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Southern Baptist Leader Removed From Post Over Comments On Domestic Abuse


A prominent evangelical leader has been removed from his position this morning for controversial comments he has made about domestic violence. His name is Paige Patterson, and he had been the president of Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary. The seminary's board of trustees has removed him from this post because of those past remarks. Tom Gjelten covers religion for NPR, and he's in the studio with us this morning.

Hey, Tom.


MARTIN: So in the board's statement announcing Patterson's removal, they don't mention any specific allegations, So what can you tell us about why he's been ousted?

GJELTEN: Right, Rachel, it's actually a very respectful statement. The board says, in fact, that he will still have a job. He's going to be theologian in residence. He's going to have a salary. He's going to have a place to live. And we should make clear that there are no - as far as I know - no allegations of misconduct - sexual misconduct by Paige Patterson himself. The issue is how he handled those allegations when they came to him in his position of responsibility - several examples of women coming to him and talking about, as you say, domestic violence by their own husband.

There's another story in The Washington Post yesterday that Patterson allegedly told a woman who said she had been raped and went to him to report this, that he should - that she should not take those allegations to the police, that she should forgive her assailant. So it's the way that he handled these allegations that is what led to this ouster. Now, I should say, the board in its motion says evidence exists that Patterson has complied with reporting laws regarding assault and abuse - but clearly, a lot of unease about the way he has handled these reports that came to him.

MARTIN: Right. And as you note, this - his message has been about when faced with these kinds of allegations, he maintains that this is something that has to be dealt with in the home, that these are personal issues, perhaps even issues related to one's faith. And he was encouraging women who claimed to have been abused to work it out in the context of their marriage.

GJELTEN: And the question, Rachel, is whether these are crimes. And of course, they are. And he does not - there's no evidence that he says they should go to law enforcement.

MARTIN: So what does this mean? I mean, is evangelical Christianity having a Me Too movement? Is this something we could see more conversations about?

GJELTEN: Two things - one, clearly, the issue of sexual abuse, sexual harassment of women extends throughout society, including to the Southern Baptist world, the evangelical world. But there's another issue here which makes this especially significant, and that is that in the Southern Baptist world, there are very clearly delineated roles from men and women, with women being told basically to submit to men, to defer to men. And the backdrop for this particular event is that 3,000 Southern Baptist women wrote a letter saying that Patterson had to be fired. Clearly, there is a feeling among Southern Baptist women that time is up and the church needs to deal much more forcefully with this issue of harassment and abuse of women within the Southern Baptist world.

MARTIN: NPR's Tom Gjelten for us this morning. Thank you so much, Tom.

GJELTEN: Of course. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Tom Gjelten reports on religion, faith, and belief for NPR News, a beat that encompasses such areas as the changing religious landscape in America, the formation of personal identity, the role of religion in politics, and conflict arising from religious differences. His reporting draws on his many years covering national and international news from posts in Washington and around the world.
Rachel Martin is a host of Morning Edition, as well as NPR's morning news podcast Up First.