There should have been a swift apology when a Southern Baptist leader’s remarks on abuse and women ignited controversy over the past few weeks, Sharae Slater said.
Instead, the Emporia woman, a Southern Baptist, said she was devastated by the lack of a response.
She and more than 2,000 others, mainly Southern Baptist women, have signed an open letter saying they are grieved by how Southern Baptist leader Paige Patterson advised abused women not to seek a divorce, but rather to pray and “be submissive in every way that you can.”
“These comments are damaging, sinful, and necessitate a decisive response,” the letter says. “The Southern Baptist Convention cannot allow the biblical view of leadership to be misused in such a way that a leader with an unbiblical view of authority, womanhood, and sexuality be allowed to continue in leadership.”
The letter follows the resurfacing of a 2000 tape in which Patterson, president of the Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary in Texas, is heard telling the story of how he advised a woman to pray for her husband who was abusing her.
She came to church afterward with two black eyes, he says in the tape.
“She said, ‘I hope you’re happy,’” Patterson describes. “And I said, ‘Yes ma’am I am.’”
He was happy because the woman’s husband came to church for the first time that day, Patterson says. “It all came about because she sought God on a regular basis.”
In the 1990s, Patterson led the Southern Baptist Convention, the United States’ largest Protestant denomination.
Some have tied the controversy to the #MeToo and #TimesUp movements, using the hashtag #TimesUpSBC.
Shaina Pearce, a Southern Baptist from Wichita, said she first learned of the controversy about a week ago on Twitter.
“I decided to sign the letter because I think it is an important statement,” she said in an email interview. “I wanted to stand with these women to show my support for victims of abuse.”
Slater said she was saddened that words like Patterson’s are still being said about women.
“I felt like it was another opportunity the church had to do the right thing and instead chose to let down women,” Slater said.
Shortly after the tape resurfaced, people began sharing a video of Patterson speaking at a 2014 conference. In the video, Patterson says two young men who described a teenage girl as being “built” were “just being biblical.”
The open letter from Southern Baptist women says the signees were shocked to see Patterson make “inappropriate comments regarding a teenage girl” and at the “unbiblical teaching he offered on the biblical meaning of womanhood in that objectification.”
Patterson pushed back against criticism in an April 29 news release, saying he has “never counseled or condoned abuse of any kind.”
He also doubled down on his opposition to divorce, but said abuse should be reported to authorities.
“My suggestion was never that women should stay in the midst of abuse, hoping their husbands would eventually come to Christ,” Patterson writes in the release. “Rather, I was making the application that God often uses difficult things that happen to us to produce ultimate good.”
Angie Wilkinson, a Southern Baptist from Overland Park, said Patterson’s letter was not an apology.
She signed the letter condemning Patterson’s remarks partly because Jesus spoke up in defense of women, she said.
“I love my church, but I love Jesus more than my denomination,” Wilkinson said. “He (Jesus) placed the women who followed him in such high regard. We as a church and a people need to do that as well.”
The open letter says the signees do agree with Southern Baptist views on the roles of men and women in the church and family.
The Southern Baptist Convention teaches that men and women are equal in value, but hold different roles (a belief known as complementarianism). This includes the belief that wives ought to submit themselves to the leadership of their husbands and that women cannot be ordained.
Some complementarian leaders have spoken out against abuse following the controversy, including the evangelical Council on Biblical Manhood and Womanhood. In March, the organization readopted a statement originally written in 1994 that condemns “all forms of physical, sexual and/or verbal abuse.” The statement does not mention divorce or separation. Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary affirmed the council’s statement on May 1.
Slater, the Emporia woman who signed the letter, said she was saddened to see few men speaking out.
“The church promotes so much about male leadership and men being the head of the church and the head of the home, but then where are you?” she asked. “Step up and lead. Step up and say the right thing, value and cherish women, your mothers, sisters, daughters, friends.”