A Virtuous Woman is Not Silent

#MeToo Finds Preacher Who Sanctioned Abuse and Demonized Divorce

Ok, ladies, ready to be submissive to your man in every way you can? Ready to pray the domestic violence away? Yeah, me neither.

Paige Patterson is the president of the Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary who, in a newly surfaced interview from 2000 by the Council on Biblical Manhood and Womanhood, stated that for women in domestically abusive situations and relationships, prayer, faith, and submission to husbands—not divorce—were the paths God provided for women. “I have… said that I have never recommended or prescribed divorce. How could I as a minister of the Gospel? The Bible makes clear the way in which God views divorce.” Patterson defended his position in a personal statement last month, declaring that he has never been abusive to any woman. “I have never counseled or condoned abuse of any kind. I will never be a party to any position other than that of the defense of any weaker party when subjected to the threat of a stronger party. This certainly includes women and children. Any physical or sexual abuse of anyone should be reported immediately to the appropriate authorities, as I have always done.”

Considering that Patterson believes divorce is never an appropriate solution for a woman in an abusive relationship, I beg to differ. Holding that position as a spiritual leader of thousands of people, thousands of women, is categorically abusive itself. According to the Violence Policy Center, three women die from domestic violence every day in the United States. And Patterson is doing nothing to protect the women in his flock from this violence. If anything, he’s encouraging them to put themselves in danger because apparently the sanctity of marriage is more important than the sanctity of life.

In the 2000 interview, Patterson tells the story of a woman who came to him for spiritual counsel about abuse happening in her marriage. He counseled her to pray at night beside her bed for God to intervene. Apparently the woman came back to him after following his advice. She had two black eyes. “She said: ‘I hope you’re happy.’ And I said ‘Yes … I’m very happy,’ ” because it turned out her husband had heard her prayers and come for the first time to church the next day, he said.”

Her husband heard her prayers but God didn’t? Patterson seems to equate the husband’s hearing of the wife’s prayers as answered prayer in and of itself. This juxtaposition between god and husband is utterly disgusting. So there’s no difference between deity and husband? Do you pray to both? Do you go with the first albeit weak answer you get, even if it means two black eyes? Men, I guess you should be glad you have a penis; it means you’re a god. Women, I guess we need to invest in strap-ons.

The damage that religious leaders like Patterson inflict on women and children who look to them for guidance, safety, and spiritual counsel is criminal. According to the Department of Justice, women are far more likely than men to be the victims of violent crimes committed by those they’re romantically involved with, especially when a weapon is involved. And most of these types of violence occur in the home. Wife beating was made a crime in 1920 (less than 100 years ago) but only since the 1970s has the criminal justice system treated domestic violence as a serious crime rather than a private family matter.

The Southern Baptist denomination has long been known for misogynistic worldviews and religious laws. They are a fundamental sect that teaches women and little girls Bible verses that define a virtuous woman as a silent woman. A vessel. A “helpmate” who serves her husband and family, never herself. Oh yeah, and she is also supposed to make herself look beautiful.

Patterson should be ashamed of himself. He should be ashamed to have his wife and daughters and granddaughters read his words and the stories of women who came to him for counsel and returned home to dangerous predators because he said marriage was more important than their safety, and possibly their lives.

As the #metoo movement continues to unearth the unspoken and previously accepted instances of misogyny saturating our culture, I hope religious leaders will also be held accountable for their advice to women and girls who are facing often life-threatening abuse from boyfriends or partners, brothers or fathers. A good sign is the open letter signed by 2,000 evangelical women condemning Patterson’s position:

The world is watching us all, brothers. They wonder how we could possibly be part of a denomination that counts Dr. Patterson as a leader. The Southern Baptist Convention cannot allow the biblical view of leadership to be misused in such a way that a leader with an unbiblical view of authority, womanhood, and sexuality be allowed to continue in leadership.

A virtuous woman is one who stands up for herself; who leaves her marriage when she or her children are in danger; who calls the authorities and reports abuse; who speaks out against misogynistic leadership at home, in government, and in church.

More than 2,000 evangelical women have signed an open letter condemning his words. I think it’s necessary to point this out and even quote male and female Baptist leaders who have condemned his demonization of divorce.