Frank Page

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

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. 

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Holy ground: Yes, the walls of First Baptist in Sutherland Springs will be coming down

Holy ground: Yes, the walls of First Baptist in Sutherland Springs will be coming down

During the Communist revolution, Bolsheviks would go out of their way -- when executing a Russian Orthodox priest -- to place him on the altar of his parish and THEN shoot and/or stab him to death.

This accomplished several goals at one time, including desecrating the altar so that it could not be used again in worship without a future visit by a bishop to perform the elaborate rites to reconsecrate a church for celebrations of the Divine Liturgy. This was hard to do, since the Bolsheviks were killing all the bishops, as well (other than a very small number who cooperated with the revolution).

I bring this up because of an interesting Religion News Service feature that has just been released with this headline: "Texas church to be demolished, like other mass killing sites before it."

We are talking, of course, about the First Baptist Church of Sutherland Springs, where gunman Devin Patrick Kelley -- apparently in a futile attempt to kill his mother-in-law -- went ahead and shot every person in the Sunday morning service, killing 26 and wounding others. Here's a key passage near the top of this story:

In what is becoming a grim American ritual, mass shooting sites from Sandy Hook to Columbine have been demolished and then rebuilt. But some churches that experienced horrific killings have sought to reclaim existing sacred spaces.
That’s not the case with First Baptist. Frank Page, president and CEO of the executive committee of the Southern Baptist Convention, and Steve Gaines, the SBC’s president, confirmed the decision to demolish the church after meeting in Sutherland Springs on Tuesday (Nov. 7) with Frank Pomeroy, its grieving pastor.
“They did say, ‘We can’t go back in there,’” said Page, referring to Pomeroy’s remaining church members. “It’s going to be a reminder of the horrific violence against innocent people.”

This is one of those stories that I am very thankful RNS took on, but I still want to raise a question or two about it.

To be blunt: It's true that religious sanctuaries are, as a rule, considered "sacred spaces." I get that. However, there are religious traditions in which some spaces -- parts of those facilities -- have literally been consecrated, in elaborate rites, as holy.

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Settling in to follow the Russell Moore story: Where will Southern Baptists gather to talk shop?

Settling in to follow the Russell Moore story: Where will Southern Baptists gather to talk shop?

Having seen a few Southern Baptist Convention rodeos during my time, I would assume that most of the key debates about the work of the Rev. Russell Moore have moved back into the world of emails, cellphones and talks behind closed doors.

The key for reporters -- other than paying attention to social media -- will be to try to figure out when and where young and old Baptists in the various niches will gather to talk shop over coffee during breaks in their usual meetings. (Few Southern Baptists hide out and talk in bars. But think about it: Would reporters ever think to look for them there?)

Maybe look for gatherings of pastors at the level of regional associations, maybe in North Texas and other hot zones? As I suggested in my earlier post, I would also keep an eye on Louisville and Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, where Moore has many ties. The leader of that campus, of course, is the influential President Albert Mohler, Jr., another articulate conservative critic of Donald Trump.

Now that public debates about Moore's work have begun -- with some journalists paying attention -- it is crucial that key leaders in the growing networks of African-American Southern Baptist churches have made their views clear. These churches are crucial to the SBC's future and national leaders know it. Click here for a strategic Baptist Press story on that, released before the March 13 meeting between Moore and the Rev. Frank Page, head of the SBC executive committee.

In terms of a mainstream news update on these developments, look to this story by Religion News Service veteran Adelle Banks, with this headline: "Black Southern Baptists: ‘We are pulling for Dr. Moore’."

Like I said, they are making their views quite clear.

(RNS) Embattled Southern Baptist ethicist Russell Moore, the public face of the nation’s largest Protestant group, has at least one group of vocal supporters: African-American Southern Baptist leaders.

