Paige Patterson

Hybels, McCarrick and Patterson: The sex abuse scandals that ruled #RNA2019 large newspapers

Hybels, McCarrick and Patterson: The sex abuse scandals that ruled #RNA2019 large newspapers

I posted earlier this week on the winners of the Religion News Association’s annual contest, announced at a banquet in Las Vegas (yes, the nation’s religion writers gathered in Sin City).

When I wrote that, RNA hadn’t yet posted the specific stories for which familiar Godbeat pros were honored.

Now that RNA has done that, it’s interesting to see which topics emerged as the top storylines of 2018 (the contest period).

An old joke in journalism is that three similar anecdotes make a trend. If that’s the case, it’s easy to spot a trend in the three winning entries for the RNA’s award for excellence in religion reporting at large newspapers and wire services.

See if these three names ring a bell from last year’s headlines: Bill Hybels. Theodore McCarrick. Paige Patterson.

Let’s see, one gained prominence as the pastor of a Chicago-area megachurch. One served as the Roman Catholic archbishop of Washington, D.C. And one was the president of a leading Southern Baptist seminary in Fort Worth, Texas.

What ties the three together?

All three found themselves engulfed in sex abuse scandals — and in each of their cases, leading major newspapers played a prominent role in reporting the details that led to their unraveling.

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In Baptist circles, which is the more powerful position: SBC president or SBC seminary president?

In Baptist circles, which is the more powerful position: SBC president or SBC seminary president?

I have a fair amount of experience reporting on the Southern Baptist Convention, going back two decades when I served as religion editor for The Oklahoman and traveled to the denomination’s annual meetings.

In my time with The Associated Press in Dallas, I did a 2004 series on the 25th anniversary of the 1979 conservative takeover of the Southern Baptist Convention. Last year, freelancing for the Washington Post, I covered an all-night meeting at which Paige Patterson was removed as president of Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary in Fort Worth, Texas.

But I’ll acknowledge that I’m no expert on the nation’s largest Protestant denomination. For example, I don’t have a clear idea of whether the Southern Baptist Convention’s president — an elected role generally filled by a pastor — is a more powerful, substantial position than serving as president of one of the denomination’s six regional seminaries. It seems to me that perhaps the seminary presidents are bigger, more major players in the long term.

The reason I bring this up is that the ongoing news coverage of the SBC’s sex abuse scandal — in which Patterson keeps making all the wrong kind of headlines — typically cites Patterson’s past SBC presidency before mentioning his tenure as seminary president.

In fact, the Fort Worth Star-Telegram — which should be as informed on this story as anyone — seems somewhat confused about which role Patterson was kicked out of last year.

Here’s the lede of the Star-Telegram’s report on a lawsuit (warning: the details are chilling) filed last week:

A woman who said she was threatened and humiliated after reporting multiple rapes to former Southern Baptist Convention president Paige Patterson has filed a lawsuit against him.

The lawsuit, which was filed by a former student of the Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminaryin Fort Worth, was unsealed this week. 

It says the woman was the victim of multiple violent sexual assaults on the school’s campus by a fellow student, who also was employed at the seminary, in 2014 and 2015. But even before she became a student, the lawsuit says, the seminary “was not a safe place for young women.”

But here’s the deal: Patterson was president of the SBC in 1999 and 2000. That was 20 years ago.

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Three weekend reads: Another #MeToo case for SBC, faith-based adoption and Bible teacher Jimmy Carter

Three weekend reads: Another #MeToo case for SBC, faith-based adoption and Bible teacher Jimmy Carter

After a week in Puerto Rico on a Christian Chronicle reporting trip, I'm still catching up on my sleep — and my reading.

Speaking of reading, here are three interesting religion stories from the last few days.

The first concerns the latest #MeToo case facing the Southern Baptist Convention. The second is an in-depth analysis of religious freedom vs. gay rights in taxpayer-funded adoption and foster care. The third is a feature on the Sunday school class in Plains, Ga., taught by former President Jimmy Carter.

1. Southern Baptist officials knew of sexual abuse allegations 11 years before leader’s arrest

Sarah Smith, an investigative reporter for the Fort Worth Star-Telegram, delves into how the Southern Baptist Convention's International Mission Board handled allegations that a 25-year-old seminary student sexually assaulted a 16-year-old girl.

A crucial question: Why didn't the board report the matter to police?

