Note: The Index welcomes letters and commentary from Georgia Baptists on the recent decision by Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary trustees regarding former president Paige Patterson.
These are trying days for the Southern Baptist Convention (SBC). We find ourselves living in a society that has rejected biblical truth and morality. Political correctness is the order of the day and if you don’t play along with the left’s skewed view of morality, you will be made an outcast.
The goal of the left is nothing short of the removal of all things Christian, whether it be in the moral, economic, educational, or spiritual realms. They will never be satisfied with a tacit compliance to their demands. They want the biblical view shut down. Any thought that compromise will gain you a seat at the table will be crushed by relentless attacks. That is, unless you bow down to the gold image and fully comply.
To fully comply you must admit that you have been wrong all these years, that the Bible is an antiquated, misogynistic, abusive, enslaving book that makes bigots, racists, and ignoramuses out of those of us who adhere to its teaching. This does not mean that the left will entirely abandon all biblical concepts. If they can find concepts within the pages of the sacred book that fit their narrative, they will use them against you.
The left is quick to latch onto benevolence ministries. Social justice is a good way to receive the accolades of the left, unless you do such ministry with an eye toward sharing the Gospel. The leftists demand such ministry should never push religion down another’s throat, especially if those being helped are already at a perceived societal disadvantage.
The left is also quick to cry, “Judge not!” These two words from Matthew 7:1-6, are taken completely out of context to form a hammer against anyone who would dare to question the activity of another. The left’s duplicity in this matter is easy to reveal. They are judging the very people whom they accuse of judging others. Quite frankly, the passage is about judging others with “righteous judgment.”
Consider the extremely difficult task of pastoral ministry, especially in this sexualized culture in which we live. I think it would be fair to say that there are no “cookie-cutter” answers to any of life’s problematic questions. My fellow pastors, how would you like for your sermons and counseling sessions from 10 to 20 years ago to be picked apart? Do you think there is a pastor anywhere who at some time or another has not given faulty, or inappropriate advice, even though he sought to do the very best he could? The left should be reminded here that precisely the same criticism may be honestly applied to any secular counselor who has ever dealt with real world people.
I have a regular procedure for anyone to whom I give biblical counsel. There are two things essential for me to be faithful to the counselee and to the Word. First, I need situational truth. I insist, “If you don’t tell me the truth then I can’t help you. The truth may be ugly. It may be shameful. I will not love you any more or less based on your admissions. But I cannot give you sound biblical counsel unless you are honest.”
Second, I must discipline myself to give counsel guided strictly by a standard of truth. That standard is the Word of God. Further, I am not at liberty to jettison any part of Scripture in the process. This should be true in our preaching as well.
Applied to a difficult marriage situation, just how do you, in a pastoral role, assess the severity of the conflict, or if the actions reported even rise to a legal definition of abuse? This is a difficult and delicate matter. You must exercise wisdom, seek the Lord, and depend on the Spirit. You must listen carefully. Not only is there the concern for the earthly safety of potential victims there is the eternal salvation of all parties involved to consider.
If we are honest, most of us have exchanged harsh words with our spouses. Perhaps the majority of us would admit to “finding our temper” on occasion. If you have managed to stay above such circumstances that may well be a testimony to your strong faith, but you may not be well prepared to give counsel to others facing real world situations.
The left’s demands for pastoral counsel provided to the “abused” have created a firestorm within our ranks and the opportunity to assail one of our leaders. It appears a concerted effort was made to go back and find fault.
We are painfully aware that a stalwart of the conservative resurgence in our denomination has recently come under fire facing allegations that he encouraged a wife to remain in an abusive situation, that he objectified a young teenage girl in a sermon illustration, and that he failed to tell an alleged rape victim to contact the legal authorities. Some of these dealings were dug up from events occurring more than 15 years ago.
Having researched and listened to the comments that form the basis for these allegations it would be wise to apply some clear thought and not simply respond emotionally, especially in light of the left’s deliberate and purposeful overreactions to such situations.
In the first case, the facts indicate that the alleged abuse in question was simply that the husband told his wife he did not want her to go to church. She felt this was oppressive but she was not being beaten or terrorized in her home as has been implied. Actual abuse is never acceptable behavior but to suggest that this behavior is abusive demeans real victims and unnecessarily cheapens their sufferings.
What advice would you give? As a pastor would you expect that prayer could yield a positive outcome? In fact, such advice in this case did produce a positive result leading to repentance, faith, and surrender to Christ. Is it wrong to counsel marriages to stay together when such is clearly possible? That the man in the situation became abusive is heartbreaking. That conviction of his wrong actions brought repentance is a joy to the angels in heaven.
In the second case, the illustration in 2014 during a sermon, does not in my opinion constitute, as Ed Stetzer says, “crude and inventive comments about the attributes” of a teenager. The illustration is one that you might not use in your preaching, but if we are going to clean house on such comments many of the marriage books in our LifeWay stores will have to be purged. Most of them refer to the fact that men and women are wired differently by God and men are visually oriented. For this reason, many with a complementarian view of the roles of men and women urge modesty in dress.
