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Baptist leader Paige Patterson stands by his controversial advice to spousal abuse victims

Evangelical leader Paige Patterson is defending remarks he made 18 years ago about how women should respond to abuse in marriage after a recording of his counsel began recirculating on the internet.
Evangelical leader Paige Patterson is defending remarks he made 18 years ago about how women should respond to abuse in marriage after a recording of his counsel began recirculating on the internet. Courtesy of Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary

Evangelical leader Paige Patterson is defending remarks he made 18 years ago about how women should respond to abuse in marriage after a recording of his counsel began recirculating on the internet.

Patterson, 75, is credited with helping lead a conservative takeover of the Southern Baptist Convention from more centrist leaders that started in 1979. He served as president of Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary in Wake Forest from 1998-99 and is now president of Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary in Fort Worth, Texas.

In the recording, reported to have been made at a conference in 2000, Patterson said he often was asked how women should handle spousal abuse. Patterson said he had never counseled anyone to seek a divorce and that he considered that always to be “wrong counsel.” He said that “all abuse is serious,” but that in cases where the abuse “was serious enough, dangerous enough, immoral enough,” would he counsel a couple to temporarily separate and seek help.

In the recording, he said he had once counseled a woman whose husband did not want her to go to church. Patterson said he suggested the woman kneel by the bed at night and pray for her husband, but warned that the husband might get angry if he heard the prayer, and retaliate.

On a subsequent Sunday, Patterson said, the woman came to church bearing evidence of physical abuse — in the recording, he said she had two black eyes — and told him, “I hope you’re happy.”

In recounting the events, Patterson said he was happy — not that the woman had suffered physical abuse but because her husband had been moved by his own abhorrent actions to come to church that day and make a public decision to follow Christ.

Patterson said the couple lived together happily from then on, and that the woman herself would use the story in her testimony.

The recording has been shared many times since it was made. After it was posted again on Saturday, Bruce Ashford, provost of Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary, said on Twitter, “Lots of social media convo this afternoon about spousal abuse. As the Provost of a SBC seminary and pastor at a SBC church, let me be clear: a physically abused woman should separate from her husband and have him put in jail.

Southeastern’s president, Danny Akin, retweeted Ashford’s remark and another one by the convention’s Council on Biblical Manhood and Womanhood that said, “We believe that abuse is not only a sin but is also a crime. It is destructive and evil. Abuse is a hallmark of the devil and is in direct opposition to the purposes of God. Abuse must not to be tolerated in the Christian community.”

Twitter responses to the discussion have ranged from people saying the only biblically acceptable justification for divorce is infidelity, to someone pointing out that, "Jesus doesn't beat his bride."

In a story about the resurgent recording, The Washington Post said Patterson declined to comment, emailing that, “I have said enough.”

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He told a version of the story about the woman and her spouse again in a release on Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary’s website on Sunday. Patterson is a defendant in a lawsuit filed last year in Texas on behalf of a man who says he was sexually abused for years by a Baptist leader and that the abuse was allowed to go on, in part, because of the church’s structure, which Patterson helped shape.

Patterson said in the release that, “For the past several months, my life and the lives of my family have been subjected to rigorous misrepresentation.

“For the record,” he wrote, “I have never been abusive to any woman. I have never counseled or condoned abuse of any kind.”

He recounted the case mentioned in the recording and stood by the advice he had given the woman.

“I was making the application that God often uses difficult things that happen to us to produce ultimate good,” Patterson wrote Sunday. “And I will preach that truth until I die.”

Whether someone has asked you for help or you sense someone is in distress, here are some general guidelines to help support possible victims of abuse, be it physical, emotional, sexual, psychological or financial.

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