Harem Building – the revealing patriarchy at Paige Patterson’s seminary

There are men who preach that women are made by God to be subordinate to men in all matters – home or church, work or play. Some of these men run seminaries where they teach other men the same, and any women who might be allowed to attend the  seminary are taught likewise. This is how Paige Patterson runs the Southern Baptist Convention’s seminary in Fort Worth, Texas.

A Seminary President’s Subjugation of Woman and Elevation of Men

According to a Washington Post article by Sarah Pulliam Bailey (a widely respected Christian journalist on religion and society), Mr. Patterson repeatedly looks upon women as mere supports for men and at times appears to elevate their looks over their abilities.

In 2014, Patterson used a story in one of his sermons about an interaction he witnessed. In the story, a 16-year-old girl walked by and, Patterson said, “she was nice.” One young man commented, “Man, is she built.” A woman nearby slapped her hand over the young man’s mouth and scolded him. Patterson said he responded to the woman, “Ma’am, leave him alone. He’s just being biblical.” The audience laughed. (Southern Baptist leader who advised abused women not to divorce doubles down, says he has nothing to apologize for, Washington Post, May 4, 2018.)

In looking at that scenario it’s clear the one upholding God’s ways was the woman, not Mr. Patterson or the young man. The underage girl objectified for her looks is a victim of misogyny. So is the older woman.

That Mr. Patterson considers himself the arbiter of what is biblical and yet gets it completely backwards reveals much about his warped priorities. This next scenario is even more telling.

And in 2010, Patterson called out female seminary students for not doing enough to make themselves pretty, saying, “It shouldn’t be any wonder why some of you don’t get a second look.” (Id.)

Is Mr. Patterson a matchmaker, charged with making sure the women who attend his seminary can find a man and who is therefore free to criticize women for not being attractive by his standards? Apparently this is an avowed purpose of the seminary as it tells women they are welcome to achieve a degree in homemaking, also known as “Family and Consumer Sciences.” (SWBTS Women’s Programs.)

When Mr. Patterson shows so much concern for a woman’s looks and chastises an older woman for not allowing a young man to express out loud his appreciation for an underage teenager’s body, he is setting himself up as the arbiter of how women are valued in view of their relation to men.

He reminds me of a harem master.

Seminarian Harem Building

In ancient Persia, Queen Vashti came under King Xerxes’ ire when she refused to give in to his drunken desires. He banished her and started looking for a younger and more compliant version to act as his consort, holding auditions by ordering all the attractive virgins to be brought to his palace to have sex with him until he found the one who met his approval.

A young Israelite named Esther was among the young women subjected to the king’s scrutiny.

Esther also was taken to the king’s palace and entrusted to Hegai, who had charge of the harem. She pleased him and won his favor. Immediately he provided her with her beauty treatments and special food. He assigned to her seven female attendants selected from the king’s palace and moved her and her attendants into the best place in the harem. (Esther 2:8-9.)

Esther had her turn with King Xerxes, was chosen to be his next wife, and eventually acted to save her people from annihilation. This last part is a good thing. But Hegai’s role should not be taken as God’s approval for what he did, nor the king’s establishment of a harem in the first place as a model for God’s people to follow.

God used them. He didn’t approve them.

Yet here is a modern seminary president encouraging his students to adopt the oppressive patriarchal values of Hegai and Xerxes.

  • Women are viewed as adjuncts to men.
  • Women should make the most of their looks in order to please men.
  • Women should welcome a man’s appraisal of their looks: if the man appreciates that a teenager is “built” the older woman should encourage him in his assessment; if the man finds a woman’s appearance does not meet his standards, that woman should welcome the appraisal and strive to please him.

In setting women up to be appraised in regards to how they relate to men (offering a homemaking degree, chastising them for not taking steps to be more appealing in their physical appearance) Mr. Patterson is the modern embodiment of Hegai and Xerxes rolled into one. And in embodying their values – a woman’s worth is judged by her ability to attract a man – he rejects God’s ways.

The Lord does not look at the things people look at. People look at the outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart. (1 Samuel 16:7.)

Mr. Patterson turns this around completely. Women are told to look good for a man, and if a man thinks they look good they should applaud the man for “being biblical.” Yet the only way this is biblical is if what you mean is that Hegai and Xerxes are two men found in the Bible and this is the way they acted. But merely being in the Bible’s narrative is not an indication that God’s people should emulate them. (Sodom and Gomorrah are in the biblical narrative too but no one thinks people should follow their example.)

The emphasis on a woman’s looks and their worth as they relate to men – taught repeatedly and used as sermon illustrations by a seminary president – is nothing short of harem building. It might be done in one on one relationships but it follows the same practices found in Esther’s life.

