Disgraced evangelical leader Paige Patterson, brought down by sexism allegations, teaches ethics class

Disgraced evangelical leader Paige Patterson doubles down.

Patterson was ousted as president of Southwestern Baptist Seminary in May over allegations of sexism, condoning domestic violence and mishandling rape allegations. Months later, the embattled evangelical leader has made opposition to #MeToo a feature of his public life.

Returning to the Crown last month, Patterson slammed the #MeToo movement in his sermons, urging his listeners to remember, “I have nothing good to say about a woman who falsely accuses a man. She runs the risk of ruining a life. He also focused his sermons on a story from the book of Genesis in which Joseph is the subject of false allegations of rape by the palace guard’s wife.

Now he teaches a course on ethics. Last week, Patterson announced he would co-teach Christian Ethics: The Bible and Moral Issues, a weeklong course at the conservative Southern Evangelical Seminary alongside its president Richard Land.

Land defended Patterson’s role to the Religion News Service, saying “Dr. Patterson is one of the most important figures in evangelicalism over the past 20 years…I believe he is an asset to evangelicalism and we look forward to him. Land also defended her decision directly with Vox, saying in a statement, “SES is delighted that Dr. Paige Patterson, one of the most influential evangelical leaders of the past four decades, is available to be a guest speaker…We We look forward to hearing from our students about this renowned theologian, philosopher, and biblical scholar, and we are happy that he was able to fit us into his extremely busy schedule.

A representative for Patterson did not return a request from Vox for further comment.

Patterson’s return to the Crown and decision to immediately use his platform to criticize #MeToo suggests he’s not looking for redemption so much as vindication. Equally striking is his decision to teach alongside Land, a notorious hardline conservative who is a member of Donald Trump’s unofficial Evangelical Advisory Council.

Land was forced to resign as chairman of the Southern Baptist Convention’s Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission in 2012 after he made racist comments about then-President Barack Obama using the death of Trayvon Martin to “boost the black vote”. Picking Land’s institution as his “comeback vehicle” of choice suggests that Patterson may be trying to make a statement about his political and ideological allegiance in the post-#MeToo cultural landscape.

Richard Mouw, president emeritus of Fuller Theological Seminary in California and a longtime commentator on evangelical affairs, agreed. He pointed out to me that Patterson is not an academic ethics specialist, which makes him an unconventional choice for the class to start with.

“It is not surprising that this school, which is representative of the most conservative views, led by a president who lost his denominational position because of comments that struck many within the Southern Baptist Convention as racist , would have [hire] Patterson. The goal, according to Mouw, was “a political statement. ‘It’s one of ours. We want to keep his voice strong. He speaks for us. He speaks on our behalf.

Evangelicals have also taken on #MeToo – with varying degrees of success

Patterson isn’t the only evangelical figure confronting #MeToo. Pastor Bill Hybels, founder and figurehead of the popular and ‘seeker-sensitive’ Willow Creek Church outside Chicago, has resigned following widespread allegations that he sexually harassed church employees. church during his tenure there. Another pastor, Andy Savage, has resigned from his megachurch in Tennessee following allegations that he molested a minor while serving as a youth pastor in Texas decades earlier.

But because Patterson’s offenses are arguably less serious — he himself has not been charged with sexual misconduct — he appears to have become a much more politicized figure. Patterson is a Rorschach test for evangelical opinions on #MeToo. He is accused of encouraging rape victims not to come forward, telling victims of domestic abuse to stay with their partners and using sexual language to describe teenage girls in his sermons. To his critics, he is a supporter of decades of toxic patriarchal attitudes, exactly what the evangelical community needs to move away from.

But for his defenders, like the group of 16 Southwestern Baptist Seminary donors who threatened to withhold school funds following Patterson’s ousting, he is the victim of political correctness gone wild. As a petition in support of Patterson put it in May, “The wrong thing is to bow now to the culture warriors, in the name of political correctness at the expense of gospel glory.”

Katelyn Beaty, a writer and editor who focuses on evangelical issues, told me that while evangelical women are increasingly open to the ideas of #MeToo, Patterson’s resistance to it is representative of a larger pattern. large. “In many evangelical men, I see two things: either silence or a lukewarm openness. For many men, #MeToo seems like a “women’s issue” rather than an issue involving men… And given the political orientation of many of the drivers of the #MeToo movement, many evangelical men are put off by this brand image. or just don’t see its relevance to church or ministry.

She also noted how Land and Patterson’s longtime friendship was a reflection of a larger issue of sexism in the evangelical world, the way the “boys’ club” informs the transfer of power in the evangelical world. “In many institutions, power accumulates and is transmitted largely through informal networks of relationships and friendships between men. This dynamic is particularly strong in more traditional Southern Baptist networks where women do not have many formal positions of power and even still have to fight to be heard when they have formal positions of influence. It’s the good old boys’ club with a spiritual “brotherhood” veneer. »

Through actions and words, Patterson and his allies are taking an oppositional stance on #MeToo

Patterson’s return to the Crown must be understood in light of this conflict. Although he issued a pro forma apology for insensitive language at the time of his retirement, he nevertheless always defended the narrative that he is a victim of overzealous social justice warriors. Even when he apologized for his choice of words, he made sure to add, “I make no apologies for my standing for the family and for seeking to fix a marriage through forgiveness rather than the divorce.”

Since his retirement, moreover, Patterson has consistently positioned himself as an opposition rather than a rehabilitated figure. His choice to center his first public sermon since leaving Southwestern on false rape accusations and his decision to teach an ethics course alongside Richard Land both suggest that Patterson is embracing his new martyr status. culture wars.

And, even in the aftermath of #MeToo, many white evangelicals will follow. After all, just last week a Marist poll found that 48% of white evangelicals would support then-Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh, even if the numerous sexual assault allegations against him turned out to be true.

For too many white evangelicals, the language and rhetoric around #MeToo has become so politicized that any encroachment on men’s power to control women’s bodies and boundaries is viewed as suspiciously ‘liberal’ or ‘secular’. In such a context, a man like Patterson can develop a strong political identity from his refusal to apologize for advising rape victims and victims of domestic violence to minimize their tragedy. Even if it is women who pay the price.

Update: This article has been updated to include comments from Richard Land and clarify Dr. Mouw’s position at Fuller.

Barry F. Howard