Opinion

This Baptist leader will be the next #MeToo man to fall. It's about time.

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

Paige Patterson, one of the most prominent Baptist leaders in the country, has apologized for his creepy description of a 16-year-old girl. His apology might have been sincere, but Patterson's long overdue #MeToo moment has arrived, and no doubt he soon will step down from his post.

Even Southern Baptists, about as culturally conservative a group as one can find, are not going to tolerate the kind of comments Patterson seems to relish making. His primitive views on women reflect another era and, perhaps more importantly to fellow Baptists, aren't compatible with the teachings of their church.

Patterson, 75, was the head of Southeastern Baptist Seminary in Wake Forest from 1992 to '03. He's now the president of Southwestern Baptist Seminary in Texas. He is admired by many Baptists for his role in leading a conservative takeover of the Southern Baptist Convention and was the convention's president in 1998 and '99.

In a sermon in 2014, captured on video, Patterson described a girl walking by two teenage boys. "She wasn't more than about 16 but let me just say, she was nice," he said. Patterson continued that one of the boys said, “Man, is she built!”

Some have called the reaction to Patterson's comments the #MeToo moment for Southern Baptists. A group of Baptist women wrote a statement objecting to Patterson's language in that case and another. More than 3,000 people, most of them women but some men, have signed the petition urging Patterson's removal.

Patterson retreated, which is not his typical style. He said Thursday he was trying to explain a Hebrew word that means to build or construct (Gen. 2:22: "Then the Lord God made a woman from the rib he had taken out of the man, and he brought her to the man.") His comments, he wrote, "have obviously been hurtful to women in several possible ways."

But that wasn't an isolated slip. In an article published in 1997 by the Atlanta Journal-Constitution about Wake Forest University’s plan to open a divinity school, its former dean said women should be ordained as ministers because the Christian act of baptism “means everybody is free,” including women who want to preach.

“I think everybody should own at least one,” Patterson quipped when asked about women.

In 2010, Patterson said some female seminary students had not done enough to make themselves attractive, saying, “It shouldn’t be any wonder why some of you don’t get a second look.”

Patterson recently drew attention when a video from 2000 surfaced in which he was questioned about women who've suffered from domestic violence. He told a story about a woman who told him she was being abused by her husband.

He told her to pray, and she came back with two black eyes. “She said: ‘I hope you’re happy,’ ” Patterson recalled in the sermon. “And I said, ‘Yes . . . I’m very happy,’ ” because her husband had heard her prayers and come to church for the first time.

He attempted to clarify those remarks in a muddled 639-word statement. Danny Akin, dean of Southeastern, cut through the clutter in 45 words in a tweet: "Any physical abuse on any level is completely unacceptable in a marriage. The church should immediately step in & provide a safe place for the abused. This has been my consistent counsel my entire ministry. Any counsel to the contrary is unwise & even dangerous."

Patterson seems finally to understand that his provocative comments have caught up with him. There's more than a touch of hubris to his brash words over the decades, which don't sound anything like the humble words spoken by Jesus Christ.

The signers of the petition urge Patterson's bosses, the trustees at Southwestern, "to take a strong stand against unbiblical teaching regarding womanhood, sexuality, and domestic violence....This pattern of discourse is unbefitting the sober, wise, and sound character required of an elder, pastor, and leader."

If a youth pastor in any Baptist church had made some of the comments Patterson has made, the petitioners said, he would be removed from his position. There's no reason to hold a leader of the denomination to a lower standard.

Drescher, opinion/solutions editor, is at jdrescher@newsobserver.com; 919-829-4515; @john_drescher.
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