Pastor Joshua Nink, right, prays for Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump, as his wife, Melania, watches after a Sunday service at First Christian Church, in Council Bluffs, Iowa, in January 2016.Photo: Jae C. Hong/AP
For a fleeting moment, it looked like the Southern Baptist’s were about to acknowledge how the world had changed when it came to gender roles.
Paige Patterson, a former president of the Southern Baptist Convention and a founding father of the modern religious right movement, had come under fire for advising a woman to stick with her husband, who was battering her, and then justifying the abuse as ultimately leading the husband to church.
In the past, Patterson’s comments–as well as others in which he praised the libido of a teen boy who had called an underaged girl “built”–would have earned him a hearty tsk-tsk from his colleagues. But apparently even the Southern Baptists had to acknowledge the changing times.
Patterson was ultimately fired as head of a leading Southern Baptist seminary and stripped of his retirement. In dismissing him, the seminary revealed other offenses, not the least of which was that Patterson tried to meet a woman who had reported a sexual assault so that he “could break her down.”
So maybe the Southern Baptists were finally coming around to the idea that its views of sex and gender roles were out of date?
Less than two weeks after Patterson was canned, the Southern Baptist Convention held its annual meeting. Patterson was on the minds of many attendees, but as if to illustrate the mind-numbing hypocrisy of the group, the meeting was also a hymn to the serial-philanderer-in-chief, Donald Trump.
Showing up to sing the president’s praises was his number one lackey, Vice President Mike Pence. In what sounded a lot like a stump speech, Pence told the assembly, “It’s been 500 days of promises made and promises kept.” In return, the crowd applauded Pence as he closed with Trump’s mantra to “Make America Great Again.”
Not everyone was thrilled by the melding of faith and politics. Some Baptists felt that the speech was overly political. But no one raised the real issue: why it’s okay to throw Paige Patterson out for his comments but not okay to do with same with Donald Trump for his actions.
That’s because, at heart, the Patterson controversy is being treated by Baptist leadership as an isolated event, not as a systemic problem. Patterson’s fall underscores a growing rift among the conservative powers that control the Southern Baptist Convention and younger believers who have very different views on issues, like sexual harassment.
And same-sex relationships. As is often the case, attitudes toward women and attitudes toward LGBTQ people are often entwined. The conservative movement that Patterson helped to build rests on a homophobic foundation, one with which a growing number of young evangelicals aren’t comfortable. There’s a generational divide that Southern Baptists will have to deal with at some point.
In the meantime, though, the Southern Baptists are throwing in their lot with a man who has done things far worse than Patterson ever said. For the time being, at least, any change that’s coming is still a long way off.