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Southern Baptist women want seminary president Paige Patterson fired for remarks

Female members of Southern Baptist churches are signing a letter online calling for evangelical leader Paige Patterson to be removed as president of Southwestern Theological Baptist Seminary over remarks he has made about women.
Female members of Southern Baptist churches are signing a letter online calling for evangelical leader Paige Patterson to be removed as president of Southwestern Theological Baptist Seminary over remarks he has made about women. Courtesy of Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary

Female members of Southern Baptist churches are asking the board of trustees of the Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary to remove Paige Patterson as president of the Texas school over his comments and teachings about women.

Nearly 1,900 women, including more than 100 from North Carolina, so far have signed a letter posted online Sunday asking the board to take action, saying Patterson's comments are contrary to biblical teaching about women, sexuality and authority. It suggests his comments could hurt the Southern Baptist Convention to which the seminary belongs. The convention has more than 15 million members in more than 47,000 churches across the U.S..

The letter cites a video that has resurfaced from a 2014 speech in which Patterson talks about a 16-year-old girl as being “fine” and quotes a teenager as saying the girl was “built.” The letter also mentions Patterson’s refusal last week to repudiate comments from a recording made 18 years ago in which he said he would counsel most women in abusive marriages to stay in the marriages and to pray for their husbands.

The recording has made the rounds several times over the years, but in the era of the #MeToo movement, it is being judged in a different light. In it, Patterson said he often was asked how women should handle spousal abuse. He said he had never counseled anyone to seek a divorce and that he considered that always to be “wrong counsel.” He said “all abuse is serious” but that in cases where the abuse “was serious enough, dangerous enough, immoral enough,” he would counsel a couple to temporarily separate and seek help.

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Patterson, 75, is a professor of theology and has been president at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary in Fort Worth, Texas, since 2003, when he was elected by the seminary's board of trustees. Before that, he served about a decade as leader of Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary in Wake Forest.

Southwestern's board of trustees announced Sunday evening it would hold a special meeting May 22 at Patterson's request "in light of recent events."

His biography on Southwestern’s website says that when Patterson was a student at New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary, he pastored a church and, with a street evangelist, ran a coffee house where “he shared the saving gospel of Christ with biker gangs, underworld figures, homosexuals, prostitutes, and runaway teenagers from across the United States.”

Without mentioning the controversy over Patterson's remarks, Patterson and the executive committee of the school's board of trustees last week posted a "statement on abuse" on its website. It says, "Above all other emotions we feel compassion, concern and a commitment to protect women, children, and others whose lives of promise and potential have been altered in tragic ways by the sin and violence of abuse." It says the church has a responsibility to protect the abused, report the abuser to authorities and to seek out the abuser so that he can confess and repent of his sin.

The women's letter to the seminary's trustees is prefaced with the statement that “Over the past week Southern Baptist women have been grappling with the video of Dr. Paige Patterson preaching at the Awaken Conference in 2014, the audio of his counsel to domestic abuse victims in 2000, and his response this week to the Southern Baptist concerns over these matters and all that has subsequently come to light. These one on one conversations between women who are grieved by the comments and concerned for the poor gospel witness they reflect has resulted in the following plea for SWBTS trustees to take decisive action.”

The letter then says the women it represents affirm the Baptist faith and the denomination’s statements on the roles of men and women in the family and in the church.

It says, “We are shocked by the video that has surfaced showing Dr. Paige Patterson objectify a teenage girl and then suggest this as behavior that is biblical. We are further grieved by the dangerous and unwise counsel given by Dr. Patterson to women in abusive situations. His recent remarks of clarification do not repudiate his unwise counsel in the past; nor has he offered explanation or repentance for inappropriate comments regarding a teenage girl, the unbiblical teaching he offered on the biblical meaning of womanhood in that objectification, and the inappropriate nature of his own observations of her body.”

The letter says that any youth pastor who made such remarks likely would be removed from his job at any church in the denomination.

“The world is watching us all, brothers,” the letter says. “They wonder how we could possibly be part of a denomination that counts Dr. Patterson as a leader. They wonder if all Southern Baptist men believe that the biblical view of a sixteen-year-old girl is that she is “built” and “fine” — an object to be viewed sexually. They wonder if all Southern Baptist pastors believe it is acceptable to counsel an abused woman in the way that Dr. Patterson has done in the past. They wonder if the Jesus of the Bible is like such men. We declare that Jesus is nothing like this and that our first duty as Southern Baptists is to present a true picture of Jesus to the world.

“We cannot defend or support Dr. Patterson’s past remarks," the letter continues. “No one should. The fact that he has not fully repudiated his earlier counsel or apologized for his inappropriate words indicates that he continues to maintain positions that are at odds with Southern Baptists and, more importantly, the Bible’s elevated view of womanhood. The Southern Baptist Convention cannot allow the biblical view of leadership to be misused in such a way that a leader with an unbiblical view of authority, womanhood, and sexuality be allowed to continue in leadership.”

The letter closes with this: “This is a somber time. This is an important time. We are praying for you to have wisdom, discernment, and courage.”

The Southern Baptist Convention teaches that women are of equal value to men, and includes women as members of boards, faculties, mission teams, writer pools and professional staffs. It does not allow women to be ordained as pastors.

The convention operates six theological seminaries and conducts missions across the country and around the world.

Just like many movements for equal rights in America, the path for women to seek recourse from sexual harassment, from activism in the '70s and the Civil Rights Movement, has been through the courts.

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