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Paige Patterson Will Go Too Far This Time

African big game hunter and Southwestern Seminary President Paige Patterson shares stories on hunting plains game in Zimbabwe at First Baptist Church of Lavaca, Ark. Patterson presented the Gospel to more than 1,300 men and their sons at church's Sportsman Safari. Twenty-seven professed faith in Christ after the event. Photo coutesty of Matthew Miller/SWBTS

I have known Dr. Paige Patterson for over three decades. He is a lightning rod for controversy. His Irish blood mingled with his genetic inclination for practical jokes, his staunch stance on truth, his high tolerance of pain, and his Wild West "good fight" mentality is a mixture that draws even the most insignificant of lightning strikes. Anyone who has known Dr. Patterson for any length of time is vividly aware of his proclivity to draw controversy. But this time he may go too far in his response to the controversy.

In the past I have personally watched him return good for malicious attacks on him. I have been in his home when he was falsely accused and attacked as President of The Criswell College. As a young student called into ministry, and on account of my friendship with his son and daughter I had the privilege of watching this sage kneel to his knees one evening and pray for those who were attacking him. As a small group of us joined him, I heard him: 1) plead to God for forgiveness for the times he had failed his God; 2) honestly admit his sinful nature was far worse than the false accusations which were being spread about him; 3) ask God to give him the grace he needed to love and pray for those who were falsely accusing him; 4) ask God to protect his family, the school, and the Kingdom; and 5) ask for truth to prevail.

This scene was intrinsically woven into the sanctification of this young ministerial student. As were light-hearted moments like seeing him slide in socks across his kitchen floor doing his best lip-sink rendition of Tom Cruise singing "Old Time Rock and Roll." Fortunately, for all, he was not dressed like Tom Cruise was in the Risky Business scene. I am especially fond of the time when the love of his life called to him from their library "Paige, don't eat all of those chocolate chip cookies ... those are for the students." With cookie in hand, he smiled at us and said to his bride "Yes, Ma'am." Ah, but she knew him too well. Next we heard, "You have one in your hand now, don't you." To which, he responded, after cramming it in his mouth, a barely audible "no, ma'am."

I learned so much from Dr. Patterson. I grew up in a divorced home. From junior high into college I only got to see my dad every other weekend. When I arrived at The Criswell College I was the product of public education, eighties football locker room education and a single parent home. My view of women was influenced by pornographic magazines (to which I was first exposed in the fifth grade at my public school), public education, and locker room chatter. My mom was used incredibly by God, to minimize these influences, but male mentors were largely missing, and thus I was a mess!

However, at The Criswell College, my understanding of how beautifully God created women, not as possessions, but as possessors of His image, grew immensely. In large part, this sanctification, was not just because of the intrinsic worth and immeasurable value which Scripture places on women, but also a result of how the Holy Spirit used what was modeled before me. The way Dr. Patterson viewed his wife and daughter as beautiful precious diamonds of priceless worth was not missed on this poor preacher boy from a broken home.

Nevertheless, this current controversy differs from the ones I saw Dr. Patterson endure decades ago. This current controversy is being fueled not just by his enemies but his "friends." This time, I imagine he will handle it more graciously than ever before. He will probably go too far in his grace, wisdom, mercy and kindness. I have read the apparent epistolary grenades which have been launched his direction. It might prove beneficial to review these firecrackers dressed up as grenades, before making predictions of what will come.

Apparently, Dr. Patterson, gave some advice years ago regarding prayer for a lost husband, which he has since clarified with respect to both the context and his beliefs. In fact, he has made clear that he "has never ... condoned abuse of any kind." He further stated that he even had his very life threatened for helping a woman get out of an abusive home during one of his pastorates (something many of these tweeters have probably never experienced).

Moreover, he has admitted that, he does not counsel women to divorce abusive husbands, but rather, to get away from the abuse and apparently remain separated until the husband gets saved and changed. Whether one agrees with this counsel or not is a different topic, but to somehow construe this counsel as Patterson condoning abuse is as intellectually dishonest as it is evil. Even to hint, on Twitter, that Patterson believes such, is wrong. We all know how this game is played: news breaks that a leader said something evil about women decades ago. Then, everyone, gets out their Twitter birds to state how wrong it is to ever speak evil about women before the person is given a hearing explaining the context. It is as if we passively judge a person guilty before hearing the full story.

