The Southern Baptist Convention (SBC) has announced that Vice President Mike Pence will be speaking tomorrow at the Kay Bailey Hutchinson Convention Center in Dallas as part of the denomination’s annual meeting.
At a time when the SBC needs to get its house in order, heal wounds, and discuss how it can move forward together, convention leadership has decided to welcome the chief surrogate of one of the most divisive presidential administrations in recent memory. What are they thinking?
Anyone following religious news in the last several months knows that the #metoo movement has found its way to the largest Protestant denomination in America. In May, over 3000 SBC women sent an open letter to the Board of Trustees of Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary demanding the firing of Paige Patterson, the seminary president.
As one of the primary architects of the denomination’s “conservative resurgence” in the 1980s, Patterson is a living legend in the SBC. He and his supporters managed to purge the SBC of those who did not believe in biblical inerrancy, a view of the Bible that teaches that the Old and New Testaments, as they were originally written, contain no errors in matters of faith and science. The conservative resurgence also championed “complementarianism,” a reading of the Bible that teaches male “headship” in marriage, the family, business, and the church.
Patterson was a master political operator. Along with Paul Pressler, a Houston judge who shared Patterson’s views, inerrancy and complementarianism became official SBC doctrines.
Once the conservatives gained power, Patterson ruled with an iron hand. Those who disagreed with his views lost leadership positions in churches and seminaries.
But over the course of the last few months, the world that Paige Patterson created has collapsed around him.
Earlier this year, a recording surfaced of Patterson saying that he advised female victims of domestic abuse to stay with their husbands. Then a video emerged showing Patterson, while preaching a sermon, describing the physical appearance of a teenage girl in an inappropriate manner.
These accounts led other Southern Baptist women to come forward with their own their stories. When Megan Lively, a former student at Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary during the Patterson’s time as president, was sexually assaulted on campus, Patterson told her not to report the incident to the police. In describing her meeting with Patterson and his self-proclaimed “proteges,” Lively said the men “shamed the crap out of me.”
In 2015, when a Southwestern student told Patterson that she had been raped, he said he would meet with the student alone, so he could “break her down.”
Patterson is now gone, but the problem of authoritarian and misogynistic Southern Baptist leaders remains. The Patterson case exposed the dark side of the SBC and its conservative resurgence. Albert Mohler, the authoritarian president of Southern Seminary in Louisville and another architect of the conservative resurgence, declared that the “wrath of God” is now being poured out on the convention.
On June 6, Former SBC president Ronnie Floyd, fearful that his beloved denomination was falling apart over the Patterson affair, pleaded with his people via Twitter: “Southern Baptists: Refuse disunity within our ranks! There is nothing biblical or godly relating to creating disunity.”
Southern Baptists: Refuse disunity within our ranks! There is nothing biblical or godly relating to creating disunity.
— Ronnie Floyd (@ronniefloyd) June 7, 2018
Apparently, few are listening to Floyd, one of Donald Trump’s court evangelicals. If they were listening, they would not have invited Mike Pence to their convention this week.
By welcoming Mike Pence to Dallas, the convention is sending a message to its members and the rest of the world that it does not really care about healing its wounds. The opportunity to entertain the Vice President of the United States was obviously just too good for the SBC to pass up. Healing and repentance will need to wait for another time.
Politics divides Christians. It always has. Southern Baptists should know this better than most. The convention was founded in 1845 when Baptists in the South split with Northern Baptists over the most contentious political issue of the age: slavery.
Anyone who watched SBC leaders bickering and fighting in 2016 over whether to support Donald Trump can testify to the divisive power of politics. Just ask Russell Moore, the president of the SBC’s Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission. He almost lost his job for opposing Donald Trump.
Rather than directly confronting the way it has treated women in the past, the SBC has chosen to welcome the chief surrogate of a presidential administration with a long track record of degrading women in public.
Instead of Pence, the SBC should have invited Carly Fiorina, Megyn Kelly or Heidi Cruz—all victims of Donald Trump’s misogyny. But that would never happen. If they were given a major platform at the SBC meeting it would undermine the doctrine of complementarianism.
In a statement on Monday, outgoing SBC president Steve Gaines said that Pence’s speech on Wednesday will “express appreciation to Southern Baptists for the contributions we make to the moral fabric of our nation.”
Oh the irony!