Stained (Glass) Heroes or, Dr. Patterson Is Only a Symptom

The canopy caught the wind. We slowly drifted toward the steel cable barrier that kept us a safe distance from the dam. Our anchors could not hold the 21’ pontoon boat from which we hoped to reach our limit of rainbow trout for the day.  We pulled in our fishing lines. After firing up the motor, we fought the wind to free ourselves from the barrier.

Sounds something like,

Evangelicals outside of Southern Baptist life were cognizant of the drift.  They knew the drill—loose the denominational boat from the moorings of its founders, and, stripped of rudder and locomotion, the gradual journey of riding the contemporary currents would take the boat to a new home somewhere downstream. (Patterson, SWBTS Journal,p.155)

Boating imagery seems an interesting choice for a man who prefers hunting big game. Mixing metaphors won’t help with clarity, but someone might want to explore all the details of the safari that landed Patterson the most significant trophy of his life, the Southern Baptist Convention.

The point here is not to provide a point/counter-point from the different published assessments of the Conservative Resurgence or Takeover of the SBC, whichever is your preferred understanding. Instead, what seems more urgent is to halt the notion that the recent dismissal of Dr. Paige Patterson equates to the reviving fires of the Spirit within the SBC. Put another way, Dr. Paige Patterson is not the problem with or in the SBC. He is symptomatic.

Our cure will require chemotherapy. This is not a flippant analogy that would detract from the countless cancer victims whose experience with chemo has left them emaciated, balding, with mouth sores and various other side effects from the poison intended to kill the enemy within. When your denomination builds its reputation on the Glory Story, denial of the deeper problems is revelatory of the empty hole within the denomination that only a Theology of the Cross may fill.

The stained glass windows in the MacGorman Chapel at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary enshrine the Glory Story of the SBC after the Conservative Resurgence/Takeover.

In order to pass along the story of the SBC’s Conservative Resurgence, Southwestern has dedicated stained-glass windows in MacGorman Chapel to those who played a major role in turning the convention back to a high view of Scripture. 

According to another story that indicates by now,

Dorothy and Paige Patterson will be portrayed together in a window set to be made next year, Young said.

Pride goes before a fall.

Wisdom.

Recent events at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary, and as the story unfolded at Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary, provide a tale that proves the proverb. Dr. Paige Patterson came under fire for giving the victim of domestic abuse horrible advice, reportedly advising at least one rape victim not to report the incident, indicating he desired to speak to another rape victim to “break her down.”

These claims come amidst a decline in enrollment, questions about expenditures and the firing of an employee for Tweeting an article critical of the former president. Trustees narrowly voted against termination and instead chose to give Dr. Patterson the title, President Emeritus, an annual salary, a residence on campus and staff at a May 22-23 meeting. At a subsequent meeting, May 30, the Executive Committee of the Trustees voted to terminate Dr. Patterson without benefits.

It would be easy for those who follow the Glory Story of the SBC to think that with the termination of Dr. Patterson, better days will be here again.

Don’t Follow the Scapegoat Theory

The last decade, at least the last ten years, reveals a rise in the adoption of Renee Girard’s, Mimetic Theory, which includes the need for a scapegoat, as a way to understand the Atonement. Many of us know a little bit about the scapegoat from reading the Old Testament, Hebrew Scriptures. Girard developed an explanatory theory, drawn from his cultural studies, that included the role of the scapegoat. 

For those unfamiliar, and I am no expert at this, Girard studied anthropology and discovered that across cultures a common social pattern emerged. Anytime a tribe, or group of people, experienced the build-up of tensions derived from common desires, the two competing groups would at some point team up and select a scapegoat on which to blame their unmet desires.

After experiencing a new found peace at the death of the scapegoat, the group would develop strategies and rituals to avoid the replay of those desires. Unfortunately, new desires would arise creating the scenario all over again. The scapegoat mechanism becomes something of a relief valve for the group.

It may be that this idea cannot be easily mapped onto the current events in the Southern Baptist Convention. But, then again they may.

Particularly, if the goal is peace. 

After the leaders of the Conservative Resurgence solidified power, opponents either withdrew from direct involvement or departed the SBC altogether. All that was left were those who joined together to reattach their anchors to their Traditioned moorings, reinstall their rudder, fire up their rebuilt motor and win the world for Christ rather than float downstream, driven by the contemporary winds.

Vocabulary of War

Within the Convention, there were still differing visions as to methodology and the long thread of soteriological division that showed up more recently between Calvinistic/Reformed-esque Southern Baptists and Traditionalists. These groups combined to win the peace as their shared desire to quash any vestige of Liberalism united them by targeting Liberals within. Just ask them. They will name them.

Victors write the history.

Time reveals the heart.

One consequence of the vocabulary of war is, well, the vocabulary of war. My brother and I once had a conversation with a denominational leader. We expressed concern that with no enemy to fight, and with decades of fighting in the SBC DNA, we sensed what Bill J. Leonard described, as a splintering. The broad Confession of Faith was falling prey to the desire for power, and once again we experienced deja vu as the boundaries of cooperation seemed to be narrowing evermore. 

