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.