It’s up to those who worship God to reject Mr. Patterson’s worldly teaching and instead follow the Lord’s ways.

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40 Responses to Harem Building – the revealing patriarchy at Paige Patterson’s seminary

  1. Kitti says:

    Where would you even USE a homemaker’s degree?

    • Tim says:

      Apparently their intent is that it solidify their doctrine that a woman’s mission field is in the home.

    • Lea says:

      I’m pretty sure my grandmother had a degree in home ec (that she got in the 40s or so) but she taught school. Why you would go to seminary to get a homemaker degree is beyond me.

      • Tim says:

        My aunt got one back in the 40s. She said the Home Economics major led to a Bachelors of Science degree because it was heavy on chemistry and biology. She then went on to a teaching career, getting advanced an advanced degree in teaching special education.

      • Tom L. says:

        When I was attending a Southern Baptist university back in the mid-80’s, the joke about good Baptist girls at the school’s degree goal there was to get “an MRS.” It was silly, naive, and, immature but experience and wisdom gained in the intervening 3 decades have shown that I was right in feeling uncomfortable & not joining in the joking around *but* that I also was not mature enough and not strong enough to have said something to rebuke such hurtful (albeit no malicious intent from the guys that participated, many of whom were in my circle of friends) statements.

        On the other hand, I don’t feel as bad because I didn’t view my female classmates as too weak or too lacking in emotional and intellectual strength to fend for themselves *and thus needed a male like me to come to their defense and to protect them, as if they couldn’t do it themselves.

        Frankly, there was a lot of truth to the joke –for both the devout girls and the guys in the ministerial track–since many of them married and went on to serve together in various ministry efforts across the nation and the world.

        Of course, my little college was not typical Southern Baptist for its time because it was located right in the heart of one of the largest cities in America and most of the students came from the surrounding area where general attitudes regarding race, gender, etc.were far ahead (i.e. “too liberal”–a purjorative term during the ugly insurgency to take over the denomination by small-minded fundamentalists…co-lead by guess who?) of average Southern Baptists. I know this because I grew up in one of the most influential SBC churches in Ft. Worth, home of Patterson’s seminary and was home to many seminary students, and I felt so much freer and more accepted than I thought possible as a racial minority and Southern Baptist. I felt like a second class citizen, and inferior, strictly because of my race despite my devoutness, gifts and humble attitude. My peers and many of the faculty and staff surprised me by accepting me as equal and gave me equal opportunity to serve and lead: I was elected class president all four years and student body president my senior year.

        I then returned to Ft. Worth for seminary, because if its rich tradition and stellar reputation as a devout but academically challenging institution that produced many of the best scholars and leaders in the SBC, * and felt like a second class citizen and worse amongst the many hotshot “preacher boys” from small towns and cities across the South. *

        Both the make students and many of the female students at Southwestern Seminary were not hiding the fact that they were aware of the reality that to get on the right career track after graduation, they needed a Master’s degree and a wedding ring or engagement ring. That was just the reality then under “liberal” leadership. But after the architect of the fundamentalist coup assumed power in 2003, Patterson & his regime returned the seminary to the 1950’s, with homemaking degrees for female students and a campaign to rid the school of outstanding and talented female scholars and professors like Dr. Klouda who the seminary produced while making sure no such scholars were ever nurtured in the future by making it almost impossible for talented female students to reach their potential and follow their spiritual callings (e.g. segregating and denigrating female students in the School of Theology, such as having professor’s wives listen to them give their sermon presentation in preaching courses—no make students or professors allowed to be present!!).

        Pastor Wade Burleson’s blog Istoria Ministries catalogues in details many of the hypocracies, perversion of biblical principles, excesses, and abuses under the *rule* of Pope Patterson. Which explains the steep decline in both enrollment (about 40%!!) and respect for the once world’s largest and highly esteemed seminary (non-Southern Baptist luminaries joining the faculty in the early 1990’s like theologian Erickson and best selling author Calvin Miller, the modern C.S. Lewis according to some people, were evidence). But a lot of big expensive buildings, a massive stain glass likeness of Patterson and his wife, and a massive retirement “apartment” on campus for the Pattersons continued to grow, though. Along with exposure of his hypocracy and other ugliness that were part of this man’s M.O. during his years destroying lives and reputation of honorable and godly professors, pastors and institutional heads who he disagreed with and felt needed to be destroyed –using students as spies in classrooms and around campus, secret audio recordings that were manipulated, innuendos, lies, and characters assassination, etc.

        • Tim says:

          Tom, your reporting from experience is illuminating. I am hoping the seminary will recover its former level of scholarship and scholars, but I don’t see how it can happen while it’s Mr. Patterson’s seminary.

