Paige Patterson and Doing the Right Thing for the SBC, Again

January 2014

In a conference sermon in Las Vegas, Patterson made crude and inventive comments about the physical attributes of a 16-year-old girl during his talk. These comments have been described as chauvinistic at best and creepy at worst.

June 2014

It was revealed that Patterson had unilaterally acted to admit a Muslim student to the Christian seminary as part of its overseas archaeological program even though this violated the charter of the school. Citing evangelistic reasons for doing so, Patterson admitted his error and apologized to the convention body at the SBC Annual Meeting in Baltimore.

August 2014

Patterson publicly and privately lobbied against the proposed hiring of Dr. David Platt as the new president of the IMB. Platt was elected without incident and Patterson had to issue a response/apology through Baptist Press.

April 2017

Five white preaching professors dressed up as gangsters for a white colleague’s going away party. The “Notorious S.O.P” (School of Preaching) photo drew a firestorm of critique for reasons ranging from cultural misappropriation to the inclusion of a handgun in the photo. Patterson and the seminary again issued an apology.

December 2017

Patterson and Southwestern were named in a lawsuit against Pressler in which the plaintiff contends Patterson knew about decades of sexual abuse yet failed to report the abuse. Since the lawsuit was first filed, affidavits by two other men have been submitted outlining similar instances of abuse by Pressler.

What now?

Patterson has now become a challenge in an SBC that, if I may be painfully honest, doesn’t need much help shooting itself in the foot (we’ll save all the reasons for that for another day).

Let me be clear. Some want to cast this situation as another war between Patterson and people who have opposed him. They assume that leaders should choose to side with Patterson and defend him, or that if they don’t they are standing with some enemy. But this week, leaders like Thom Rainer didn’t choose a side in a war.

They simply chose to stand up for women.

So did Bruce AshfordDanny Akin and many others.

In the age of #MeToo, do Southern Baptists really need their keynote speaker and hero to be the one seen in a video talking about a “built” 16-year old girl? As a father with a 16-year-old daughter, I think not.

Furthermore, his inarticulate comments about abuse have put the SBC in another difficult position. Unspoken policies have their limits. When people are actually asking where we stand on abuse, we have to look in the mirror and wonder how long we hold our tongues.

The fact is, Patterson won the SBC war for conservatism, but like Winston Churchill, he could not govern the peace. He has made many missteps and has led his seminary into further decline. Now people quietly are asking why they are building an apartment for him on campus, when the question last year was when he would retire so the SBC could move forward.

Conclusion

In the aftermath of the Conservative Resurgence, the SBC made a mistake. We spent more time taking victory laps than really leading. We let our history become mythology. We turned men into heroes, and then we turned our heroes into gods.

What we really needed to do was be about our mission and hold each other accountable.

In 1999, Patterson gave his SBC presidential address to the messengers and stated:

The day has come when we must realize that all of the appropriate confessions of faith will appear impotent if lives of character do not stand behind them as verification. It is simple to be critical of those whose character seems to have failed them in national leadership and overlook the fact that the witness of our churches in this area has often been less than stellar. May God grant that we call our people to a godly standard of holiness in this last day.

It was true then, and it’s true today.

Patterson, in a sense, built an era. I am glad. I am a Southern Baptist today because of its inerrantist theology, and I’ve personally benefited from that era and from the SBC that he helped create.

But many SBC leaders I know think this and privately acknowledge that it is time for a new era.

They can’t say it because of the unofficial rules, so let me say it.

If Patterson preaches at the SBC, he will, because of his past work, get a standing ovation. Every news story will point to that moment, tie it together with the accusations against Paul Pressler, and say that Southern Baptists don’t take abuse seriously.

And it’s not just a public relations crisis. It’s a message to women that we must not send.

I think a better way forward is to think of the SBC’s future mission rather than Paige Patterson’s past success, and I hope he desires the same for the SBC he gave his life to.

Thank you, Dr. Patterson, for your service. You did the right thing when it was hard. Now, let me encourage you to do so again. Thank you for thinking first of the SBC as you step into a well-earned retirement.

This article originally appeared here.

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Ed Stetzer
Ed Stetzer, Ph.D., holds the Billy Graham Chair of Church, Mission, and Evangelism at Wheaton College and serves as Executive Director of the Billy Graham Center for Evangelism. He has planted, revitalized, and pastored churches, trained pastors and church planters on six continents, holds two masters degrees and two doctorates, and has written dozens of articles and books.