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.

Southern Baptist seminary drops bombshell: Why Paige Patterson was fired

He lied about his treatment of an alleged rape victim in 2003, and in 2015 he tried to isolate another woman who had reported a sexual assault from the seminary’s chief of security so he could “break her down

.. Many Southern Baptists considered that decision too lenient because it allowed Patterson to remain on staff as “president emeritus” with compensation and the ability to retire on campus.

.. in 2003 when Patterson was president there had come to Patterson alleging she had been been raped by her then-boyfriend and was encouraged by him not to go to police and to forgive the man she said had assaulted her.

.. Megan Lively identified herself on Twitter as the person in the Post article.

.. Patterson is revered in the Southern Baptist Convention for his role in steering the denomination in a conservative direction

.. “People have always been afraid of him. Not anymore,” Lively said on Friday night.

.. Ueckert said Scott Colter’s wife, Sharayah Colter, published a blog post contesting Lively’s account of the event in 2003 and attached documents without the permission of the students referenced in the documents or from leaders of either seminary. “I believe this was inappropriate and unethical,” Ueckert said.

.. In the blog post published Thursday, Colter said Patterson “is not guilty of all of which he has been accused in recent days.” She posted letters, appearing to show correspondence between Lively and Patterson, that do not state that the two of them met in person as Lively has maintained. However, none of the documents appear to directly contradict Lively’s story. Lively said that

In the blog post published Thursday, Colter said Patterson “is not guilty of all of which he has been accused in recent days.” She posted letters, appearing to show correspondence between Lively and Patterson, that do not state that the two of them met in person as Lively has maintained. However, none of the documents appear to directly contradict Lively’s story. Lively said that the documents Colter published had been altered and that the original ones had referenced three meetings with Patterson.

.. Ueckert said Patterson wrote an email to the chief of campus security at the time in which he “discussed meeting with the student alone so that he could ‘break her down’ and that he preferred no officials be present.

.. “For 15 years of my life, I thought I did something wrong,” Lively said. “It wasn’t until Dr. Akin told me I didn’t that I firmly believed it.

.. the publication of statements he made starting in 2000 about the Bible’s view of women and his beliefs about spousal abuse and why it does not serve as grounds for divorce.

“As I’ve said before, he shamed the crap out of me,” Lively said after seeing the statement. “He tried to ‘break her down.’ My story is almost identical to this girl’s story.”

.. Akin said he believes files that would help an investigation of the incident were taken from Southeastern when Patterson left. Ueckert said in a statement that Southwestern has located those documents and is working on returning them to Southeastern.

.. Ahead of the board’s May 22 decision to demote Patterson, two Southern Baptists on President Trump’s evangelical advisory board, Robert Jeffress of First Baptist Dallas and Richard Land of Southern Evangelical Seminary, commented in support of Patterson in conservative media.

The Baptist Apocalypse

Such a God might, for instance, offer political success as a temptation rather than a reward — or use an unexpected presidency not to save Americans but to chastise them.

.. so far the Trump presidency has clearly been a kind of apocalypse — not (yet) in the “world-historical calamity” sense of the word, but in the original Greek meaning: an unveiling, an uncovering, an exposure of truths that had heretofore been hidden.

.. That exposure came first for the Republican Party’s establishment, who were revealed as something uncomfortably close to liberal caricature in their mix of weakness, cynicism and power worship. It came next for the technocrats and the data nerds of the Democratic Party, who were revealed as ineffectual, clueless and self-regarding ..

.. And then it came for a range of celebrated media men, from Harvey Weinstein to Matt Lauer ..

.. It has come as well for figures whose style anticipated him (Roger Ailes, Bill O’Reilly, that whole ménage) and for figures who have deliberately attached themselves to his populist revolt. The sins of Roy Moore were more exposed by the Trump era, and now likewise the racist paranoia of Roseanne Barr.

.. a similar moral exposure has come to precisely the sector of American Christianity where support for Donald Trump ran strongest — the denominational heart of conservative evangelicalism, the Southern Baptist Convention.

.. The main case is Paige Patterson, the now-erstwhile president of a major Baptist seminary in Fort Worth, who was eased into retirement over revelations that he’d counseled abused women to return to their husbands and allegedly shamed and silenced at least one rape victim.

.. Patterson is a beginning, not an end.

.. Late last year I wrote an essay speculating about the possibility of an “evangelical crisis” in this era, driven by the gap between the older and strongly pro-Trump constituency in evangelical churches and those evangelicals, often younger, who either voted for the president reluctantly or rejected his brand of politics outright.

