Well, it seems that Jake Meador has “took out” after me. First he cites a quote from Francis Schaeffer about those who “practice untruth.” He says that I offered a “bizarre defense” for Patterson. Putting it all together, he argues that my approach to things like this means that I have forfeited any right to an audience with the world.
Speaking of Norman Geisler and me, Meador says this: “They object to Patterson’s firing on procedural grounds, arguing that there is not sufficient proof of the accusations being made against him.”
But I am not sure that I want the approbation of the world, particularly when it appears to have assumed the shape of a mob.
What I would like to do here is deal first with Meador’s accusation that I am attempting, to use Bacon’s words, to offer to the God of truth the unclean sacrifice of a lie. Second, I would like to address some confusions in his discussion with regard to evidence and witnesses. And then third, I would like to zoom out and explain my take on the macro-picture, regardless of whether Patterson was fired justly. Fair enough?
Speaking of Citations . . .
So, contra Meador, what I actually said was, thundering away, as is my custom and wont:
“I am not yet willing to say that the firing of Patterson was unjust.”
“I am not accusing the board.”
“So these are questions, not accusations.”
“I have served on multiple boards over a number of decades, and I have been involved in more than one messy firing. There have been occasions when we could talk about it, and other times when we couldn’t. I know how complicated these things can be . . .”
I really am just asking questions. They are pointed questions, to be sure, because the whole thing does seem kind of funky, but they are questions. I am willing for answers, and if I get them, I would not have to retract anything. I acknowledged from the outset that there might be reasonable and judicious answers to the questions. The board may have fired Patterson the way they did because urgent circumstances demanded it, and they had to be willing to look bad for the sake of righteousness. They may have fired him the way they did because they did the right thing but bumbled the execution. Or they may have fired him because the gods of this age demanded that they throw somebody’s head over the wall.
To date, I have not yet defended Patterson on the merits (although at some point it is possible that I might). This is what a defense of Patterson on the merits would look like.
I went out of my way to make sure that it was known that I was making up my mind about all of this still, which is why I really think that Meador ought to consider extending me an apology.
The Problem With Citations:
To the arguments:
The first argument that Meador raises is that we don’t need witnesses because we have citations. In brief, Patterson comes as his own accuser because we have recordings, etc. But the fact that a case has been assembled against him “in his own words” does not eliminate the need for careful sifting of what was said. What was the context of the quote? What was the full context of the historical incident that the quote was referring to? Why didn’t the audience who heard him say these things object at the time?
The reason I am willing to press this point is because I myself have received this “treatment” on more than one occasion. I have had quotes yanked out of context, I have had quotes re-contextualized in deceitful ways, mixed up together with various lies. When the devil’s football team has been running plays against me, I have had Rod Dreher helpfully volunteer to be their water boy, and so it remains a possibility for me to consider that he might still be at it.
For example, if you read Dreher at this link, it is really damning. The trouble is, I have read stuff by Dreher about situations I was directly involved in that were also really damning. Not to mention distorted and misleading.
Citations alone? In this highly charged political context? I wouldn’t give you two cents for them, even if you loaned me the two cents.
Two or Three Witnesses of What Exactly?
Meador also says that the requirement of two or three witnesses has been fully met because numerous women have come forward. But there is a difference between two or three witnesses and two or three accusers. The fact that additional accusers are making allegations of a similar nature is not corroborative.
If someone says they saw me holding up a 7-11 in Des Moines and someone else says they saw me holding up a 7-11 in Orlando and someone else says they saw me holding up a 7-11 in Philadelphia, do we have a pattern? Yes, we do have a pattern. But we do not know if it is a pattern of a traveling stick-up artist, or a pattern of colluding witnesses. Right? We do not know that yet without examining the witnesses and asking them questions.
The biblical requirement for two and three witnesses is a requirement for independent verification of a particular charge. Jesus had multiple witnesses come against Him, and why was that not sufficient?
“For many bare false witness against him, but their witness agreed not together.” (Mark 14:56).
When it came to the witnesses against Christ, quantity was not the issue. “Many bare false witness.” What was the problem? Their stories, which needed to stack up together, did not stack up together. The fact that their stories were supposed to cohere shows that what you needed was two or three witnesses concerning the same incident, and their story couldn’t come apart if you asked it a question.
But rape . . . there was a reported rape. But even this should not be a signal to abandon all allegiance to due process. Even Germaine Greer recently said that most rape was just bad sex. Suppose that assessment to be inaccurate, or an exaggeration of some sort. Do we really want to hand out the punishments first, and ask the questions later?
