Generational Divide Among Evangelicals Shakes Prominent Seminary

Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary tries to heal rifts after scandal and to unite students and donors with widely divergent views

FORT WORTH, Texas—After the Rev. Adam W. Greenway stepped to the podium during his inauguration as the ninth president of the Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary, he acknowledged the tumult that had engulfed the school in recent years.

The previous president was fired. Enrollment plummeted, and the training ground for many of the nation’s most famous pastors found itself at the center of a debate over the treatment of women in the church.

“I cannot change the past,” he said. “For any way in which we have fallen short, I am sorry.”

A generational gulf is threatening to split evangelical Christianity.

While older evangelicals have become a political force preaching traditional values, younger ones are deviating from their parents on issues like same-sex marriage, Israel, the role of women, and support for President Trump.

Dr. Adam W. Greenway, the ninth president of Southwest Seminary. PHOTO: LOUIS DELUCA FOR THE WALL STREET JOURNAL

For Southwestern to thrive again, Dr. Greenway must attract more young people without alienating their parents. At stake: not only the health of the 111-year-old school but also of the Southern Baptist Convention, the country’s largest, most powerful Protestant denomination, whose membership has been falling for more than a decade.

The shift under way at the school is dramatic. Dr. Greenway’s predecessor, Rev. Paige Patterson, was a hero of the conservative resurgence, which swung the Southern Baptist Convention to the theological and political right. During 15 years as president of Southwestern, Dr. Patterson turned the campus into a reflection of his brand of evangelicalism.

He preached that scripture is inerrant and that women should submit themselves to the leadership of men, both at home and in church. He required members of his administration to carry firearms, for security reasons, he said. His office was filled with taxidermy. Stained glass windows depicting “heroes of the conservative resurgence,” including Dr. Patterson and his wife, were installed in the chapel.

Last year, Dr. Patterson was fired following allegations that he mishandled accusations of sexual assault by former students.

Dr. Patterson, in an email, said he handled the alleged assaults appropriately. “Candidly, I have no idea why I was released,” he said.

As religious affiliation has fallen among young people, evangelicals have debated how they should frame their message.

Religious affiliation of U.S. adults by birth year

Christian

Non-Christian

Unaffiliated

0%

25

50

75

100

1928-45

1946-64

1965-80

1981-96

Denominations of U.S. Protestants

2009

2018-19

Born again or evangelical

59

56%

44

41

Not born again

or evangelical

Source: Pew Research Center surveys conducted in 2009 and January 2018-July 2019

When Dr. Greenway, 41 years old, arrived in February, veteran professors were replaced, and the stained glass windows were removed.

Dr. Greenway said he is committed to all of the Southern Baptist Convention’s conservative principles but argued that a change in tone from the past administration was necessary.

“My immediate predecessor envisioned this being more like Buffalo Bill’s Wild West Show,” he said in an interview. “I want people to think more like Southwest Airlines. A happy place. A national brand.”

When asked to respond, Dr. Patterson said, “Every man is entitled to his own view of my work, and I wish Dr. Greenway only God’s best.”

Enrollment has jumped. But fundraising has taken a hit, leaving a $3 million hole in the budget when Dr. Greenway arrived.

A portrait of Dr. Greenway’s predecessor, the Rev. Paige Patterson, hangs in the school rotunda. PHOTO: LOUIS DELUCA FOR THE WALL STREET JOURNAL

A group of more than two dozen donors, who say they have collectively given at least $50 million to the school, sent a letter to the trustees, saying they would withhold further giving until they got answers about Dr. Patterson’s ouster. Gary Loveless, a former trustee who helped author the letter, said he never received a reply.

We don’t treat our prophets that way,” Mr. Loveless said of Dr. Patterson’s removal. “I think there was a bigger agenda.”

Few played a greater role in making modern evangelicalism what it is today than Dr. Patterson.

