HARBORING CONFLICTING EMOTIONS REGARDING PAIGE PATTERSON’S COUNSEL ON SPOUSAL ABUSE AND THE RESULTING IMPLICATIONS

By William Dwight McKissic, Sr.

The most loved and loathed personality in SBC history is, without a doubt, Dr. Paige Patterson, current President of Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary, Fort Worth, TX. Dr. Patterson remains a figure held in the highest esteem by many SBC pastors, who find no fault with his controversial and now well-known remarks, spoken on the subject of spousal abuse in 2000 at The Council on Biblical Manhood and Womanhood. Patterson is loathed by many in the SBC, not only for the spousal abuse comments, but for many miscues, missteps, mistakes and positions taken, that many find unacceptable. [Wade Burleson’s link, Ed Stetzer, Jonathan Merritt, SBC Voices…you can read about some of those issues.]

Southern Baptists of all stripes are beginning to weigh in on the Patterson controversy. Alabama Pastor, Rick Patrick, has come out strongly in support of Patterson. Oklahoma Pastor, Wade Burleson, is calling for Dr. Patterson’s resignation…voluntary or forced. Tom Rainer, President of Lifeway, the book-selling arm of the SBC, took a strong stand supporting women victims of spousal abuse, without criticizing Dr. Patterson.

In SBC culture, for an entity head to weigh in on a public controversy involving a SBC entity head, with a statement widely interpreted as flowing counter current to supporting Patterson, is unprecedented. It was extremely bold within the SBC context, but correct of Thomas Rainer to make a statement. On his heels, Danny Akin, President of SEBTS, weighed in similar to Rainer; and Russell Moore affirmed Rainer’s comments publicly. Clearly, these statements are designed to clarify the SBC’s and their entities’ position regarding spousal abuse, as opposed to a retort or rebuke to Patterson; yet in SBC culture, anything short of, “I support Dr. Patterson,” is interpreted as, “I’m against Dr. Patterson,” particularly with regard to this issue. These outstanding entity heads should not be viewed in a negative light for supporting women victims of spousal abuse and protecting their entities and the SBC Brand. I applaud and appreciate these men.

I consider myself an independent, free-thinking, theologically orthodox, Kingdom-focused and driven African American Southern Baptist. My viewpoints usually are not totally in alignment with SBC mainstream establishment; neither do my views usually align with SBC moderates or liberals. The late great National Baptist Preacher, Dr. C.A.W. Clark stated, “John the Baptist was too early to have been a New Testament Apostle and was too late to have been an Old Testament Prophet.” I was too young and too fundamental to have been a part of the moderate-liberal arm of the SBC. I was too independent and too knowledgeable of SBC racial history to be a full card-carrying member of the conservative resurgence. Therefore, like John the Baptist, I just became a voice, often a lone voice in the SBC wilderness, able to speak truth and love and receive truth and love on both sides of the SBC political/theological spectrum.

That brings me back to the subject matter: “My conflicting emotions regarding Dr. Patterson’s spousal abuse counsel/crisis” and its implications. Remember, I told you that I am an independent voice, beholding to no one and not posturing for anything. I am free, a rare breed in the SBC; but I will have it no other way. Speaking “truth to power” is an inherent part of my National Baptist Faith tradition.

  1. I do not support the notion that Paige Patterson is disqualified to preach the Annual Convention sermon at the SBC Annual Convention this June in Dallas. Everyone needs to pause and take a long breath, before we rush to the verdict that his remarks (as problematic and unpopular as they were/are) should disqualify Dr. Patterson from preaching the annual sermon.

Which one of us, who’ve been preaching any length of time, could be subject to someone pulling a tape/video from the archives of something we’ve said many years ago; but we would not say the same thing today, or certainly, not in the exact same way. Yet, if brought to public light today, it would create for us a similar PR crisis?

