Stetzer calls for Patterson to step down from leadership

By Carrie Brown McWhorter
The Alabama Baptist

At least one prominent Southern Baptist is publicly calling for Paige Patterson to step down from leadership after comments he made 18 years ago reignited a discussion of the church’s tolerance of abuse.

Ed Stetzer wrote in a column for Christianity Today that many Southern Baptist Convention (SBC) leaders believe it is time for Patterson to step down as president of Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary in Fort Worth, Texas, and to excuse himself from giving the convention sermon June 13 at the SBC annual meeting in Dallas.

Stetzer is executive director of the Billy Graham Center at Wheaton College in Illinois and former head of LifeWay Research.

A message ‘we must not send’

“If Patterson preaches at the SBC, he will, because of his past work, get a standing ovation. Every news story will point to that moment, tie it together with the (sexual abuse) accusations against Paul Pressler and say that Southern Baptists don’t take abuse seriously,” Stetzer wrote. “It’s not just a public relations crisis. It’s a message to women that we must not send.”

An article in The Washington Post on April 29 by Jonathan Merritt and tweets by Merritt with audio recordings of the comments brought Patterson’s words to prominence, though they have been shared by other journalists and bloggers in the past. The comments were made in March 2000 at an SBC conference co-sponsored by the Council for Biblical Manhood and Womanhood. (Patterson’s wife, Dorothy, is a founding member of that council.)

In response to a question about women who are abused by their husbands, Patterson said:

“It depends on the level of abuse to some degree. I have never in my ministry counseled that anybody seek a divorce, and I do think 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. I would urge you to understand that that should happen only in the most serious of cases.”

Patterson then told the story of a woman in a church where he served who was being subjected to “some abuse,” in Patterson’s words. Patterson advised the woman to pray by the bed as her husband went to sleep. When the woman then came to church with two black eyes, Patterson described what happened next: “She was angry at me and at God and the world … (and) said, ‘I hope you’re happy.’ And I said, ‘Yes, ma’am, I am.’ And I said, ‘I’m sorry about that, but I’m very happy.’”

Patterson released a statement April 29 in which he stated that the couple in his story reconciled after the husband made a public decision for Christ that same day. He called sharing the story “probably unwise” and added that “my suggestion was never that women should stay in the midst of abuse, hoping their husbands would eventually come to Christ. 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.”

Many prominent Southern Baptists joined the online discussion in response to Patterson’s comments including Thom Rainer, president and CEO of LifeWay Christian Resources, who issued a statement April 30 on Twitter stating he “cannot be silent on the issue of abuse of women.”

“My silence becomes a reverberating echo of indifference at best. There is no level or type of abuse of women that is acceptable. We have been called by God to show honor and respect to all women and girls. They are our mothers, our sisters, our daughters, our granddaughters and our wives. We thank God for them. And I stand with all who say ‘no’ to any type of abuse of women at any time and under any circumstance,” Rainer wrote.

Stetzer said there is an “unofficial custom” in the SBC that leaders do not criticize other leaders, which is why comments by Rainer, Beth Moore (scroll down to see story) and others are significant. He said Patterson’s retirement would be a “better way forward” for the SBC’s future mission.

But Alabama Baptist pastor Rick Patrick disagrees with the challenges to Patterson.

“Any writer who would apply a 6-month-old cultural template to an 18-year-old comment must realize that the foundation of their criticism crumbles under the weight of their misplaced historical context,” wrote Patrick, publisher of the blog SBC Today.

“When Patterson says he opposes divorce, this does not mean he opposes a woman’s safe separation,” Patrick wrote in an April 30 blog post. “A woman can separate from her husband and find a safe place without seeking a divorce.”


Beth Moore protests sexism, tolerance of abuse in Church

Blasting a church culture of rampant sexism, Beth Moore took to social media to respond to past comments made by Paige Patterson that seem to suggest women should stay in abusive marriages.

“I’ve dealt with sexism in my church culture for 60 years. Had to accept certain degrees of it to serve & serve I would because I was called. Then 18 months ago the meticulously groomed dog that is sexism rolled over & we who’d bear to look saw its gross underbelly, full of ticks,” Moore, founder of Living Proof Ministries and a prominent Bible teacher and author, tweeted April 29.

When the comments by Patterson surfaced again, Moore tweeted that she is “pro marriage” but took to task counseling against divorce regardless of circumstances.

‘We do not submit to abuse’

In an April 28 tweet she wrote, “When we as a church culture demonize divorce as the worst possible outcome — the sin of all sins — we truly have no clue on this ever-loving earth what some people are enduring. We do not submit to abuse. NO.”

She later tweeted: “It’s grossly naïve to assume every man who bruises up his wife, realizes he’s been outed, shows up at church & cries over how sorry he is, really has repented. REPENTANCE BEARS FRUIT.”

Moore has been vocal about her own history of sexual abuse and about issues of sexual abuse and assault in the Church. She joined the #MeToo movement in October 2017, posting on Twitter, “A well-meaning mentor told me at 25 that people couldn’t handle hearing about sexual abuse and it would sink my ministry. It didn’t. #MeToo.”

In the months following allegations against movie mogul Harvey Weinstein of years of sexual abuse and assault, the #MeToo and #ChurchToo movements saw thousands of people share their stories of abuse. (TAB)