Do we or do we not live in a time when a couple can have a consensual sexual relationship about which the woman changes her mind about afterwards, and withdraws consent retroactively? How should that kind of thing be treated, besides with scorn? Do we or do we not live in a time when women ever make false allegations of rape? Did the Egyptians authorities have a responsibility to believe Potiphar’s wife? Because if they did, they had a corresponding moral obligation to disbelieve Joseph, the one who was telling the truth.
And—lest I be falsely accused on this subject yet again—do we or do we not live in a world where vulnerable women are treated abominably, and are frequently trapped inside a system where justice seems like an unattainable pipe dream, withheld from them by powerful and unaccountable old men? Here, as always, we must stand with the truly victimized.
Sin creates complicated snarls, and untangling them from above is far above our capacity. Perhaps we should just admit our incompetence and handle these situations the way that God requires us to.
Cultural Proxy Wars:
So now let me make an observation about the macro-situation here. This is something we all ought to take into account, and we ought to take it into account whether or not the firing of Paige Patterson was just or unjust. So let me assume for the rest of this post that his firing was just and long overdue. This is an assumption that allows me to talk about the bigger picture.
It is no secret that my sympathies are with the cultural conservatives in the SBC and I don’t have a lot of sympathies with the pro-life Democrats who are making inroads into the SBC. And my sympathies are also with the die-hard Presbyterians in the PCA, and not with the celibate gay identity folks behind the Revoice conference.
But whenever you are dealing with large numbers of people, when you are dealing with this kind of political conflict, you have to budget for the fact that you probably have some skunks on your side in the battle, and some conscientious Christians on the other side. David was in the right, but Joab was on his side. The other side had Abner, an honorable man, who was eventually murdered by someone wearing the uniform of the good guys. Life can get messy.
So let us assume that all my pointed questions about process are answered, and that the answers are solid and sound. Let us say that Patterson was a Joab, and that nothing happened to him that he didn’t deserve. The fact remains that this cannot have been a simple employment decision. If there is an ecclesiastical world, how are we to read the situation geo-politically?
I would argue that this firing of Patterson happened because the firing of Russell Moore did not happen last year.
Before someone huffs themselves up to full height to say that Patterson sent a woman back to her husband to be beat up, and how dare I compare the two men, I would reply that Moore has said that Christians should not attend a same sex wedding ceremony, but that they could go to the reception. They can’t participate in the abomination, but it is lawful to celebrate it. They shouldn’t be forced to bake the cake, but they might want to help to eat it.
Now I would want equal weights and measures for everyone, including both Patterson and Moore—both of these incidents on the surface are appalling. So I would want Patterson to have a chance to explain what he was intending, and I would want Moore to have a chance to explain what he was intending.
But, given the prevailing winds around here, Moore will not have to address any such questions, and Patterson does have to. I was born at night, but it wasn’t last night.
Look at how this whole thing is shaping up. When the refs call a foul on the field, I am more than willing to grant that a genuine foul may have been committed by my team. But crowds in the aggregate are not nearly so reasonable. A good call is one that goes against the other team, by definition, and a bad call is one that goes against your own. This case against Patterson is a call on the field. Whether or not it was a good call, you can still learn a lot by observing the behavior of the folks in the stands.
I am answering Jake Meador at Mere Orthodoxy. Matthew Lee Anderson, founder and lead writer at Mere Orthodoxy, has been vigorously defending the Revoice conference. Karen Swallow Prior, a research fellow at the ERLC, headed by Russell Moore, was one of the early voices raised against Patterson, and has also applauded the Revoice conference. (Also, if I may change the subject briefly, she is recovering from a recent accident in which she was hit by a bus, and so our prayers go with her.) Because these things are never simple, Owen Strachan, also a research fellow at ERLC, has been staunchly opposing the Revoice conference, and good on him. Robert Gagnon, a gracious Christian gentlemen who just spoke for our NSA’s commencement, has been outspoken online on behalf of Patterson. And Jonathan Merritt, who kicked this whole thing off, has somehow failed to grasp the whole “cast the first stone” concept. These things are all connected.
And what about me? I simply want biblical accountability for everyone. I want accountability with regard to content and accountability with regard to process. What does God require of us? We should do justly, love mercy, and walk humbly (Micah 6:8). After all, I would not want to fall under the admonition that Francis Schaeffer gave so many years ago—I would not want to “talk about truth and at the same time practice untruth.”