        • Headless Unicorn Guy says:

          Patterson is outliving his usefulness. Too Librul for the next up-and-coming batch of more radical Reformers. Like Hebert and Danton…

    • muzjik says:

      As the first qualification of note in your biography as a Council Member at Council for Biblical Manhood and Womanhood.
      For example, Mrs. Paige Paterson’s credentials are listed as: Homemaker; Adjunct Faculty, Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary
      The men’s bios list their accomplishments, but fail to include their “Biblical role”.

  2. T Parker says:

    Patterson has been untouchable to this point in his leading the CRUSADE against women. Sadly, he has been very successful to this point in time.

  3. I write about this Patterson/Kelley family control of Southern Baptist Convention seminaries in my book. There are 55!

    Complementarianism and the Baptist Faith & Message 2000 is all in the family. Of the 55 SBC seminaries and satellite campuses, the Patterson and Kelley families preside over 26 of those. Their complementarian influence is far-reaching. And do not think for a minute it is just Baptists that are affected. Many other denominations secure pastors and youth ministers from these seminaries. That is one reason complementarianism and the BF&M 2000 has successfully transcended denominational lines.

    Chuck Kelley, President of New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary, helped write the Baptist Faith and Message 2000 and who is the brother of Dorothy Patterson, Paige Patterson’s wife.
    Kelley’s wife, Rhonda Kelley, is the director of Women’s Academic Programs at New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary and is professor of Women’s Ministry at NOBTS’s Leavell College, which is the college for their undergraduate program.

    Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary teaches women homemaking courses. Seminaries are supposed to teach theology! But they do this because SBC seminaries claim homemaking is women’s place as set forth in the Danvers Statement and by the Baptist Faith and Message 2000. That is to be expected since Dorothy Patterson, who is on the adjunct faculty at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary, is listed first as ‘homemaker’ on the website of the Council on Biblical Manhood and Womanhood, as are the other women. That is ridiculous.

    Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary allows women to earn a Master of Divinity degree with the notation “with women’s studies,” which gives them a degree with restrictions. This school does not recognize the Holy Spirit’s gifting to women. Southeastern Seminary boasts “The concentration provided by this track will prepare women for a wide variety of family, care-giving, and mission ministries.” But women cannot teach men.

    Degrees earned by female graduates of these institutions always come with restrictions, and women will continually be discriminated against by seminaries that teach male leadership over women unless action is taken against it.

  4. Pingback: Paige Patterson on Domestic Violence: Audiofile Transcript and Resource Links | Spiritual Sounding Board

  5. Lea says:

    There are a few verses I think need to be taught on a loop for some people for a year or two. The verse about the fruits of the spirits is one and “The Lord does not look at the things people look at. People look at the outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart. (1 Samuel 16:7.)” is another. Because clearly some people aren’t getting it.

    It appears that Patterson has adopted some sort of ‘grandpa who gives bad advice’ posture in the seminary and church. That’s not really what preaching is supposed to be, I think. I hadn’t heard that quote about how he wouldn’t date the seminary girls because they aren’t pretty enough, but I had heard enough to get the full spectrum of his views on women and it ain’t pretty.

  6. Deborah says:

    The arrogance of PP thinking the women would welcome his “approval!” Sure would like to talk to that mother in the story today. I’ve watched women ogle my sons and it makes me furious. They don’t know a thing about them as people. The worst case of ogling by women for me was when I was in seminary. Two married staff women were ogling Evan Morgan, a fellow staff member, with salacious comments after he walked by. They needed drool bibs. I was 24 and it never occurred to me to say something to them. I sure would today. The objectification of another by anyone is always wrong and demeaning
    My abusive ex pastor used to say from the pulpit, “I don’t like babies and kids! When they are teens I love ’em.” That would have pierced my heart to have heard that as a child. Flippant, caustic, lacking empathy…always a problem. Defrock the “biblical” harem builders!

  7. Headless Unicorn Guy says:

    Remember the satirical humor of Esther in the original version:

    Xerxes — Padishah, Shahanshah, Shah of all Iran and Not-Iran — comes across as a very weak man, easily duped, almost a buffoon who’s led around like an ox by his latest advisers and court favorites du jour.

  8. I have no words…words that are fit for reading in a family-friendly blog, that is.

    Correction: some choice descriptive words that come to mind are : misogynistic, demeaning, dismissive, subjugation, leering, ogling, good ol’ boy, little missy, pat on the head, total objectification.

