Paige Patterson has apologized for a “failure to be as thoughtful … as I should have been” in describing domestic violence and the physical attractiveness of women in sermon illustrations.
Patterson, president of Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary (SWBTS), has been criticized following widespread sharing online of a video of a 2014 sermon in which he illustrated the Hebrew word used to describe Eve’s being “built” from Adam’s rib by quoting a teenage boy’s assessment that a teen girl was “built.” Patterson added that the girl’s appearance was “nice.” He also has drawn criticism for an audio clip from 2000 in which he expressed his views regarding domestic violence.
BP file photo by Matt Miller
Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary President Paige Patterson (pictured here reporting to SBC messengers in 2015) has apologized for failing to be “thoughtful and careful” in a sermon illustration about women.
In the ongoing discussion surrounding Patterson’s comments, over 450 people have signed an open letter in support of Patterson. About 250 men who claim to be Southern Baptist have signed an open letter objecting to his “continued leadership” at the seminary “without repentance and reprimand.”
In related news, a female professor and a female student at SWBTS have added their voices to those defending Patterson.
In his May 10 apology, Patterson said in a statement, “Pastoral ministry that occurred 54 years ago, repeated as an illustration [of domestic violence] in sermons on more than one occasion, as well as another sermon illustration used to try to explain a Hebrew word (Heb. banah ‘build or construct,’ Gen. 2:22) have obviously been hurtful to women in several possible ways. I wish to apologize to every woman who has been wounded by anything I have said that was inappropriate or that lacked clarity. We live in a world of hurt and sorrow, and the last thing that I need to do is add to anyone’s heartache. Please forgive the failure to be as thoughtful and careful in my extemporaneous expression as I should have been.”
Patterson added, “I would also like to reiterate the simple truth that I utterly reject any form of abuse in demeaning or threatening talk, in physical blows, or in forced sexual acts. There is no excuse for anyone to use intemperate language or to attempt to injure another person. The Spirit of Christ is one of comfort, kindness, encouragement, truth, and grace; and that is what I desire my voice always to be.
“To all people I offer my apology, but especially to women, to the family of Southern Baptists, my friends and the churches. I sincerely pray that somehow this apology will show my heart and may strengthen you in the love and graciousness of Christ,” Patterson said.
Supporters, opponents mount
A May 5 open letter of support for Patterson included among its 463 signatories as of May 11 former Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission President Richard Land, former Southern Baptist Convention Executive Committee (EC) chairman William Herrell and current EC member Chris Metcalf. The number of signatories began to climb following a mass email sent May 10 by Connect 316 calling on Patterson’s supporters to sign the letter.
Connect 316, according to the group’s website, is a ministry fellowship that affirms a doctrine of salvation between that of Calvinism and Arminianism, holding that Christ died for the sins of every person.
The support letter was written by Samuel Schmidt, pastor of Edgewood Baptist Church in Nicholasville, Ky., and a May 2018 Southwestern graduate.
The point of disagreement concerning Patterson’s comments on domestic violence, Schmidt wrote, is not whether he supports abuse. “Patterson strongly condemns abuse in any circumstance or situation” and has helped remove women from abusive situations. The disagreement is whether physical abuse constitutes biblical grounds for divorce, he wrote.
Evangelicals long “have agreed to disagree” about whether the Bible ever permits divorce, Schmidt wrote. Patterson’s view that “marriage ought not to be dissolved in any circumstance” should not impede unity. “The real problem” is “a coup to forcibly remove Dr. Patterson from his position at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary by discrediting his ministry, from outside sources who are now putting pressure on … trustees.”
Trustees should not, Schmidt wrote, “bow to the culture warriors, for the sake of political correctness at the expense of the glory of the [g]ospel. We should not cringe at the sight of a few social-media users.”
The open letter from men opposing Patterson was published May 9 and affirmed a similar letter published May 6 by women claiming to be Southern Baptist. The women’s letter – which objected that Patterson has been “allowed to continue in leadership” – had garnered over 3,000 signatures by May 11.
Neither letter opposing Patterson named its author. Early signatories of the women’s letter have said the writing was a group effort, though members of the group have not been named.
The men’s letter stated, “Were the principal of a public high school to” speak about a teenage girl like Patterson did in his 2014 sermon, “we can reasonably assume that he would immediately be called to meet with the school board and be reprimanded for his remarks and may even face termination of employment. That Dr. Patterson’s remarks have been public for four years without reprimand by your board or repudiation by Dr. Patterson suggests that the unbelieving community takes a stronger stand on the public treatment of women than Christians.
“Furthermore,” the letter continued, “Dr. Patterson’s remarks in 2000 regarding his counsel to an abused woman were dangerous, unwise, and unbiblical. His failure to repudiate these remarks, along with the silence of the SWBTS Board of Trustees, gives the impression that such counsel is appropriate, wise, and biblical. We declare it is not.”
Patterson’s “continued leadership – without repentance and reprimand – calls into question the witness of the Southern Baptist Convention,” the letter stated.
One of Patterson’s defenders, SWBTS professor Candi Finch, alleged in a May 9 email to the SWBTS board of visitors that list of signatories for the women’s letter opposing Patterson includes “men, duplicate names, non-Southern Baptists, many fake names, and even one person who was dead that someone signed in her memory.” Finch said she “had to ask them to remove” the name of Patterson’s wife Dorothy, which “someone had signed falsely.”
The open letter from women “does not reflect the majority of Southern Baptists,” said Finch, assistant professor of theology in women’s studies at SWBTS.
Based on 16 years of acquaintance with Patterson, Finch stated he “is not perfect (none of us are), but he is certainly not who he is being portrayed to be on social media. He has only ever treated me with respect and honor.”
“The charge that Dr. Patterson is somehow anti-woman just doesn’t hold water,” Finch wrote. “No one other than Mrs. Patterson has been more supportive of my own educational journey than Dr. Patterson, and I know I am not the only woman who could say that.
“Look at his record here at SWBTS. He has hired more qualified women with [doctor of philosophy degrees] to teach here, appointed a Dean of Women’s Programs, has advocated for women being equipped theologically for ministry in biblically appropriate ways, and has championed women in our Women’s Auxiliary and Widow’s Might to support our school for years. Just this last spring we had over 400 women at our Fort Worth women’s auxiliary meeting to support our women on campus. These are just a sampling of the ways he has sought to support women at SWBTS,” Finch wrote.
Sharayah Colter, a SWBTS student and wife of Patterson’s chief of staff, wrote in a May 5 post on the SBC Today website that Patterson “is one of the most godly humans I know.”
“His heart and mind are set on things above,” Colter wrote. “He shows great care for women day in and day out. He has clarified comments taken out of context, explained that he has never counseled a physically abused woman to remain in a dangerous situation, and in fact has so fought for abused women that he has hidden them from dangerous husbands to protect them.
“Any conclusions other than that are simply those of people not willing to give an honest reading and consideration of his statements and heart. Certainly that is each person’s prerogative. But let the record show, I fully support Paige Patterson, a man who has respected me, educated me and propelled me to follow and share Christ with zest and urgency,” Colter wrote.
SWBTS’s trustees are scheduled to meet May 22 at Patterson’s request.
(EDITOR’S NOTE – David Roach is chief national correspondent for Baptist Press, the Southern Baptist Convention’s news service.)