If someone bet me 1 to a 1,000,000 that we would never see Dr. Albert R. Mohler and Dr. Paige Patterson in a Casino at the same time, I’d take those odds. Nevertheless, I can think of no better metaphors to describe the recent public statements of these two Southern Baptist Luminaries than those of the card table. Albert Mohler, aging but still employed as the President of the SBC’s flagship seminary is apologetic. Paige Patterson, recently fired from the presidency of another SBC seminary, is defiant. Both men have responded to the same scandal, that of the mishandling of widespread sexual abuse in Southern Baptist Convention circles as reported by The Houston Chronicle.
For almost three decades Albert R. Mohler has been a darling of conservative reformed intellectualism, especially within the Southern Baptist Convention. After the decade-long conservative takeover of Southern Baptist entities (known as the Conservative Resurgence) was complete, an alumnus of the then-liberal Southern Baptist Theological Seminary (SBTS) was tasked with conforming the school to conservative standards of biblical inerrancy. That alumnus was Al Mohler. Mohler, who had flourished within the school’s and greater convention’s liberalism, flourished just as well (if not better) as he turned the helm of the SBTS in a new direction with the changing winds of SBC politics now at his back. The winds of change are again blowing in the SBC. Al Mohler is once again caught in the tempest. The #MeToo movement has reared its ugly head. Albert Mohler is apologizing for his part in not giving adequate attention to matters of sexual abuse in his circles, specifically his long-time partnership and friendship with Soverign Grace Ministries (SGM) co-founder CJ Mahaney. For years, detractors of SGM have been putting the word out about Mahaney and the mishandling of sexual abuse at the organization. Despite this, Mohler soldiered on in partnership with Mahaney, a fellow player in the lucrative Calvinist conference, publishing, and education market. When finally confronted with the recently negative political atmosphere in the SBC caused by the #MeToo movement, Al Mohler apologized for his support of Mahaney. Given the timing of Mohler’s long overdue apology, one might wonder if Al Mohler is merely sorry that he got caught. Christian broadcaster Janet Mefferd can be counted among the skeptics. In her recently published article entitled “Al Mohler’s Incomplete Apology: My Story” Mefferd recounts her attempts to report on SGM’s sexual abuse scandal in 2012, attempts which were stymied by “Al Mohler’s Office” Mefferd shared the following account:
In 2013, several months after I had been covering the SGM scandal, I was blindsided by two executives from my former radio network’s corporate headquarters on an extended conference call. They told me that they had received a call from “Al Mohler’s office” that expressed “concerns” over my radio interviews with Detwiler, who had weighed in on the class-action lawsuit filed against Mahaney and others. They communicated to me that Mohler’s office did not believe Detwiler was a good guest choice. Knowing that Mohler served on our company’s editorial board, I said, “‘Mohler’s office’ didn’t call you. You mean Al Mohler called you.” Neither executive denied it.
To the many sycophants and reformed fanboys, Albert Mohler has gathered over his years of convention leadership, his apology likely sounds honorable and articulate. To those who see Mohler as an aging political operative still trying to hold on to his high-paying job and high-brow profile, the apology falls flat. Albert R. Mohler, still has some chips left in his pile. It’s in his best interest to fold and play the next hand convention politics deals to him.
Paige Patterson Doubles Down
Paige Patterson is the co-architect of the Conservative Resurgence. He’s far from stupid but the fiery revivalist has never been considered a darling of intellectualism. Unlike Mohler, he is hardly reformed. Since his rise to power in the SBC, Patterson has carried broad and popular appeal with run-of-the-mill fire and brimstone baptist preachers. He is a conservative’s conservative and has even managed to garner support in his miscalculations (such as enrolling a Muslim in SWBTS without prior trustee approval in 2012). Despite his long record of SBC heroics, Paige Patterson was fired in 2018 from the presidency of Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary (SWBTS) for his perceived mishandling of very old but suddenly very relevant sexual scandals at that institution and Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary (where he formerly served as President). Patterson also drew a mention in the recent reporting in The Houston Chronicle, specifically for his backing of a former protege Darrel Gilyard, a convicted sex offender. Instead of rolling over to media pressure, Patterson has sought to refute the claims of The Chronicle. In a letter to the editor, Patterson made the following statement:
In the case of Darrell Gilyard, Dr. Keith Eitel (now a dean at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary) and Dr. Danny Akin (now president at Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary) worked directly with me to uncover and confirm Darrell’s unfaithfulness to Christ. Dr. Keith Eitel has film of the proceedings of Gilyard’s discipline at the Criswell College, and Gilyard was consequently expelled from school. Dr. Akin accompanied me to Gilyard’s church to be certain that he resigned. I called as many places as I knew where he was scheduled to preach and asked them to cancel his invitation. Most did cancel, and he no longer speaks in Southern Baptist churches…Houston Chronicle reporters have slandered and totally misrepresented me, and in so doing have significantly harmed my ministry. The events they report are tragic. However, there is no reason to punish the innocent with the wicked.”
Unlike Mohler, Paige Patterson has nothing left to lose. He has already been fired from his high-level SBC position in disgrace. He has chosen to double-down and swim against the current of the #MeToo movement. Patterson is defending what’s left of his good name.
For reasons too numerous to explore in this article, the Southern Baptist Convention is in trouble. It is fast becoming a fleet of sinking ships. Frankly, it needs more captains with the backbone of Paige Patterson if it is to survive with any degree of biblical fidelity. If the SBC casts its lot with men of Mohler’s character, it will have made a losing bet.
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Author: Seth Dunn