More support is emerging for the president of Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary, who has been criticized by many in his own denomination for statements he made about domestic abuse almost 20 years ago.
On Thursday, SWBTS president Paige Patterson again offered an apology, "especially to women," for past comments he has made about females and domestic abuse. In that statement, Patterson explained – as he had before, when audio clips of interviews and sermons began circulating on social media – that he rejects any form of abuse.
Dr. Robert Jeffress, pastor of First Baptist-Dallas, explains there is no tolerance toward physical abuse anywhere in the Bible, adding that God never asked a wife to endure physical abuse to keep a sick marriage alive. That being said, he offers: "I think this is unfair what is being leveled against Paige Patterson – and I'm going to predict he's going to survive it."
It's ridiculous, says Jeffress, to take sound bites from Patterson's past and accuse him of condoning physical abuse, especially since the seminary president has clarified that he does not condone abuse of women and children. The Dallas pastor contends that those hoping Patterson will be removed as seminary president are misdirected.
"I know trustees at Southwestern Seminary," he tells OneNewsNow, "and I sense there's a great level of support for Dr. Patterson – and also the realization that this is really, in many ways, a witch hunt."
Addressing the motives behind this movement against Patterson, Jeffress acknowledges there are real legitimate claims of abuse that have been hidden and are coming to the surface in both the secular and religious worlds.
"I think some of the motivation is pure in trying to put an end to this awful practice," he explains, "but I do think others perhaps are using this to further their own political or theological agendas, and I think that is a shame because it trivializes the very real problem of violence against women."
Jeffress says "there is a battle going on right now for the soul of the Southern Baptist Convention," but that the good news is that the denomination is built on the autonomy of the local church – and in this "post-denominational age," he says, what a denomination does has very little impact on local churches and believers.
Female prof defends Patterson
An open letter from women claiming to be Southern Baptists was written to the seminary's board of trustees expressing their objections to Patterson. Thousands of people have now signed their names to the letter – but an assistant professor of theology in women's studies at SWBTS has examined the signatures and noticed that not all are Southern Baptist women.
"People who are signing their name, they're signing their name to a document that's saying 'we women' – and you see men signing also signing their name," says Dr. Candi Finch.
According to Finch, some of the signatures are those of people from other denominations besides the SBC – and Finch said she saw fake names, even Patterson's wife. "When Mrs. Patterson's name showed up several days ago and I knew she had not signed it, I had asked them to remove her name and they were willing to do so." Mrs. Patterson's name has since been removed.
On American Family Radio on Friday, Jeffress reported that five signatories to the letter claimed to be members of his church in Dallas. An examination of the church membership list was unable to verify those names.
Finch has also written a letter to the school's trustees saying she doesn't share the views of those signing the document. She is grieved that this situation appears to be dividing Southern Baptists.
"So my hope is that we could move forward, that we would accept Dr. Patterson at his word, that people would be willing to accept ... what I believe is [his] heartfelt apology and that we could move forward going to Dallas in a spirit of unity instead of divisiveness," she concludes.
In a column last week, another Baptist educator who knows Patterson personally took to task those behind the move to oust the seminary leader. "There are some in this controversy who have deservedly earned a reputation for being dirt diggers," stated Dr. Brad Reynolds. "For those of us familiar with the SBC, we have come to expect such behavior from them. Our expectations for them to couch half-truths in as bad of light as they can find seem to always be met."
Patterson is scheduled to preach at the SBC Annual Meeting in Dallas next month. Southwestern's trustees, at Patterson's request, are scheduled to meet May 22.