Elizabeth Cavell & Andrew L. Seidel
Freedom From Religion Foundation
Yet another religious leader has fallen from grace . . . but it was a soft landing. Amid allegations of telling rape victims to remain silent and forgive their assailants, counseling abused wives to stay and pray, and commenting on the attractiveness of teenage girls, the Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary has “quietly replaced” Paige Patterson as president, according to NPR.
The Washington Post reported that Patterson counseled a woman not to report rape to the police and to forgive her rapist. The rape happened in 2003 when the victim was pursuing a degree at Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary, where Patterson was president at the time, according to WaPo, which also notes that “Patterson and other administrators did not report the incident to the police.” Oh, and they put the victim on probation for two years.
This was just the latest in a series of outrageous revelations. Last month, audio leaked in which Patterson told women in abusive relationships to stay with their husbands. Stay and pray, even if it gets you punched in the face. And it did.
In the audio, Patterson himself recounts a story of a woman to whom he gave this terrible advice. She was to pray, but also “Get ready because he may get a little more violent.” Here’s how Patterson recounted what happened next:
And sure enough, he did. She came to church one morning with both eyes black. And she was angry at me — and at God and the world for that matter. And she said, “I hope you’re happy.” And I said, “Yes ma’am, I am.”
He was happy because the abusive monster was in church, “standing at the back — the first time he ever came.” If a woman has to take a few punches to get her man into church, so be it.
He also described at least one teenage girl as “very attractive,” clarifying his remark he added, “she wasn’t more than about 16 but, let me just say, she was nice.” He then defended—against a mother’s criticism — a teenage boy lewdly commenting on the looks of this same girl: “‘Ma’am, leave him alone,’ Patterson recounted. ‘He’s just being biblical. That is exactly what the Bible says.’” Here’s the video:
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After watching that video and reading all this, do you have any doubt that further allegations will surface?
Patterson failed Baptist women, but ultimately it’s their religion that’s failing them. That’s proved by the response of the sect, which borders on meaningless.
One would think a fitting punishment for a man whose advice borders on complicit with rape and domestic abuse would have been for him to be pilloried, run out on a rail, or at the least, kicked to the curb.
But no. It took the board 12 hours to decide that Patterson would be removed as President and — wait for it — then the board voted “to appoint Dr. Patterson as ‘President Emeritus with compensation, effective immediately, which he accepted.’” And he and his wife get “to live on campus as the first theologians-in-residence at the Baptist Heritage Center,” which I am sure will be considered a tax-free parsonage.
The lesson of #MeToo and #TimesUp is that the problem is not just a few bad apples, the problem is institutional. And Christianity is an institution which is not immune, but which is sheltering perpetrators. Christianity has been suppressing #MeToo for generations. The entire religion is built on a book that is patriarchal and misogynistic.
Patterson’s counseling reflects the clear commands of the bible: That wives “submit” to their husbands. That they remain silent and that their personal safety is less important than an abusive monster attending church. Women’s inferior status is woven into the bible’s creation myths and reiterated in the New Testament: man was not “created for woman, but woman for man.” Patterson was “just being biblical.”
There is no such thing as Christian feminism. This is not to say that Christians cannot be feminists, they can be, but they are contradicting their bible, not reflecting its teachings. FFRF’s principal founder, Anne Nicol Gaylor, started the group largely because religion is “the root cause of women’s oppression.” The bible subordinates women. Patterson’s advice is precisely what you’d expect from someone who knows and follows the words of the bible.
This is borne out by the response of the seminary. Patterson, a man who threw rape victims under the bus (metaphorically) and women back into abusive relationships (literally) was rewarded, not punished. He gets to keep his title, income, and gets a house, but now has no responsibilities. Most people would consider this living the dream.
Paige Patterson wasn’t punished because the seminary doesn’t believe Patterson did anything wrong. He was “just being biblical.” The seminary’s inadequate response is only a symptom, the real problem is Patterson’s religion. The Baptist religion is failing women. If you care about equality for women, it’s time to empty the pews.