.. “the big story behind the story of Patterson’s fall is a high-stakes showdown between two generations of Southern Baptist leaders.” Both generations are theologically conservative, but the figures raising their voices against Patterson have been — generally — associated with a vision of their church that’s more countercultural, less wedded to the institutional Republican Party, more likely to see racial reconciliation as essential to the Baptist future and intent on proving that a traditional theology of sex need not lead to sexism.

.. Whereas Patterson’s defenders represent — again, to generalize — the more pro-Trump old guard in the Baptist world, with a strong inclination toward various forms of chauvinism and Christian nationalism.

.. It is not a coincidence that Russell Moore, perhaps the most prominent anti-Trump Baptist, provided early support to Patterson’s critics — while Robert Jeffress, whose Dallas church sets “Make America Great Again” to music, labeled the calls for Patterson’s resignation a “witch hunt.”

.. it’s wiser to regard an era of exposure like this one as a test, which can be passed but also failed. A discredited “old guard” doesn’t automatically lose power; a chauvinism revealed doesn’t just evaporate. And the temptation to dismiss discomfiting revelations as fake news, to retreat back into ignorance and self-justification, is at least as powerful as the impulse to really reckon with the truth.

.. So the question posed by this age of revelation is simple: Now that you know something new and troubling and even terrible about your leaders or your institutions, what will you do with this knowledge?

The Wrath of God Poured Out — The Humiliation of the Southern Baptist Convention

The last few weeks have been excruciating for the Southern Baptist Convention and for the larger evangelical movement. It is as if bombs are dropping and God alone knows how many will fall and where they will land.

America’s largest evangelical denomination has been in the headlines day after day. The SBC is in the midst of its own horrifying #MeToo moment.

.. We thought this was a Roman Catholic problem.

.. The terrible swift sword of public humiliation has come with a vengeance. There can be no doubt that this story is not over.

.. We cannot blame a requirement of priestly celibacy. We cannot even point to an organized conspiracy of silence within the denominational hierarchy. No, our humiliation comes as a result of an unorganized conspiracy of silence.

.. Did we win confessional integrity only to sacrifice our moral integrity?

.. This is exactly what those who opposed the Conservative Resurgence warned would happen. They claimed that the effort to recover the denomination theologically was just a disguised move to capture the denomination for a new set of power-hungry leaders.

.. As I recently said with lament to a long-time leader among the more liberal faction that left the Southern Baptist Convention, each side has become the fulfillment of what the other side warned. The liberals who left have kept marching to the Left, in theology and moral teaching. The SBC, solidly conservative theologically, has been revealed to be morally compromised.

.. Is complementarianism the problem? Is it just camouflage for abusive males and permission for the abuse and mistreatment of women? We can see how that argument would seem plausible to so many looking to conservative evangelicals and wondering if we have gone mad.

.. I believe that any public accusation concerning such a pattern requires an independent, third-party investigation.

.. I believe that the Bible is the inerrant and infallible verbally inspired Word of God.

 

Evangelicals and abortion: chicken or egg?

Jonathan Dudley suggested in a recent CNN religion blog that as late as the 1960s the consensus among evangelical thinkers was that life begins not at conception but birth.

.. The author of Broken Words: The Abuse of Science and Faith in American Politics argued that televangelist Jerry Falwell spearheaded the reversal of opinion on abortion in the late 1970s in order to form a political alliance with Catholics and win voters for the Republican Party.

.. approval of the Supreme Court’s 1973 Roe v. Wade decision that legalized most abortion by First Baptist of Dallas Pastor W.A. Criswell, president of the Southern Baptist Convention at the time.

“I have always felt that it was only after a child was born and had a life separate from its mother that it became an individual person, and it has always, therefore, seemed to me that what is best for the mother and for the future should be allowed,” Criswell said.

.. Wayne Dehoney, SBC president for two terms in the 1960s ..  “Protestant theology generally takes Genesis 2:7 as a statement that the soul is formed at breath, not conception,” Dehoney said.

.. “I asked him about the biblical statement that God knows us even when we are in our mother’s womb,” Clinton wrote. “He replied that the verse simply refers to God being omniscient, and that it might as well have said God knew us even before we were in our mother’s womb, even before anyone in our direct line was born.”

.. The Southern Baptist Convention revisited abortion in resolutions every year from 1976 through 1980. By 1980 the exclusions had narrowed to saving the life of the mother.