He championed several tenets that Southern Baptists now consider sacrosanct, including “complementarianism,” the belief that men and women have different God-given roles. In 2000, during his tenure as president of the Southern Baptist Convention, the denomination banned women from serving as senior pastors.

After being appointed president of Southwestern in 2003, he started a homemaking program for female students.

The iconic dome of Southwest Seminary, where Dr. Greenway arrived in February. PHOTO: LOUIS DELUCA FOR THE WALL STREET JOURNAL

Fundraising skyrocketed, as did new construction on campus.

But enrollment dropped from 2,138 full-time equivalent students in 2003-4 to 1,393 in 2017-18. Over the same period, overall membership in the Southern Baptist Convention fell from 16.3 million to 14.8 million.

Dr. Patterson’s dramatic exit convulsed the Southern Baptist Convention, turning the school into a nexus of the continuing debate over women’s role in the church.

Karen Swallow Prior, a Southern Baptist professor at Liberty University, said Dr. Patterson’s ouster was a step toward changing “the misogynistic, sexist culture of the SBC.” She added that there is “a dramatic shift” among younger evangelicals who are more eager “to embrace the idea of women as leaders, both in the church and in the culture.”

Others saw Dr. Patterson’s ouster as an ideologically-motivated takedown.

A statue of Jesus in a garden area on campus. PHOTO: LOUIS DELUCA FOR THE WALL STREET JOURNAL

The previous generation, their priority was missions and evangelism and preaching,” said Rev. Wayne Dickard, a former Southwestern trustee. The new generation, he said, “is far more interested in the social justice movement.”

The theological conflict is playing out in new controversies on campus. Last week Southwestern officials showed trustees a letter from an assistant to Dr. Patterson to a donor advising how to ask the school to return his money, according to a person with knowledge of the matter. The letter criticized female professors as unqualified and not sufficiently committed to complementarianism and bemoaned efforts to erase the Pattersons’ legacy from campus, including removing their dog’s tombstone.

The assistant, Z. Scott Colter, said the Pattersons have encouraged people to keep giving to Southwestern and the donor had asked for help making sure the money was used for its intended purpose. The donor confirmed his account.

Philip Levant, a member of the presidential search committee that hired Dr. Greenway, said trustees were looking for someone who could both sort out the school’s finances and overhaul its public image.

In recent years, “the seminary was known more for what it was against than what it was for,” Mr. Levant said.

Dr. Greenway graduated from Southwestern in 2002, the year before his predecessor’s arrival. PHOTO: LOUIS DELUCA FOR THE WALL STREET JOURNAL

Dr. Greenway grew up in a Florida family he describes as not particularly religious. But like millions of others during the 1980s and ’90s, he found his way into a Southern Baptist church and was baptized as a teenager. He graduated from Southwestern in 2002, the year before Dr. Patterson’s arrival.

Though he supports complementarianism, Dr. Greenway said he is trying to create a big tent at Southwestern.

Partly, that means emphasizing what women can do, not what they can’t, including “celebrating women as bible teachers and ministry leaders.”

He has also been pushing for ideological diversity, making sure the school is welcoming to Reformed evangelicals—who believe God elects those who will be saved—as well as those who believe that salvation is available to all.

New enrollment this fall is up 33% over the previous three years.

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One of the new students is Jacki King, a minister to women at her Arkansas church who transferred to Southwestern this year. She said the shifting tone on gender is what drew her.

“As a woman who deeply believes in theology and evangelism, I want to be able to be part of that,” she said.

Martha Nussbaum, “The Monarchy of Fear”

Martha Nussbaum discusses her book, “The Monarchy of Fear” at Politics and Prose on 7/9/18.

One of the country’s leading moral philosophers, Nussbaum cuts through the acrimony of today’s political landscape to analyze the Trump era through one simple truth: that the political is always emotional. Starting there, she shows how globalization has produced feelings of powerlessness that have in turn fed resentment and blame. These have erupted into hostility against immigrants, women, Muslims, people of color, and cultural elites. Drawing on examples from ancient Greece to Hamilton, Nussbaum shows how anger and fear inflame people on both the left and right; by illuminating the powerful role these passions play in public life, she points to ways we can avoid getting caught up in the vitriol that sustains and perpetuates divisive politics.

