Posts Tagged ‘Southern Baptist Convention’


The Scandal Tearing Apart America’s Largest Protestant Denomination

A denominational leader’s claim that abused women should remain in their broken marriages is forcing Southern Baptists to pick sides.

 

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Southern Baptist Convention President Paige Patterson gestures as he makes his opening speech in 1999. John Bazemore / AP
Over the past 20 years, the Southern Baptist Convention has weathered an onslaught of controversies, from renaming the denomination to repudiating the Confederate flag. But in the end, all it took to potentially rend the organization in two was a single quote about domestic violence from a solitary leader that most Americans have never even heard of.Paige Patterson is the 75-year-old president of Fort Worth’s Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary, which claims to be one of the largest schools of its kind in the world. He is lionized among Baptists for his role in the “conservative resurgence,” which is what some call the movement to oust theological liberals beginning in the 1970s. But this week, his past legacy and present credibility were called into question when a 2000 audio recording surfaced in which Patterson said he has counseled physically abused women to avoid divorce and to focus instead on praying for their violent husbands, and to “be submissive in every way that you can.”
Domestic-violence advocates quickly and unsurprisingly condemned the remarks, but, and as The Washington Post reported, it sent “leaders scrambling to respond.”Some notable SBC leaders echoed concerns about Patterson’s comments and whether he should step down. Thom Rainer, president of LifeWay Christian Resources, a book-publishing house and retail chain that is owned by the SBC, released a statement denouncing domestic abuse and calling out Patterson by name. Ed Stetzer, a former Southern Baptist employee who is currently a professor at Wheaton College, penned an article for Christianity Today arguing that Patterson must resign post-haste. Others, including theologian Albert Mohler and mega-church pastor Matt Chandler, also made statements condemning spousal abuse.But the tight-knit Southern Baptist boys’ club is not so easily unraveled, and many leaders have sheltered their colleague. Some have simply remained mum. The denomination’s Executive Committee has not acknowledged the controversy despite the media coverage it has received. Current SBC President Steve Gaines has also stayed silent, though today he curiously tweeted, “You must not speak everything that crosses your mind” and encouraged people to “read your Bible more than you check [social media].” Others have actually offered their support. For example, Atlanta-based pastor and former SBC President Johnny Hunt took to Twitter to praise Patterson as “a man of God and a man of your word.”
It’s not difficult to denounce domestic violence, and it shouldn’t be controversial. And yet, America’s largest Protestant denomination now seems to be ethically schizophrenic when it comes to the topic.In the days since the scandal was first sparked, the situation for Patterson has worsened substantially:

  • First came another quote from the same audio clip, in which Patterson is heard telling a story about a female congregant of his who confessed to being abused by her husband. Rather than report the incident to the authorities or help the woman escape, he sent her back to her spouse and asked her to pray “not out loud, but quietly.” The woman returned the next Sunday with two black eyes, a sight which Patterson said made him “very happy” because it made her husband feel guilty enough to attend church for the first time.
  • Next came the release of Patterson’s defiant public statement in which he only conceded that his remarks were “probably unwise” before painting himself as a martyr who has been subjected to a campaign of “mischaracterization” fueled by “lies.”
  • Then, a video recording from 2014 emerged in which Patterson resembles the ghost of Roy Moore, objectifying and sexualizing a 16-year-old girl in a sermon illustration.
  • If that were not enough, a news story published by the Atlanta Journal-Constitution in 1997 surfaced in which Patterson was asked about women and quipped, “I think everybody should own at least one.”
  • Patterson offered an interview to the denomination’s publicity arm, Baptist Press, in hopes of doing some damage control. But he made things worse by confirming that he believes “non-injurious physical abuse which happens in so many marriages” might spur a woman to “pray [her husband] through this.” (Baptist Press later manipulated the quote to read “minor non-injurious abuse” claiming that it better aligned with Patterson’s intention.)
  • Finally, The Washington Post published an article noting that Patterson has been named as a defendant in a lawsuit, which claims he knew about child-molestation accusations against a close friend of his, fellow Southern Baptist Paul Pressler, but chose to cover it up rather than report it.

A wave of such damning allegations and confirmed quotes would be enough to drag down almost any giant. In a #MeToo moment, it’s astounding that Patterson is still standing. But Southern Baptists are a loyal bunch. One wonders if Baptists’ loyalty to one of yesterday’s leaders is blinding them to the optics of his present involvement and the damage to their public witness should he remain in power.

