Can the Southern Baptist Convention Think of Any More Ways to Shoot Itself in the Foot?

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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.”

The Board of Trustees at Southwestern eventually removed Patterson from his post and stripped him of his retirement fringe benefits, including a large home on the Fort Worth campus

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.”

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!

Mike Pence Will Visit the Annual Meeting of the Southern Baptist Convention

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This morning I was talking to a reporter about this week’s annual meeting of the Southern Baptist Convention.  The reporter asked me if I thought the Southern Baptists will make some kind of resolution about Donald Trump or any of his policies.

I said I thought that it was highly unlikely that the convention would dabble in politics since it is so divided on whether or not Trump is good for America.  I told the reporter that the convention has enough problems to deal with in the wake of the #metoo and #sbctoo movements and, if they are wise, they would steer clear of politics.   I thought they might take the advice of former Southern Baptist president Ronnie Floyd:

I was apparently wrong.  The convention just announced that Mike Pence will be attending the meeting.

Here is a taste of a report from the Baptist Press:

DALLAS (BP) — Vice President Mike Pence will address the Southern Baptist Convention on Wednesday (June 13).

The announcement of Pence’s 11 a.m. address to messengers and invited guests at the June 12-13 annual meeting in Dallas was made by SBC President Steve Gaines and Grant Ethridge, chairman of the convention’s Committee on Order of Business, in a joint press release today (June 11).

“We are excited to announce Vice President Mike Pence will be attending this year’s SBC annual meeting to express appreciation to Southern Baptists for the contributions we make to the moral fabric of our nation,” Gaines said.

Southern Baptist leaders estimate the number of messengers from the convention’s cooperating churches may approach 11,000 with an additional 4,000 invited guests on the final day of the two-day convention.

“It’s an honor to welcome Vice President Pence,” Ethridge said. “While the Southern Baptist Convention aligns itself with no political party, our program recognizes and honors local, state and national leaders in keeping with 1 Timothy 2:1–2

Read the entire piece here.  The Southern Baptist Convention continues to shoot itself in the foot.

More on the Paige Patterson Story from *The Washington Post*

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Michelle Boorstein and Sarah Pulliam Bailey continue to work the Paige Patterson story for the Washington Post.  In their recent piece, they share additional stories of women treated poorly by Patterson.  Here is a taste:

Melissa Medley was there from 2010 to 2014 for her undergraduate studies in missions work when, she says, she was groped by her favorite professor. She went to a chaplain, who reported it to Patterson.

Patterson called and was “cordial,” and told her “corny jokes” before addressing the allegation, Medley said.

“The first thing he said was, making sure I understood the severity of what I was saying. I said yes,” said Medley, now pursuing a counseling master’s at Liberty University in Lynchburg, Va. “He said: ‘Do you have witnesses? Do you have proof?’ ”

She said that Patterson told her he would treat it as a “he said-she said” until he spoke to the professor — who denied everything. That was the end of the process, she said.

“That crushed me, because I knew nothing would be done,” she said.

Medley said she is not angry and, in fact, she “loves” the Southern Baptist Convention and is proud to be part of it. However, “Southern Baptists aren’t taught how to handle these situations. . . . We’ve got things we need to change.”

Ueckert, the board chairman at Southwestern, said last week that he didn’t know of the allegation. The professor denied it in an email to The Post.

Read the entire piece here.

I also found this part of the piece intriguing:

Patterson and a Texas judge named Paul Pressler — who now faces a state lawsuit alleging sexual abuse by a man in his Bible study, which he denies — met in a New Orleans cafe to sketch out a plan to get conservatives into all the leadership positions in Southern Baptist institutions, according to historians of religion.

The takeover, which lasted over a decade, was no holds barred, with Patterson keeping files on ideological opponents and cultivating spies in seminaries, according to historical accounts. A 1991 profile in D Magazine — which covers the Dallas area — said Patterson had been “likened to the Rev. Jim Jones and Joe McCarthy” by his critics in the denomination. “He’s been reviled as a power-mad fundamentalist on a witch hunt for heretics.”