Recognizing that God did a masterful job in creating women is not objectification of them. Solomon clearly used vivid and descriptive imagery to describe his bride in the Song of Solomon, inspired by the same Spirit who wrote in Hebrews that the marriage bed is undefiled.
In the case of the alleged rape victim, the story reported in the Washington Post was lacking integrity. In these days of the #MeToo movement you can get accusations from almost anyone against almost anyone. The story is not necessarily wrong in what it says, it is wrong in what it doesn’t say. There is not enough information to determine whether the counsel given the woman at the time was correct. That incident occurred 15 years ago at Southeastern Seminary so was likely not considered by the trustees at Southwestern. However, those trustees concluded that there was no case they were aware of in which the alleged offender had failed to follow the law.
As is the case in many destructive public media attacks on someone’s character there has been no opportunity to present a defense or matters of mitigation and extenuation, should such be necessary. In short, there has been no due process, biblically or legally.
Comments, taken out of context, were presented as matters of fact and the court of public opinion was expected to be in lock step with the accusations, condemn the accused, and apologize for his behavior since he is one of our leaders. Where do we find in Scripture that this is a proper method of resolving our conflicts? The Bible commands us to “honor our elders.” The plan for receiving accusations against them is clearly spelled out in First Timothy 5:17-25. It seems this passage has been ignored in a rush to judgment.
As members of the left made their accusations and demands for the ouster of this leader, other SBC leaders and entity heads began to pile on. Surely, there were those who came to his defense, and well they should have. But regardless of whether you thought there was wrongdoing or not research should have been done first before conclusions were drawn (Prov. 18:17). The facts are not nearly as clear as some seem to believe.
What would give anyone the impression that they were qualified to question the results of a counseling session they were not a party to? How would you know what questions were asked and what answers were given? It could well be that you would have advised the same thing if you were faced with the same situational truth as was another pastor.
The Scriptures that admonish caring for the downtrodden and oppressed are many and seem to be well known to those who have been ardently defending women facing abuse. Perhaps there needs to be a better understanding of what constitutes abuse. Some abuse is obvious to all, such as a physical assault. But when exactly do words become abusive? Disagreements and arguments will come during every relationship.
For the Christian, another important question arises at this point. We are taught to understand the principle of suffering for righteousness’ sake throughout the New Testament. First Peter 3:8-17 does an excellent job outlining this principle. First Peter 3:1-2 speaks rather directly to the situation at hand. The biblical perspective is that such relationships can be salvaged – particularly when an unbelieving spouse is brought to saving faith. This surely brings glory to God.
This line of reasoning is not intended to preclude the potential necessity that a victim of domestic violence may need to physically separate themselves and their children from an abuser. Staying through such behavior would be an incredibly hard thing to counsel, and an even harder thing to which to commit. But the resultant potential for godliness should not be ignored.
Is there ever a time when we suffer for the cause of Christ? Do you know of a pastor who has not received verbal criticism from church members? I have been not only the recipient of verbal assault in the church but physical battery as well. It seemed to me that God’s call was to press on. This does not mean there was not a need for accountability and a call to repentance. It means that I didn’t go running to the authorities to have the perpetrator arrested for assault.
I do not wish to suggest that pastors should be equated with victims of domestic violence; merely to draw from the closest analogous experience in my life. First Corinthians 6 seems to clearly state that such situations should be rightly judged in the house of the Lord, provided both parties are believers. This presupposes there is godly wisdom and discernment among the leadership, and the willingness to exercise church discipline. It doesn’t eliminate the need in some circumstances to report such events to law enforcement.
Sadly, we have allowed a social justice mentality and a leftist agenda to cloud our ability to apply godly wisdom to our situation. It has been said recently that shame and humiliation have come to the SBC through the #MeToo movement. There is no question that we have our problems. People aren’t perfect, and pastors are, after all, people. That’s why we have church discipline. We should learn how to do it biblically. We should hold people accountable, and that includes our denominational leaders. Where there is clear and unmistakable breaking of the law such transgressions should be reported to the appropriate authorities.
But I contend, there is a time, for the sake of the salvation of a soul, that we might be called by God to suffer. Maybe we need more humility. Maybe we need to spend more time on our face before God. Maybe we need to learn to identify with Christ’s sufferings.
In closing, I must take issue with one of our SBC leader’s assessment that the current malady is a “foretaste of the wrath of God poured out.” It has direct application to what I have been trying to say. Is there ever a time when you accept affliction in order to express the love, joy, peace, and patience that God has given you as a believer? Can we recognize the truth that the wrath of God will never be poured out against you as a believer? I appeal to you my brothers and sisters, to remember that the wrath of God was poured out on our Lord Jesus Christ as He “turned the other cheek” and was crucified, the innocent for the guilty, taking our place, bearing our shame. What if Jesus had turned to the authority, the Father, and said, “I will not take this suffering?”
No, you and I are not Jesus. We are just commanded to be like Him. May God have mercy on us.