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Advocate Says Theology of Submission Hampers Southern Baptist Response to Sexual Abuse by Clergy

The Southern Baptist Convention will have a hard time addressing either the problem of sexual abuse by clergy or domestic violence as long as its leaders persist in the theological view that women are subject to men, a victims’ advocate says.

“I feel the issues of clergy sex abuse and clergy overlooking domestic violence are fruit of the same tree,” wrote Danni Moss, a pseudonym for a blogger who writes about spiritual abuse.

Moss addressed comments at a conference in 2000 recently linked and transcribed in part at SBC Outpost by Paige Patterson, president of Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary. Patterson described counseling a woman who was being physically abused by her husband to return to her home and begin praying for him.

“And I said, ‘Get ready because he may get a little more violent, you know, when he discovers this,'” Patterson said. “And sure enough, he did. She came to church one morning with both eyes black. And she was angry at me and at God and the world, for that matter. And she said, ‘I hope you’re happy.’ And I said, ‘Yes ma’am, I am.'”

What the woman didn’t know, Patterson said, is that her husband was attending the church for the first time and at the end of the service came forward to accept Christ.

“And he’s a great husband today,” Patterson said. “And it all came about because she sought God on a regular basis. And remember, when nobody else can help, God can. And in the meantime, you have to do what you can at home to be submissive in every way that you can and to elevate him. Obviously, if he’s doing that kind of thing he’s got some very deep spiritual problems in his life, and you have to pray that God brings into the intersection of his life those people and those events that need to come into his life to arrest him and bring him to his knees.”

Moss noted that Patterson’s quote came from “a man who is adamantly insisting he has done nothing wrong in his part of the handling of the breaking SBC scandal of clergy sex abuse.”

Though the quote is from a different context, she said: “This excerpt clearly shows Patterson’s attitude toward women and his view of their position in subjugation to men. A man who has this general attitude toward women is not going to view clergy sex abuse as a terribly relevant problem. At best it would deserve a slap on the wrist.”

“Women (and children, since they are even ‘less’ than women in a hierarchical system) are not as valuable as men, especially clergy who trump the average male on a power/importance scale,” she continued. “God’s work and God’s workmen are more important than ‘that little thing that happened to you back then.'”

Another error in Patterson’s view, Moss said, is his belief that “submission of the wife is paramount.”

“According to Patterson, woman’s submission is the most important factor in marital success. If only she will submit enough, God will be able to change her husband. That is what he said.”

Moss also took exception to Patterson’s view that even an abusive husband is worthy of elevation. “The abuser is to be elevated regardless of whether he beats the life out of his wife,” she commented. “Shoot, compared to that, what’s a little clergy sex abuse?”

Moss said a victim of domestic violence shouldn’t be expected to subject herself to an abuser in order to convert him.

“While I don’t want to accuse Patterson of lying, this story has all the earmarks of one of those pastoral embellishments used to illustrate or emotionally manipulate the audience into ‘feeling’ his point,” she said. “Everyone wants miracles like that story. Since pastors believe God can and will do things like that, they can get a little generous with their ‘true’ stories.”

“The fact is, this type of miraculous transformation does not happen,” she said. “There’s a reason. The problem with an abuser is not just a matter of getting ‘saved.’ There are deep-rooted issues behind and underneath the behavior. While accepting Christ might motivate a man to find out why he is making the choices he is and might open his eyes to see the value of his wife, it’s going to take a lot more than a single spiritual experience to transform an abuser.”

Moss said the story also “demonstrates a commonly taught mistaken belief that God will force an abuser to change his behavior because you prayed about it,” a view she challenges in an article on her Web site.

“If Patterson told this woman to do this, he was operating on erroneous theology and should be held accountable for the physical abuse she received,” she said. “This is just as wrong as letting clergy sex abusers slide, and comes from the same root attitudes and beliefs.”

Moss accused Patterson of “perpetuating a dangerous bit of wrong theology” on his audience and anyone they in turn may encourage to do the same thing. “It is not an overstatement to say someone could get killed trying to be obedient to ‘God’ per Patterson, et al,” she said.

Moss, whose Web site contains stories about her own 20-year former marriage to an abusive husband, said she writes under a different name to give anonymity to her children, family and former in-laws.

Bob Allen is managing editor of EthicsDaily.com.

Also see:
An Open Letter to Pastors: Have You Ever Preached A Sermon About Domestic Violence?

Book Says Churches Add to Victimization of Women in Domestic Violence