Paige Patterson Will Not Deliver Southern Baptist Convention Sermon

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Instead, Patterson will ride “off into the setting sun—but with a Bible in my hand and a witness from my heart until He comes for me individually or for us all in the air. ”

He also references his own place in history:   “I have with stumbling step, limited ability, and stuttering tongue desired to bequeath to the world an orthodox denomination with a heart and message for a world of lost people.  My part is small in the amazing history of the people we call Baptists. ”

Here is his full statement:

Dear Southern Baptist Family: 

On May 22 the trustees of Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary met together in a board meeting called at my request.  At that meeting, in which I briefly participated, I was asked to assume the position of President Emeritus of Southwestern, and I accepted this reassignment. One week later, May 30, the executive committee of the board met, though this time I was not asked to participate and was unable to address or answer questions for committee members since I was in Germany for a preaching assignment. While in Germany, I received a phone call informing me I had been relieved of all responsibilities with and compensation from the Seminary effective immediately. 

Since much has been reported and written about these matters in recent weeks, I wanted to address briefly a few points. It is not in my spirit or my heart to debate or revisit the decisions of the trustees to whom I was accountable as president of Southwestern, other than the brief comments that follow. 

Recently, I have been accused, publicly and privately, of a number of things—none of which I acknowledge as having done in the way portrayed, and others that I am confident I absolutely did not do. I’ll just speak to several examples. First, a poor choice of words has occurred, in and out of the pulpit, over decades of ministry.  I regret each case in which my heart and message were not clearly presented.

On the other hand, I take exception to accusations that I ever knowingly ignored or failed to follow appropriate protocols in cases of reported abuse of women, students, or staff at any institution where I have served. Indeed, the Southwestern trustees confirmed as much in their public statement of May 23, 2018: “The board affirmed a motion stating evidence exists that Dr. Patterson has complied with reporting laws regarding assault and abuse.” 

For my words, demeanor, sentiments, or disposition to have been twisted to suggest the very antithesis to who I am and the biblical message I have presented over half a century not only is crushing to me and my family but also inevitably proves hurtful to others in the process.  I have never sought to inflict hurt upon a woman or man. 

For the last 43 years, through service in three institutions, I have attempted to prepare pastors and missionaries academically, evangelistically, and spiritually for kingdom endeavors.  Today, on behalf of my sweetheart Dorothy, who has labored faithfully by my side through both sorrows and triumphs, and on behalf of my children and grandchildren, I want to express my gratitude to God for Southern Baptists.  You have often encouraged our hearts.  You have prayed for us in a multitude of ways.  I would ask of no one of you more than you have given.  What I have given back is a pittance compared to your kindness to me. 

I wish further to thank the faculties and administrators who have held high my arms during both calm and raging waters.  I love you all.  To all of my students, including nearly 10,000 graduates whose diplomas I have personally signed, I thank you for your uncommon love for me, and more important, your unwavering devotion to our Lord. 

To those who have ever opposed me or have embraced a different vision, I would be remiss if I did not thank you also.  Your opposition kept me on my face before God, reminded me of just how very human I am, and outlined in tantalizing colors the mercies of God, which I have received in profusion from our Lord.  I pray for heaven’s kindness for each of you.   

At age 75, while my occupation has changed, my calling and passion have not been disturbed.  Soon Southwestern will have a new president.  I am riding off into the setting sun—but with a Bible in my hand and a witness from my heart until He comes for me individually or for us all in the air.  I ask Southern Baptists to hold the new president of Southwestern before God in earnest prayer.  He will be a great man, but the level of his attainment will be dependent to a large degree on your concert of prayer.  I know that you will not fail in this endeavor.  

In a few days, for the first time in 66 years I will not attend the annual meeting of the Southern Baptist Convention – having begun attending when I was nine.  As many of you know, I was elected in 2017 to deliver the 2018 annual convention sermon, but I have now respectfully requested to be released from this high privilege because I do not want my role as a preacher to detract in any way from the important business of our convention and because my desire is to work toward biblical harmony at our annual meeting. Many messengers have implored me to carry out this assignment, but this convention is not about me, and I have every confidence that this decision is best and right.   

