Just weeks before Southern Baptists have their annual meeting, recorded comments by a former president of the denomination from 18 years ago have resurfaced – and it's causing a bit of firestorm around Southern Baptist circles.
The comments by Dr. Paige Patterson (pictured) – who is now president of Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary – were recorded during an interview in 2000 with the Council on Biblical Manhood and Womanhood. Patterson was asked what a woman in an abusive marriage should do:
Patterson: "It depends on the level of abuse, to some degree. I have never in my ministry counseled that anybody seek a divorce – and I do think that's always wrong counsel."
He went on to say that all abuse is wrong – and that if it's bad enough, a woman should physically separate from her husband. It's an answer that rings deeply out of tune in the #MeToo era, but Southern Baptist pastor Dr. Ray Pritchard says Patterson has recently clarified his thoughts.
"His statement this week has been as clear as it could be: that abuse of women of any kind – especially in the marriage relationship – is always wrong. It's always to be taken seriously," says Pritchard.
That statement also hints at a larger and more consequential battle going on in the Southern Baptist community. After apologizing for any pain his almost two-decades-old statement has caused, Patterson said: "I also regret for my own family this deliberate misrepresentation of my position as well as the hatred that lies behind much of it."
Some prominent leaders in the Southern Baptist Convention have called for Patterson to resign and not to preach at next month's annual meeting in Dallas.
Pritchard has a theory about that: "Some people are uncomfortable with the fact that Paige Patterson [in the late 1980s] brought the Convention back to biblical inerrancy and to conservative theology. Some people still remember that, and they don't like him for that."
Christian apologist Dr. Alex McFarland, also a Southern Baptist, says he's saddened to see Patterson being attacked.
"Obviously we categorically reject misogyny, abuse, violence – and he would, too," he offers, referring to Patterson. "It's unfortunate that some remarks taken, I believe, wildly out of context are being used by those who at best are forgetting everything this man stands for, and at worst might be a part of a witch hunt to bring him down. I don't know."
But McFarland says he does know that that the SBC and American evangelicalism owe much to Patterson for his sacrificial life and service.
Pritchard worries that along with ousting Patterson, there are some in the SBC who would like to throw out his conservative reforms as well. Why else, Pritchard asks, would an 18-year-old audio clip be making the rounds in 2018?
"That's a possibility that it's going to explode at the convention in Dallas," he tells OneNewsNow. "Nobody knows just yet how this whole thing is going to play out."
Patterson served as SBC president in the late 1990s and has been president at SBTS in Fort Worth, Texas, since June 2003. Southern Baptist "messengers" will gather for their 2018 annual meeting in Dallas on June 12 and 13.
Southern discontent in the north
Another issue Southern Baptists are dealing with in the lead-up to the annual meeting has led to a church in Montana voting on Sunday to leave the SBC.
JD Hall is pastor of Fellowship Baptist Church in Sidney, Montana. His congregation is voting to severe ties with the SBC, opposed to the direction he feels leaders are taking the denomination. Hall says his church decided to draw the line as leaders such as Russell Moore are now promoting "social justice" – which Hall contends is synonymous with the "social gospel." Moore is president of the SBC's Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission.
"The Southern Baptist Convention has taken a hard left – that's all there is to it; and they're going the way of all the other mainstream denominations," Hall tells OneNewsNow. "We [the SBC] are going left. We're just too stubborn to believe so; we don't think it's possible.
"As long as everyone pays lip service to inerrancy and we see abortion as a sin, we view that the same as conservatism, as though those things are necessarily synonymous."
Halls says the nation's largest Protestant denomination is witnessing a fracturing. "There is a young, restless and reformed, social gospel, new Calvinist-influenced movement of men who are highly endowed with social media savvy, political correctness, [and] public relations who are trying to oust the old guard of Southern Baptists who are more traditional," he describes.
Hall believes the vote on Sunday to leave the SBC will be unanimous. OneNewsNow has contacted the ERLC, seeking comment on the pending vote.