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Slander & the survival of the SBC: A problem larger, but not smaller, than the Paige Patterson saga



False accusations against Christ followers are not only possible, but probable. Jesus warned as much in his Sermon on the Mount (Mt. 5:11,12). As slander and libel become a more prevalent problem within Southern Baptist life, affecting a wider range of people, the number of those speaking out against this disgrace and sin increases. Midwestern Baptist Theological Seminary President Jason Allen, having recently experienced public false accusations and news reports himself, spoke out in a well-written piece Jan. 13, titled, “Denominational Discourse and the Future of the SBC,” about this degradation of discourse among Christians.


“With the arrival of the internet and, in particular blogging and social media, a similar scenario has developed in the online world. There’s an imbalance of loss when public accusations are made. The one who leads a public ministry has everything to lose, while an anonymous blogger has nothing to lose.


“This new reality is causing chaos in the Southern Baptist Convention. False accusations are circulated online daily. Ironically, some of these instigators aren’t even Southern Baptist. Nonetheless, they malign SBC ministries and sully the reputations of those who lead them. And, for Southern Baptists, our cooperative work is being threatened.”


Probably no one understands this “imbalance of loss” Allen describes as well as Paige Patterson whose reputation was indeed sullied by bloggers with “nothing to lose.” Allen, in his Jan. 13 article, recounted Winston Churchill purportedly having said that “a lie can travel halfway around the world before the truth can get its boots on.” In Patterson’s case, the sentiment surely rings true, since a handful of trustees did not even wait for Patterson to travel back from Germany on the other side of the literal world while they overturned the decision of the full board, firing him immediately in the middle of the night with no presentation of evidence against him and no opportunity for him to answer in his own defense.


Today, the lies about Patterson continue to fester online, but largely with no defense or reply from leaders within the SBC – even those professing to be anti-slander. The libelous reports about Patterson now trickle down to affect other pastors who continue to invite him into their churches and pulpits.


Another case of false accusations festers


One of the false stories that continues to place Patterson at the center of much angst in the online world can serve as a current example and case study for Allen’s excellent treatise on slander within the SBC. Though certainly not faster than the lies, perhaps the truth below can now “don its boots” and correct misinformation that has thus far rung much louder than reality.


In one of the many attempts to malign and misrepresent Patterson, the Houston Chronicle published an article Aug. 22, 2019 about a man named Darrell Gilyard, whom Patterson expelled from school and essentially forced to resign from his position at a church after confirming that Gilyard had committed and confessed to adultery. The Houston Chronicle conceded that video evidence confirms that Patterson did indeed play “a central role in Gilyard’s resignation.”


A careful study of the Chronicle’s article and the videos published with it reveals significant concerns that compromise the article’s veracity and trustworthiness, including what appears to be biased and misrepresentative phrasing, editorialized statements and a circular chronology that lends itself to confusion and conflation, rather that clarity.


The accusations made by women about Gilyard to Patterson never included minors or sexual crimes of any kind. Instead, the women alleged adultery — something which is grounds for expulsion from school and termination from church employment but does not involve criminal charges. Patterson had nothing further to do with Darrell Gilyard after he refused to demonstrate evidence of repentance. When Gilyard was convicted in Florida in 2008 of sexual crimes with minors, 17 years had passed since Patterson had severed contact with the man he had expelled from college in 1991.


When it became obvious to Patterson that Gilyard was indeed guilty, he was painfully disappointed and deeply grieved. In fact, Carlos Olivera, president of Lucent University, who was a Criswell College student at the same time as Gilyard, recalled Patterson noting Gilyard’s indefensible actions as “the greatest disappointment of his entire ministry.”  Patterson has shared publicly that Gilyard was a man of great potential, who seemed to have a wonderful future ahead of him in ministry. However, his wrong choices and sin disqualified him from any future pastoral ministry, according to Patterson. 


In 2008, Tiffany Thigpen, one of Gilyard’s accusers who is said to have encountered him in Jacksonville years after Patterson had severed contact with Gilyard, wrote a blog reminding readers to avoid godless chatter and false knowledge in regard to Patterson and another pastor also involved in the handling of Gilyard. 


“There are many things being said about Paige Patterson and Dr. Vines. I have my own personal feelings about what did and did not happen in the past, and even now,” Thigpen wrote. “However, to blast them on this or any other site only based on what we are being told by the media and the past allegations of cover up, would be wrong.”


Though secular and religious media outlets have over the course of the last 18 months continued to print, quote, and reprint slanderous, patently false and inaccurate information about Patterson, it is imperative to note that in a year and a half of working to uncover any allegation that could possibly be used against Patterson, not a single person has accused him of having physically harmed a woman in any way.


“We know who the real criminal is here,” Thigpen wrote. “I do not believe either of these men condoned the behavior of Darrell Gilyard, nor did they feel what he did was o.k. If they did, there would have never been an inquiry in 1991 - and I know personally they pursued all of the allegations that were brought to them in June 1991.”