.. Balmer described an “abortion myth” that the Religious Right movement began in direct response to the Supreme Court decision in Roe v. Wade. Balmer instead called it “a political movement” actually sparked when the IRS attempted to rescind the tax-exempt status of Bob Jones University because of its racially discriminatory policies.

Everyone agrees that evangelicals, including Southern Baptists, were late to the pro-life cause, but not everyone agrees about the reason.

Pastors, Not Politicians, Turned Dixie Republican

“White Democrats will desert their party in droves the minute it becomes a black party.”

Kevin Phillips, The Emerging Republican Majority, 1969

Thirty years ago, archconservative Rick Perry was a Democrat and liberal icon Elizabeth Warren was a Republican. Back then there were a few Republican Congressmen and Senators from Southern states, but state and local politics in the South was still dominated by Democrats. By 2014 that had changed entirely as the last of the Deep South states completed their transition from single-party Democratic rule to single party rule under Republicans.

.. Analysts often explain the great exodus of Southern conservatives from the Democratic Party by referencing the Southern Strategy, a cynical campaign ploy supposedly executed by Richard Nixon in his ’68 and ’72 Presidential campaigns, but that explanation falls flat. Though the Southern backlash against the Civil Rights Acts showed up immediately at the top of the ticket, Republicans farther down the ballot gained very little ground in the South between ’68 and ’84. Democrats there occasionally chose Republican candidates for positions in Washington, but they stuck with Democrats for local offices.

.. Crediting the Nixon campaign with the flight of Southern conservatives from the Democratic Party dismisses the role Southerners themselves played in that transformation. In fact, Republicans had very little organizational infrastructure on the ground in the South before 1980

.. The flight of the Dixiecrats was ultimately conceived, planned, and executed by Southerners themselves, largely independent of, and sometimes at odds with, existing Republican leadership. It was a move that had less to do with politicos than with pastors.

.. Southern churches, warped by generations of theological evolution necessary to accommodate slavery and segregation, were all too willing to offer their political assistance to a white nationalist program.

.. Forget about Goldwater, Nixon or Reagan. No one played as much of a role in turning the South red as the leaders of the Southern Baptist Church.

.. When you’ve lost the ability to mobilize supporters based on race, religion will serve as a capable proxy.

.. What was lost under the banner of “segregation forever” has been tenuously preserved through a continuing “culture war.”

.. Religion is endlessly pliable. So long as pastors or priests (or in this case, televangelists) are willing to apply their theological creativity to serve political demands, religious institutions can be bent to advance any policy goal.

.. The Southern Baptist Church was organized specifically to protect slavery and white supremacy from the influence of their brethren in the North, a role that has never ceased to distort its identity, beliefs and practices.

.. In a passage that managed to avoid explicit racism, he described what would become the primary political weapon of the culture wars:

Don’t force me by law, by statute, by Supreme Court decision…to cross over in those intimate things where I don’t want to go. Let me build my life. Let me have my church. Let me have my school. Let me have my friends. Let me have my home. Let me have my family. And what you give to me, give to every man in America and keep it like our glorious forefathers made – a land of the free and the home of the brave.

.. Long after the battle over whites’ only bathrooms had been lost, evangelical communities in Houston or Charlotte can continue the war over a “bathroom bill” using a rhetorical structure Criswell and others built.

.. He had constructed a strangely circular, quasi-libertarian argument in which a right to oppress others becomes a fundamental right born of a religious imperative, protected by the First Amendment.

.. A generation later you might hear Southern Baptists mention that Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., was a Baptist minister. They are less likely to explain that King was not permitted to worship in a Southern Baptist Church. African-American Baptists had their own parallel institutions, a structure that continues today.

.. However, in public Graham was careful to keep a safe distance and avoided the kind of open displays of sympathy for civil rights that might have complicated his career.

.. King was once invited to speak at a Southern Baptist seminary in Louisville in 1961. Churches responded with a powerful backlash, slashing the seminary’s donations so steeply that it was forced to apologize for the move. Henlee Barnette, the Baptist professor responsible for King’s invitation at the seminary, nearly lost his job and became something of an outcast, a status he would retain until he was finally pressured to retire from teaching in 1977.

.. In 1967, Mississippi began offering tuition grants to white students allowing them to attend private segregated schools.

.. Battles over the status of these institutions reached a climax when the Carter Administration in 1978 signaled its intention to press for their desegregation.

