By Ron F. Hale
Who but Winston Churchill possessed the gall and grit to stare down the unified armed forces of Nazi Germany while inspiring his countrymen to endure their greatest struggle and suffering? Yet, after fighting Nazi forces on the beaches, in the air, on the seas and oceans, in the fields and in the streets, the war-weary British immediately set Churchill aside in the 1945 post-war landslide election. It was not the “finest hour” of this great statesman and war hero. Consoling her husband, Mrs. Churchill said, “It may well be a blessing in disguise.” Churchill’s witty comeback was: “At the moment it seems quite effectively disguised.”
Likewise, without Paige Patterson at the helm in the late 1970’s, the Southern Baptist Convention would have been swamped with theological and social liberalism! He galvanized conservatives toward a 20-year resolve of exposing disturbing liberalism in our SBC schools while electing theologically conservative SBC presidents and appointing conservatives as trustees of our entities. While many mainline Christian denominations surrendered to theological and social liberalism, the SBC remained a conservative citadel for the Gospel and social issues.
Despite this, after Southern Baptists won the battle for the Bible, the 76-year old herald and hero of the Conservative Resurgence (1979-2000) was set aside in 2018 after a sustained social media attack and subsequent actions taken by the executive committee of the board of trustees of Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary.
It was a death of a thousand cuts as reporters from The Washington Post, The New York Times, CNN, The Daily Caller, Christianity Today, and a swarm of bloggers threw accusations and allegations into the feeding frenzy. Virtue-signaling ran amuck as social justice warriors joined the fray even though they knew little about the man, nor the details of the accusations.
I wish to present four social forces that may have played a role in the confusion, reactions, and judgments leading up to Dr. Patterson’s predicament. I am not concerned with restoring position or power but addressing and analyzing certain vilifications of Dr. Patterson. Why? To restore some semblance of reputation to a 76-year-old man who helped stem the tide of theological liberalism in the SBC.
Patterson’s public prosecution now eerily feels like a prequel to the Judge Brett Kavanagh confirmation hearings as the #Me-Too movement hastily pronounced him guilty and shunned any evidence or argument pushing back their set-in-stone emotional verdict.
Several women seminary associates of Patterson defended him, but their arguments were largely ignored. One female writer systemically debunked a host of the accusations against Patterson, but she was labeled as a partisan sellout.
Tarana Burke, #MeToo founder, defined the movement on March 22, 2018, in Time magazine. She states, “This is a movement that deals specifically with sexual violence …. it is a framework for how to do the work of ending sexual violence.”
Dr. Patterson has never been accused or charged with violence toward any girl or woman.
Smear Tactics Today?
Sharyl Attkisson is a trusted veteran investigative journalist whose 2017 book, The Smear: How Shady Political Operatives and Fake News Controls What You See, What You Think, and How You Vote, gives some possible insights into what Paige Patterson experienced in the spring and summer of 2018.
Attkisson defines a smear in this manner: “Taking a sprinkle of truth and perverting it into a weapon of mass destruction to advance an undisclosed larger goal, often political or financial. Smear campaigns take something that many times has a grain of truth and amplifies it to accomplish the annihilation of their target.”
Pause and think back for a moment. Attkisson’s meaning of “amplifies it” can be a twitter storm and sustained attacks by mainstream news outlets, and a bevy of bloggers churning out daily posts with hundreds of comments fomenting the story. The story goes viral.
Suddenly and savagely, the target (the person) finds themselves swimming in shark infested waters, bleeding and battered with wave after wave of half-truths and untruths slamming them deeper into the abyss. Close friends only issue their consolation and support through private channels because they are fearful of being sucked into this vicious vortex.
You be the judge if Dr. Patterson became a target of these tactics in 2018 and if they applied the methods of real professional journalism or sought the “annihilation” of their target.
Another social trend that may have played a role in Patterson’s presumption of guilt is the progressive social concept of intersectionality. Intersectionality deals with race, gender, sexual orientation, and class oppression. The Left is using this social construct as a tool for identity politics where your hierarchy depends on the number of victim groups to which you belong. If you are a poor, black, Muslim, Palestinian lesbian refugee, then you rank near the top and your voice should be heard. At the bottom lurks the white, straight, Christian male (the oppressor) and you should not be heard.
Ironically, Dr. Patterson faced a storm of protest back in 2012 for allowing a Palestinian Muslim into the PhD program at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary to study archaeology. Some of the same people who created a public outcry demanding his firing in 2012 are some of the same people that called for his firing in 2018 for being heartless and insensitive.
Some SBC leaders are asking this question: If Dr. Patterson is being charged with mishandling the allegations of rape on two seminary campuses where he served as president, then why haven’t the alleged rapists been under social media scrutiny during this public pursuit for the truth?
Why have the male alleged perpetrators of these separate attacks remained unnamed and disregarded by the same social justice warriors who shined the spotlight on Dr. Patterson in 2018? This odd case of guilt transference seems misdirected at the least and conspiratorial at the most.
Conflation may be the twin to guilt transference. One female journalist wrote a piece in September 2018 with her opening sentence, “Public disgrace has a short shelf life.” She proceeds to mention the deeds of Harvey Weinstein, Louis CK, Matt Lauer, and promptly introduces Dr. Patterson into her narrative. Did you catch what she did?
Dr. Patterson has never been accused of infidelity or involved in a sleazy affair. He has never been accused of touching a woman inappropriately. He has never raped a woman. No female has ever filed charges against him for demeaning her while serving on his staff. Yet, it seems that the guilt of a thousand wrongs were transferred and/or conflated onto him in 2018.
I close by reminding you of the words of Sharyl Attkisson in her book, The Smear, and how smear artists take “a sprinkle of truth” then “pervert it into a weapon of mass destruction” with the purpose of advancing “an undisclosed larger goal” and often this larger goal is connected to “political or financial” motives.
A haunting question remains: Of the multiple groups and individuals who sought the demise of Patterson, was he the “goal” or is there one much larger?
© Ron F. Hale, December 15, 2018
Ron F. Hale has served as pastor, denominational leader, and religion writer. He serves on the Southern Baptist Executive Committee in Nashville and lives in his hometown of Jackson, Tennessee.