When Women Are Silenced the Men Will Fail – a lesson learned from SWBTS and Paige Patterson

One of the most basic principles in the courtroom is due process, which at its core provides notice and an opportunity to be heard. Everyone appearing for a hearing or trial is entitled to notice of what is at issue and an opportunity to be heard on the subject. If you have an interest in the matter, you have a say in the matter.

This is the way good leadership works too. Decisions might have to be made by those with the authority to make them, but they shouldn’t be made without hearing from those the decisions will affect. The failure to provide a voice to those affected by decisions is what has led to one of the most recent failures of leadership at a Christian seminary.

Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary (SWBTS), a school within the Southern Baptist Convention, recently announced that Paige Patterson (its president of fifteen years) is now President Emeritus and Theologian in Residence with compensation and seminary-provided housing on campus. This transition came after news reports of – among other statements and actions – his objectification of the young women at his seminary for their looks and his advice to an abuse victim to stay in her home rather than leave to a place of safety.

The SWBTS board claims to have spent thirteen hours deciding how to act in light of the bad press their president had caused. The best they could do is offer the 75 year old leader an extremely generous retirement package and a place of prominence in campus policy-making for years to come.

This is a failure in leadership that could have been avoided if they’d listened to those most affected by Paige Patterson’s words and actions: women.

Patriarchy power run amok

The faculty of SWBTS overwhelmingly consists of men:

Its Board of Trustees is even more lopsided, as there are “just two women on the trustee board and thirty-eight men.” (Wade Burleson.) When women are affected by leadership but not part of leadership, leadership can’t help but fail.

Under a patriarchal system of church governance, men consider themselves fully equipped to make decisions regarding women because they are men and men are meant to have the final say in all matters. Women might be given a token presence, but not in numbers great enough to carry weight.

The extremely small number of women underscores their lack of importance and makes it that much easier to ignore their voice. This means that men end up making make bad decisions.

Imagine how the meeting might have turned out if the forty member board were half women, who knew by their numbers that they were more likely to be heard and not dismissed.

  • Women might have spoken of their own experiences being denigrated, objectified and discriminated against.
  • Women could tell of conversations with students who have suffered demeaning and derogatory comments from their peers and pastors.
  • Women could assure their colleagues that Paige Patterson’s words and actions were not just inappropriate or misspoken, but hurtful, harmful and even hateful for those who suffer from them.

But women are not included in any meaningful way on the board when their number is a mere five per cent of the membership.

This board may have found Paige Patterson to be a liability, but they did not find him to be unqualified in leadership. Rather, they institutionalized his place at the seminary by giving him emeritus status, continuing compensation, a house to live in, and the title Theologian in Residence. He is still a driving force for doctrine and practice at SWBTS.

A good council relies on good counsel

The Bible teaches this wisdom on decision-making:

Plans fail for lack of counsel, but with many advisers they succeed. (Proverbs 15:22.)

Some might say that a board of 38 men and two women meets the definition of “many advisors.” That’s true in a literal sense, but mistakes numbers for counsel. An echo chamber of like-minded people is not a source of wise counsel.

Even Old Testament leadership knew that the place to get good advice was from the people who had wisdom on the subject, regardless of their sex.

When the king heard the words of the Law, he tore his robes. He gave these orders to Hilkiah, Ahikam son of Shaphan, Abdon son of Micah, Shaphan the secretary and Asaiah the king’s attendant: “Go and inquire of the Lord for me and for the remnant in Israel and Judah about what is written in this book that has been found. …”

Hilkiah and those the king had sent with him went to speak to the prophet Huldah, who was the wife of Shallum son of Tokhath, the son of Hasrah, keeper of the wardrobe. She lived in Jerusalem, in the New Quarter. (2 Chronicles 34:19-22, emphasis added.)

These men knew that when it came to understanding the words of the Lord, Huldah was the person to talk to. The fact she was a woman did not dissuade them from seeking her wise counsel.

Why would a seminary board not recognize that women are as equipped with the wisdom of God as men? Why would they not value them as co-leaders in carrying out the responsibility God gave them? Under the New Covenant, women and men are not just equals in God’s family but also equals in the royal priesthood he has established.

But you are a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, God’s special possession, that you may declare the praises of him who called you out of darkness into his wonderful light. (1 Peter 2:9.)

If women are royal priests and equipped to declare God’s praise, they are worth joining with in leadership for God’s kingdom purposes.

Token memberships are not the answer. Full inclusion in carrying out responsibilities is the way of God. What this means for the board at SWBTS is that they can either double in size to bring in a significant number of women, or half the men can resign their position and women get named as replacements.

