The SBC and the Sin of Patriarchy
If you pay any attention to news from the evangelical world, you’ve heard about Paige Patterson, former president of Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary (SWBTS) and prominent leader in the Southern Baptist Convention (SBC). A little more than a month ago, an audio tape from 2000 surfaced in which Patterson defends counseling women to remain with their abusive spouses.
I responded to this initial revelation on Arise, the blog run by Christians for Biblical Equality, and I argued that Patterson views women as having value only in relation to the men around them. I still think that this view of women is part of Patterson’s problem, but over the last month the scandal just keeps growing. Patterson has now been fully removed from his position at SWBTS due to his mishandling of rape allegations.
But this scandal is just a part — if a large part — of a larger reckoning coming in the evangelical world.
Beth Moore has finally opened up about the hurt caused by the treatment she’s received from evangelical men.
Rachael Denhollandar, a prominent witness in the case against serial molester Larry Nassar, has been calling the church as a whole, and particularly Sovereign Grace Ministries, to address sexual abuse in the church. Her former home church, initially resistant to her message, is now beginning to grapple with addressing sexual sin.
Peggy Wehmeyer, one of the first religion reporters on television, called evangelical leaders out for using the bible to mask and justify their patriarchy, recounting her own discouraging experiences as a young women who wanted to study the bible.
Al Mohler penned a sober reflection on the moment, urging evangelical leaders to view this moment as one of judgment for sins ignored.
I could name many others who are bravely speaking about their own experiences of abuse, pain or marginalization at the hands of evangelical leaders. And there are many leaders, both prominent ones like Al Mohler and ordinary pastors, who are waking up to the reality that the evangelical church is not immune from protecting abusers.
(And part of the scandal is, of course, the fact that many have been warning that this moment was coming — people like Boz Tchividjian, who has been dealing with addressing sexual abuse in evangelical churches for years. Evangelicals are waking up to a blaring alarm and a house ablaze.)
Painful as this moment is, the church needs to experience it. The evangelical church needs to lament the harm done to its members and take a long, hard look in the mirror.
And the evangelical church needs to repent of the patriarchy and misogyny that have lodged in the church under cover of faithfulness to scripture.
Some, like Al Mohler and Denny Burk, believe that they can retain complementarian theology — theology that separates men and women into different roles and further both requires women to submit to their husbands and forbids women from leadership roles in the church. Some still believe that an abusive husband or dismissive pastor fails to truly apply complementarian theology, and thus represents individual failure rather than a flawed theology.
But no theology that diminishes the full humanity of any person can ever be healthy. Although most complementarians would assert that men and women are equal in the eyes of God, they are certainly not treated as equal in the eyes of the church. This is the failure of complementarian theology: the failure to treat women as beloved children of God just like men.
The problem is not a few bad apples. Better training and a commitment to actually report assault to the police are good and necessary; pastors must have a strong understanding of abuse dynamics so that they do not send spouses into dangerous situations in the hope that one martyred life will bring another to repentance.
But these actions will fail if the root cause remains unaddressed.
Misogyny and patriarchy are some of the oldest sins, according to the creation narrative in Genesis. Part of Eve’s curse is that her husband will rule over her: patriarchy is rooted in the curse, along with pain in childbearing and in our work.
Jesus firmly rejects this patriarchy. He invites Mary to learn at his feet. He saves the woman accused of adultery from a painful death. He engages with the Samaritan woman at the well, heals the child of the Syrophoenician woman, performs his first miracle at the request of his mother. He entrusts the news of the resurrection to Mary Magdalene.
Paul writes that Christ erases the social and value distinctions between women and men. He works alongside women to spread the gospel. He exhorts men to lay down their privilege, enshrined by Roman law, and treat their wives as co-heirs with them, treat their wives as Christ treated the church.
Patriarchy remains entrenched in most cultures around the world, although certainly modern American women suffer far less than their grandmothers or their sisters in other parts of the world. But the church should set an example by addressing and rooting out the sin of patriarchy when it emerges.
So I hope that as the SBC and the broader evangelical church reckon with their #MeToo moment that they will awaken to the gravity of the sin of patriarchy. I pray that we as Christians will work against our culture and against our sinfulness to see women as fully human, fully created in the image of God, fully able to pursue their callings and use their gifts.
May this moment be not just a PR disaster but a true beginning of lament, repentance, and the humility required to lay aside the benefits of patriarchy and allow women to be as equal in the church as they are in the eyes of God.