Between 2000 and 2014, Paige Patterson, a prominent Southern Baptist Convention leader, delivered sermons that encouraged women being abused to pray instead of getting a divorce. In the sermons, Patterson also commented on female bodies, including that of a teenage girl, and women’s appearances.

The sermons captured the public’s attention two weeks ago, after a site called the Baptist Blogger posted a video of Patterson’s sermon from 2000. Patterson 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.

Paige Patterson speaks at the Southern Baptist Convention in Phoenix in 2017. (Adelle M. Banks/Religious News Service)
Paige Patterson speaks at the Southern Baptist Convention in Phoenix in 2017. (Adelle M. Banks/Religious News Service)

“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 the next day.

Since the blog post published, other women have highlighted comments Patterson has made. In a 2013 sermon, Patterson suggested women who have had “a problem in your home” should not bring their case to a judge because it could get in the way of that judge becoming a Christian. “Settle it within the church of God,” he said. “And if you suffer for it, and if you were misused, and if you were abused, and if you’re not represented properly, it’s okay. You can trust it to the God who judges justly.”

In another sermon from 2014, Patterson described a 16-year-old girl walking by, saying that “she was nice.” One young man commented, “Man, is she built!” Patterson said a woman scolded the young man, and Patterson said he responded, “Ma’am, leave him alone. He’s just being biblical.” The audience laughed.

After The Washington Post published clips of several of Patterson’s sermons that included comments about women, the Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary website that hosted the videos stopped working. Patterson has been president of Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary in Fort Worth, Texas, since 2003.

A #MeToo moment

Now, the Southern Baptist Convention, which is the nation’s largest Protestant denomination and a major force in conservative Christianity, is encountering its own #MeToo moment. Thousands of people are calling for Patterson’s removal.

As some — including women — in the evangelical denomination rally around Patterson, 75, other leaders are voicing concern that this furor is about much more than one man’s sermons. The uproar calls into question how women are treated in this religious community that preaches the theology of complementarianism, which says men and women are called to different roles, with men leading in the church and the home.

“I’ve been in Baptist circles my whole life,” said Karen Swallow Prior, a Liberty University professor who was one of more than 2,000 signers of a letter drafted by women that calls for Patterson to lose his job. “It is absolutely more than about Patterson. . . . This is about people and systems that have allowed individuals to get away with this behavior for decades. Things have changed.”

“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,” the open letter read.

Patterson did not return requests for comment on the letter since it was made public late Sunday. When asked Friday if he knew a letter was being drafted, he declined to comment. “I’m not trying to be ugly,” he said. “Just understand that I’m not commenting any further.”

He is scheduled to deliver a key sermon at the denomination’s annual convention in a few weeks. In the meantime, the seminary’s full trustee board is expected to determine Patterson’s future later this month.

Two letters

Men and women have rallied around Patterson, who is revered as an instrumental figure in the group’s rightward shift over the past several decades.

Samuel Schmidt, who received his master of divinity degree from Southwestern on Friday, wrote a different letter, standing beside Patterson. It has 100 signatories.

“Should we be surprised Paige Patterson is yet again the target of another string of unnecessarily evil attacks?” the letter states. “Why wouldn’t our common enemy want to destroy Paige Patterson? Satan hates Paige. Satan despises him, and would not be content with anything less than the total destruction of Patterson.”

The women who signed the letter opposing Patterson emphasized that they are taking aim at leadership, not the denomination. The letter says they affirm Southern Baptist views that men and women have different roles determined by God.

The women state that because Patterson has not apologized for his “inappropriate words,” he is at odds with “the Bible’s elevated view of womanhood.”

Women who signed the open letter include Lauren Chandler, an author, singer and wife of megachurch pastor Matt Chandler; Amanda Jones, the wife of a Southern Baptist pastor and daughter of Bible teacher Beth Moore; and Rachael Denhollander, the former gymnast who led abuse survivors to speak out about sexual abuse by sports physician Larry Nassar. Denhollander does not attend a Southern Baptist church, but her husband is a student at Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville.

“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 says.

Male leaders also have criticized Patterson’s words on abuse. Ed Stetzer, who runs the Billy Graham Center at Wheaton College, wrote on the Christianity Today website, “If Paige Patterson preaches at the SBC, he will, because of his past work, get a standing ovation. Every news story will point to that moment . . . and say that Southern Baptists don’t take abuse seriously. . . . It’s a message to women that we must not send.”

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