Otherwise, men who try to go it alone are setting themselves up for failure.

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17 Responses to When Women Are Silenced the Men Will Fail – a lesson learned from SWBTS and Paige Patterson

  1. Kathy Heisleman says:

    Thanks again for this clear & logical argument from both law and Scripture.

    And–don’t forget the stained glass window image of Mr. Patterson which will adorn the SWTBS chapel-presumably for the admiration & edification of the other males in attendance…

  2. Terri says:

    The problem, as you’re already aware, is that men in religious leadership who harm women and then don’t hold each other accountable don’t think they have failed. They don’t consider this lack of accountability to be failure because they value women that low and they utterly fail to empathize.

    If they don’t think they’ve failed, they see no need for change.

    I think it was C.S. Lewis who said, “We learn through pain.” When women are harmed, these men don’t appear to feel any pain, so nothing changes.

  3. Don’t you see Tim that the problem was in the IMPLEMENTATION of so-called complementarianism AKA patriarchy that was the problem, it simply could not be the idea of patriarchy itself, since that was given by God for all time. According to John Piper, mature masculinity ensures that a wise and just solution that enables human flourishing will exist if only everyone would embrace patriarchy. When it does not, it cannot be that the ideas behind patriarchy are at fault. So Paige Patterson has a few human weaknesses, don’t we all? It is clear he has been sufficiently chastised by the embarrassment of need to retire a few month earlier than he had planned with full benefits worth over $2M with his wise patriarchal visage being immortalized in a stained glass window. What a travesty of justice.

    LEB Jer 23:1-2  “Woe to the shepherds who destroy and scatter the flock of my pasture,” declares Yahweh. Therefore thus says Yahweh, the God of Israel concerning the shepherds who shepherd my people, “You yourselves have scattered my flock, and you have driven them away, and you do not attend to them. Look, I will punish you for the evil of your deeds,” declares Yahweh.

    I expect fireworks next month at the SBC National Convention. And if they do not end up repudiating Paige Patterson’s horribly harmful ideas, I think any sheep remaining in the SBC should flee.

    • Tim says:

      True. They are so wedded to patriarchy they can’t imagine the doctrine has faults no matter how much harm it causes wherever it’s practiced.

    • Headless Unicorn Guy says:

      Don’t you see Tim that the problem was in the IMPLEMENTATION of so-called complementarianism AKA patriarchy that was the problem, it simply could not be the idea of patriarchy itself, since that was given by God for all time.

      “This Time We WILL Achieve True Communism!
      Because This Time The Right People (guess who?) WILL Be Running The Party!”

  4. T Parker says:

    I hope I am wrong, but the SBC leaders are working as i type these words to come up with Parliamentarian procedures to get through these couple of days and keep the status quo. The men only culture is too ingrained in my opinion for them to dare share anything with women.

  5. T Parker says:

    Patterson probably has thousands of sycophants in the SBC. IMO some would literally die for him. There is no way the SBC will experience real change for women.

  6. T Parker says:

    Tim:If both Patterson and Pressler-the two architects of the TAKEOVER can come under serious charges and it continues to be business as usual in the SBC–where is the hope of significant change?

  7. Headless Unicorn Guy says:

    Something originally-unrelated I came across yesterday which has bearing on Complementarianism(TM) in general. It comes from an essay by an old litfan-turned-brony I know, “Jordan179” from the Bay Area, one of his 650+ blog-entry essays regarding nuances of My Little Pony (the guy’s a good storyteller and compulsive recreational thinker/blogger); this comes from his 2014 FIMFic blog essay “Why I Cannot Believe in a Free-Love Equestria”:

    Sex is (hopefully) an intensely pleasurable experience. It is absolutely normal to develop strong positive affect toward any sexual partner one does not actually hate or despise. Note the strong efforts made by misogynistic cultures such as those of Iran or Saudi Arabia to make men hate and despise women, and prevent women from enjoying sex, thus making them hate and resent men, precisely to block this emotional tendency.

    Hard to (deliberately) abuse someTHING you have become positively emotionally-attached to —
    Feature, not Bug of Complementarianism(TM), locked in by Divine Mandate.

    Note that this is a side comment of the essay itself, whose primary subject is the Anything-Goes Sexual Free-for-All shtick in fanfics — a badly-overdone phenomenon I have encountered a LOT in Furry Fandom.

    • Lea says:

      Interesting. I’m especially thinking of incels now, which is kind of the reverse except for the hate part…

      • Headless Unicorn Guy says:

        Oh, there’s a hate angle to incels.
        Hate and resentment for not getting any.
        Remember the Santa Barbara Shooter and his Manifesto?

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