    I’m sure I could think of several dozen more, if I really tried. Those were just the ones off the top of my head. (I’d toss in unbelievable, except, so sadly, this kind of speech is all too common…)

  9. Jeannie Prinsen says:

    Thanks Tim, for all of this. It’s true: just because God uses/works through a particular situation or paradigm, it doesn’t mean He approves of it or that that’s His intended way for flourishing to take place. Sometimes God works “in spite of” an injustice, yet we may be doing His will more by trying to dismantle the injustice than by condoning it.

  10. Anu Riley says:

    Thank you for this brother. It’s so good to know there are good brothers in Christ out there that understand FAR more than most people combined.

    You may get feedback like: but women love it when I compliment them! They love to be told they are beautiful and desirable and sexy and attractive and they are proud (even thankful!) when I notice their looks! They work hard on their bodies to stay fit and fabulous. They work hard to find the right clothes that make them look so appealing.How is that objectifying and making a “harem” out of them?

    Nothing is wrong with saying a woman is beautiful and attractive (on the outside). We ARE made in His image, and He did mold and sculpt us with His hands. We do try to take care of ourselves. It’s not like we go around in potato sacks, not bothering to shower and dress appropriately!

    The problem is that that’s ALL you see about us. Many women who are beautiful on the outside are actually broken on the inside., but you won’t take the time to see or notice or even ask. They may seem confident and put together on the outside, but on the inside they feel worthless and unloved. They may be being abused at home, at work or carrying around tragic childhood memories—-but you don’t bother to find out because you’re focused on the wrong things.

    When God said He looks at the heart, not at appearances, He meant that what is inside is FAR more relevant than what a person looks like.

    What is sad, is that the Bible says our charm is deceitful, and beauty is in vain—but a woman who fears Him is to be praised forever. We aren’t valued so much when we fear Him, We are told we are more valuable when we are beautiful and charming—even though the Bible says those things are fleeting!

    So how are we to keep garnering compliments for our looks as we progress in age, when time will eventually erode all that? It would be better if we grew in the fear of Him as we get older, because that means our praises will never wear out!

    • Tim says:

      People who try to defend statements like that are reinforcing the false notion that the most important attribute to a woman is appearance. Hogwash, as my forebears say.

    • Lea says:

      Most women don’t want comments on their looks from random men. Especially not old pastor men. Especially not 16 year old girls or 20 year old women. They definitely don’t want to hear they are or aren’t attractive from a pulpit! They dont want creepy dudes writing internet articles about how no one could talk to them because they are attractive and might be accused of flirting or need to ‘guard their hearts’. All of that is hogwash.

      If you are in a relationship with someone and you want to tell them how lovely you find them? Awesome. If you girlfriend wants to tell you your hair/outfit looks fab? Great.

      Most unrelated men, colleagues, employees and employers, and Pastors in particular should probably shut their mouths on that topic.

  11. Hi Tim, It’s been a while since I’ve commented, but I value your insights into these issues a lot! I have a question related to this and tried to find something in the archives, but didn’t succeed. The thing is, our youth pastor spoke to our Junior High Sunday School kids yesterday on God’s plan for the family, and used Colossians 3:18-19 to say some things that I wasn’t sure that I agreed with. I’m a leader for the girls’ small group, and I was glad that we ran out of time and I didn’t have to face the girls’ questions about having to submit to their husbands. Sigh. Have you written about those verses, so I could be ready for next week? Maureen

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  13. Greg Colby says:

    Sodom and Gomorrah are in the biblical narrative too but no one thinks people should follow their example

    What do you mean by that statement?

    • Tim says:

      I was thinking that sometimes the Bible is descriptive and sometimes it’s prescriptive. Just because the Bible describes behavior does not mean it is being set up as an example to follow.

  14. Pingback: Paige Patterson and a culture that breeds a generation of abusers – by Rebecca Davis, #ChurchDV | A Cry For Justice

  15. Ruth says:

    A problem for extremely attractive women can be the anxiety of not knowing if some male friendship is offered because of her outward appearance, or that AND her personality, faith, loving heart, leadership or anything other than beauty. Friend went through that, and didn’t have any trust, and much confusion about herself. Her relationships didn’t last, and after a failed marriage, she only had a few trusted male friends along with many female friends.
    She also found other women wary of her in case she ‘stole’ their husbands.
    How many husbands did they think she wanted? After being deserted by one husband, her own, she just kept clear of emotional involvement. What sort of a penalty for being pretty is that.
    Makes me glad that words like strong, loving, caring, hard worker, someone who cares and shares, and..you are looking well, you always dress well….is my general range of positive feed- back!

  16. Pingback: When Women Are Silenced the Men Will Fail – a lesson learned from SWBTS and Paige Patterson | Tim's Blog – Just One Train Wreck After Another

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