It doesn’t take a fortune teller to recognize that this will not end well.At the denomination’s annual gathering next month, Patterson is scheduled to give the coveted keynote sermon. A growing number of Southern Baptists are protesting his involvement, calling for him to be replaced. But because the messengers approved the schedule last year, there are only two ways he can be removed from the program. Either Patterson can voluntarily resign, which seems unlikely given his recalcitrance throughout the debacle, or the messengers in Dallas next month can offer a motion for his replacement.“If Patterson preaches at the SBC, he will, because of his past work, get a standing ovation,” Stetzer wrote at Christianity Today. “Every news story will point to that moment, tie it together with the accusations against Paul Pressler, and say that Southern Baptists don’t take abuse seriously.”Stetzer is right. If Patterson preaches in Dallas, then the Southern Baptist Convention, which has lost a million members over the last decade, will appear to be tolerant of spousal abuse in a cultural moment in which Americans overwhelmingly oppose such things. Such a perception, whether true or not, will doubtlessly come at a high price.

On any given Sunday, there are more women than men who attend church. These women, in communities across America, may think twice before pulling into a Southern Baptist church’s parking lot. And what of the many social justice-minded Millennials? They may see the denomination’s lack of conviction of their belief that organized religion is irredeemably corrupt, giving them one more reason to saturate churches with their absence.

One can only imagine how the million of Southern Baptist women feel when their own denomination cannot seem to muster enough moral courage to offer a full-throated repudiation of domestic abuse. The denomination holds that God intends for wives to submit to their husbands and has not passed a resolution on domestic violence since 1979.

It’s somewhat easier to tolerate disagreement on matters like race when the majority of SBC churches are overwhelmingly white. But when every congregation is at least 50 percent female, domestic abuse hits closer to home. The Southern Baptist Convention simply cannot afford to stand by a leader who has exhibited a decades-long pattern of dangerous comments that appear to trivialize women’s suffering.

With their denominational meeting fast approaching, Southern Baptists now find themselves in a situation that is precarious, perilous, and frankly ironic. The man who three decades ago unified his denomination now seems poised and willing to divide it.

*This article originally referred to Wheaton College as Wheaton University. We regret the error.

 

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Right-Wing Evangelicals Claim ‘Good Christians’ Can’t Get PTSD

On a Veteran’s Day broadcast, two of America’s most influential televangelists claimed that good Christians can’t get PTSD.

Kenneth Copeland, who is famous for pitching a fit [3] when a senator tried to investigate his nonprofits and for inspiring [4] a measles outbreak, said, “Any of you suffering from PTSD right now, you listen to me. You get rid of that right now. You don’t take drugs to get rid of it, it doesn’t take psychology; that promise right there [in the Bible] will get rid of it.”

Copeland’s guest, conservative revisionist historian David Barton, agreed, adding, “We used to, in the pulpit, understand the difference between a just war and an unjust war. And there’s a biblical difference, and when you do it God’s way, not only are you guiltless for having done that, you’re esteemed.”

Barton believes that anybody who behaves “biblically” during war can’t get PTSD. Unfortunately, there is a logical flip side to this statement: someone who has PTSD must have not been biblical in his actions, and thus he is ultimately responsible for his own PTSD.

Understandably, a lot of people are upset by Barton and Copeland’s assertion. Even the staunchly conservative Gospel Coalition [5] (TGC) and America’s largest Protestant denomination, the Southern Baptist Convention [6] (SBC), made no bones about their distaste for Copeland and Barton, the former calling them “profoundly stupid,” the latter “callow and doltish.”

That’s an aggressive attack, especially given that a significant number of Christians, including leaders at SBC and TGC, share Barton and Copeland’s belief that mental illness can be cured by faith. A September survey [7] by LifeWay showed that fully 35 percent of Christians and 48 percent of self-identified evangelicals believe prayer alone can heal serious mental illnesses, including schizophrenia, major depression and bipolar disorder.