Everything that’s wrong with Iran in one grotesque televised scandal

While cases of gun violence in Iran are extremely rare, domestic violence has been a fact of life for Iranian women throughout history.

The high-profile killing is shocking on its own merits. Yet the way the story unfolded publicly, with the help of real-time coverage by the state broadcaster, has created an utterly grotesque allegory for the excesses of this regime and the way it presents itself to the public.

First, quick review of the key details:

Najafi, 67, an MIT-educated former mayor of Tehran, married Ostad, 35, his second wife, in 2017. He was and is still married to his first wife, the mother of his children.

Polygamy is legal for men in Iran, who can have up to four wives at a time. But even though the practice is tolerated by the religious establishment, many Iranians (especially in the cities) consider it to be intolerable. It’s a maneuver that lecherous older men — especially if they have been caught cheating — make if they want to feign piety. And everyone knows it.

Even so, within the halls of power it’s standard procedure, and it never got in the way of Najafi’s political career. In fact, it was the public revelation of his ongoing extramarital relationship with Ostad that led the two to wed.

By Najafi’s account, he didn’t want to stay in the marriage to Ostad and proposed a divorce, a legal act that men in Iran can demand with ease. Najafi claims that his wife refused, and they continued the marriage unhappily.

But their fights were becoming more frequent and heated. On Tuesday, it all came to a head.

Najafi went to Ostad’s apartment (he lives with his first wife) with a loaded gun. In what he claims was an animated attempt to scare her, he waved the gun at her while saying that he could put an end to all the arguing right then and there.

Next, according to Najafi, “she lunged and me and, well, the gun was ready.”

If the story were to end there, it would be a powerful cautionary tale about the dangers of misogyny-fueled domestic violence, polygamy and gun ownership.

What makes the story even more shocking, though, is that we know all these details of the crime because the murderer admitted to them on live television, to a seemingly sympathetic audience of police detectives (who served him tea) and a state media host who gently asked if it might not have been wiser to file a complaint against his untamable wife.

“That would definitely have been better, but the truth is that over the last year I’ve tried different ways of dealing with our issues,” Najafi told the reporter. None of them worked to his satisfaction, apparently, and that “resulted in making me this mistake, and her life ending.”

Not exactly words of sorrow and contrition.

At one point, the television presenter holds the alleged murder weapon — without gloves — and empties the magazine, counting out eight cartridges. “There were thirteen bullets in it,” he says. “Five were fired. Two hit the victim, and three hit the wall.”

It’s clear that there will be no need for a crime-scene investigation. The esteemed suspect’s word is more than enough.

Ordinary Iranians have taken to social media to express their horror over the unfolding drama, but in the twisted life of Islamic Republic of Iran Broadcasting, it was just another day.

Forced confessions on IRIB are common, but Najafi’s is a departure from the norm. Nothing about it seemed coerced; if anything, it looked orchestrated — from the bows of deference he was shown by the police officers to the tea they served him. All of this is familiar to Iranians, who know from generations of experience that power means privilege. Even when you admit to murder.

It’s not that Iran’s ruling class is unrepentant — it’s also shockingly oblivious to its own excesses, as encapsulated both by this murder and the state broadcaster’s coverage of it. The depravity that the regime condones only highlights the growing divide between it and the country’s shocked society.

The misogyny and the state-sanctioned polygamy are bad enough. The brazen disregard for a female human life is appalling. But on top of all that, there’s the ingrained hypocrisy of a regime that has executed countless citizens without proper trial yet consistently lets its officials off the hook without even trying to hide it.

With this twisted version of reality TV, Iran’s regime has just demonstrated its shamelessness and depravity, offering a reminder of just how rotten it is.