What's Tony Thinking

Finding Hope in Expected Places


The annual meeting of the Southern Baptist Convention in Dallas is now over. It was a significant meeting in a host of ways, including a generational shift in the leadership of America’s largest Protestant denomination.

Here’s Religious News Service reporter Jonathan Merritt’s rather vivid description of the different feel (and smell) of this gathering:

“It was immediately clear that change was afoot in Dallas. I’ve attended the annual gatherings of the Southern Baptist Convention dozens of times, but walking around the convention center this week, I was struck by how unfamiliar it all felt. When I was a child, the convention hall was a sea of silver combovers and smelled of denture paste. While the older, more traditionalist crowd was still present in Dallas, the younger, fresh-faced attendees now predominated.”

But most significant is that it may prove, as this article from Atlantic suggests, the harbinger of a coming shift, or rift, in the relationship between evangelicals and Donald Trump.

That could be huge.

Basically, what has happened in Dallas is that the Southern Baptists distanced themselves from — really repudiated — the leaders of the fundamentalist takeover project that began in the SBC in the late 1970’s.

Paige Patterson and Paul Pressler were the two architects that crafted the fundamentalist power grab and the purge of moderates in their denomination. These two have dominated the SBC for a generation.

But Pressler has now been implicated and charged with the sexual molestation of boys. Patterson has come under fire for counseling of women to submit to violent and abusive husbands.

I have my own memory and story connected to Paige Patterson — actually to his wife, Dorothy. In maybe 2002 or so I appeared on a Seattle television show with Dorothy Patterson.

She was touring the country in support of the then recent Southern Baptist pronouncement that women were to “lovingly submit” to their husbands. Women were to be subordinate to men in all walks of life — the family, society and church, according to SBC interpretation of the Bible.

Dorothy Patterson was a formidable woman. I had a difficult time imagining her being subordinate to anyone. I remember her hat, a huge thing decorated with whole pieces of (artificial) fruit. In the “green room” before we went on air, it became immediately clear that she was a a master of the southern art of appearing to be extravagantly polite while telling you that she thought you were a jerk.

It did occur to me at the time that were I married to Dorothy Patterson I might have been in favor of the doctrine of wives submitting to their husbands.

We talked past each other for a half-hour.

In Dallas, the SBC elected a new President who is 45, thus bringing a new generation to power. J. D. Greer champions a commitment to actually listen to the voices of women and racial minorities as well as their inclusion in denominational leadership. What an idea!

There has also been a move to distance the SBC from the Republican Party, of which it has sometimes appeared a wholly-owned subsidiary.

It is pretty interesting how fundamentalist theology, biblical literalism,  and male power/ control are all bound up together in this movement within the SBC. This was also true in the Mormon/ survivalist world of Tara Westover, on whose memoir I recently commented here.

And of course many suggested that Hillary Clinton’s main problem as a candidate for President was she was a woman — a direct assault on this nexus of God and Man.

The theology and biblical interpretations of groups like this seem to be largely a cover for sexism, and in some quarters, racism.

To return to my opening comment — the shifts in the SBC may be a sign of change in the larger evangelical Christian ranks in the U.S. and in its support for Donald Trump. The role and status of women in society may prove the wedge issue in that shift.

This could have big implications in 2020. Let us hope so.


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