The idea that major illnesses can be cured by prayer feeds the idea that mental illness is the fault of the ill. A 2008 survey conducted by Baylor psychology professor Matthew Stanford showed that 36 percent of mentally ill church attendees (and former church attendees) were told their mental illness was a product of their own sin, while 34 percent were told their illness was caused by a demon. Forty-one percent were told they did not really have a mental illness, and 28 percent were instructed to stop taking psychiatric medication.

These numbers reveal an ingrained distrust of mental illness and the mentally ill. This distrust has a dramatic and negative impact on people’s lives, alienating them from their peers and causing them to question the validity of their own experience, a process that often causes Christians to leave their churches. One of the participants in Matthew Stanford’s study described his experience:

“I felt shunned at the church. A lot of the other members acted as though they didn’t want to get close to me. A lot of people were afraid of me. The pastor didn’t want anything to do with me. Therefore, I no longer attend any church at all. I watch church on TV. I am already paranoid; I didn’t need anyone keeping their distance from me. It makes me depressed to go to a regular church in person because of how I am treated.”

Stanford, a self-described, “very conservative, evangelical Christian” is quite critical of how his fellow Christians handle the issues surrounding mental illness, claiming that the mentally ill are “modern-day lepers”: treated as “unclean and unrighteous” and “cast out” from their communities.

Amy Simpson, another popular Christian voice who critiques mental health stigma in the church, echoes these sentiments. She wrote in her book, Troubled Minds: Mental Illness and the Church’s Mission, “The church allows people to suffer because we don’t understand what they need and how to help them. We have taken our cue from the world around us and ignored, marginalized and laughed at the mentally ill or simply sent them to the professionals and washed our hands of them.”

This widespread stigma has its genesis in an attempt to create a system called “Nouthetic” or “biblical” counseling, a system that was supposed to fix the damage psychiatry caused to Christianity. Biblical counseling had its genesis in the anti-psychiatry movements of the ’50s and ’60s, which united leftist intellectuals like Thomas Szasz with conservative Christians and fringe groups like Scientologists. The founder of biblical counseling was author Jay E. Adams, whom Stanford called the “Moses of the biblical counseling movement.”

Adams’ quintessential work, the 1970 Competent to Counsel, proposes that mental illness occurs not because one is “sick” but because one is “sinful.” Psychiatry, in attempting to treat a disease, is thus ineffective. This idea led Adams to create a method that addressed the sinful roots of mental illness and was based on scripture.

This method was Nouthetic counseling, which comes from the Greeknoutheteo, meaning “to admonish.” Adams believes in solving people’s mental health problems by “confronting” them over their lack of faith. He posits that the best way to deal with sin is to meet it head-on, bible in hand.

Adams’ methods were a product of their time. A negative attitude toward the mentally ill pervaded America in the ‘70s and ‘80s, embodied by the Reagan revolution, which stigmatized America’s homeless and destitute and blamed the downtrodden for their own plight. Meanwhile, Christians had come to distrust the secular world, which they believed was responsible for dissolving marriages, encouraging homosexuality and undermining the Christian faith. They wanted to set up their own institutions that would be separate from the secular world, and thus needed their own psychiatry. In this milieu, Jay Adams’ ideas found the perfect ground to grow in.

The philosophy introduced by Adams in Competent to Counsel birthed a movement, and Nouthetic counseling grew to become a discipline. Although Adams’ specific brand of Nouthetic counseling has gone out of style, biblical counseling, which builds on his ideas, is in.

Nowhere is biblical counseling more in vogue than the Southern Baptist Convention, which adopted a resolution on mental health last August that supported “research and treatment of mental health concerns when undertaken in a manner consistent with a biblical worldview.”

In fact, it was the boss of the SBC spokesman who called Barton and Copeland “callow and doltish,” Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission president Russell Moore, who brought counseling into the SBC. In 2005, as the dean of theology at the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, Moore unmade the school’s trademark “Pastoral Counseling” program, which integrated psychology with theology, and replaced it with an Adams-inspired biblical counseling program.

While the SBC doesn’t agree with Adams on every issue, it hasn’t tried to hide his influence in its current curriculum. The resources page for SBTS’s Biblical Counseling department contains nearly 30 of Adams’ works, alongside works of conservative Calvinists like Sovereign Grace Ministries’s disgraced founder CJ Mahaney and megachurch pastor John MacArthur.