Now, may I just leave you with a challenge?  I have with stumbling step, limited ability, and stuttering tongue desired to bequeath to the world an orthodox denomination with a heart and message for a world of lost people.  My part is small in the amazing history of the people we call Baptists.  But as insignificant as it may be, I will be praying every day that you will cling to the whole Bible as the Word of the living God and at the same moment give that Word to every lost person on this globe, knowing that Christ died for all and that every man, woman, boy, and girl who comes to the Lord Jesus in saving faith will be saved. Would you join me in that endeavor?  Please link your hearts with Dorothy and me in expressing thanksgiving to our Lord for His abundant mercies to us all.

Paige Patterson’s Attorney Says His Client is the Victim of “wide-spread misrepresentation and misinformation”

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Here is the latest on the Paige Patterson mess.  It comes from David Roach at Baptist Press.  A taste:

An attorney for terminated Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary President Paige Patterson issued a media release late Monday afternoon (June 4) defending Patterson against alleged “wide-spread misrepresentation and misinformation…

Among Sharpe’s claims in his media release:

— “No reasonable reading of” correspondence from Patterson’s personal archives suggested Lively “reported a rape to Dr. Patterson” in 2003 when he was Southeastern’s president “and certainly not that he ignored” such a report, “as is alleged.”

— “Dr. Patterson first learned of the charges that he allegedly did not report a rape at SEBTS during the May 22 board meeting” of Southwestern’s trustees. “Dr. Patterson’s response was that he had no recollection of a rape being reported to him.”

Sharpe told BP Patterson didn’t “remember a lady reporting a rape” while he was at Southeastern, so he called Allan Moseley, Southeastern’s dean of students in 2003. “Dr. Moseley said, ‘I don’t recall the lady telling me that.’ And then the lady who became [Lively’s] accountability partner” said, when she was queried May 22, “I don’t ever remember this student telling me that.”

Sharpe alleged that Lively, in 2003, “confessed to consensual” sexual conduct and “referred to it as a sin on her part.”

— During the May 22 Southwestern trustee meeting, “Dr. Patterson explained the full context” of a 2015 email concerning a rape allegation by a female student at the Fort Worth seminary, including his alleged statement that he wanted to meet with the accuser alone to “break her down.” Patterson’s explanation was “to the apparent satisfaction of the full board, as evidenced by the fact that the full trustee board voted to name Dr. Patterson ‘president emeritus’ instead of terminating him.”

Sharpe told BP the accuser met “with Dr. Patterson and with others and report[ed] the rape. The guy was immediately expelled from school and it’s reported to law enforcement. A week later, she sends an email to Dr. Patterson thanking him for the way he handled the delicate matter.”

More than “a month later,” Sharpe said, Patterson made the “break her down” statement to express his desire to more fully understand circumstances “concerning a forthcoming meeting that had nothing to do with the reporting of the rape.”

— “Dr. Patterson flatly denies that private SEBTS archives were ever stolen,” and his personal attorney has invited Southeastern to “join with him in having Peacemakers Ministries provide an arbitrator agreeable to both parties to decide the ownership of” disputed records “in accordance with 1 Corinthians 6, which prescribes how Christians are to settle disputes rather than using the secular court system.”

Read the entire article here.

This Paige Patterson Stuff Just Gets More Disgusting By the Day

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Here is Sarah Smith of the Fort Worth Star-Telegram:

The fired Southern Baptist seminary leader who wanted to get an alleged rape victim alone to “break her down” also said it was a “good thing” she had been raped and that her future husband wouldn’t care if she was a virgin or not, according to the woman’s attorney.

Paige Patterson, a giant in the Southern Baptist world, was fired from the Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary in Fort Worth on May 30 in response to his handling of sexual assault allegations. He had been pushed to president emeritus May 23.

