Beyond Dallas, onrushing #ChurchToo furor may spell trouble for biblical 'complementarians'


At this writing we don’t know whether Paige Patterson will turn up for his star appearance to preach the keynote sermon at the June 12-13 Dallas meeting of the Southern Baptist Convention (SBC).

Whatever, thanks to Patterson, reporters will flock to this gathering of the biggest U.S. Protestant denomination.

That’s due to the mop-up after Patterson’s sudden sacking as president of Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary (per this GetReligion item). It’s a dramatic turn in the onrushing #ChurchToo furor hitting U.S. Protestants after decades of Catholic ignominy over sexual misconduct.

The ouster involved his callous attitudes on spousal abuse, rape and reporting, plus sexist remarks, as protested by thousands of Baptist women. Patterson and Southwestern are also cover-up defendants in a sexual molesting case against retired Texas state Judge Paul Pressler. The storied Patterson-and- Pressler duo achieved what supporters call the SBC’s “conservative resurgence” and opponents the “fundamentalist takeover.”     

 The prime figure among their younger successors is R. Albert Mohler, Jr., president of Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville. He has denounced the current scandal as “a foretaste of the wrath of God,” and predicts ongoing woe for Southern Baptists and other  evangelicals. Doubtless he’s also upset over the downfall of SBC headquarters honcho Frank Page.

Mohler especially fears damage to the “complementarian” movement in which he and Patterson have been allied. It believes the Bible restricts women’s authority in church and home. Their evangelical foes charge that this theology disrespects women and their policy input, ignores victims’ voices and fosters abuse and cover-ups.

The Religion Guy has depicted the debate between “egalitarian” evangelicals and complementarians here. For other background, note this narrative from a female ex-professor at Southwestern.

Complementarians gained momentum with the 1987 launch of the Council on Biblical Manhood and Womanhood, backed by conservatives including Patterson’s wife Dorothy, Mohler, Daniel Akin who succeeded Patterson’s as president of Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary, and many non-Baptists. 

Citing eight biblical texts, the council proclaims that “wives should forsake resistance to their husbands’ authority and grow in willing, joyful submission to their husbands’ leadership,” and that “some governing and teaching roles within the church are restricted to men.” In March, the council said this about abuse.

Complementarians gained two new assertions in the 2000 rewrite of the SBC’s doctrinal platform: (1) “A wife is to submit herself graciously to the servant leadership of her husband even as the church willingly submits to the headship of Christ.” (2) “While both men and women are gifted for service in the church, the office of pastor is limited to men as qualified by Scripture.”

Subsequently, Mohler and Akin joined leaders including New Testament scholar D.A. Carson and prominent New York City Pastor Tim Keller in the influential Gospel Coalition. It unites members of  Presbyterian and Reformed churches with Baptists and others to promote  aspects of conservative Calvinism.

Among coalition tenets: “The distinctive leadership role within the church given to qualified men is grounded in creation, fall, and redemption and must not be sidelined by appeals to cultural developments.” A coalition posting from 2015 addressed spousal abuse.

On the victims’ side of this, one newsworthy evangelical advocate is Rachael Denhollander, per this Washington Post opus. Denhollander  led 150 women in winning the molestation conviction of gynecologist Larry Nassar, causing havoc for the U.S. gymnastics and Olympic committees and a $500 million settlement against Michigan State University.

Denhollander is an attorney married to a doctoral student at Mohler’s seminary. Her Christianity Today interview and a follow-up aired her dispute with Sovereign Grace churches for avoiding an independent investigation of cover-up allegations against founder C.J. Mahaney, who’s been handled gingerly by Gospel Coalition colleagues.

Reporters should also be aware of, an anti-complementarian watchdog. Proprietors Deb Martin and Dee Parsons, evangelicals with MBAs, left careers to become  stay-at-home moms. Both quit the SBC, citing authoritarian and patriarchal ways. Nine years ago (!!!), Dee demanded that Patterson be defrocked as “the poster boy for ‘pastors gone wrong’ ” and revealed his now-infamous remarks about a battered wife to a Biblical Manhood conference.

A third evangelical source is GRACE (Godly Response to Abuse in the Christian Environments),  led by Liberty University law professor and former abuse prosecutor Boz Tchividjian, a Billy Graham grandson.

Yet another angle is the charge that some complementarians extend their outlook to teach  heresy on Jesus’ subordination to the Father within the divine Trinity. That dispute is perhaps too esoteric for most news audiences, but there’s Christianity Today background here and then here.

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