If the resources page is any indication, most of the people SBC considers adept biblical counselors also happen to be staunch theological conservatives. This is perhaps because anti-psychology tends to fit in with the conservative mindest: Matthew Stanford mentioned that in his personal experience, a significant number of pastors distrust psychology because they are angry the APA stopped calling homosexuality a mental disorder.

Stanford said, “They bring up homosexuality, and say ‘why did the APA take it out of the diagnostic manual?’ There’s this idea that psychology is legitimatizing sin, or saying it’s okay to sin.”

Perhaps this is what Moore was talking about when he claimed that, in a speech on SBTS’s new biblical counseling program, “There’s an ideology driving the research” of psychologists, or when he claimed that pastoral counseling failed “because it is so naive about the presuppositions behind secular psychologies.” Even if he isn’tspecifically talking about homosexuality, Moore thinks that psychology has inherent anti-Christian undertones.

This might hint at why Copeland and Barton felt the need to speak out against PTSD treatment on TV in the first place, and why the contemporary church is so prone to stigmatizing the mentally ill: seeking treatment for clinical depression, even being clinically depressed in the first place, can be construed as being anti-Christian. It can indicate that somebody has embraced the “psychiatric mindset” instead of trusting God with their mental illness. In this world, the mentally ill are not just stigmatized, they are suspected sinners.

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Surprise! Atheist Marriages May Last Longer Than Christian Ones

Conservative Christians see themselves as the last defenders of traditional marriage. Yet many don’t quite live up to the ideal.

  

Conservative Christians think of themselves as the last line of defense for a time-honored and holy tradition, marriage. In the conservative Christian view, marriage is a sacred union ordained by God. It binds one man and woman together so that the “two become one flesh” until they are parted by death.

This view of marriage is unbiblical, to be sure. See Captive Virgins, Polygamy, Sex Slaves: What Marriage Would Look Like If We Actually Followed The Bible. But hey, who actually reads the Bible? Surely, what God meant to say is that marriage should take the form that is most familiar and traditional to us: One male plus one female who is given to the male by her father–that part is biblical–for life.

In this worldview, Christian marriage is under assault by an anti-trinity of powerful and dark forces: feminism, homosexuality and godlessness. Faith, on the other hand, saves both souls and marriages. When I was young, a slogan made its way around my church: The family that prays together stays together. Tom Ellis, former chairman of the Southern Baptist Convention’s Council on the Family boldly claimed that “born-again Christian couples who marry…in the church after having received premarital counseling…and attend church regularly and pray daily together… experience only 1 divorce out of nearly 39,000 marriages.”

But then came data. According to research by the Barna Research Group over a decade ago, American divorce rates were highest among Baptists and nondenominational “Bible-believing” Christians and lower among more theologically liberal Christians like Methodists, with atheists at the bottom of the divorce pack. When the findings were made public, George Barna took some heat because Christians expected the difference to be more dramatic and to favor believers. Ellis suggested that maybe Barna had sampled badly. Perhaps some people who called themselves born again had never really devoted their lives to Christ. But Barna held his ground, saying, “We rarely find substantial differences” [in the moral behavior of Christians and non-Christians].

Fancy that.

In 2008, Barna again sampled Americans about divorce rates. The numbers fluctuated a bit, but once again atheists came out painfully good from a prays-together-stays-together perspective. Thirty percent reported ever being divorced, in contrast to 32 percent of born-again Christians. Slicing the U.S. by region, the Bible belt has the highest divorce rate, and this has been the case for over a decade, with the institution of marriage faring better in those dens of blue-state iniquity to the north and west.

What is going on? Even some secularists are puzzled. Churches provide strong communities for families. Many offer marital counseling and parenting classes. Love, they say, is a commitment, not a feeling. God hates divorce. They leverage moral emotions in the service of matrimony: a righteous sense of purity rewards premarital abstinence and post-marital monogamy—replaced by guilt and shame when nonmarital sex is unveiled or a marriage dissolves. Couples who split may find themselves removed from leadership positions or even ostracized. On the face of it, even if there were no God, one might expect this combination to produce lower divorce rates.

The reality, however, appears complex. Churches do honor and support marriage. They also may inadvertently promote divorce, especially—ironically—those churches which most bill themselves as shining lights in a dark world.

