On autonomy and accountability in the SBC


In our archives we have filed away a baker’s dozen of various letters from Paige Patterson to sundry Southern Baptist pastors admonishing them that the consequence of their transgressions includes exclusion from the teaching and pastoral ministry. A number of those letters may be found by any researcher going through publicly accessible files in the Southern Baptist Historical Library and Archives. Others we obtained from private collections scattered across the convention.

And of course, we have seen the now-infamous letter Patterson wrote to the late pastor E.K. Bailey insisting that Darrell Gilyard was not guilty or “morally culpable” for rapes and other sexual aggressions that occurred while Gilyard was a young student under Patterson’s tutelage. Shockingly, Patterson scolded the elder Bailey that he “must forget the past” and refrain from making public statements so Gilyard could be “rehabilitated” from his “mistakes.”

As reported in the Houston Chronicle, Patterson wrote this letter to Rev. Bailey in the late 1980s, asserting that Gilyard was “worth salvage” and asking the legendary Dallas pastor to agree “not to disparage him any further, thus giving [Patterson] the chance to help Darrell count for God and for good.”

Years later in the wake of Gilyard’s criminal trial, Patterson told a Dallas-area television station that his former student should “never be allowed back in the pulpit.”

So much for Patterson’s efforts to salvage the now-convicted sex offender. Eventually, Patterson wrote to trustees at Southwestern Seminary that he had not only advised Gilyard never to preach again, but had actively tried to discourage churches from hosting him.

So much for autonomy, eh?

Flash forward to this past Friday when current SBC President J.D. Greear (himself a onetime Patterson protégé) told the Houston Chronicle that churches should exercise due diligence when considering Patterson as a guest speaker.

“I advise any Southern Baptist church to consider [the reasons for Patterson’s termination from SWBTS] before having Dr. Patterson preach or speak,” Greear told the Chronicle’s Robert Downen.  If additional information was needed, Greear suggested that church leaders should “contact trustee officers.”

Apparently, Greear’s common sense has caused some frustration — and even indignation — among some of the Conservative Resurgence old guard. Of course, we’d like to pose a question to these erstwhile leaders, some of whom still draw their salaries from the Cooperative Program:

What should it profit a man if he should save the whole convention and lose his own soul?

Because that is really where the Southern Baptist Convention is today — not fighting a battle for Scripture authority, but struggling to win a battle for our own soul.

To be sure, nobody is raising concerns that Paige Patterson — once ensconced behind the sacred desk of some little brown church by the wildwood — will preach a false gospel. In fact, those who hear him preach will likely hear one of the clearer, more persuasive appeals to repentance and faith they ever hear.

But Darrell Gilyard wasn’t preaching a false gospel either.  Neither the orthodox content of these men’s sermons nor their homiletical prowess is in question. Rather, it is a question of their conduct and credible reports that their respective actions fall outside “the core values of our faith.”

One man is convicted of having abused dozens of women and young girls. The other accused of having enabled or mishandled abuse of the same.

What J.D. Greear said is both straightforward and scripturally sound. Church autonomy in the SBC does not mean we turn a blind eye or deaf ear to whatever happens in our neighboring congregations. Indeed, as the Apostle Paul instructed the church at Ephesus, we must “speak truth to our neighbors for we are members of one another.”

The crybabies in Nashville (or anywhere else for that matter) who feel J.D. Greear has overstepped his bounds should be more concerned about their own quiet indifference to Patterson’s handling of abuse on the one hand, and their own complicity in decades of hero worship that nurtured the environment where claims of autonomy (or affirmations of inerrancy) trumped reports of abuse.

They should be troubled NOT by J.D. Greear’s answer to an honest question posed by a serious journalist. Rather, they should be haunted by the abusive consequence of their own perennial sycophancy.

And they should probably shut up.

Truly, it’s time to prioritize scriptural accountability alongside autonomy in Southern Baptist life, elevate leaders who are courageous enough to tell the whole truth, and accelerate our efforts to root out every form of abuse among the churches who cooperate in our shared gospel enterprise.