Smith meticulously reports the facts of the case and gives all the relevant parties ample space and opportunity to comment, even if some choose not to do so or to issue brief statements that shed little light. This is a solid piece of journalism.

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Wrapping up Southern Baptist annual meeting: Did we witness the return of the so-called 'moderates?'

Wrapping up Southern Baptist annual meeting: Did we witness the return of the so-called 'moderates?'

So the most newsworthy Southern Baptist Convention in years is history.

Rather than try to analyze all the coverage -- even a fraction of it -- I'm going to offer up a tweetstorm of links and analysis. After all, your GetReligionistas have been all over the coverage of big SBC events for weeks. To catch up with recent events (and some history), click here, here, here and then here. For starters. And there's a podcast on the way, too.

But before today's tweetstorm begins, I want to nitpick a specific word choice by a respected Godbeat pro: Tom Gjelten of NPR.

In this headline, see if you can spot the word I'm talking about:

Pence Speech Riles Some As Southern Baptists' Moderates Gain Strength

A veteran religion writer emailed me the link to that story with this comment: "I don't think moderate means what Tom thinks it means." I hope Gjelten sees this post and responds with a comment on what he thinks it means. I'd welcome that.

Here's how NPR used the term in the context of the story:

In general the meeting showed moderates within the denomination in ascendancy, particularly on immigration issues. Resolutions were passed that called for more acceptance of immigrants, criticized the separation of families at the border and urged more generous treatment of refugees.

The question: Are those pushing for immigration reform accurately characterized as "moderates" in the context of the Southern Baptist Convention?

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Hey, when reporting on Southern Baptist women, it helps to talk to ... Southern Baptist women

Hey, when reporting on Southern Baptist women, it helps to talk to ... Southern Baptist women

With Southern Baptists meeting in the Big D this week, religion is suddenly front-page news again in the Dallas Morning News.

As regular GetReligion readers know, the Dallas newspaper once boasted an all-star team of religion writers. For years, those Godbeat pros produced top-caliber journalism both on the front page and in an award-winning weekly special section.

But in more recent times, the Morning News — which no longer has a full-time religion writer — has struggled mightily in its coverage of faith, sometimes embarrassingly so.

Which leads me to discussion of the lead Page 1 story in Sunday's Dallas paper.

Like many major news organizations across the nation, the Morning News reported on the debate over the role of women in the Southern Baptist Convention. That's certainly a timely and appropriate angle, even a mandatory one for a Bible Belt city about to welcome the annual meeting of the nation's largest Protestant denomination.

But see if you notice anything strange in this lede:

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Will Southern Baptists do more than pass a resolution on #SBCToo sins and crimes?

Will Southern Baptists do more than pass a resolution on #SBCToo sins and crimes?

The 2018 Southern Baptist Convention is in session and, so far, the news out of Dallas has been pretty predictable. The big news, if you are into that civil-religion thing, is that Vice President Mike Pence will address the gathering tomorrow.

Baptist Press has a live blog here, with the status of resolutions and other votes, and an actual live-cam up is streaming here (and here on YouTube).There's lots going on at several hashtags, such as #SBC18, #SBC2018 and #SBCAM18. The official Twitter feed for the meeting is right here.

As I wrote yesterday, in a high-altitude overview post, I think the key to the meeting will be actions -- not just resolutions -- to change policies in seminaries linked to counseling and reports of domestic abuse. Also, watch for efforts to create some kind of SBC-endorsed clearing house collecting official reports of abuse by clergy and church leaders.

The highlight of the pre-convention events was a panel discussion focusing on domestic violence and abuse in the church. This was the latest evidence of a conservative consensus -- at least among current and emerging SBC officials -- on minimum steps toward reform. A report in The Tennessean opened, logically enough, with remarks from popular Bible teacher Beth Moore, one of the key women speaking out on #SBCToo issues. A key passage:

"None of us want to throw stones, but it keeps us from even responding to a criminal situation because we think, 'Listen, I've had my own sexual dysfunction,' " Moore said. "There is a long, long shot of difference between sexual immorality and sexual criminality that we have got to get straight."

Once again, we see a strong emphasis on the difference between sin and crime, a line that lots of clergy and church counselors have struggled to recognize. Continuing, with fellow panelist Russell Moore, the president of the Southern Baptist Convention's Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission:

Russell Moore, who is not related to Beth Moore, said he has seen abusers time and again misuse grace in such a way that it hides them from being held accountable. He said that destroys what the New Testament teaches about the meaning of grace. 

