Story of Woman's Black Eyes Roils Southern Baptists

They're calling for the ouster of seminary president Paige Patterson
By Kate Seamons,  Newser Staff
Posted May 8, 2018 12:02 PM CDT
Southern Baptist Women Erupt Over Black-Eye Story
A Southern Baptist church is seen in this stock photo.   (Getty Images)

In 2000, Paige Patterson told a story, and 18 years later, it's coming out of the woodwork and fomenting outrage. The Washington Post explains Patterson is the head of the Fort Worth-based Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary, described as one of the biggest seminaries in the world. He's set to grab the spotlight in June, when he's slated to give the main sermon at the annual meeting of the Southern Baptist Convention, America's second-largest Christian denomination. But a tape of his 2000 interview was posted online on April 28, leading thousands of Southern Baptist women to call for his ouster. In it, he recounts counseling a woman whose husband was abusing her; Patterson's recommended course of action was for her to pray for the man. She subsequently returned to him with black eyes. "She said: 'I hope you're happy.' And I said 'Yes … I’m very happy,'" because her husband had gone to church for the first time in the wake of the beating. More:

  • Patterson has been steadfast in saying divorce is "always wrong counsel," and the Fort Worth Star-Telegram mentions a 2013 sermon in which he elaborated on that point by saying a congregant who seeks a divorce could end up dissuading the judge from becoming a Christian.

  • NPR reports a 2014 sermon is also causing grief. In it, he told of speaking to a woman, her son, and his friend. A teen girl walked by the group, and one of the boys commented on how "built" she was, to the mother's reprimands. "I said, 'Ma'am, leave him alone,'" Patterson recalled. "'He's just being biblical. That is exactly what the Bible says'"—that women are "beautifully and artistically" created by God.
  • NPR gets at the heart of the controversy: "How Southern Baptists should interpret their commitment to 'complementarianism,' a doctrine which holds that the Bible assigns different but complementary roles to men and women" ... [and] that women should follow biblical directions to 'submit' to their husbands."
  • The remarks spurred Liberty University English professor Karen Swallow Prior to join with about 30 other women to pen a letter to the seminary's board of trustees requesting Patterson be removed. In the first 24 hours after it was written, 2,100 Southern Baptist women added their names to it, per NPR.
  • Christianity Today notes this tweet from Prior: "This is the most heartbreaking letter I’ve ever signed. I’ve been Baptist most of my life, Southern Baptist for almost two decades. I made this appeal privately but was not heard."

  • An excerpt from the letter: "The world is watching us all, brothers. 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."
  • In an April 29 email to the Post, Patterson stated that "75 years of experience teaches me (though a slow learner) that no one's life is made materially better by entering these discussions. I have said enough."
  • That same day he posted a 600-word statement that spoke of a "deliberate misrepresentation" and "hatred." As for the black-eye story, he wrote, "I was happy—not that she had suffered from his anger, but that God had used her to move her husband to conviction of his sin. I knew that she was going to be happy for him also. That morning, he did make his decision for Christ public before the church, and she was ecstatic."
  • "I can't apologize for what I didn't do wrong," he told the Post on Friday. NPR on Monday reported he had thus far not apologized for the remarks.
  • The Star-Telegram reports Southern Baptist Convention leader Steven Gaines has offered only this Saturday tweet on the subject: "Southern Baptists are biting and fussy when we should be praying and weeping. Start talking directly to people, not about them."
  • The Baptist Press reports that on Sunday the seminary announced its board of trustees will meet May 22 "in light of recent events" at "Patterson's request."
(More Southern Baptist stories.)

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