.. Televangelist Jerry Falwell would unite with a broader group of politically connected conservatives to form the Moral Majority in 1979. His partner in the effort, Paul Weyrich, made clear that it was the schools issue that launched the organization, an emphasis reflected in chain events across the 1980 Presidential campaign.

.. The Southern Baptist Convention expressed support for laws liberalizing abortion access in 1971. Criswell himself expressed support for the Supreme Court’s decision in Roe, taking the traditional theological position that life began at birth, not conception. The denomination did not adopt a firm pro-life stance until 1980.

.. In August of 1980, Criswell and other Southern Baptist leaders hosted Republican Presidential candidate Ronald Reagan for a rally in Dallas. Reagan in his speech never used the word “abortion,” but he enthusiastically and explicitly supported the ministers’ position on protecting private religious schools. That was what they needed to hear.

.. The new President would not forget their support. Less than a year into his Administration, Reagan officials pressed the IRS to drop its campaign to desegregate private schools.

.. in 1981, Reagan advisor Lee Atwater let down his guard, laying bare the racial logic behind the Republican campaigns in the South:

You start out in 1954 by saying, “N…r, n…r, n…r.” By 1968 you can’t say “n…r”—that hurts you, backfires. So you say stuff like, uh, forced busing, states’ rights, and all that stuff, and you’re getting so abstract. Now, you’re talking about cutting taxes, and all these things you’re talking about are totally economic things and a byproduct of them is, blacks get hurt worse than whites.… “We want to cut this,” is much more abstract than even the busing thing, uh, and a hell of a lot more abstract than “N…r, n…r.”

For decades, men like Atwater had been searching for the perfect “abstract” phrasing, a magic political dog whistle that could communicate that “N…r, n…r” message behind a veneer of respectable language.

.. It was religious leaders in the South who solved the puzzle on Republicans’ behalf, converting white angst over lost cultural supremacy into a fresh language of piety and “religious liberty.”

.. By the late 80’s religious activists like Stephen Hotze in Houston were beginning to cut out the middleman, going around pastors to recruit political warriors in the pews. Hotze circulated a professionally rendered video in 1990, called “Restoring America,”that included step-by-step instructions for taking control of Republican precinct and county organizations. Religious nationalists began to purge traditional Republicans from the region’s few GOP institutions.

.. A young Texas legislator, Rick Perry, spent much of 1988 campaigning for his fellow Southern Democrat, Al Gore.

.. Moore criticized those who stirred up hatred against refugees and ignored matters of racial justice. He drew sharp criticism when he denounced the Confederate Flag, explaining, “The cross and the Confederate flag cannot co-exist without one setting the other on fire.”

.. Moore drew the obvious comparison last year between Trump and Bill Clinton

..  As religious leaders lined up solidly behind Trump last fall, Moore commented, “The religious right turns out to be the people the religious right warned us about.”

.. In the end, evangelical voters backed Donald Trump by a steeper margin than their support for Romney in ‘12.

.. Today, W.A. Criswell’s Dallas megachurch is pastored by Robert Jeffress

.. Billy Graham’s son, Franklin, retooled the ministry he inherited, turning it into something a civil rights era segregationist could love without reservation. Graham, who earns more than $800,000 a year as the head of his inherited charity, has made anti-Muslim rhetoric a centerpiece of his public profile and ministry.

.. Graham explained that black people can solve the problem of police violence if they teach their children “respect for authority and obedience.”

..  For Jeffress, the heir to W.A. Criswell’s pulpit, to champion an effort to silence Moore, reflects the powerful persistence of an unacknowledged past. After being pressed into an apology for his “unnecessarily harsh” criticisms, Moore has been allowed to keep his job – for now.

.. Public perception that a “Southern strategy” conceived and initiated by clever Republicans turned the South red is worse than false. By deflecting responsibility onto some shadowy “other” it blocks us from reckoning with the past or changing our future.

.. A refusal to honestly confront our past leaves us to repeat our mistakes over and over again.

.. Texas House member Rick Perry was taking a chance in 1989, when he decided to leave the Democratic Party to become a Republican. He leaned heavily on the emerging religious right and their campaign to convert the state’s Democratic majority. His efforts were richly rewarded. Baptist mega-pastor Robert Jeffress was a major supporter along with other evangelical leaders. Now Perry, after becoming the longest-serving governor in Texas history, sits in Donald Trump’s cabinet as the Secretary of Energy.