Dismissiveness Toward Women Leads to Paige Patterson’s Dismissal, But Message Still ‘Not Sent’

By Tom Gilson Published on May 24, 2018

As Alex Chediak has reported, Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary has dismissed its president, Dr. Paige Patterson, placing him on emeritus status. The action follows strong public reaction to a series of remarks about women.

I was floored when I heard him tell a mother her son was “being biblical” when he ogled a 16 year-old girl in church and said, “Man, she is built.” I cannot imagine myself saying that in front of any other woman. I’d certainly never have done it around my late mother, and absolutely never my wife. Yet Patterson affirmed it as “biblical,” not just once, but again in the sermon excerpt you see in the video below.

His point in that message was that women are beautiful. That required no special knowledge of the Bible on his part, and no explication in front of a church — yet he pulled it out of the original Hebrew anyway. Seeking to be biblical, he should have rushed to add that God created both men and women in His image, equally human, equal in worth and dignity. Jesus very specifically condemned lustful thoughts.

Instead he affirmed a young man’s lustful comment toward a young woman. He also dismissed the other woman standing there at the time — the mom — by interfering with her act of correcting her son. That in itself was wrong. For similar reasons reason his recently publicized 1997 joke that “everyone should own one” — a woman, that is — is also astonishing.

God created both men and women in His image, equally human, equal in worth and dignity.

Not What Human Beings Are For

God made no woman to be used, either in any physical relationship outside the covenant of marriage, or even for men’s private visual lusting. That’s not what humans are for. In fact as a man, I’ve learned that’s the single healthiest way for me to respond when a woman catches my eye. Yes, she’s physically attractive, I’ll acknowledge, but I can be aware of that without using her for something God didn’t intend her for.

Patterson has reportedly apologized for some of this. He has not backed down, however, from his advice that a wife suffering abuse stay in the marriage. And he advised abused women not even to separate for a season except in the most extreme circumstances.

There is more to that statement than meets the eye. Better outcomes may result from this advice than people have given Patterson credit for. Marriage matters. Separation is a serious thing. Civil divorce is to be avoided at all reasonable costs. Even on that most-charitable-possible view, though, I still see the scope of his recommendation as far, far too broad. A woman must have some recourse to protect herself. We wouldn’t think twice about putting a man in jail for beating a woman. Why should we consider that form of separation just and proper, but reject the far simpler separation of a husband and wife, for her protection and his correction?

Adding to the offense, Patterson allegedly encouraged a rape victim in 2003 to forgive her offender (which is biblical even for the worst offenses, as Christ has forgiven us ) without reporting him to the police (which is not).

Message Not Sent

Rachael Denhollander is an attorney and gymnast who was prominent in exposing the massive sex abuse scandal involving physician Larry Nassar, U.S. Gymnastics and Michigan State University. As an evangelical, she’s also been deeply involved in helping stop sexual harassment and abuse in the Church. She told The Stream in an interview, “I think we are seeing a microcosm of something that is rampant.… Patterson’s views are not unique; they are not unique at all. It’s actually very widespread.” Speaking of the seminary’s delayed — and mild — response, she said, “I think it says a lot about how widespread his views are, and how little we care.”

Al Mohler, the highly influential president of Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, has likewise written of how widespread this problem is. Deeply rooted, too, for as Denhollander pointed out, “The message that this is unacceptable, and this is not what Scripture teaches, has definitely not been sent.”

It’s a disturbing thought, but not one to be passed over lightly. Patterson has been speaking dismissively toward women for a long time. Has no one whispered him a private warning? What did his wife think of all this? If anyone spoke up, it would appear he paid it too little mind.

Correction: Mild and Late

Correction is no longer optional in these #MeToo days, especially for a seminary president and the former president of the Southern Baptist Convention. The school board terminated him in the gentlest possible way, granting him emeritus status with pay and a permanent place of residence.

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He’s scheduled to deliver a major sermon at the Southern Baptist Convention’s annual meeting this summer. It remains to be seen whether he’ll be allowed to deliver it. It’s hard to imagine any positive outcome from him doing so. Not unless he takes it as his opportunity to deliver a heartfelt, biblical, and above all, believable message of repentance.

I’m hopeful that good will come of this. The Church, including more than just Southern Baptists, is too willing to dismiss men’s misbehaviors while dismissing women altogether. We’ve taken a few steps toward growth and improvement in this, but maybe we needed a turning point, something that would shout out clearly that it’s wrong. May these events prove to be that turning point.

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