On Nov. 23, 1998, Paige Patterson — then concurrently serving as president of Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary and the Southern Baptist Convention — received a kind note from a woman named Peggy. In the letter, Peggy describes herself as a former Catholic who has come to Christ and worships in a non-denominational church near Huntsville, TX.
She asks for a copy of the Baptist Faith and Message — which Patterson sends to her along with some additional materials written by Dorothy Patterson — and then raises questions about the word “submission” in Scripture and how it is to be manifest in contexts of spousal abuse. Peggy states:
“It seems ludicrous to me that our loving God would expect wives to submit to physical abuse, severe psychological abuse or where there is child abuse, to continuously submit to their abusers.”
Her letter continues:
“I believe that when Christ came, He was trying to teach a more compassionate way of relating to one another between men and women, slave and free and across racial lines…in other words, human beings in general. So much of Scripture deals with “cultural” issues at that time in history. Men were dominant and privileged – women were virtually ‘property.’ Jesus came to change those patriarchal practices and attitudes. He taught that we must relate to each other with love, and that in God’s eyes we are all equal. Is it possible that Paul’s writing might have allowed for some of the cultural influences of his time? That is why Scripture must be taken in its entirety…and the overall message is that LOVE overcomes all things and that LOVE is the fulfillment of the Law!”
On December 17, 1998, Paige Patterson sends Peggy a response. The entirety of that response is below:
Thank you for your letter of November 11. Enclosed you will find a copy of the Baptist Faith and Message document. In addition, I have also enclosed a copy of the additional amendment, together with a commentary that was written by my wife, who served as one of the authors of the statement. In addition to Mrs. Patterson, Mrs. Mary Mohler, the wife of Dr. Al Mohler (president of Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville, Kentucky) also served on the drafting committee.
In understanding biblical instruction, it is often helpful to use a correlated analogy. The Bible also tells us to submit to magisterial authorities or governmental authorities that God has placed in our lives. Obviously, this is a general rule that does not include every situation. That is why when Peter and John were instructed not to preach anymore in the name of Jesus, even though they respected the law, they, nevertheless, had to conclude in this case that a higher law was operative over the lesser law and that they must obey God rather than men. Of course, the same thing is true in marital relationships. To use an absurd example, if a husband comes home and hands his wife a pistol and tells her to shoot the children, it would be an outrageous misrepresentation of Scripture to argue that she should submit to that order and shoot the children.
On the other hand, the question of what a wife should do regarding an abusive husband is not so easily settled. Certainly there comes a time, if life and health are endangered, when she might of necessity have to seek protection under the aegis of either of friends and family or those which society provides for protection in such situations. But there are other situations of abuse when the kindness, gentleness, and loving submission of a wife may very well be exactly that which God will use to win a sinful husband. In this matter we are not constrained to speak hypothetically, but rather in my own ministry I have often seen that very scenario take place.
Remember, Peggy, that “submission” is much more an attitude than it is a response on any given issue anyway. It is a word that has no meaning if it is in response to coercion on the part of another. For example, if an officer of the law must coerce me with a billy club, I may in fact obey, but I am not being submissive. I am only being submissive when I choose to do what is asked of me. So the word is a word in the New Testament which relates to godly behavior, an attitude on the part of wives and is, of course, as we indicated in the statement, balanced by a husband who should love his wife as Jesus loves the church.
Peggy, also remember that it is easy to look for exception. That is what got us into the mess that we are in to begin with. If I am always looking for exceptions to what God tells me to do, I can always from my own perspective justify just about everything I do. My own experience in the matter is that the exceptions are pretty obvious and that, indeed, they need to be those where a pretty clear violation of God’s Word is taking place before I feel freedom to do the opposite.
Hopefully this will be helpful to you in understanding what Baptists have said. Remember that because Baptist churches are completely autonomous, the Convention per se has no way of correcting “errant interpretation” in its local churches. The churches instruct the Convention, not the Convention the churches. Consequently, there are frequently teachings that happen in individual Baptist churches with which I am less than happy. However, what you have before you in the Baptist Faith and Message statement is a summary of what the vast overwhelming majority of Baptists believe.
Until He Comes,
And in unrelated news, we’ve been sent this little sound clip. But more about that very soon.
The correspondence quoted above is located in the Paige Patterson Papers (1998-2000) held at the Southern Baptist Historical Library and Archives in Nashville, TN; Call Number AR554).
2 thoughts on “Patterson: Don’t shoot the kids, Peggy”
I ask myself everyday why I should continue to a member of the SBC? What a vile and evil man–PP- that had his way for 40 years in the SBC–with no one holding him accountable. And he is still holding on as I type this, SBC leaders are still afraid of him.
Inasmuch as spousal abuse is a crime in all the jurisdictions I know of, wouldn’t covering that up be aiding and abetting, or at least hindering prosecution? How does his Paigeness get away with that?