Again, that’s not to excuse, or agree with, what Dr. Patterson unwisely spoke (in my judgment); it’s to say, “The punishment is much greater than the crime.” Let the SWBTS Trustees rebuke Dr. Patterson for his remarks, if they must. Let the SBC in session adopt a strong statement making it crystal clear that we do not support spousal abuse of at any level of gradations—Period—if we must. But to punish and embarrass him on the Convention floor, a venerated figure like Dr. Patterson, by denying him a well-earned slot of being the Annual Convention preacher in the sunset of his life and ministry, is simply overkill. Separate the punishment from the sermon.

2. My feelings are conflicted because I certainly understand the opposing viewpoint and find merit obviously, in many of their arguments. My hunch is Paige Patterson would agree with the immediate previous sentence. Those who are calling for Patterson’s resignation and him stepping down from preaching are driven by pure motives, in my opinion. They believe that to speak a word of support and compassion for victims of spousal abuse is more important than being silent; and by silence give consent, to one who has spoken in such a way that can be reasonably interpreted as inappropriately addressing the subject and speaking non-representative of SBC views in doing so. I get that!

Please consider for a moment though, what if the Hebrew writer excluded Moses from the Hall of Faith because he murdered an Egyptian? What if David was removed because of his adulterous affair? What if Rahab had been removed because of her harlotry history? What if Abraham had been removed because of his lying? You get the picture. We should not remove Patterson from the honor of preaching what could very well be his last SBC Convention sermon, because of a series of poor word choices, in an ill though out attempt, to rightly communicate a biblical truth-opposing divorce. The SBC has not removed memorabilia of Boyce and Broadus, from their walls—slave-holders/Confederates. Yet, we are going to remove Paige Patterson from preaching the Annual Sermon, because of an isolated incident of unwise counsel.

3. I believe Dr. Patterson’s retirement schedule should in no wise, be impacted by the 2000 poorly worded sermon or a Q&A dialogue. Again, we need to be careful about the precedent we are setting here; others may fall victim as well.

There is a colloquialism often sang and expressed in the Black church that says, “If you set one trap, you may be setting two; because, the trap you set for others, may also be for you.”

4. Finally, it is no secret that Dr. Patterson and I have had our share of disagreements. Yes, I appreciate the fact that in 2002 or 2003, Dr. Patterson invited me to preach in Chapel at SEBTS, largely because he appreciated my uncompromising convictions, standing for the inerrancy of Scripture.

I appreciate the fact that Dr. Patterson offered me two or three opportunities to preach in Chapel, upon assuming the presidency of SWBTS in 2004.

I appreciate the fact that Dr. Patterson has responded favorably during those few times I’ve asked for his assistance in being a blessing to others.

Dr. Patterson hired a personal friend and my college roommate for a semester as an adjunct professor, in part, because of my request.

Dr. Patterson housed a student assigned to the Dallas area one summer, who was enrolled full-time in a Black seminary in Virginia, in part, because of my request.

Dr. Patterson, on a snowy day in February, three-four years ago, when school was closed because of the weather, Dr. Patterson entertained (in his house) the only Black professor in the world (I’m told) with a PhD from the University of Manchester whose study focused on The Dead Sea Scrolls. He later provided a guide to tour Dr. Hopkins through the exhibit on display at the time. I found their technical conversation about the Dead Sea Scrolls fascinating, although I understood very little of what was being said.

I even asked Dr. Patterson to host a group at SWBTS that he had major theological disagreements with. He reluctantly agreed to do it, but I received a good Baptist chewing-out for forcing his hand. The group later decided not to accept the offer. I was disappointed.

I now have a request in for the Seminary to house an MDiv student from Princeton Theological Seminary who wants to intern with me this summer.

Dr. Patterson awarded Eugene Florence at the age of 100 a Master of Divinity Degree. Although he had completed the coursework in 1951, because of segregation he was not awarded the degree. Patterson corrected a historic wrong by giving him the M.Div. degree, and he also named scholarships in Eugene Florence’s honor.

For all of those reasons and more, I genuinely value and appreciate Paige Patterson. I really hate to see him experience this kind of end of career pain.

