DALLAS, Texas - The Southern Baptists are facing their own #MeToo crisis as the biggest Protestant denomination in the U.S. heads into its annual meeting next week.
A series of sexual misconduct cases has prompted the Southern Baptist Convention’s socially conservative, all-male leadership to seek forgiveness for the ill treatment of women and vow to combat it. Hoping for more than rhetoric, women and some male allies plan a protest rally in Dallas when the two-day meeting opens on Tuesday.
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Illustrating the SBC’s predicament, the central figure in the most prominent of the #MeToo cases, Paige Patterson, had been scheduled to deliver the featured sermon at the gathering. However, Patterson withdrew from that role Friday, heeding a request from Gaines and other leaders.“The past two months have been tough for our convention,” SBC President Steve Gaines wrote this week. “I believe God has allowed all of this to happen to drive us to our knees.”
Patterson was recently dismissed as president of Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary in Texas because of his response to two rape allegations made years apart by students.
In a 2015 case, according to the seminary’s board chairman, Patterson told a campus security official that he wanted to meet alone with a student who had reported being raped, to “break her down.”
Patterson also was accused of making improper remarks about a teenage girl’s body and contending that abused women should almost always stay with their husbands.
Baptist Press, the SBC’s official news service, has reported on other cases, including the resignations of one seminary professor who acknowledged “a personal moral failing” and another who cited “personal and spiritual issues.”
SBC leaders say there are many more cases — adding up to a humiliating debacle for the 15.2-million-member denomination.
“The avalanche of sexual misconduct that has come to light in recent weeks is almost too much to bear,” wrote the Rev. Albert Mohler, president of the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, in a recent blog post . “These grievous revelations of sin have occurred in churches, in denominational ministries, and even in our seminaries.”
Mohler acknowledged that the crisis might raise questions about the SBC’s doctrine of “complementarianism” — which espouses male leadership in the home and in the church and says a wife “is to submit herself graciously to the servant leadership of her husband.”
Mohler said the SBC will not abandon the doctrine. But “we need to realize there are unbiblical and toxic forms of complementarianism,” he said. “We should be honoring women, not abusing them.”