If one wants to grasp what Dr. Patterson believes about abuse, one should look no further than the statement to which he clearly stated he agrees with ENTIRELY: "We condemn all forms of...abuse...We believe...abuse is a hallmark of the devil....We believe that the local church...(has) a responsibility to establish safe environments ... (and) to report abuse to civil authorities."

This is the background to the current controversy. There are some in this controversy who have deservedly earned a reputation for being dirt diggers. For those of us familiar with the SBC, we have come to expect such behavior from them. Our expectations for them to couch half-truths in as bad of light as they can find, seem to always be met.

There are other so called "leaders" in the SBC for whom we seem to consistently lower our initial high expectations; and sadly, they seem to consistently fail to meet the ever-lowering expectations.

Ten years ago I would have expected some of these leaders to:

  1. Stay above the fray. One leader (Dr. Stetzer) seems to imply that staying above the fray has been done by past leaders because of fear of retribution. I am disheartened he thinks so little of our past and current leaders. I have always felt, the ability to stay above the fray had more to do with wisdom and consideration of the kingdom than some sort of fear of man.
  2. Recognize that casting stones is unbiblical. Sure, we can and should stand up for truth. I try to, and I do not mind calling out names (without a desire to get personal) when I am responding to things which have been said. However, standing up for truth is not the same as falsely or passively implying that something Dr. Patterson said almost twenty years ago in a totally different context (he was not speaking about abuse), is the advice he would give in abusive situations. I am certain many of these same leaders would cringe if someone took the time to research and publish things they may have said twenty to thirty years ago in a sermon or around a table. We all have sins in our past for which we are ashamed. To pick up stones to throw at Dr. Patterson as if he said these things yesterday, or as if he believes women should stay in abusive relationships is precisely the action Christ warns against in John 8. I wouldn't even cast stones at those casting stones, for I am aware of my own sinfulness.
  3. Be objective about facts rather than cowering to the latest societal fad. The men involved who actually know Dr. Patterson KNOW FULL WELL that he has always held the highest view and protection of women. To not objectively acknowledge this, when they take to social media, begs numerous questions. Moreover, the fact, they have not gone after Dr. John Piper (when his comments were much more recent and much more transgressive) also begs numerous questions. One would expect that those who were soo offended by Dr. Patterson's comments would be even more offended by Piper's comments. Their silence concerning Piper speaks much louder than their tweets. Sure they will say Piper issued a clarifying statement. As did Patterson! Again, this begs even more questions regarding consistency and credibility.

I am fully aware as I write this that I am a nobody in the SBC. I am also aware that truth doesn't need a name behind it to be true. Logic and truth stand on their own. With this in mind here are my predictions and hopes.

I predict that those who enjoy stirring stuff will continue to do so. My grandmother often said "the more you stir manure, the more it stinks." Apparently, some have grown accustomed to that smell. Nevertheless, I have hopes they will mature from the manure.

I also predict some so called "leaders" will continue to passively cast apsersions. My hope would be that these men would apologize to Dr. Patterson, as well as their readers, as loudly as they implied their misrepresentation of the situation, but I have my doubts.

Finally, my prediction concerning the aged reformer of the SBC is that he will, like the eighty plus year old prophet, Daniel, kneel to his God and pray "just as he has always done." I feel the Holy Spirit will prompt the Southwestern sage to forgive as he has done so many times in the past. I am confident God will again close the mouths of the lions.

While many of us, wrongly, desire the Irish to come out in this man. I have an inkling that rather than the stench which has been stirred in this controversy, when Dr. Patterson rises from his prayer time we will once again see wisdom, love, joy, peace, patience and self-control. This fruit smells so much better. I have a feeling he will go further than before with this sweet-smelling aroma. Oh, for more wisdom like that.

Originally published at Christian Index.

Brad Reynolds is vice president for Academic Affairs and professor of Christian Studies at Truett McConnell University.

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