Now that Patterson's out, must Baptists address the real danger of domestic abuse?

Paige Patterson on Wednesday, May 30, was removed from all positions with the Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary.
Paige Patterson on Wednesday, May 30, was removed from all positions with the Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary. Star-Telegram file

Trustees of the Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary in Fort Worth have made a sound decision by removing longtime president Paige Patterson from his post.

Now, we’d like to hear them clearly say Patterson was wrong when he counseled domestically abused women to pray about being punched and hit, but not to divorce their husbands. And what did he mean when he said they should “submit”?

We hope other seminary leaders can provide a better answer than the one Patterson gave when he was asked what women should do when faced with physical abuse. Patterson said in a recorded interview that it “depends on the level of abuse.”

Does that mean drawing the line at broken bones, being burned with cigarette butts, or with injuries so severe a woman - or man - ends up in the emergency room?

The seminary and church leaders need to recognize the real danger domestic abuse poses for many families and provide the moral leadership and genuine counseling we expect from our spiritual institutions.

The National Coalition Against Domestic Violence says that in our country “1 in 3 women and 1 in 4 men have been victims of physical violence by an intimate partner within their lifetime.”

And this is another case where everything's bigger in Texas. The Council says that in 2012, 114 Texas women were killed by intimate partners. That’s more than 10 percent of the national total that year, and we suspect the number of victims has risen since then.

In a statement announcing Patterson’s new role as the seminary’s president emeritus, the trustees’ didn’t clearly reject what Patterson said and did, and they should have.

They simply stated,“the Seminary stands against all forms of abuse.”

Glad to hear it. Now, tell us how you’ll add meaning to those words.

Will you instruct future clergy differently on how to help victims whose lives may be in danger? Will you work with domestic violence organizations to help the victimized escape danger and the abusers find treatment? Will you use your pulpits to call attention to a problem that could use the support of our spiritual community?

It’s clear that many Baptists, especially women, feel betrayed by what they heard from Patterson.

More than 3200 Southern Baptist women have signed a letter asking the seminary and Baptist Convention to reject Patterson’s statements and behavior.

This Editorial Board received letters from men and women who studied under Patterson. While some spoke of him with affection, most were like Lee Enochs who said Patterson was wrong “for advocating that abused women return back to their abusive husbands.”

In June, the Southern Baptist Convention, which professes to have more than 15 million members, will meet in Dallas. Patterson is still on the agenda to give the convention sermon. There might be some value in that if he uses the moment to acknowledge the damage he’s done and talk about a role for his denomination in combating domestic violence.

If, however, Patterson gives a speech that’s just window dressing — or if the seminary and convention try to sweep aside the issue and move on — they will have lost an opportunity to turn bad to good. And those who think Patterson’s behavior was out-of-line may decide their church is out-of-touch, too.