The three alleged assaults took place in October 2014 and April 2015 and were reported in August 2015. The alleged assailant, according to the victim’s attorney, Stuart Cochran of Dallas, was a Southwestern student and employee.

“I am told he said it was a ‘good thing’ my client had been raped and that her future husband wouldn’t care if she was a virgin or not,” Cochran said of Paige in a statement to the Star-Telegram. “He threatened to sic lawyers on her [mother] for questioning his leadership at the school when she asked why the assailant was allowed on campus.”

Cochran said that Patterson sent around an email calling the woman’s mother “nuts.”

A request sent to Patterson for comment through his then-chief of staff at Southwestern, Scott Colter, has not been returned. Colter is no longer at Southwestern.

After the alleged assaults and Patterson’s behavior, Cochran said, the woman withdrew voluntarily from the seminary.

Read the rest here.  Indeed, Paige Patterson’s world HAS collapsed around him.

“Dr. Patterson discussed meeting with the student alone so that he could ‘break her down’ and that he preferred no officials be present”

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And he also took documents from Southeastern Seminary that did not belong to him.

Kevin Euckert, the chair of the Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary Board of Trustees, published this statement today on the seminary website:

Based on a number of follow-up questions I have received this week, I am providing this additional statement related to our May 30, 2018 statement. The unanimous decision by the Executive Committee to immediately terminate Dr. Paige Patterson was prayerfully considered and warranted.  

We confirmed this week through a student record, made available to me with permission, that an allegation of rape was indeed made by a female student at Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary in 2003. This information contradicts a statement previously provided by Dr. Patterson in response to a direct question by a Board member regarding the incident referenced in our May 30 statement. The 2003 rape allegation was never reported to local law enforcement. SWBTS will not release the student record to the public without additional appropriate permissions. 

In addition, as previously disclosed, a female student at SWBTS reported to Dr. Patterson that she had been raped in 2015.  Police were notified of that report. But in connection with that allegation of rape, Dr. Patterson sent an email (the contents of which were shared with the Board on May 22) to the Chief of Campus Security in which Dr. Patterson discussed meeting with the student alone so that he could “break her down” and that he preferred no officials be present. The attitude expressed by Dr. Patterson in that email is antithetical to the core values of our faith and to SWBTS. Moreover, the correlation between what has been reported and also revealed in the student record regarding the 2003 allegation at Southeastern and the contents of this email are undeniable.

Further, SWBTS received a request from Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary requesting the return of any documents taken by Dr. Patterson upon his departure from Southeastern. Counsel for SWBTS, Michael Anderson, immediately reached out to counsel for Dr. Patterson, Shelby Sharpe, on May 25 and made inquiry regarding the documents. Mr. Sharpe advised Mr. Anderson that Dr. Patterson only took documents from Southeastern that belonged to him. Yet, independent of that request, following the May 30 Executive Committee meeting, SWBTS located Southeastern documents on the SWBTS campus and began taking steps to preserve them.  Mr. Anderson is in contact with George Harvey, counsel for Southeastern, and is working with Mr. Harvey regarding Southeastern’s request for the return of its documents. 

The morning after the May 30 Executive Committee meeting, Mr. Sharp provided a few documents he reportedly obtained from Dr. Patterson. The documents clearly dealt with Dr. Patterson’s tenure at Southeastern and should have been previously provided in response to Mr. Anderson’s May 25 request. Shortly after these documents were provided, the wife of Dr. Patterson’s Chief of Staff published a blog and attached these documents without the permission of the students referenced in the documents or appropriate leadership from SEBTS or SWBTS. I believe this was inappropriate and unethical. Regardless, the additional documents do not alter the decision of the Executive Committee.

Ultimately, the decision of the Executive Committee to immediately terminate Dr. Patterson was clear and unanimous. 

I also want to reiterate what SWBTS Interim President Dr. Jeffrey Bingham said earlier this week.  SWBTS denounces all abusive behavior, any behavior that enables abuse, any failure to protect the abused, and any failure to safeguard those who are vulnerable to abuse. 

