The Southern Baptist Convention has a Paige Patterson problem.
Before I continue, let me clarify my status within the SBC. I’ve spent my entire life as a member of a Southern Baptist Church. I’m a two time graduate of The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary. I’m an unwavering champion of the International Mission Board, and I’m greatly encouraged by the recent church planting efforts of the North American Mission Board.
At the same time, I’m a bit of an outsider in the SBC. I’ve never held a denominational position, nor do I aspire to hold such a position. I’ve never been part of a church that was significantly involved in denominational life. I’ve never attended the yearly week long business meeting commonly known as the Annual Meeting of the SBC. I am not well connected with the “big wigs” within the SBC.
Some of these “big wigs” have taken to social media to lament the public “trial” of Paige Patterson. These leaders have referred to biblical passages like Matthew 18 and argued that people like myself have no right to publicly criticize Paige Patterson or the denominational forces that appear to be protecting him. They argue that these are personal grievances that should be handled privately rather than publicly via blogs and social media.
I strongly disagree.
For one thing, Paige Patterson has never been one to shy away from controversy, nor is he known for handling things quietly. Additionally, Paige Patterson represents Southern Baptists in a very public capacity. Finally, Paige Patterson is NOT untouchable. Ultimately he is accountable to the Southern Baptists who sit in the pews each week. Patterson knows this well, as it was the tactic he used to lead the conservative resurgence within the SBC (a fact that I am personally thankful for despite my frustration with the present state of affairs).
That brings me back to the reason for this post … The Southern Baptist Convention has a Paige Patterson problem.
By all accounts enrollment at SWBTS is declining, and reports that Patterson is planning to stay and live on the SWBTS campus in perpetuity are troubling. Additionally, there have been several embarrassing scandals under Patterson’s leadership (think preaching professors posing as gang members and Patterson himself ignoring policy to admit a Muslim student). Then we come to Patterson’s response to a number of recent allegations. My aim is not to detail all of the allegations, but to point out Patterson’s disastrous response to the allegations. Rather than just admit wrong doing and apologize, Patterson doubled down and played the role of victim. The entire debate could have been put to rest with a humble apology, but Patterson refused to back down.
Our Paige Patterson problem is devolving into a public dumpster fire.
SBC leaders are silent … and their silence is deafening. I’m all for handling things the right way, but a public fiasco requires a public response. Maybe there are things happening behind the scenes that a regular pastor like myself is not privy to … but that’s part of the problem. The SBC doesn’t need to handle this quietly. This is a public debacle that requires a clear, public response from the SBC leadership. Patterson is not unknown or insignificant within the SBC. Where do our leaders stand on this issue?
Thankfully, some are speaking out. Several prominent pastors have spoken out via social media, and Ed Stetzer has spoken loudly and plainly. A handful of denominational leaders have made public statements in recent days, even though few directly addressed Patterson. This last weekend a group of influential SBC women wrote an open letter asking the SBC to remove Patterson from leadership. All of these voices are encouraging.
Less encouraging is the reported firing of an SWBTS student / employee who apparently retweeted a call for Patterson’s resignation. This situation leaves me wondering if Patterson is taking his cues straight from President Trump’s playbook … when accused, deny all wrongdoing and attack your accusers.
All of this leads me to one conclusion … The SBC really does have a Paige Patterson problem. Outsiders (and some insiders) are already blaming our commitment to complementarianism. But this crisis is not a result of our complementarian theology. This crisis is a result of an entrenched good-old-boy system that protects those on the inside, especially if they are SBC “royalty” like Patterson.
We live in a very forgiving culture, but we also live in a culture that expects people to admit when they’ve crossed a line. Southern Baptists really do expect our leaders to be held accountable for their actions. Own it and apologize, and most of us can move on relatively quickly. Dig in and blame your accuser, and most of us get suspicious.
That’s ultimately the reason for this post. Accountability. Will Paige Patterson read the ramblings of this regular pastor? I doubt it. Will my concerns lead to any lasting change in the way the SBC handles future PR crises? I’m not holding my breath.
I’m just a regular pastor in the SBC. I don’t play denominational games, and I don’t serve on SBC boards or committees. I don’t know how things like this are “normally” addressed. I do know that I’m tired of getting on Twitter and reading about the growing dumpster fire. I want to get on Twitter and read about the great things Southern Baptists are doing in theological education and church planting and international missions and disaster relief … not the latest scandal in Fort Worth.
This regular pastor has heard enough. I’m embarrassed by the actions and the responses of Paige Patterson, and I’m embarrassed by the inaction of the SBC. It’s time for Paige Patterson to be held accountable.
As we’ve shown over the decades, we’re at our best making disciples of all nations. Unfortunately, as we’ve shown over the last week, we’re at our worst trying to “manage” a PR crisis.