My recent journey has just taken me through an historical jungle of Baptist history in the southern states. For close to two years I've waded through and examined over 400 Baptist associations in 12 southern states during the nineteenth century pursuing a research question centered on Baptist confessionalism. Thus, I've been tied up completely in my spare time unable to write on Southern Baptist life. The formal quest is ended. The results of my research project now reside in the hands of academia. May our gracious and loving Sovereign's will be done on campus as in heaven. Amen.
Perhaps it's time, then, to peck out a few thoughts on a blog that's been wholly neglected. I do not know how long I will blog on Southern Baptist matters, however. Over time, one loses passion, vision, and purpose. One sees reality clearer. Consequently, one accepts reality more promptly even if more cautiously. More significantly, I have other matters consuming the lion's share of my heart's desire, and until that is settled, I neither promise nor propose no literary regularity here.
Hence, we begin.
A current issue unfortunately grabbing the focus of Southern Baptists--at least, if we are to accept the pronouncements of kings and queens who rule their earthly kingdom of social media--revolves around our old Warhorse, Paige Patterson. I say Warhorse out of no disrespect, of course. Few would deny Patterson's historic role as the Key (human) Architect of what's ubiquitously called the Conservative Resurgence of the Southern Baptist Convention (CR, 1979-1993). Nor would any sensible person deny the CR was a literal denominational war. And all wars--denominational or otherwise--necessarily demand Warhorses. Patterson was that man.
Consequently, since 1979, Patterson has been a household name among informed Baptists in the south both by those who loved him, and those who hated him. He simultaneously was either coronated as a victorious Prince or condemned as a villainous Philistine. Few, if any, rode the fence concerning their perceptions on Patterson. But Warhorses almost always solicit that kind of emotional reaction--the either/or rather than the both/and. And again, Paige Patterson has been our Warhorse.
If I may, now, allow me to get to the main point of resurrecting this old literary venue.
The hypocrisy of some Southern Baptist leaders recently indicated on social media kinda makes my blood boil. Scraping old, verbal muck from the bottom of the tank to presently "prove" Patterson's unworthiness to lead a seminary he's led for years is cowardly, morally inconsistent, and frankly, a bit ungodly.
Not that one's past remains out-of-bounds for considering the role of one's future.
But normally the events of one's past that legitimately possess the blade to slice open and threaten one's present or future are events that were heretofore unknown and have been brought to light only recently. That is, one's skeletons, if they do exist, are mostly tucked away in a hidden closet somewhere out of plain sight; thus the question naturally arises from an interviewer to one applying for a position, "Are there any hidden skeletons in your past that I need to know about?" All this makes perfect sense.
But contrarily, here's the truth of the present matter. Paige Patterson hid nothing. His words were on full display and have been for years and years. He said those words publicly. And some of the very Southern Baptists virtue-signalling now on social media about how morally inadequate Patterson now is because of his remarks to spouses were more than likely some of the same ones either sitting beside him at the conference(s) where Patterson spoke and personally heard his supposed evil words; or, were on the speaking platform with him; or perhaps even invited him to speak, yet they never raised an eyebrow; never corrected him either privately or publicly; never stormed Baptist Press with what horrible counsel Patterson offered on spousal abuse; never nothing. Zip. They sat there on their thumbs and let it stand.
If what Patterson said is wrong now, it was wrong then. Coward. Moral coward.
Some who've piled on Patterson in social media recently may more than likely have been doctoral students under Patterson at the very time he uttered those words. Why did you not say something? Anything? Afraid he would retaliate and give you a bad grade? Coward. Moral coward.
Some sit now in their safe seminary or college classroom boldly telling young people that there are more important things than being popular. More significant things than being on the good side of people. There's truth. There's righteousness. There's integrity. So, you, shout out from your safe haven, "Patterson is morally unfit!" "Patterson no longer is a leader to be followed but a bum to be fired!"
Yet you sat back years ago like a skulkerly toad on a stump when Patterson uttered the supposed unforgivable words about spousal abuse and said nothing. Nothing. Why?
Coward. Moral coward.
Nathan's counsel belongs to you, brother (and sister): "Thou art the man!" (2 Samuel 12:7).
Even more troubling is the moral inconsistency of the same virtue-signalling Southern Baptist leaders piling high on Patterson's supposed verbal missteps counselling spouses whose husbands potentially could physically retaliate. Please understand. Presently, I'm neither defending Patterson's words nor condemning them. Another post can tease that out if necessary.
Rather, I'm suggesting the blatant moral inconsistency of Patterson's critics in selectively condemning Patterson's words on one hand while conveniently turning their heads and completely ignoring words from other Christian leaders on the other, words not only just as explicitly objectionable as Patterson's words may be, but also, given the criteria Patterson's critics have employed to condemn his words, remain arguably more worthy of condemnation than Patterson's!
Let me give you an example.
John Piper was asked about how he would counsel wives who might be facing spousal abuse. Below is Piper's unequivocal reply. The video is less than 4 mins. Please watch it all. Piper's words cannot be clearer.1
If Paige Patterson is guilty, so is John Piper. If Patterson is no longer worthy to be followed but a bum to be fired, then moral consistency demands that John Piper deserves the very same moral condemnation by the virtue-signalling Southern Baptist leaders as Paige Patterson has gotten. Piper deserves to be piled upon. Piper should be swarmed by Southern Baptist leaders correcting his godless counsel to an abused woman. Piper should be defined as a horrifying example of Christian compassion and black-balled by every Southern Baptist who's piled on Patterson. Piper should be refused a platform to speak in our circles. Why? Because, by Southern Baptist critics' own criteria, John Piper's counsel to abused spouses is despicably ignorant and morally indignant. Therefore, John Piper is no longer a leader to be followed but a bum to be fired, to be excommunicated from any type of influence among Southern Baptists.
If Southern Baptist leaders don't "man-up" and "woman-up" on leaders across the board, they have no business lecturing to us about how virtuous we ought to be, nor virtue-signalling to us how morally appalled they are over Paige Patterson's supposed unchristian counsel.
A better way forward is not going to be found in vindictively digging up the sludge of our past. Yes, we hold all leaders responsible. Yes, we pledge to be and do better. Of course. Absolutely, we morally commit ourselves to be more excellent communicators.
But our hope for better leaders, more godly communication, and leadership oozing with moral integrity will never be found in protests, politics, petitions, or polls. This is the way of the world, and it's disgusting frankly.
Rather our hope is solely in the Lordship of Jesus Christ, commitment to His Word and His Body, the Church, publicly expressed in honest communication and transparent relationships.
1I covered Piper's words in this video a few years ago in a blog post. The video is still in the resource archives of Desiring God Ministries.