An open letter from Southern Baptist women objecting that Paige Patterson has been “allowed to continue in leadership” despite his statements on sexuality and domestic abuse has garnered nearly 2,500 signatures – with more than 1,800 in its first 24 hours online. Other Southern Baptist women defended Patterson’s character without affirming all his specific comments.
Photo by Adam Covington
Southwestern Seminary trustees will meet May 22 to discuss controversy surrounding seminary president Paige Patterson, pictured here at the 2017 SBC annual meeting.
Meanwhile, Southern Baptists continue to discuss a May 3 open letter to Christian men by Bible teacher Beth Moore lamenting “the colossal disregard and disrespect of women” among some conservative evangelicals.
At issue in the open letter concerning Patterson, president of Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary (SWBTS), are an audio clip from 2000 in which he expressed his views regarding domestic violence and divorce and a video of a 2014 sermon in which he referenced a teenage girl’s physical attractiveness.
The open letter, published online May 6, stated, “We are shocked by the video that has surfaced showing Dr. Paige Patterson objectify a teenage girl and then suggest this as behavior that is biblical. We are further grieved by the dangerous and unwise counsel given by Dr. Patterson to women in abusive situations. His recent remarks of clarification do not repudiate his unwise counsel in the past; nor has he offered explanation or repentance for inappropriate comments regarding a teenage girl, the unbiblical teaching he offered on the biblical meaning of womanhood in that objectification, and the inappropriate nature of his own observations of her body.
“This pattern of discourse,” the letter continued, “is unbefitting the sober, wise, and sound character required of an elder, pastor, and leader … The Southern Baptist Convention cannot allow the biblical view of leadership to be misused in such a way that a leader with an unbiblical view of authority, womanhood, and sexuality be allowed to continue in leadership.”
The letter was addressed to SWBTS trustee chairman Kevin Ueckert as well as the full trustee board, which is scheduled to meet May 22 at Patterson’s request. Not all of the letter’s signatories appeared to be female.
Among the first signers of the letter were Lauren Chandler, wife of Dallas-area pastor Matt Chandler; Amanda Jones, a Houston pastor’s wife and daughter of Beth Moore; Jennifer Lyell, a vice president at LifeWay Christian Resources’ B&H Publishing Group; and Karen Swallow Prior, professor of English at Liberty University and a research fellow with the Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission.
Prior told Baptist Press (BP) in an email exchange, “The letter was drafted collectively among a group of women who were among the first signers. Because this is a grassroots effort designed to reflect many Southern Baptist Convention (SBC) women, we prefer not to focus on the writers, but the signers.” She added that “the drafters sought much wise counsel before it was published.”
Wheaton College professor Ed Stetzer – who has written a blog post calling for Patterson to retire from his presidency at SWBTS – tweeted May 6 that the letter “just went public” and called it “a big deal” for “theologically conservative women leaders to call for [Patterson’s] resignation.”
Among Southern Baptist women offering a different perspective was Southwestern dean of women’s programs Terri Stovall, who tweeted a May 4 statement titled “Let a Southwestern woman speak.” Stovall has been at Southwestern either as a faculty member or a student under Presidents Russell Dilday, Ken Hemphill and Patterson.
“People ask, ‘How are you treated?’” Stovall wrote. “In my 35 years of ministry, have I always been treated in a Christ-like manner? My answer is, ‘Not exactly.’ In fact, I resonated with the most recent open letter penned by Beth Moore. But honestly, my most painful experiences have occurred in the local church and not at Southwestern … Let me be clear. I have never, no not ever, been treated with any less than the highest respect from Paige Patterson. Dr. Patterson has never discounted me as less-than, has always listened to me, heard me, and took my opinion into equal consideration as my male counterparts.”
Amid social media discussion of abuse and sexism, Donna Gaines, wife of SBC President Steve Gaines, tweeted a call May 5 for Southern Baptists to “get off social media and into our Bibles and prayer closets; off our high horses and onto our knees.”
Donna Gaines told BP May 7 “the thing that most grieved me were some of the vicious attacks on people. We should be able to discuss issues without attacking people, and it wasn’t even just that people were attacking Dr. Patterson. It was people who were speaking on both sides of the issue being attacked by both sides of the issue.”
“Obviously,” Gaines added, abuse of “anyone is indefensible. Nobody’s arguing with that,” and churches must be prepared to help the abused.
Regarding Patterson, Gaines said, “I can’t defend what he said. At the same time, I have known this man for a long time and believe his character and integrity are still intact even if he made a mistake and used an inappropriate illustration.”
Moore has not mentioned Patterson by name in her social media posts but has tweeted several times about abuse and sexism in the past week. Her tweets have been quoted in media reports about Patterson.
In her open letter to Christian men, Moore wrote she has shown “constant pronounced deference” to “male leaders” beyond even the “proper respect which I was glad to show.” Nonetheless, she wrote, men have “talked down” to her, ignored her in social settings and in at least one instance made an inappropriate comment about her appearance.
“I accepted the peculiarities accompanying female leadership in a conservative Christian world,” Moore wrote, “because I chose to believe that, whether or not some of the actions and attitudes seemed godly to me, they were rooted in deep convictions based on passages from 1 Timothy 2 and 1 Corinthians 14.
“Then early October 2016 surfaced attitudes among some key Christian leaders that smacked of misogyny, objectification and astonishing disesteem of women and it spread like wildfire,” Moore wrote, perhaps a reference to differing views among evangelicals during the 2016 presidential campaign. “It was just the beginning. I came face to face with one of the most demoralizing realizations of my adult life: [s]cripture was not the reason for the colossal disregard and disrespect of women among many of these men. It was only the excuse. Sin was the reason. Ungodliness.”
Moore decided to address these issues, she wrote, “not for my own sake,” but “for [the] sake of my gender, for the sake of our sisters in Christ and for the sake of other female leaders who will be faced with similar challenges.” In addition, “I do so for the sake of my brothers because Christlikeness is at stake and many of you are in positions to foster Christlikeness in your sons and in the men under your influence.”
Among responses to Moore, Southern Baptist pastor Thabiti Anyabwile wrote a May 3 “apology to Beth Moore and my sisters,” which was posted on The Gospel Coalition website.
Anyabwile, pastor of Anacostia River Church in Washington, confessed that in the past, his “heart met nearly every mention of a woman in ministry with a scoff and the suspicion that that woman did not accept or understand the Bible’s teaching on gender roles.”
Anyabwile confessed to Moore that he had exhibited a “sinful attitude rooted in the very misogyny and chauvinism you describe in your post.”
Another Southern Baptist to respond to Moore was Nathan Finn, dean of Union University’s School of Theology and Missions. He tweeted of Anyabwile’s letter, “With minor changes in details, I could’ve written this letter. Thanks, @ThabitiAnyabwil, for your honesty. Thanks, @BethMooreLPM, for your ministry. Beth, please forgive me for unkind, ignorant, sinful things I’ve said about you (& others) in the past.”
(EDITOR’S NOTE – David Roach is chief national correspondent for Baptist Press, the Southern Baptist Convention’s news service.)