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Preparing for real #SBC2018 debates -- It's not 'moderates' vs. 'fundies,' these days

Preparing for real #SBC2018 debates -- It's not 'moderates' vs. 'fundies,' these days

If you look at a timeline of events in American culture, there is no question that the great revolt by Southern Baptist conservatives was linked -- in part -- to Roe v. Wade and the rise of Ronald Reagan and his mid-1970s campaign against the GOP country-club establishment. 

But if journalists want to understand the priorities of the current leadership of the Southern Baptist Convention, they need to back up and look at some other events as well. It's important to understand what young SBC conservatives (male and female) want to change and what they don't want to change.

OK, let's start back in the 1940s, '50s and '60s, when SBC conservatives became worried that theological trends in liberal Protestant denominations were seeping into their own seminaries. Truth be told: There were not many truly liberal Southern Baptists out there -- on issues such as the virgin birth and resurrection of Jesus -- but they did exist.

Southern Baptists who were worried about all of that, and SBC agencies backing abortion rights, kept running into institutional walls. They were called paranoid "fundies" (short for "fundamentalists") and hicks who lived in the sticks and they had little input into national SBC committees and agencies.

In reality, there was a small SBC left and a larger SBC hard right, framing a vast, ordinary evangelical SBC middle. But the "moderates" were hanging onto control.

Then the Rev. Jimmy Allen organized an establishment machine that pulled his own loyal "messengers" into the 1977 Southern Baptist Convention, insuring his election and control over the committee on committees that shaped SBC institutions. He won again in 1978.

Leaders on the right -- like the (now all but exiled) Rev. Paige Patterson, Judge Paul Pressler and others -- took careful notes and decided they could play that game before the fateful 1979 Houston convention. They built a church-bus machine that beat the old "moderates," then they did that again year after year.

Now, what does that have to do the big issues in the current crisis? Let's walk our way through a passage in a pre-SBC 2018 background piece at The Washington Post, a story that also details recent events linked to the fall of Patterson from power.

... Patterson knew how to make things happen in the late 1970s and ’80s when he and others on the far right grew increasingly worried about the convention becoming more moderate on the key question of the Bible’s inerrancy, including on the place of women and the family.

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Click that URL: 'Acts of Faith' newsletter pauses to reflect on Southern Baptists and journalism

Click that URL: 'Acts of Faith' newsletter pauses to reflect on Southern Baptists and journalism

When I was the religion-beat pro in Charlotte in the early 1980s -- first at The Charlotte News and then at The Charlotte Observer, as well -- the great Southern Baptist Convention civil war was coming to a head.

Charlotte was and is a great religion town. When one of your main drags is the Billy Graham Parkway, you live in a town that gets religion.

When I was there, Charlotte was the only major city south of the Mason-Dixon Line in which there were more Presbyterians (several brands of those, however) than there were Baptists. The town was also a power center for the "moderate" Southern Baptists who turned out to be on the losing side of the great SBC showdown with those preaching "biblical inerrancy."

I spoke fluent Southern Baptist, since I grew up the home of a well-connected Southern Baptist pastor in Texas. I was ordained as a Southern Baptist deacon when I was 27 years old. In the Charlotte news market -- in which I urgently attempted to cover both sides of the SBC war -- some local conservatives concluded that I was a liberal.

Then I moved to Denver, which was a fading liberal mainline Protestant town in a region that was evolving into a power center for evangelicals. I did my best to cover both of those camps fairly and accurately and the old powers that be soon concluded I was some kind of Bible Belt fundamentalist, or something.

Why bring this up? Because there is a fascinating passage in a recent Washington Post "Acts of Faith" newsletter that, for me, called these experiences to mind.

But first, what is this newsletter thing? It's digital, but it's not really an online thing. The Sarah Pulliam Bailey and Michelle Boorstein use it as an email platform for sharing insights behind the news. Since your GetReligionistas just love that kind of info, I think everybody should sign up for this digital newsletter.

So here is the URL for this edition of the newsletter. Go to the end and there's a place to manage Post online newsletters and features.

Then click here to sign up for this digital newsletter. The all-purpose Acts of Faith website is right here.

Now, back to the SBC material, from Boorstein, that reminded me of the old Charlotte days: 

In the last couple weeks the Post religion team has been unusually focused on Southern Baptists, as one of the giants in their movement fell from power dramatically because of various comments and actions related to women.

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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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