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.

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