You see, we were young preacher boys at the front end of the Conservative Resurgence. There has not been a time where we have not felt like we were part of the Fighting Baptists. When we relayed our concerns, the denominational leader told us, “Do what we did. Get a group and fight for your conviction. But, be ready to get blood on your swords.”

Our immediate reply, “That sure does not seem descriptive of Jesus’ way.”

We went away sad.

The rhetoric of war has led to idolizing the movement and its leaders. Insidiously, few young preacher boys in the SBC did not feel the desire well up within themselves to one day be like those leaders. Though the SBC is a massive bureaucracy, a Byzantine Institution, a designation Dr. Patterson once ascribed to the Baptist World Alliance, there are more preacher boys and men than there are positions of such great heights. 

Here We Go Again

Desires for the same thing made and makes rivals of friends.

Who will be the scapegoat? The Liberals are all gone from the SBC.

Dr. Patterson did not introduce the idea of Baptist heroes. He did not create the desire. Instead, it was a new Law. If you are going to be someone in God’s Kingdom, then you must aspire to lead the largest churches in the denomination, become an entity head, lead the Convention in Cooperative Program Giving, lead the Convention in Baptisms and Membership Growth. To do so, you must 1), … 2), … 3) …. 

Where the Law said, “You shall not covet, I felt the desire for what my neighbor had well up within me.” This new Law took decades of young pastors captive. The Powers of Sin and Death used the Law to lead young pastors to idolize where they could go, willing to do anything to get there. Once under the Power of the Law, there is nothing a person won’t do to maintain that power.

Even telling a rape victim not to report it.

And you thought the reference was to the recently revealed details out of Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary under Dr. Patterson’s leadership. Advice, reportedly given by Dr. Patterson himself.

Just recently this #MeToo story was sent to me. During the early days of consolidated power under the leadership provided by the Conservative Resurgence, a young couple’s two daughters we sexually abused by a former missionary. This incidence follows the pattern, “Don’t tell anyone.” What magnifies the horror is that this advice was given at three levels of denomination life. Three. 

Whatever theological presuppositions one has, whatever biblical commitments one alleges, keeping silent in the face of injustice is what continues to keep many Southern Baptists shouting for a Wall rather than marching for a solution to DACA. The source is the same. It would sidetrack this post to detail what I think are the theological and biblical errors, Maybe another post. Someday. The point to be made is that the problem in the SBC is not at the level of the President of the Southwestern Seminary, though he is symptomatic, our (glory) glass is stained.

We Like Glory

For years leaders of the Conservative Resurgence touted their victory meant the SBC would not go the way of the Mainline. Revival preachers could produce jingles to match. 

We don’t want to go the way of the Mainline,

That is to go way out of line,

And in the end, we will be offline

(Yes, I admit this is an adaptation. But, be sure that this sort of thing could mobilize the base as good as a reference to trade imbalances, or illegal immigration can fire a political rally.)

Comparisons in membership, attendance, baptisms, and dollars provided a sense of hubris among we Southern Baptists. We liked the glory, though it was and is always couched in giving glory to God. Not much has changed.

Glory be.

The Empty Tomb Shatters the Glory Glass Stains

The Apostle Paul charts a course that marks the Cross of Christ as penultimate. There Jesus defeats the Powers of Sin, Death and the Devil that took the Law captive to enslave humanity. Paul’s glory was in the Cross. It was not who lived in Pecan Manor, worked in Nashville or Richmond, or led any State Convention. There was no reference to CP, baptisms, except that we have been buried with Christ in his death, nothing of the size of membership, budgets or bucks. 

The SBC will gather in little more than a week. We will learn that for yet another year our prized marker for what is always called the right kind of growth, baptisms, will be down yet again. We will wring our hands. We will call for more prayer. We will long for the 1950’s or even the early 1970’s. We will hang our heads for having lost the glory. 

We will not admit that we have a deeper problem. We will not admit that we have submitted to a new Law. We will not acknowledge that rather than declare God’s victory in Christ, what we like to say is His finished work; we prefer to return to the vocabulary of war. We will note how we are not well-trained. We will be told all the things we are not doing that makes us lazy soldiers. We will the urged that it would all turn around if we would do it like JD or like Ken. 

We will make promises to do better, try harder, pray more. We will, by our own exhortations, add what is needed to the Empty Tomb. We will wonder why it is that those we long to reach with the Gospel don’t hear good news when they see us living that is it about is doing more, doing better rather than receiving what God has done for us in Christ.

Dr. Patterson met the consequences of his glory story.

He is only a symptom.

What may be revealed is that the SBC must reap the whirlwind, its consequences, for masquerading a Theology of Glory in the vocabulary of the Cross.

*The attached audio was taken from a Breaking News segment for Crossover Radio. Phillip Larsen, of Ryan and Phillip’s Conversation Rules, invited me on to discuss the implications of these recent events.

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About the Author
Husband to Patty. Daddy to Kimberly and Tommie. Grandpa Doc to Cohen, Max, Fox, and Marlee. Pastor to Snow Hill Baptist Church. Graduate of Oklahoma Baptist University and Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary. Reading. Photography. Golf. Colorado. Jeeping. Friend. The views and opinions expressed here are my own and should not be construed as representing the corporate views of the church I pastor.