The problem of sexism and enabling abuse is not only a Southern Baptist Church problem. It’s a culture problem. I don’t know Paige Patterson. I’ve only been acquainted with the Southern Baptist Convention and a member of a Southern Baptist church (that I love) for about a year. I didn’t grow up in a Baptist church culture. But the expose of Paige Patterson’s thoughts on the Biblical response to a woman in an abusive marriage, as well as his lewd comments about a teenage girl, is not new to me in the church.
I grew up in an ultra conservative church where an emphasis about women and their roles in life were often taught. As other denominations season their beliefs with the spice of certain doctrines, the church I grew up in smothered just about everything they taught with the doctrine of a woman’s submission. As a girl, I was taught varying degrees of the following:
- Women are to be quiet, as in, no standing in front of the congregation and speaking at all.
- Women are to be submissive. Not just to their husbands. To all men.
- Women should not work outside their homes.
- Women are to be modest, which specifically means no shorts above the knees, no bathing suites, no cleavage showing, no form fitting clothing period.
The point I want to make is, growing up in an ultra-conservative church setting, abuse, sexism and objectification of women happened, and was not dealt with justly. I believe these things happened because the church I grew up in had a culture that was heavy on teaching what women should do but was silent about what men should do and turned a blind eye to men who failed to love their wives like Christ loved the church. It was not a Baptist church, but in the church culture I was raised, women were for men not equal with men.
It’s this kind of culture in a church that allows abuse and an anti-biblical view of women to grow and give birth to ugly sins like the ones we’ve seen in the #ChurchToo stories and Paige Patterson’s line of thinking. The kind of culture that breeds abuse and colors sexism as Biblical is what Jesus called, “the leaven of the Pharisees.” (Matthew 16:6)
Paige Patterson’s jesting-approval of a boy’s characterization of a teenage girl as “built” is the fruit of a self-indulgent, blind double-standard. His advice to a woman in an abusive marriage that guards his interpretation of divorce laws but abandons helping her find safety and legal protection is the fruit of the sinful culture that had spread through religious and political leaders of Jesus’ day. The culture of the Pharisees was one that clung to the letter of God’s law, was blind to their failure to uphold it themselves, laid heavy burdens on others to do what they failed to do and was as powerless as a dead man in a white-washed tomb to live out the first two commandments, which Jesus said were the most important.
Jesus had harsh words for the Pharisees who’s culture was a perfect medium for the spread and growth of the sin among them. Read Matthew 23 and let your jaw drop. Here’s a sample:
‘Then Jesus said to the crowds and to his disciples, “The scribes and the Pharisees sit on Moses’ seat, so do and observe whatever they tell you, but not the works they do. For they preach, but do not practice.They tie up heavy burdens, hard to bear, and lay them on people’s shoulders, but they themselves are not willing to move them with their finger. “Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you clean the outside of the cup and the plate, but inside they are full of greed and self-indulgence. You blind Pharisee! First clean the inside of the cup and the plate, that the outside also may be clean. ‘ Matthew 23:1-4,25-26
I wonder if Jesus were standing before many men in the conservative church today he would have some “Woe’s!” for them. I think he does. I think he is standing before them. He’s in his daughters standing before them saying something like what many women from the SBC said in a letter to the SBC trustees and like Beth Moore wrote in her letter to her brothers.
The same culture among the Pharisees that said you should tithe from your spices but divorced their wives because they tired of them, neglecting justice, mercy and faithfulness, is the culture among some men in the conservative evangelical church that lays heavy burdens of submission to husbands on wives and neglects to do justly, love mercy and show faithfulness to God’s daughters delivering them out of abusive marriages. The culture among men in the church who justify their pornography use, use women’s bodies for their pleasure and then blame them for being too seductive looking, is the culture among the Pharisees that was blind to their own guilt when they threw a woman caught in adultery at Jesus’ feet citing adultery laws.
Jesus embodied what it looks like when we take God’s commands seriously and live mercifully. It looks like the perfect combination of grace and truth that set Jesus apart so powerfully from every other man. In us it won’t look so perfect. In us it should look like grace, truth and lots of repentance. Just as Jesus’ finger in the dirt drew lines that caused guilty Pharisees to drop stones, it’s Jesus who exposes men in the church and calls them to see their blindness and repent. It’s inevitable that this leaven would grow in our law-loving conservative churches. Jesus told us to beware of it. And he wants us to clean our house from it. He calls us to repentance and shows us the right way.
The culture among the Pharisees that loved the law but failed to see the law fulfilled in Jesus is the same culture that creates a place for men to hide their abuse, sexism and objectification of women behind scriptures like Ephesians 5:22-24 and 1 Peter 2:13-25 and 3:1-6. The conservative church needs a Damascus road experience like the infamous Pharisee Saul. We need to be blinded by the light of Christ so we can see clearly the way forward to serving and loving the vulnerable, protecting and empowering God’s daughters and teaching and shepherding men to lead in self-sacrifice love like Jesus.
As ugly as it may get, I have great hope. Jesus’ men are rising. They’re repenting. They’re leading. They’re empowering their sisters, daughters, wives and mothers to stand with them in Jesus’ great commission. They’re honoring woman made in God’s image as co-heirs of the grace of life. They are Jesus’ men. They are my brothers and I love them. I stand beside them and behind them. I support them. I want them to lead like Jesus.