To prevent that greatest-of-all-evils, abortion, such communities teach even high school students to embrace surprise pregnancies as gifts from God. They encourage members to marry young so they won’t be tempted to fornicate. But women who give birth or marry young tend to end up less educated and less financially secure, both of which are correlated with higher divorce rates.

After marriage, some congregations, such as those in the “quiver-full” movement, encourage couples to leave family planning in God’s hands. Leaders echo the chauvinistic beliefs of Church fathers like St. Augustine and Martin Luther or the Bible writersWomen will be saved through childbearing—if they continue in faith, love and holiness with propriety (1 Timothy 2:15). Such teachings grow congregations, literally, from the nursery up, but the very same attitudes that help to fill church pews can erode marital bliss. Ample research shows that for couples under age 30 marital satisfaction declines with the birth of each child. (Parenting tends to make couples happier only after age 40, when kids become more independent, and only in countries with comparatively weak social supports for aging adults.)

Secular couples tend to see both marriage and divorce as personal choices. Overall, a lower percent get married, which means that those who do may be particularly committed or well-suited to partnership. They are likely to be older if/when they do formally tie the knot. They have fewer babies, and their babies are more likely to be planned. Parenting, like other household responsibilities, is more likely to be egalitarian rather than based on the traditional model of “male headship.” Each of these factors could play a role in the divorce rate.

But a bigger factor may be economics, pure and simple. In the words of some analysts, marriage is becoming a luxury good, with each partner, consciously or subconsciously looking for someone who will pull their weight financially and declining to support one who won’t. “The doctor used to marry the nurse,” says Brad Wilcox, director of the National Marriage Project at the University of Virginia. “Today the doctor marries the doctor.” Sixty percent of college educated women get married, as compared to 50 percent of women who hold only high school degrees or lower. Couples who stay married also tend to be wealthier than those who divorce. In Barna’s 2008 sample, couples with an income of less than $20,000 a year broke up almost twice as often as those earning $75,000 or more (39 percent vs 22 percent). Advocates who want to promote traditional marriage might do well to foster broad prosperity.

Even if they did, though, they might be swimming upstream. In 1960, almost three quarters of American adults were married; by 2008 that number had fallen to a half. The difference came from a combination of two factors—more divorce and more people who had never married. The concept of family isn’t becoming less important, but Americans are increasingly flexible in how we define the term. Over 80 percent say that a single parent living with a child or an unmarried couple with a child is a family. Over 60 percent say that a gay couple with a child is a family. A growing number say that marriage is obsolete.

In one of those peculiar twists of fate, conservative Christian obsessions with abortion and sexual purity may be accelerating this trend. Naomi Cahn and June Carbone, authors of Red State, Blue State, propose that Bible-belt opposition to abortion has increased the non-marital birthrate and acceptance of single parent families:

The working class had long dealt with the inconvenient fact of an accidental pregnancy through the shotgun marriage. As blue-collar jobs paying a family wage have disappeared, however, so has early marriage. Women are then left with two choices: They can delay childbearing (which might entail getting an abortion at some point) until the right man comes along or get more comfortable with the idea of becoming single mothers. College-educated elites have endorsed the first option, but everyone else is drifting toward the second.

Conservative Christians thought they could have it all by promoting abstinence until marriage. But virginity pledges and abstinence-only education have failed. If anything, they have once again accelerated the trend, leaving Christian leaders fumbling for answers. Some hope that more flexible, egalitarian roles for Christian wives and husbands may be the answer. Others think that doubling down on traditional gender roles is where it’s at. Either way, gone is the bravado that once proclaimed marital salvation by faith alone. “Marriages and families within faith communities are no healthier than in the rest of society,” concedes Christian author Jonathan Merritt. “Faith communities must provide support systems to salvage damaged marriages.” Whether the institution of marriage itself can or should be salvaged is, perhaps, a question none of us are prepared to answer.

Do atheists do it better? That is unlikely. Divorce rate differences between theists and nontheists tend to depend on how you slice the demographic pie, and for both groups, the shape of marriage itself is changing. As culture evolves, we’re all in uncharted territory together.

Valerie Tarico is a psychologist and writer in Seattle, Washington and the founder of Wisdom Commons. She is the author of “Trusting Doubt: A Former Evangelical Looks at Old Beliefs in a New Light” and “Deas and Other Imaginings.” Her articles can be found at Awaypoint.Wordpress.com.

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