Opposite the manufactured narrative that Patterson was lax or culpable in regard to Gilyard, his handling of the matter speaks to his high moral standard for ministers and commitment to Scripture.  Patterson has presided over more than 80 graduation ceremonies of students preparing for ministry. Before graduations, he speaks directly to the graduates, exhorting them to settle forever the issue of sexual sin in their hearts. If any are unwilling or unable to do so, he urges them to put away their diploma and leave the gospel ministry. 


Long before any trouble arose with Gilyard, and in keeping with the pastoral nature that has characterized Patterson’s tenured ministry, when he was asked to provide a scholarship to a young, struggling, African-American student to enable Gilyard to study at the Criswell College, he did.


Patterson followed Scripture’s directive that accusations be taken on account of two or more witnesses. When one key witness turned out to be an alleged member of the Ku Klux Klan, Patterson aimed to protect the young black student from what could have been a racially motivated accusation and therefore continued to wait for a reliable witness to confirm rumors and accusations.


Double standards and defamation threaten Great Commission focus


It seems those who oppose Patterson and seek continually to smear him wish to paint even his best qualities in a negative light. Countless times in the course of 40 years of Christian university leadership has Patterson spent additional time to counsel with, redirect, and restore students and faculty members who deserved immediate (and less time consuming) expulsion or termination. Patterson’s pastoral heart has always been to be an agent of God’s redeeming grace and restorative nature. While some actions disqualify people from vocational ministry, Patterson has never considered even reprobates to be “throw-away humans.” If the charge against Patterson is extending too much grace, hoping and praying that a person will have a change of heart and repent, reaching out to someone others say “is too far gone for God,” and being willing to forgive, then he is indeed guilty.


In this age of “wokeness” double standards abound. How is it possible that some want Gilyard’s adultery to have been handled more fiercely, but at the same time some view it as acceptable to turn blind eyes and deaf ears toward other well-known leaders who have committed adultery? How is it possible that those who support pro-life President Trump are called racist by leading Southern Baptists, but those who refer to themselves as racists do not themselves receive that ungodly label? How is it possible that innocuous entries in Judge Brett Kavanaugh’s yearbook provided him an accusation-filled hearing and nearly kept him from being confirmed as a Supreme Court Justice, while the governor of Virginia can appear in his yearbook in black face and remain in public office with no lasting repercussions?


The Bible says that unbalanced weights, measures, and standards are an abomination before God (Prov. 20:10). Any standard other than Scripture is a moving target. Many Christians have joined secular culture in playing a game in which the rules are ever changing. There is no way to succeed in such an environment. If Patterson had not helped Gilyard when he first came to know of him, it is highly plausible that those who oppose Patterson and his work in the Conservative Resurgence might today be calling him racist for not giving a scholarship to an African American. If Patterson had accepted the alleged Ku Klux Klan member’s accusation about Gilyard, he would likely be called racist for allowing a white supremacist to leverage an attack against a black man. The woke world is one of shifting sand.


This is why the standard of Scripture is the only reliable standard and certainly the only standard by which people can have any expectation of being treated fairly for both their good deeds and misdeeds. 


There must be one gold standard. One true north. One standard by which to live and navigate life and to adjudicate issues of justice. The Bible is this ever-faithful standard (Ps. 119:160).


Thigpen wrote in her 2008 blog that “to crucify these two men over the sins and problems of DG (Darrell Gilyard) would serve no purpose.”


Twelve years later, the question must be asked, “Or does it?”


Is it truly coincidence that those who were the chief leaders in steering Southern Baptists back to conservatism have become the subjects of slanderous attacks and allegations of wrongdoing from decades past? Are heroes of the Conservative Resurgence really the terrible men media reports want Baptists to believe? Or is it possible that moderates scorned during the Conservative Resurgence — some of whom have kept up blogs of vitriol against the “fundamentalist takeover” — have now hitched a ride on the militant #MeToo movement that gained the power to destroy virtually anyone for any reason under the guise of “guilty until proven innocent”? 


The leftward shift in the Southern Baptist Convention seemed to move into a higher gear in synchronization with the vilification and termination of Patterson in 2018, and in the months following, the dominos have continued to fall. There has been active debate over Critical Race Theory and whether it is welcome among Southern Baptists; seminary faculty touting books by James Cone not as opposition research but as content that will “bless” the reader; prominent leaders pointing to resources that encourage same-sex cuddling and co-habitating, nude beaches, and gay bars; and women who are openly preaching in Southern Baptists churches in violation of 1 Timothy 2:12, using cultural tools and rationales instead of Scripture to endorse their practice.


It is certainly clear that there is significant disagreement on a multitude of issues within the SBC, but as Allen points out in the close of his Jan. 13 article, false accusations break the mutual trust that allows Baptists to cooperate together, promising our convention’s demise. Taking the gospel to the ends of the earth will positively be the biggest loser if we as Baptists cannot dispense with false accusations and character assassinations as a part of our discourse and debate.


When reading news reports and blogs – and in particular, those that seem particularly salacious – Christians must remember that it is possible to be passionately accused and yet totally innocent of an accusation.


Jesus Christ, the Suffering Savior and King of all the earth, was accused by both religious leaders and mobs all the way to the cross.


But He was not guilty.


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"Honor all people. Love the brotherhood. Fear God. Honor the king." - 1 Peter 2:17

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