It's wrath of God stuff: Thinking past Paige Patterson and into the Southern Baptist future

If you are following the Southern Baptist Convention's #MeToo crisis, with the not-so-graceful retirement of Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary President Paige Patterson, then there is no question about the newsiest "think piece" for this long weekend.

But let's pause a second before we get to that commentary -- "The Wrath of God Poured Out: The Humiliation of the Southern Baptist Convention," by Southern Baptist Seminary President Albert Mohler, Jr.

The big story behind the story of Patterson's fall is a high-stakes showdown between two generations of Southern Baptist leaders.

Patterson is one of the iconic figures in the old-guard SBC wing that is linked to the old Religious Right. While Mohler is 58 years old, he became president of Southern when he was 33 and, ever since, has been a cornerstone personality in a wave of SBC leaders who are very theologically conservative, but have a radically different style and agenda than the old guard, especially on matters of race and other hot-button issues in public life.

So glance, for a few moments, at the YouTube video at the top of this post. It's a 2015 panel at Midwestern Baptist Seminary discussing this topic -- "Passing the Baton: Raising Up the Next Generation of SBC Leaders." The moderator is Paige Patterson. Mohler is one of the panelists. Listen long enough to get the flavor of things.

Then head over to this much discussed Christianity Today commentary by another symbolic SBC leader, the Rev. Ed Stetzer of Wheaton College, who holds the Billy Graham chair of Church, Mission and Evangelism. This piece followed an earlier Stetzer piece asking Patterson to stand down on his own -- pronto -- including his high-profile role as keynote speaker in June at the national SBC gathering in Dallas.

In the new piece, Stetzer added:

We have not even reached the SBC annual meeting, but since I wrote that article, Paige Patterson’s response has already created the incalculable damage about which I wrote. When he stated that he “[had] nothing to apologize for,” the future I feared became the present we watched unfold.
The SBC sent a message to women we did not want to send, about their value and our view of our friends and coworkers who are women, showing that, for many, it was not just a message, but it was reality.
The damage has been stunning. ...
Paige Patterson was responsible for his own actions, and his actions have hurt many.
Yet, it is not just about Paige Patterson. Moving forward, hard questions had to be asked about accountability, transparency, and misogyny in the Southern Baptist Convention.

This brings us to the blunt, angry, mournful commentary from Mohler. For years, he writes, Southern Baptists and other conservative Protestants have assumed that sexual abuse issues were a "Roman Catholic problem." No one thought that they needed to look in the mirror.

Now, said Mohler:

The judgment of God has come.
Judgment has now come to the house of the Southern Baptist Convention. The terrible swift sword of public humiliation has come with a vengeance. There can be no doubt that this story is not over. ...
We cannot even point to an organized conspiracy of silence within the denominational hierarchy. No, our humiliation comes as a result of an unorganized conspiracy of silence. Sadly, the unorganized nature of our problem may make recovery and correction even more difficult and the silence even more dangerous.
Is the problem theological? Has the Conservative Resurgence in the Southern Baptist Convention come to this? Is this what thousands of Southern Baptists were hoping for when they worked so hard to see this denomination returned to its theological convictions, its seminaries return to teaching the inerrancy of the Holy Scriptures, its ministries solidly established on the Gospel of Jesus Christ? Did we win confessional integrity only to sacrifice our moral integrity?
This is exactly what those who opposed the Conservative Resurgence warned would happen. They claimed that the effort to recover the denomination theologically was just a disguised move to capture the denomination for a new set of power-hungry leaders. I know that was not true. I must insist that this was not true. But, it sure looks like their prophecies had some merit after all. As I recently said with lament to a long-time leader among the more liberal faction that left the Southern Baptist Convention, each side has become the fulfillment of what the other side warned. The liberals who left have kept marching to the Left, in theology and moral teaching. The SBC, solidly conservative theologically, has been revealed to be morally compromised.

Is conservative theology on matters of gender, marriage and sexuality the problem?

You know that Mohler is going to say "no," but it's important for journalists to read why he thinks that -- as well as how he links those issues to the current crisis.

Let's end with this quote:

But the same Bible that reveals the complementarian pattern of male leadership in the home and the church also reveals God’s steadfast and unyielding concern for the abused, the threatened, the suffering, and the fearful. There is no excuse whatsoever for abuse of any form, verbal, emotional, physical, spiritual or sexual. The Bible warns so clearly of those who would abuse power and weaponize authority. Every Christian church and every pastor and every church member must be ready to protect any of God’s children threatened by abuse and must hold every abuser fully accountable. The church and any institution or ministry serving the church must be ready to assure safety and support to any woman or child or vulnerable one threatened by abuse.
The church must make every appropriate call to law enforcement and recognize the rightful God-ordained responsibility of civil government to protect, to investigate, and to prosecute.

Read between the lines in that passage. And stay tuned.

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