Cut the crybaby crap


The feigned indignation at those who criticize SBC elites through “social media” channels is getting ridiculous. For more than a decade the elites have been pestered — and at times, exposed — by activist bloggers, Twitter-savvy snipers, and other unentrenched observers whose primary and persistent demand has been rather simple: tell us the truth, in a timely manner.

That they write clearly, concisely, and persuasively only adds to the indignation of the CP-funded elites whose penchant for lecturing the rest of us about how to properly use social media sounds the same today as it did back in 2005-06: hollow and self-serving.

In recent weeks, one seminary president took to the Interwebs to push back against a bogus story and thread of lies that a routinely error-filled blog published without doing adequate homework. He was right to push back, and the offending blogger(s) were right to retract.

But the SBC would be in worse shape if it were not for conscientious whistleblowers who for fear of recrimination and reprisal reach out clandestinely to trustworthy alternative news sources like SBCOutpost, et al, to get the truth dislodged from the obfuscations of the “official” news sources operating within SBC life.

To be sure, there are a few trustworthy and unimpeachable journalists working through traditional channels to bring greater transparency and accountability in Southern Baptist life. We think of Seth Brown at the Biblical Recorder and other reporters whose names don’t rhyme with “bedwetter.”

As for The Baptist Blogger, we have heard consistently for more than 14 years from trustees, faculty, staff, administrative support, and concerned pastors and laymen who offered pieces of information, anecdotes, fragments of truth, and yes, at times, outright falsehoods. But our time in Washington, D.C. helped us learn the art of cultivating, vetting, and properly utilizing whistleblowers and the information they share.

Seldom do you get a full picture from a single source. And seldom do those sources act with pure motives. Everybody has an ax to grind. But you factor that into considerations about the amount of time you give ear to their concerns.

Which is why when folks within the Midwestern Seminary community contact us about one questionable expenditure or another, we listen, file it back, and write nothing. Or when an IMB missionary halfway around the world writes to tell us of some activity that runs afoul of the BFM2K, we listen, write it down, and put it aside.

Or when we run into a student on the campus of Southwestern Seminary who wants to tell us about his firsthand experience with Patterson-era security harassment or invasions of privacy, we listen. We take copies of the documents he provides, and we file them away.

It’s also why when we are told that the LifeWay CEO is making $750,000.00 a year — and we know it to be false — we simply listen, tell them we have reason to believe that is false, and move on.  Or when we are told that the president of Southern Seminary has flashed a temper in some meeting, or the president of NAMB has retaliated against a state executive, or so forth, we just listen but repeat nothing.

Of course these are hypotheticals. Naturally.

Rumors, half-truths, outright lies and innuendo are wicked. Their dissemination is no benefit to the Southern Baptist Convention and ruin not only the reputations of good people, but the cooperative spirit that undergirds our gospel enterprise.

But the unwillingness of some SBC elites — especially of those leading entities funded by the Cooperative Program — to answer simple, straightforward questions, to provide timely, understandable information, or when they delay in correcting misinformation previously shared (as in the case of Baptist Press and the Jennifer Lyell abuse story), this also serves to undermine our cooperative efforts.

So maybe it’s time to stop crying about the anger of “social media” users who grow increasingly frustrated that SBC elites seem forever deaf and dumb to the substance of their concerns.  And it’s time to stop the lectures about the proper use of social media by those who have, at times, been guilty of concealment, obfuscation, and impudent rejection of appropriate channels of accountability.

Yes, bloggers and Twitter-users and the like should not publish something that is not true.  And even if it is true, they should consider whether it is the appropriate time or place. Thanks for the sermon, and pass the plate.

But the men who are paid by Southern Baptists to lead our entities should embrace rather than bristle at the published questions that nurture their own responsible stewardship. Because the trajectory of Southern Baptist work is set toward greater transparency, not less.

Let no one defy this order.