Southern Baptist Convention leader Paige Patterson was asked to step down early Wednesday morning following a meeting of the board of trustees of Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary, where he served as president. With a following of over 15 million, Southern Baptists are America’s largest Protestant denomination.
Trustees were responding to a petition by over 3,000 Southern Baptist women regarding what they called Patterson’s “unbiblical” remarks on womanhood, sexuality and domestic violence. In an audio recording from 2000 that surfaced recently, Patterson was heard counseling a woman to stay with her abusive husband. In another sermon, he commented on a 16-year-old girl’s body. And even as the trustees met, news broke that Patterson allegedly advised a female seminary student not to report a rape to the police.
It would be easy to assume evangelical Christian educators like Patterson uniformly discriminate against women because they believe the Bible teaches women to submit to men. But, as a historian of women, religion and higher education, I know that the story is not that simple: Evangelicals actually led in opening higher education to women.
The very first college in world history to offer a bachelor’s degree to women, Oberlin, did so in 1837, with the goal of training more people to spread the evangelical gospel.
In other words, theologically conservative Christians pioneered women’s higher education for theological reasons.