Southern Baptists, domestic violence and divorce: Will SBC '18 be a must-cover press event?

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So what happens this June when the Southern Baptist Convention is in session in Dallas?

What happens if the Rev. Paige Patterson -- one of the two generals who led the conservative revolt that seized the SBC in the late '70s and early '80s -- insists on standing in the media spotlight and delivering the official convention address?

What happens if the convention's resolution committee is buried in resolutions making it absolutely clear that (a) Southern Baptists believe domestic violence is a crime as well as a sin and (b) that the safety of the abused is Job 1 and that the careful, essential work of reconciliation and attempting to save the marriage follows justice and the abuser's repentance?

What happens if there are demonstrations, not just by outsiders, but by the young generations of SBC conservatives whose voices last year helped produce the historic resolution condemning the alt-right and white supremacy?

Yes, we had a lot to talk about during this week's "Crossroads" podcast that focused on the complex story surrounding Southern Baptist debates -- on Twitter and in the media -- about domestic violence, divorce, the Bible and a Patterson interview tape from 2000 about all of the above. Click here to tune that in. You can click here to see my original post on this topic.

For an update, here's the top of a new Washington Post story (by former GetReligionista Sarah Pulliam Bailey) about the controversy:

FORT WORTH -- A prominent Southern Baptist leader whose comments about spousal abuse set off a firestorm last week said in an interview Friday that he couldn’t “apologize for what I didn’t do wrong.”
Wearing a black cowboy hat as he led graduates down the aisle, Paige Patterson set off laughter at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary’s commencement when he joked about quarreling Baptists. Patterson’s advice to abused women not to divorce has set off a huge public backlash among evangelicals -- but not at the conservative Texas seminary where the 75-year-old is president.
The seminary, which instructs women not to teach men and offers them classes in homemaking, this week fired a PhD seminary student from his $40,000-a-year job for simply tweeting about the Patterson debate, telling him that he was “indiscreet” and that his decision to speak publicly about the dispute “does not exhibit conduct becoming a follower of Jesus” and shows he was not properly deferring to “those placed in authority over you.”

For those seeking essential background material, Bailey offers this:

Patterson’s comments about divorce, which were made in 2000 but weren’t widely circulated until last weekend, caused Southern Baptist leaders to scramble to denounce domestic abuse. The most surprising remarks in the recording came when Patterson tells the story of a woman who came to him about abuse, and how he counseled her to pray for God to intervene. The woman, he said, came to him later with two black eyes. “She said: ‘I hope you’re happy.’ And I said ‘Yes … I’m very happy,’ ” because her husband had heard her prayers and come to church for the first time the next day.

To understand the context, when reading that last line, note that the woman's husband overheard her praying to God (not her husband) for mercy and protection.

In the podcast, I stressed that there are at least three stories going on here.

* The issue of whether Patterson -- pending some real apology and a major clarification of his views -- should be forced out of the pulpit at the June convention, since that slot in the program is a major honor.

* Efforts by Southern Baptists at every level (and there have been many) to stress that domestic violence is a crime and a sin and can never be tolerated. Faced with domestic violence, church leaders must always act to protect the abused and to report the crime to civil authorities.

* The essential message that marriages can be saved, since the Bible condemns divorce, but only after justice for abuser and safety for the abused. Some marriages can be saved. Tragically, some cannot. The abused can seek reconciliation, but enduring abuse is not part of the equation.

On this third issue, it would help if journalists examined this commentary by Denny Burk of Boyce College in Louisville, Ken. He is also the president of the Council on Biblical Manhood and Womanhood, a crucial conservative voice in this media firestorm. It discusses several common positions among evangelicals, when discussing the Bible and divorce.

However, this is how the commentary ends:

In my 2013 book on sexual ethics, I argue that “abused spouses should separate from abusive situations in order to protect themselves and their children” (What Is the Meaning of Sex, p. 135). That separation is a necessity for the safety and welfare of the family. An abusive spouse has made choices that force a separation, and the abuse therefore can become tantamount to desertion. That is why I conclude that when the abuser “leaves” the marriage in this way, the “exception for desertion comes into play (1 Cor. 7:15). In any case, the victim must be protected and the abuser sanctioned” (What Is the Meaning of Sex, p. 135).
When it comes to abuse, one’s view of divorce is not the immediate issue. ... No matter what one’s view on divorce is, all faithful Christians must be absolutely clear that abuse is a sin and a crime. Faithfulness to Christ means confronting abusers and protecting the abused -- which will include removing the abused from the presence of the abuser and reporting the abuse to civil authorities.

What happens next? At this point, the ball is in Patterson's court -- while the media storm rages on.

Also remember this crucial fact about SBC life and polity: When it comes to making major statements and decisions, the Southern Baptist Convention is, well, a convention -- not a denomination. The SBC exists when it is in session, during the annual meeting each summer.

Depending on what happens next, this summer's SBC meeting could be a flashback to the old days -- when the convention was a must-cover, in-person event for just about every major newsroom in America.

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