Dr. Patterson and I had a major public disagreement about my last Chapel message in 2006, where he objected to my affirming the biblical validity of praying in tongues in private (I Corinthians 14:2) and challenging the IMB Trustees to rethink their position. In 2015 the IMB adopted a position identical to what my sermon called for, and that is freedom of worship in private, regarding prayers. Therefore, I will soon ask Dr. Patterson and the SWBTS Board, to remove the censorship from my sermon, based on their stated reasons for removing—“criticizing an SBC entity”; and now, that entity is agreeing with me. However, if Dr. Patterson doesn’t remove the censorship, after I present my case and protest to the fullest extent, so be it. I want to hear him preach this Annual sermon and follow whatever timetable he and the Trustees have set for his retirement, regardless to what’s ultimately decided about removing the censure from my 2006 chapel sermon.

I’ve always disagreed with Dr. Patterson’s position on a female teaching the Hebrew alphabet at SWBTS. I find that position totally unbiblical, unnecessarily alienating; and the thinking behind it played into the unwise 2000 remarks that have gotten him on the hot seat now.

Nevertheless, none of this is new. It is sort of baffling to me that the SBC would wait until now to punish a man for a “crime” committed in 2000. Everyone needs to put their guns back in the holster, or “slow your roll” as the old folk used to say, “Calm down!” “Chill out!” “Come now let us reason together says the Lord!” Time out! Pause this “run Patterson out of town train” leaving him with a legacy of shame and pain.

There is a way to resolve this without the leader of the conservative resurgence leaving town under a cloud of suspicion and rejection. The SBC can hold Dr. Patterson accountable for the inappropriate remarks; make crystal clear our position on spousal abuse, and at the same time, give honor to whom honor is due—Dr. Paige Patterson.

I’m as conflicted as many are. But inasmuch as his sin was misjudgment of words as opposed to deeds; can we err on the side of grace and allow Dr. Patterson to leave the SBC platform with his dignity and legacy intact? Would you want your dignity and legacy stripped from you because of poor word choices, on a given day. Selah. Pause. Think about it.

“Do unto others as you would have them do unto you,” ought to be the guiding principle here. Selah.

In conclusion, I was called to pastor a church at 21 years of age in 1977 in Pine Bluff, AR. One Sunday evening after worship service, I was approached by a young adult parishioner who asked for a counseling session with me. I said yes, and invited her into my office. She laid out the following scenario: She was in an abusive marriage with a financially irresponsible husband. She was working two full-time jobs and at times a third part-time job just to make ends meet. She already had six children at home who were forced to manage themselves most of the time since she had to work day and night. She was pregnant again and asked me if she should get an abortion. At that time, abortion was not a political or theological “hot button” issue in 1977 as it became a few short months and years thereafter.

I personally had not formed a strong opinion or conclusion about abortion in 1977 and 1978. I had no reason to form one. Abortion was not discussed in homes, churches, or schools/colleges/seminaries in ’77-78. Therefore, I counseled her based on situational ethics. After listening to her situation, I was sure the last thing she needed was another baby. I advised her if an abortion was what she wanted, then go ahead; and she did. Several months later, an abortion battle emerged in Arkansas Legislature. I was reading about it and noticed my Pastor’s comments regarding how life begins at conception based on Jeremiah 1:5 and Psalm 139:13-14. I thought to myself, “Oh, My God, I gave the young lady very unwise and unbiblical counsel.”

I had never heard my Pastor or any one teach that lesson until I read his remarks in the newspaper. So I gave this young lady some horrible advice.

If I had been asked that question in a panel setting, I would have given the same answer. That counseling session took place 40 years ago. I have confessed publicly and privately my unwise, unscriptural advice, and asked God for forgiveness. My horrible counsel is one among several reasons, Paul advised New Testament churches, not to call a novice as pastor.

My point is: What if my speaking engagements (at least nine scheduled as of today) or the several awards that I have recently received (including a Distinguished Alumni award that I will be receiving at Ouachita Baptist University in September) were revoked because of wrong advice that I gave 40 years ago? This is why I am sympathetic toward Dr. Patterson and his plight. To retroactively punish Dr. Patterson for remarks he inarticulately and wrongly made years ago is unfair in my judgment and not a way to treat a modern day patriarchal figure in SBC modern history. Selah. Pause. Think about it!

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