In this difficult situation, the Executive Committee based its decision on the current performance of the president and did not allow the legacy of Dr. Patterson or the #MeToo pressure to steer the outcome. We did not react; rather, we decisively exercised our responsibility based on the Seminary’s biblically informed core values and integrity.

I join Dr. Bingham in his call for the SWBTS community to join the Body of Christ in praying for healing for all individuals affected by abuse.

The Latest on Paige Patterson

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David Roach has a nice summary of the most recent developments at Baptist Press.  Here is a taste:

Following Paige Patterson’s termination by a 12-member committee of the Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary trustees, reactions have ranged from affirmation of the trustees to defense of Patterson.

The seminary has canceled planned on-campus events in conjunction with the June 12-13 Southern Baptist Convention annual meeting in Dallas, and at least two of Patterson’s speaking engagements at ancillary meetings have been canceled. Patterson has not said whether he will deliver the convention sermon in Dallas, a task messengers at the 2017 SBC annual meeting elected him to fulfill.

Meanwhile, the Southwestern trustee executive committee announced today (May 31) that it also “has reinstated” Nathan Montgomery “as an employee of SWBTS.” Montgomery is the student worker who was fired May 2 after he tweeted an article critical of Patterson that called for his retirement.

Patterson has been under fire since late April for statements he has made about domestic abuse and women’s physical appearance.

Read the rest here.  Not familiar with the Patterson scandal?  Get up to speed here.

What is the Current Status of the Paige Patterson Files Removed from Southeastern Seminary?

SOutheasternWe blogged about this last week.  Southern Baptist blogger Wade Burleson suggested that files pertaining to a 2003 rape of a student at Southeastern Seminary during the Paige Patterson presidency were removed from the seminary archives when Patterson left for Southwestern Seminary.  Get up to speed here.

It looks like Danny Akin, the current president of Southeastern, has weighed-in.  Here is a taste of Michelle Boorstein’s and Sarah Pulliam Bailey’s reporting at The Washington Post:

Danny Akin, president of Southeastern seminary, said he couldn’t confirm if the Southwestern leaders were referring to Lively’s alleged 2003 rape at his school. Akin said he believes files that would help them investigate the incident were taken from Southeastern when Patterson left that same year to become president at Southwestern in Texas.

“Whether by mistake or intentionally, I don’t know. We think there are files that probably belong to Southeastern so we’ve asked folks at Southwestern to look into that. They’re in the process of doing that,” he said.

Read the entire piece here

Paige Patterson’s Former Retirement Home

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When Paige Patterson was fired yesterday by Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary, he lost his cushy retirement package, including an on-campus mansion on the seminary property.   Find some context here and here.

Back in March, the Baptist Blogger, Rev. Benjamin S. Cole, posted a video of the house. To be fair, it seems like the building would also serve as some kind of center for Baptist heritage.

Here are some images:

 

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Will Cedarville University Remove Paige Patterson from its Board of Trustees?

 

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Cedarville University president Thomas White is a Paige Patterson disciple.  (According to this story, Patterson preferred to called people like White his “proteges”).  He worked for Patterson at Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary and Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary.

We have blogged before about White and the direction he has taken Cedarville.  Get up to speed here.

Patterson is a member of the Board of Trustees of Cedarville University.  Now that Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary has removed Patterson from office and has taken away all of his benefits, will Cedarville remove him from the Board?  Will Cedarville University continue to have a man who covered-up a rape on their Board of Trustees?

There are a LOT of Cedarville alums who want him out.  Here is a taste of a piece published about an hour ago at the website of an Ohio radio station:

Patterson joined Cedarville University’s Board of Trustees in 2013. A petition calling for his removal from the board has now garnered more than 1200 signatures. In a statement issued last night, Cedarville president Thomas White condemned abuse while also expressing sympathy for Patterson. He also asserted he does not have the authority to remove Patterson from the Board.

