Pressure is continuing to mount on Southern Baptist leader Paige Patterson after another leading figure in the denomination called on him to retire.
Patterson, 75, is the president of Southwestern Theological Seminary who helped orchestrate the 'conservative resurgence' in the Southern Baptist Convention (SBC) during the 1990s and served as SBC president in 1998 and 1999. A combative figure and a big game hunter, he has been fiercely attacked on social media after a recording from 2000, in which he appeared to advise abused women to submit to their husbands, resurfaced.
Prominent Southern Baptists including Russell Moore, president of the SBC's Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission, implicitly criticised Patterson by tweeting their abhorrence of abuse, without naming him specifically. Thom Rainer, president of LifeWay Christian Resources, named Patterson and noted that we live in a 'politically charged environment', but said 'I cannot be silent on the issue of abuse of women'. 'And I stand with all who say "no" to any type of abuse of women at any time and under any circumstance,' he said.
A statement from Thom S. Rainer. pic.twitter.com/miWmc9Bjn6— Thom Rainer (@ThomRainer) May 1, 2018
Patterson issued a statement in response to the criticisms.
Now Ed Stetzer, executive director of the Billy Graham Center at Wheaton College and Billy Graham distinguished chair of church, mission, and evangelism, has issued a strong criticism and called for Patterson to go.
In a lengthy piece, Stetzer offers a forensic examination of Patterson's record detailing his intolerance of criticism and a series of gaffes including crude public comments about a 16-year-old girl, manoeuverings against the appointment of Dr David Platt as new president of the SBC's International Mission Board and his connection with Paul Pressler, who is facing a lawsuit over sexual abuse claims. The suit claims Patterson know about the alleged abuse but failed to report it.
Stetzer says Patterson 'has now become a challenge in an SBC that, if I may be painfully honest, doesn't need much help shooting itself in the foot'.
He says: 'In the age of #MeToo, do Southern Baptists really need their keynote speaker and hero to be the one seen in a video talking about a "built" 16-year old girl? As a father with a 16-year-old daughter, I think not.
'Furthermore, his inarticulate comments about abuse have put the SBC in another difficult position. Unspoken policies have their limits. When people are actually asking where we stand on abuse, we have to look in the mirror and wonder how long we hold our tongues.'
Stetzer gives credit to Patterson for his commitment to inerrantism, but says many SBC leaders 'privately acknowledge that it is time for a new era'.
He concludes: 'If Patterson preaches at the SBC, he will, because of his past work, get a standing ovation. Every news story will point to that moment, tie it together with the accusations against Paul Pressler, and say that Southern Baptists don't take abuse seriously.
'And it's not just a public relations crisis. It's a message to women that we must not send... Thank you, Dr Patterson, for your service. You did the right thing when it was hard. Now, let me encourage you to do so again. Thank you for thinking first of the SBC as you step into a well-earned retirement.'
Another prominent Southern Baptist, Wade Burleson, also called for him to go, detailing more controversies in which Patterson has been involved and saying: 'If Dr Paige Patterson is allowed to continue in leadership within the Southern Baptist Convention, Southern Baptists will lose any remaining credibility we possess as we share the Good News with the world at large.
'Dr Patterson must step down. He must resign. If he does not, he must be removed.'