Ross Douthat on the “Baptist Apocalypse”

Patterson

The New York Times conservative columnist connects the Patterson scandal at Southern Baptist Theological Seminary to the age of Trump.  Here is a taste:

Among Trump-supporting religious believers, the long odds he overcame to win the presidency are often interpreted as a providential sign: Only God could have put Donald Trump in the White House, which means he must be there for some high and holy purpose.

The trouble with this theory is that it’s way too simplistic about what kind of surprises an interventionist deity might have in mind. Such a God might, for instance, offer political success as a temptation rather than a reward — or use an unexpected presidency not to save Americans but to chastise them.

We’re a long way from any final judgment on God’s purposes in the Trump era. But so far the Trump presidency has clearly been a kind of apocalypse — not (yet) in the “world-historical calamity” sense of the word, but in the original Greek meaning: an unveiling, an uncovering, an exposure of truths that had heretofore been hidden.

That exposure came first for the Republican Party’s establishment, who were revealed as something uncomfortably close to liberal caricature in their mix of weakness, cynicism and power worship. It came next for the technocrats and the data nerds of the Democratic Party, who were revealed as ineffectual, clueless and self-regarding in opposing Trump’s clown-car campaign. And then it came for a range of celebrated media men, from Harvey Weinstein to Matt Lauer, who found that in the backlash against Trump’s misogyny their own sins were suddenly exposed.

But the unveiling has not been confined, as Trump’s providentialist supporters might like to imagine, to institutions and individuals that have arrayed themselves against him. It has come as well for figures whose style anticipated him (Roger Ailes, Bill O’Reilly, that whole ménage) and for figures who have deliberately attached themselves to his populist revolt. The sins of Roy Moore were more exposed by the Trump era, and now likewise the racist paranoia of Roseanne Barr.

And lately a similar moral exposure has come to precisely the sector of American Christianity where support for Donald Trump ran strongest — the denominational heart of conservative evangelicalism, the Southern Baptist Convention.

The main case is Paige Patterson, the now-erstwhile president of a major Baptist seminary in Fort Worth, who was eased into retirement over revelations that he’d counseled abused women to return to their husbands and allegedly shamed and silenced at least one rape victim. But the outpouring of female testimony inspired by his case suggests that Patterson is a beginning, not an end. “Judgment has now come to the house of the Southern Baptist Convention,” the Baptist theologian and seminary president Al Mohler wrote in an agonized reflection last week, and “the terrible swift sword of public humiliation has come with a vengeance.”

Read the rest here.