Last year, Paige Patterson, the former Southern Baptist Convention leader, was the subject of hundreds of articles about how he mistreated women and ignored their allegations of sexual assault against people under his umbrella.
This is the guy whose “advice” to women trapped in abusive marriages was to stay and pray. In a separate sermon, he made creepy sexual remarks about an underage girl. As president of Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary, he once told an alleged rape victim to not talk to the police and forgive the rapist. Last September, he body-shamed a woman. And in June, a lawsuit alleged that he shamed and shunned a former seminary student who told him a classmate had raped her at gunpoint and took pictures of her for blackmail purposes.
That guy is back in the news. (So you know the SBC is in for another round of well-deserved criticism.)
This time, a leaked letter between Patterson and a fellow SBC leader from 2012 revealed how Patterson tried to discredit the denomination’s first black president.
Oh hai Paige. Can you help us understand what you meant in 2012 when you said SBC Pres @FredLuter caused you to “quake” and that “ethnic” leaders don’t “understand the issues” like white men do? Do black men have a greater propensity for “backsliding”? Tell Dottie hi for us. Thx. pic.twitter.com/qSIvMkS43k
— The Baptist Blogger (@BaptistBlogger) November 13, 2019
Shortly after the convention’s 2012 meeting, Paige Patterson, then a seminary president and the architect of the denomination’s conservative turn, sent a letter to another denominational leader expressing doubt about the newly elected SBC president, Fred Luter, who is African American. Specifically, Patterson feared Luter would fail to nominate future leaders of denominational boards and agencies who would continue the conservative resurgence in the nation’s largest Protestant denomination.
“The difficulty is that among many of the ethnic groups there are not so many of them who understand the issues involved and the seriousness of them,” wrote Patterson to Jimmy Draper, a former SBC president…
Patterson insisted that he was thrilled “we elected a black president and specifically Fred” before saying the denomination risked sliding “a long way back” because Luter just didn’t get it.
What didn’t he get? Apparently the importance of believing in an inerrant Bible, which appears to be code for selecting conservative Christians who aren’t interested in social activism and have no desire to make sure women and LGBTQ people make headway under new leadership.
But Luter was the head of the SBC. Why would anyone expect him to be more progressive, anyway? The man knew what he was signing up for. The issue isn’t that Patterson was concerned. It’s that he was only concerned because Luter is black and might have a slightly different perspective on the issues.
Patterson, consciously or not, implied that white men apparently understand the religion better than black men. There’s an argument to be made that it’s really the other way around. There’s a lot to life as a Southern Baptist that black men know which white men cannot, and who better than a black man to educate them about the ways that racism still deeply permeates their tradition?
“The assumption of many white evangelicals is that Black people and other people of color do not have the theological acumen of white Christians,” said [author Jemar] Tisby. “The core of the matter is that people such as Paige Patterson and those who share his views functionally believe that only white Christians can be trusted to interpret the Bible and lead the Church.”
Maybe Patterson just didn’t want to deal with any criticism from people who understand the damage Southern Baptists like him have caused.