Standing right next to her was an older teenage boy, and he had a friend with him. … Well, about that time a very attractive young co-ed walked by. And she wasn’t more than about 16 but, uhm, let me just say she was nice. And as she walked by, they didn’t think that mamma was paying any attention to them, and one young man turned to the other one, and he said, man, is she built. In the middle of the sentence she (mamma) stopped, wheeled around, slapped a hand over his mouth, loosened his teeth, said young man, don’t you ever say anything like that again. If you do, I’ll mop up the face of the earth with you. I saw my opportunity. I said, ma’am, leave him alone. He is just being biblical. That’s exactly what the Bible says. (pause for laughter in audience) — Baptist preacher Paige Patterson, at AWAKEN Conference, Las Vegas, Nevada, 2014
The fall from grace of America’s TV dad Bill Cosby and Hollywood movie mogul Harvey Weinstein earlier this year have been spectacularly distressing. You’ve seen the news reports.
But even more distressing and of even greater import is the quieter fall from grace of Southern Baptist preacher and icon Paige Patterson.
The Texas preacher was fired abruptly May 30 as a seminary president over alleged mishandling of past rape allegations made by students that include not contacting police and counseling the women accusers to forgive instead. In one case, Patterson reportedly said he intended to “break her down.”
Against the backdrop of the Me Too Movement, the seminary had been hit earlier last month with an online petition signed by more than 3,000 women asking for “decisive action,” based in part on Patterson’s sleazy comment quoted above.
“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 petition stated. Any youth pastor who said such a thing would be fired, it claimed.
Also criticized was Patterson counseling women not to divorce their husbands even if the men become abusive.
The spreading controversy led Patterson to skip the annual Southern Baptist Convention last week where he was to be the featured preacher. It was his first absence in 66 years.
Meanwhile, Patterson acknowledged “a poor choice of words” in instances like the quote above while denying mishandling cases of reported abuse.
The Patterson case has deep implications, particularly for the hometown area’s numerous Southern Baptists, including yours truly.
Sure, some type of failing by the late Billy Graham or his son evangelist Franklin Graham would have been much more catastrophic to American Christianity. (There’s been no such failing, of course.)
But after the Grahams, no other preacher – not even those on TV or radio each week – could cause the distress caused by Patterson. Even the spectacular failings of TV preachers Jim Bakker and Jimmy Swaggart in the 1980s do not compare.
The reason is that Patterson, 75, for decades has been a champion of traditional religious values. Not only has Patterson preached those values, he has promoted them behind the scenes in the upper management of the Southern Baptist organization that claims more than 15 million members in nearly 50,000 churches.
More than anyone else, Patterson has kept Southern Baptist churches on the straight and narrow, focused on biblical teachings and eschewing modern reforms like those effected in some other mainline denominations.
In 1979, Patterson successfully led a campaign to reverse the course of the Southern Baptist Convention and elect conservative leadership, a course that has been maintained since. Patterson also helped spearhead a movement to reverse teaching liberal theology in Southern Baptist seminaries. Liberal theology accepts methodologies of Enlightenment science, such as higher criticism of scripture and the use of reason, in interpreting the Bible and Christianity.
For instance, Patterson has stressed the conservative teaching of the inerrancy of scripture, which insists that there are no errors in the Bible, which is always acceptable for instruction.
The conservative movement purged Southern Baptist seminary faculties and set the stage for Southern Baptist churches to serve as counterweights to progressive movements in recent times from women’s liberation to gay rights. Think of Patterson as a Baptist Ronald Reagan.
“I have with stumbling step, limited ability, and stuttering tongue,” Patterson said in a letter to Southern Baptists on June 8, “desired to bequeath to the world an orthodox denomination with a heart and message for a world of lost people.”
The question on the table now is who, if anyone, will be able to take over Patterson’s mantle and continue his conservative guidance. And there’s the question of whether Patterson’s fall is a prelude to Southern Baptists following other, major denominations on issues like accepting women pastors and gay members.
“The SBC need lots of prayer right now,” one hometown Southern Baptist pastor told me.
Video: A video of Patterson’s comments above may be viewed at: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=gDRUVmcaQ3k&feature=youtu.be.
Stephen Harris returned home to live in State Road.