The Rev. Paige Patterson, 57, the outgoing president of the Southern Baptist Convention, will finish up his two-year stint heading up the 15.6-million-member denomination this month at its annual meeting June 13-14 in Orlando, Fla.
Mr. Patterson was one of the architects of the conservative takeover of the SBC. For the past eight years, he has been president of Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary in Wake Forest, N.C., during which time enrollment has increased from 488 to 2,100 students.
He was interviewed Saturday by culture page editor Julia Duin while in Washington, D.C., to preach at Capitol Hill Baptist Church.
Q: How’s your Disney boycott going?
A: You’d have to ask Disney. They’ve had eight successive quarters of monetary loss, but I don’t know that anybody knows whether the boycott is responsible for that.
No, it won’t be called off. I’ve had opportunity [in May] to visit with some of the top executives at Disney. I found them to be wonderful men, thoroughly enjoyed the time with them. I think that it was one of the most healthy opportunities probably we’ve all had.
What you see there is competing worldviews. Their viewpoint is they’ve done nothing wrong. Coming from their perspective, I can see why they’d think that. We come from a different worldview … .
And they say, “If we’re doing mostly good, why focus on the mistakes we’re making?” And my response to that is they do an enormous amount of good. I don’t know how any Christian can deny that, but I have an obligation to tell the other side and call our people to a new level of holiness. We’re not so much trying to hurt Disney, but ask our own people to be spiritually discerning.
Q: In 1995, the SBC approved a statement asking for forgiveness for slavery. Since then, have you noticed more minorities joining the SBC?
A: Yes, this year for example, we planted 1,495 new churches, which is an all-time record, by far. Of that 1,495, I’d say more than half were ethnic churches, and of that half, two-thirds were African-American. We’ve had a very visible increase in the participation of the African-American community in the affairs of the convention… .
The 1995 vote was something most people never thought they’d see in their lifetime … . To say that vote had a tidal-wave-producing effect would probably not be an understatement. Our whole thesis is, our denomination got started on the wrong leg on that issue. We have tried to please God in most ways, but we certainly failed there. The time has come to be pleasing to God in that way also.
Q: When will you get a first black president of the SBC?
A: I hope within five years … . There are a number of very gifted young, black ministers who are cutting quite a swath in Southern Baptist life, [such as] Fred Luter, who is pastor of Franklin Avenue Baptist Church in New Orleans. I’d personally love to see Dr. Luter serve in that capacity.
Q: You’re stepping down this year. Who will succeed you?
A: Probably Dr. James Merritt, who is pastor of First Baptist Church of Snellville, Ga., a suburb of Atlanta.
Q: What do you think of press coverage of the SBC?
A: The press attaches tremendous significance to resolutions we pass at the Southern Baptist Convention. Southern Baptists hardly pay any attention to them at all… .
A resolution passed by a given Southern Baptist Convention has no binding effect on anybody. It is merely the sense of that particular group of Southern Baptists at that time. An action of that convention, such as the Baptist Faith and Message statement, which is up this year for review, will have long-term ramifications, if passed. Even the actions of the convention is not binding on the churches. The churches are all totally autonomous and every one is a law to itself.
Q: So how does the recent statement that women can no longer be Southern Baptist clergy affect them?
A: Churches are not bound by this, even if adopted. It’s not a new departure; it’s what most Southern Baptists have believed all along. This is merely a codification … a change [in the Baptist Faith and Message]. There are several other changes.
As you know, we have been under some fire because of our insistence there’s only one way to God and that’s through Jesus. We have said, yes, that’s right, Jesus is the only way to salvation. If you’ve got the name, you might as well have the game.
Q: How about Masonry?
A: Oh, there’s no statement on that. But the North American Mission Board responded to a motion [last year] to produce a pamphlet that shows what the Bible says and what the Masonic Order believes… . I assure you we’re not backing off on this through any fear of the Masons. They do not bother us.
Our quibble is not with the Masons. It’s with any secret society … that has secret oaths that we don’t think are becoming of a born-again believer.
Q: What will happen to the [reported] 1,600 female SBC clergy?
A: First of all, I question that statistic. There are fewer than 20 women who are pastors of churches at the present time, out of 42,000 churches. At the very height of the feminist influence on Southern Baptists, there were never more than 100 [pastors].
There are more than that who are ordained … even if there were 1,600 at one time, which I doubt, the vast majority of them have left the denomination. The issue isn’t ordination. It’s one thing: the senior pastorate of the church.
Q: Women can be an assistant or an associate?
A: The Baptist Faith and Message statement that is being recommended for the convention says that women are gifted in all ways, like as men, but that for the pastorate, it is limited to men.
Q: When your wife teaches classes at the seminary, does she teach only women?
A: Yes. She loves for people to bring up the subject and say, “That’s a put-down,” and she says, “No, because I don’t think women are subpar to men.”
There’s no biblical precedent . . for a woman serving in a pastoral position because the man is held responsible by God for spiritual leadership. Secondly, there is a biblical prohibition that women cannot teach or have authority over men… . Where you don’t have masculine leadership, you have a regular decrease in the involvement of men.
Q: With all the statements you’ve been making from racism to wifely submission, is the SBC trying to affect pop culture?
A: I don’t think we’re trying so much to do that as to be sure the average person living out there in the pop culture gets the message there’s another side. There is another way to look at it, as God speaks about it in the Bible.
Q: Are 100,000 Baptist evangelists still coming to Chicago this summer?
A: We never said 100,000. We said there were a lot of Southern Baptists coming. But since the protest of the ecumenical council there, a lot more are coming. I’ll be there. Wouldn’t miss it. I’m guessing there will be 8,000 to 10,000 …
The thing that irritated us very, very much was that the Chicago council in the letter they issued to me which got to the press two weeks before it got to me raised the specter of evangelism maybe producing hate crimes. We don’t plan to put up with that sort of thing… .
It’s a very serious matter to associate hate crimes with evangelism and that needs to be publicly corrected.
Q: You were criticized last year for a conference on Jewish evangelism you attended in New York. Is the SBC starting up messianic Jewish congregations?
A: Not many. Probably two or three at the most. Most of the Jewish people who become followers of Christ come into our regular congregations.
In certain places, we have large numbers of them [such as] First Baptist Church of Dallas and First Baptist Church of Fort Lauderdale. We have a few Southern Baptist messianic congregations… .
What’s at issue here is religious liberty. The New York Jewry got so unhappy about this not because we might share the Gospel with a Jewish person, but because that Jewish person who wants to become a Christian still wants to call himself a Jew… .
They want to take away these people’s religious liberty to be Jewish and have that Jewish heritage and at the same time embrace the Jewish messiah.
Q: How are Southern Baptists trying to expand beyond their Southern strongholds?
A: We meet [annually] three years out of four in the South and a fourth year elsewhere. The cooler places are a lot more expensive. Our people are basically still butchers and bakers and candlestick makers. Although we have some wealth now, it’s not anything like what you’d find in the other mainline denominations.
Our people cannot afford to go to places where they’ll be hit for $150 to $160 a night… . Our seminary is planting 50 churches in New Hampshire and Maine in the next 10 years… . The majority of our growth this year happened outside the Old South.
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