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About the Washington Post report on SBC's Russell Moore: It's best to simply say, 'Read carefully'

About the Washington Post report on SBC's Russell Moore: It's best to simply say, 'Read carefully'

Suffice it to say, I received more than a few emails yesterday asking for my reaction to yesterday's Washington Post story by former GetReligionista Sarah Pulliam Bailey that ran under this long, detailed, dramatic headline: "Could Southern Baptist Russell Moore lose his job? Churches threaten to pull funds after months of Trump controversy."

One email late last night, which I will decline to share, offered a 500-word plus dissection of the whole piece focusing on this question that many others were asking: Was it accurate to say that the Rev. Frank Page, president of the Southern Baptist Convention's executive committee, "indicated" that he was prepared to ask Moore -- the denomination's high-profile point man in Washington, D.C. -- to resign on Monday?

As you would imagine, this quickly morphed into discussions of whether Moore -- a consistent #AntiTrump #AntiHillary voice during the madness of 2016 -- was going to be fired.

Out of all of his blunt quotes about Trump, and there are many, here is one from an op-ed in The New York Times that I think expresses what Moore was consistently saying:

Jesus taught his disciples to “count the cost” of following him. We should know, he said, where we’re going and what we’re leaving behind. We should also count the cost of following Donald Trump. To do so would mean that we’ve decided to join the other side of the culture war, that image and celebrity and money and power and social Darwinist “winning” trump the conservation of moral principles and a just society. We ought to listen, to get past the boisterous confidence and the television lights and the waving arms and hear just whose speech we’re applauding.

As you would imagine (and I say this as someone who was openly #AntiTrump #AntiHillary), more than a few people in Southern Baptist circles argued -- in public and behind the scenes -- that Moore's opposition to Trump was the same thing as offering support to the candidacy of Hillary Clinton.

This brings us to the overture of Bailey's much circulated story, a story that was updated with quite a bit of new material on Monday evening.

Concern is mounting among evangelicals that Russell Moore, president of the Southern Baptist Convention’s policy arm, could lose his job following months of backlash over his critiques of President Trump and religious leaders who publicly supported the Republican candidate. Any such move could be explosive for the nation’s largest Protestant denomination, which has been divided over politics, theology and, perhaps most starkly, race.

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Christians and suicide: New York Times reports on evangelicals embracing talk of mental illness

Christians and suicide: New York Times reports on evangelicals embracing talk of mental illness

Three years ago, I traveled to rural Oregon to profile a minister who worked to bring healing — and answers — to his reeling town after a string of suicides.

Reporting that story opened my eyes to the hush-hush approach of many Christians toward suicide.

On the front page of today's New York Times, reporter Jan Hoffman reports on what appears to be a positive trend: more evangelical pastors embracing talk of mental illness:

EAGLE SPRINGS, N.C. — The pastor’s phone rang in the midnight darkness. A man’s voice rasped: “My wife left me and I’ve got a shotgun in my mouth. Give me one reason why I shouldn’t pull the trigger.”
The Rev. Matt Brogli, a Southern Baptist pastor scarcely six months into his first job, was unnerved. Gamely, he prayed with the anonymous caller, trying out “every platitude I could possibly think of.”
Eventually the stranger assured Mr. Brogli that he would be all right. But the young pastor was shaken.
“I was in over my head,” he recalled. “I thought being a pastor meant giving sermons, loving my congregation, doing marriages and funerals, and some marital counseling.”
Since that midnight call two years ago, Mr. Brogli, 33, has become the unofficial mental health counselor not just for his church, but throughout Eagle Springs, population 8,500, a fading rural community of mostly poultry and tobacco workers, with five trailer parks and six churches.
It is no easy task, in large part because from pulpit to pew there is a silence and stigma among conservative Christians around psychiatric disorders, a relic of a time when mental illness was seen as demonic possession or a sign that the person had fallen in God’s eyes.
But Mr. Brogli and other evangelical ministers are trying to change all that.

Generally, I find it easier to point out what's wrong with a story than explain what's right. This is one of those cases where I'm tempted to simply say: This is good. Read it. Of course, that may be the Thanksgiving turkey overload (and need for a nap) talking.

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