If anything defines Paige Patterson’s career, it’s misogyny. Patterson, who was fired this week from Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary, long maintained that women should be subservient to their husbands even in the face of brutality. On tapes released recently, he’s also heard commenting on a teenager’s body and telling women seminarians that they need to work on looking better.
Back in 2000, he bragged to The Council for Biblical Manhood and Womanhood that he counseled an abused woman to stay in her marriage, despite continued abuse, because the end result was the husband coming to church. In other words, the man’s salvation is more important than the woman’s safety. In 2015, Patterson tried to get time alone with a woman alleging sexual assault so he could “break her down.” He’s also been named in a lawsuit for covering up sexual abuse by a former Texas state judge.
Patterson has long been controversial, but to many conservative evangelicals, he’s considered a hero. He was a key figure in a battle within the Southern Baptist Convention that took the SBC in a sharply conservative direction that included banning women from becoming ministers. Patterson is still revered by his followers and, as of today, is still slated to speak at the Southern Baptist Convention’s annual meeting next week.
The nail in Patterson’s professional coffin came from an incident in 2003 when he was President of the Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary in Wake Forest. Back then, a 23-year-old woman at the seminary came to Patterson and leaders of the institution to report that she had been raped by a fellow seminarian. Patterson and three other male administrators urged her not to report the rape to police and to forgive her assailant. Then, they put her on probation for two years. As the woman said last week, “They shamed the crap out of me.”
At the time of the incident, Mark Harris, the Republican nominee in North Carolina’s 9th Congressional District, was a member of the Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary’s board of trustees. Given that so many members of the Seminary’s leadership were involved in the incident, what did Harris and the board know and when did they learn it? If they didn’t know, why? Southeastern says it’s doing an “internal review” of the incident.
Patterson’s views on women have not been a secret and, until his job was threatened, he’s been unapologetic, saying just last month that he couldn’t “apologize for what I didn’t do wrong.” As Chairman of the Board at Southeastern in 2005, Harris praised Patterson when the school named a new building in his honor. Does he still believe that women should be subservient to their husbands? Does he still support Patterson’s views on women staying married to their abusers? Does he still believe women should not be ordained as ministers?
Patterson’s transgressions highlight problems plaguing white evangelicals today. They repeatedly side with misogynistic men. They are Donald Trump’s staunchest defenders despite his demeaning history toward women. Patterson still has strong defenders within the movement, not because they don’t believe he did it, but because they don’t believe he did anything wrong. Those views may work among the GOP base, but they fall outside of the mainstream in the midst of the #MeToo movement.
Mark Harris’ pattern of support for men like Patterson and Trump might not hurt him among the white evangelicals in the rural part of the district, but it probably won’t play too well among the middle class women who live the suburbs of Charlotte. Those women, and their husbands, will be key in the election in November and make up more than half the district. Harris needs to find an answer for why he supports men who have little respect for women and he better hope no more show up in his past.