Paige Patterson, the President of The Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary, was forcibly retired from his position last night. Patterson has come under fire for counsel he gave a woman in 2000 – that she should stay in her marriage to her abusive husband and pray for him; and for comments in 2014 that a teenage girl was “built.” An allegation surfaced yesterday that while President at Southeastern Theological Seminary, he told a student who had been raped to forgive her rapist, while failing to report the rape to police.
If you did not live through the Southern Baptist Conservative Resurgence of the 1980’s and 1990’s, you may not understand the strong emotions evoked by Paige Patterson. Patterson was the leader of the Conservative movement, which gained political control of the Southern Baptist Convention. The goal of the movement was to change the direction of theological education in Southern Baptist Seminaries. If you were in favor of the Conservative Resurgence, Patterson tends to be your hero. If you were in the moderate camp, Patterson was the enemy.
During the years of the controversy, I was in seminary at ground-zero of the battle: The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, in Louisville, KY. Southern was long thought to be filled with liberals who denied the Bible. Several friends counseled me against attending Southern, telling me it would wreck my faith.
The Conservatives in the Southern Baptist wars had an effective tactic: they would examine a professor’s writings, teaching, and speeches, then lift material to “prove” that a professor was liberal. This was done at times with integrity; at other times, it was done indiscriminately, ripping material out of context. Two or three sentences would be splashed on the pages of Conservative publications to prove the professor was “liberal.” Often, no effort was given to balancing the offending material with the larger body of the professor’s work. “Fair and balanced” treatment got in the way of the goal to purge the SBC of liberals.
At this point I should explain academics. Academics have their own sub-dialect. They are writing to an academic audience and must respond to academic concerns. How do I know this? God called me to complete a Ph.D. degree, even though I am not by nature an academic. My six years in the academic pressure-cooker taught me you must read closely and deeply to find the true point of view of an academic, especially in the world of Biblical commentary and theology. What surprised many of my friends was I emerged from twelve years at Southern with a stronger commitment to scripture than when I entered. I was trained to separate the wheat from the chaff.
Were there professors who were liberal? Yes. Were mainstream professors falsely accused of being liberal? Yes. Were tertiary issues placed as primary issues in making judgments about professors and their employment? Yes. Like all revolutions, the Conservative Resurgence in the SBC hurt many innocent people. Damage was done to the body of Christ. It can be argued that the damage to the innocent was necessary to drive out the poison. Only God can accurate judge whether harming the innocent was worth the cure.
What does all of this have to do with Paige Patterson? Patterson supporters are saying you cannot judge a man based two or three incidents in his past. Patterson detractors are rejoicing that Patterson is finally being held accountable. It is ironic to me, however, that Patterson is being forced out by people using the same set of tactics he and his troops employed in the SBC Conservative Resurgence.
I am not a Patterson fan, but I do not wish him harm. My Lord Jesus told me to love my brothers and sisters in Christ, whether they be liberal or conservative, fundamentalist or moderate, whether I agree with them or not.
In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus said, “Do not judge, lest you be judged. For with the judgment you make, you will be judged, and the measure you give will be the measure you get.” Patterson’s downfall reminds me judgment is frightening exercise for the followers of Jesus. I need to always remember God is the judge. If I am called by God to stand for truth, I must make sure I do so with grace and fairness. Before I accuse, I must know a person’s whole story and compare it to my own. Then I must ask the pivotal question: “Am I willing to have this judgment that I am about to hand out put on my life?”