn’t work that way. We were lucky to make it to adulthood.”
“Baptist leader instructs woman with abusive husband to stay with him, submit to him, and pray for him,” tweeted Billy Graham’s grandson Boz Tchividjian, founder of Godly Response to Abuse in the Christian Environment (GRACE). “And we wonder why so many abuse victims are suffering in silence inside our churches.”
Author and blogger Rachel Held Evans said Patterson’s comments need “a swift and thorough rebuke from the SBC and all Christians of good faith.”
“Telling women (and their children) to endure abuse by men, celebrating every black eye as a sign of faithfulness, is vicious, cruel, and misogynistic,” Evans said. “This is not of Christ.”
Patterson said in his statement that for several months he and his family “have been subjected to rigorous misrepresentation.”
“For the record, I have never been abusive to any woman,” Patterson said. “I have never counseled or condoned abuse of any kind. I will never be a party to any position other than that of the defense of any weaker party when subjected to the threat of a stronger party. This certainly includes women and children. Any physical or sexual abuse of anyone should be reported immediately to the appropriate authorities, as I have always done.”
Patterson said he has never recommended or prescribed divorce, because he believes it is unbiblical.
Patterson said it was “probably unwise” to use the illustration, “especially in the climate of this culture.”
“However, my suggestion was never that women should stay in the midst of abuse, hoping their husbands would eventually come to Christ,” he said. “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.”