The furor generated by Paige Patterson’s counseling of women opened a can of worms for Southern Baptists that’s bigger than Patterson’s individual behavior.
It highlighted a perspective some denominational leaders seem to hold that a woman’s safety, dignity and value are secondary to the needs of their male counterparts.
It’s a perspective Southern Baptists need to examine and correct during their annual convention in Dallas this week, if they hope to remain a spiritual home for women who think Patterson and perhaps their church are out of touch with the role they can and should play.
It’s a view Fort Worth’s Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary, led by Patterson, needs to change, if it hopes to recover from this scandal and funding problems that led to staff cuts last year.
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Thousands of Southern Baptist women can’t find a theological basis for Patterson’s actions.
He counseled against divorce even if a woman were being physically abused. He seemed to say the black eyes one woman suffered were a small price to pay because her husband decided to come to church.
He allegedly counseled a rape victim not to go to the police. He ogled a 16-year-old girl, telling those around him she is “built” and “fine.”
He talked about the need for women to “submit” to their husbands.
Southern Baptist women refused to quietly submit to those views. More than 3,300 spoke up loudly, going public with an open letter condemning Patterson’s actions and urging board members to remove him from his position as president of the seminary.
Board members finally showed him the door, but they initially soft-pedaled the accusations until additional women came forward.
At this week's convention, women are expected to exert their influence and demand answers.
Is there a place for them as leaders in a church where they can’t be ordained ministers? What is their role in society and their families?
Will the Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary based in Fort Worth change the way it instructs future pastors to ensure abused women are no longer counseled as Patterson counseled them?
Women who are educated to become doctors and engineers, who have authority in their professional lives and community, aren’t willing to check their opinions and independent thoughts at the door when they get home at night.
Squaring that reality with the church’s theology is what Southern Baptists need to do to remain relevant in this era of #MeToo.