A few weeks ago we learned that the Social Justice Warrior element in the Southern Baptist Convention is much more powerful than we had thought. The Southern Baptist Convention is hugely influential on the population of “Evangelical voters,” so all of us have an interest in this unsettling development.
Paige Patterson was dismissed from his job as head of Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary in Fort Worth, Texas. He was caught up in the #MeToo-for-Evangelicals excitement. In part, the fallout from anti-Patterson social media activism resulted in the election of J.D. Greear as the new President of the Southern Baptist Convention.
The events of the past two months were the culmination of a campaign that began in 2014. Paige Patterson gave a speech to the Awaken Conference that year. Awaken Conference is a youth conference. There was immediate push-back against Patterson’s sermon. The chattering went around and around in Baptist circles on the internet, and triggered a build-up that prompted a number of women to start dishing about slights from Paige Patterson.
The story had legs. It turned out that Paige Patterson has very old-fashioned ideas about complementarianism, which in part are reactionary to modern feminism. In that 2014 sermon, he brought up the translation of the Hebrew words used in Genesis for God making the man, and making the woman. The verbs are different words. The word used for God making the woman is a word that implies care of construction details and aesthetics.
“I didn’t need to learn Hebrew to figure that out, either,” Patterson quipped.
He went on to tell a story about an angry woman who had just heard him speak who was “giving me what for” while her teenage son and a friend stood nearby.
“About that time, a very attractive young co-ed walked by,” Patterson said. “She wasn’t more than about 16, but let me just say that she was nice.”
Thinking nobody was paying attention, Patterson said, the son commented to his friend, “Man, is she built.”
“In the middle of the sentence she stopped, wheeled around, slapped a hand over his mouth, loosened his teeth and said ‘Young man, don’t you ever say anything like that again,’” Patterson said. “If you do, I’ll mop up the face of the earth with you.”
Patterson took it as an opportunity. “I said, ‘Ma’am, leave him alone,’” he said. “He is just being biblical. That’s exactly what the Bible says.”
It might help to understand that Paige Patterson was one of the leaders of the “conservative purge” that began in 1979 and continued through the 1980s in the Southern Baptist Convention. Since he is known as a conservative leader he makes an attractive target for the liberals.
His remarks were called “unbiblical” and “misogynistic.” They went around the internet, gathering steam, building an anti-Patterson movement. Then women started to tell stories about Patterson slighting women’s complaints about sexual harassment on campus that they alleged had not been treated properly by Patterson. Evidently he was like lots of administrators, a little too concerned about his institution, and perhaps not concerned enough about females, especially if he thought they had sort of invited bad behavior on the part of men.
But more stories came out, and more women got riled. The most damning of all was when a former student from when Patterson was at Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary went to the Washington Post with her story from 2003. The Washington Post put two very capable, and hostile, female reporters on the story. They reported from the point of view of the women on full outragey attack mode against Patterson and all theologically conservative Baptists and the Southern Baptist Convention. This was not a media-generated problem for Patterson or for the Southern Baptist Convention, but Big Media attention did add a lot of pressure.
Their reporting is actually very good:
Then this spring came the case of a former Southeastern student named Megan Lively, who was 24 in 2003 when she says she was assaulted by a man she had been dating. She told The Washington Post that Patterson encouraged her not to report the incident to the police and to forgive her alleged assailant. A few days later, Southwestern trustees cited a second incident in 2015. Trustee Board Chairman Kevin Ueckert, in a June 1 statement, alleged that a Southwestern female student reported to Patterson that she had been raped, and police were called. “But in connection with that allegation,” Ueckert wrote, Patterson emailed campus security — Ueckert said trustees saw that email — and “discussed meeting with the student alone so that he could ‘break her down.’ ”
On June 4, Patterson’s attorney, Shelby Sharpe, released what he called a “character defense” that he said he compiled without any input from Patterson, just “as a person, not as his lawyer.” That document cited leaked friendly letters between the 2003 woman and Patterson in the months after the alleged rape, which Sharpe said disproved the idea that there was a rape and that Patterson mishandled it. Sharpe also said Patterson hasn’t been given access to the 2003 documents used to accuse him and hasn’t been able to defend himself. In the 2015 case, Sharpe said Southwestern trustees had seen the “break her down” email before — when rather than fire him they demoted him to president emeritus, with full benefits. He also said that the student had “given several different accounts of her story” and that Patterson “preferred there be no police presence so the young woman would not feel intimidated.”
Of course all this broke just in advance of the Southern Baptist Annual Meeting.
Patterson is out, fired, discredited and became such an embarrassment so quickly that he agreed to withdraw from a scheduled speaking slot at the Annual Meeting.
The Messengers voted 68 percent to give the presidency to a Progressive.
Of course, Baptist media also played a hand. There are several Baptist newspapers and they mostly lean left. The conservatives are making do with blogs and e-newsletters. Many of the Messengers (voting delegates) had never even heard of the conservative candidate, while J.D. Greear has been pumped by Baptist media for over two years (he was second last year to outgoing President Gaines).
In a side note, my favorite media critics noticed that the New York Times ignored the Annual Meeting until after Mike Pence spoke, and they only published then because they could write about the Messengers who voted to disinvite Pence.
The real damage here is limited. The key thing is that the Southern Baptist Convention President appoints members to boards and commissions, so a fresh cohort of liberals will be moving into decisionmaking roles in the Southern Baptist Convention.
I am not a Baptist, and would especially like to hear from any Ratburgher Baptists who would care to comment.
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