“I do not know whether Dr. Patterson will continue to serve as a Trustee at Cedarville. The President neither appoints nor removes trustees. I serve under the authority of the Board and not the other way around. Our Board is self-perpetuating, and they have processes in place that they follow. Communication across the twenty-seven members with busy summer schedules can take time, and any action typically happens at regularly scheduled meetings. In my experience with them, our Board seeks to make wise decisions after gathering and considering all available information. I trust our Board to do what is right, at the right time, and in the right way.”

White, who worked alongside Patterson at both Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary in North Carolina and Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary in Texas, also referenced the increasing number of sexual abuse allegations coming to light at American colleges and universities.

“We recognize that training students in this generation is complex. We live in the midst of a #MeToo movement surrounded by a “Fifty Shades of Grey” culture populated by humans bearing a sinful nature inherited from Adam.”

Read the piece here.  Read the petition here.

I have no idea what this last paragraph is trying to communicate.  How does the #MeToo movement make “training” student “complex?”  It seems pretty straightforward to me. What is “complex” about not abusing women?  And why the use of the word “training” instead of “educating?”  What is White trying to say when he compares the #MeToo movement with a “Fifty Shades of Grey” culture?  This is a really strange statement.

Southwestern Baptist Seminary is Dragged (Kicking and Screaming) into the #MeToo Era

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A few days ago, in a post on April Armstrong’s powerful piece on life at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary, I wrote: “I imagine we will hear more stories like the ones April Armstrong has shared at the website #SBCToo: Breaking the Southern Baptist Seminary Silence.”

Sadly, it looks like I was correct.  Paige Patterson is now out completely at Southwestern, but more and more stories about life under his authoritarian regime are rolling in.  Here is a taste of Sarah Jones’s piece at The New Republic:

As president, he earned a conservative reputation on gender issues. In 2007, SWBTS terminated the contract of a female theology professor, Dr. Sheri Klouda, explicitly based on her gender. A spokesman for the school told the Associated Press at the timethat the decision to remove Klouda represented a “return” to the seminary’s “traditional, confessional, and biblical position.” In an email to me, Klouda described Patterson’s attitude toward women as “condescending and dismissive,” and added that prior to Patterson’s arrival at SWBTS, she had been treated with respect, first as a student and then as a professor in her own right.

In interviews, alumnae told me that the seminary could be hostile toward female students. “When Patterson was talking about women or the role of women in the church, that made the seminary feel like it was not the most comfortable place to be,” Armstrong told me.

Tricia Dimmitt, who attended SWBTS with Armstrong, echoed her sentiments. “I appreciate my theological education and I made good connections with students,” she said. But there were issues. For example, Dimmitt took a co-ed preaching class, though she did not intend to become a pastor. Dimmitt and her two female classmates had the option of delivering a practice sermon to female friends instead of to a mixed-sex group, and, feeling peer pressure, Dimmitt chose to preach to women. She still expected her male professor to grade her work. Instead, she says, the professor sent his wife in his place.

“His wife was a communications major, so she came and listened to our sermons and graded them,” Dimmitt told me. “I thought he was going to be grading them and that we were just going to invite our female friends to listen.”

Discrimination didn’t stop at the classroom door. Mary Burbrink, who says she was hired as the seminary’s first female patrol officer in 2013, described rampant discrimination at work. In a seven-page letter mailed to SWBTS trustees ahead of their decision to ease Patterson into retirement, she claimed that her supervisors regularly treated her differently because of her gender. “I remember always being sent away when we would go to calls of a serious nature. … I would arrive and would promptly be sent away by my supervisor once he arrived on scene with another officer,” she wrote.

Burbrink, a former Marine, told me that she’s used to being one of the only women in a group of men. But she said her experiences at SWBTS were unusual. She told me that she wasn’t allowed to be alone with any of her male colleagues, and that supervisors assigned her menial tasks more often than they did the men. She added that her experiences on the job reflected a general campus atmosphere toward women. “I felt like a petty annoyance on my best day, and on my worst day I felt like I was an evil seductress hell-bent on destroying the men around me, just because I was a woman,” she said, a gendered perception she believes the school actively reinforced.

She was particularly disturbed by a 2014 chapel sermon delivered by Patterson, during which he condemned women who dressed like “harlots.” “He was talking to the women,” she recalled. “And he asked us if we dress like harlots, and he said that if we dress like harlots and we cause our brothers and Christ to stumble into sin then, you know, we’re personally responsible for their sin.”

Burbrink referred to the sermon in her letter to trustees, and an archived recording confirms her characterization of its content. “May I just pause a moment and ask you, young ladies, is your attire the attire of a harlot? How do you dress? How you dress is a responsibility you have before God. You look like the world, you act like the world. Not long until you’ll be identified with the world. And you’ll be a part of the fall of some lustful man and your own fall also,” Patterson said. He went on to ask women in the audience if they are “loud and boisterous.” “That’s not going to be of God. That’s not what he’s looking for. He’s looking for the meek and the quiet spirit,” he added.

Burbrink, then a student in the school’s biblical counseling program, said she eventually began suffering from severe anxiety, which she attributed to an “emotionally and verbally abusive” romantic relationship and a “toxic” environment at work and in school. But she found little support. “I was hearing from them that I was depressed because I didn’t have enough faith in God, and I don’t really think that that’s a very responsible way to handle someone,” she told me.

Burbrink eventually left SWBTS without completing her degree. Asked if she believes the school has adequate resources available for women in abusive relationships, she answered emphatically: “No. No, I do not.” (The Association of Certified Biblical Counselors, which sponsors a course at SWBTS, teaches that anxiety and depression have spiritual dimensions and advocates prayer as a treatment for psychiatric disorders like depression.)

Read the entire piece here.

Alabama Religion Columnist: The “Swamp’s Got Nothing” on the Southern Baptist Convention

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Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary

Check out Dana Hall McCain’s piece on Paige Patterson and the Southern Baptist Convention at Al.Com:

I care about the Southern Baptist Convention. I was brought up in an SBC church, heard the gospel and was baptized there, and have spent a significant portion of my adult life worshipping and serving in an SBC church. This body is not just an ideological football to me, to be kicked around like a any political party or secular institution. 

But the problem is that America’s largest protestant denomination conducts itself like any political party or secular institution much of the time, and that makes it really, really hard. And heartbreaking.

These days, the main fight within the convention is between two factions: generally younger pastors and seminarians (many of whom have Calvinist theological leanings), who value diversity and racial reconciliation within the church, and who espouse a high view of women, even if they stop short of desiring to ordain women for pastoral leadership. On the other side are largely older Southern Baptists, who give major side-eye to Calvinism and see the desire to do better by minorities and women as a symptom of liberalism.

You see, the SBC is controlled by the president and a couple of key committees. In order to dictate the agenda and narrative, the ideological war horses will broker back-room deals to gain control of those positions, trading busloads of presidential votes at the annual meeting for things like trustee seats at key SBC institutions.

The swamp’s got nothing on the SBC.

Last week I published a piece at Religion Dispatches on Jimmy Carter’s visit to Liberty University.  In his commencement speech at Liberty, Carter mentioned his attempts, in the years after his presidency,  to bring unity to the Southern Baptist convention.  Here is what I wrote:

Carter urged Liberty graduates to fight “discrimination against women and girls in the world.” He lamented the divisions over doctrine in his own denomination—the Southern Baptist Convention—and told a story about how he made efforts, in the years after he left the office, to heal divisions in the Convention. Carter’s attempts, he said, failed because Southern Baptist leaders were unwilling to compromise on the status of women in the church. (It’s hard to think about Carter’s comments on this front without reflecting on the recent controversial remarks of Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary president Paige Patterson).

The conservatives in the Southern Baptist Convention made the role of women an important piece of their so-called “takeover” in the late 1970s.  Today it is the place of women in the church that may lead to its implosion.