In the wake of recent controversy around Paige Patterson’s comments on women and abuse, I want to draw attention to the public writings of his wife, Dorothy. Are Dorothy and her husband wolves? I don’t have any authority to say that they are, but I mention the concept of wolf from Acts 20:29-30 to remind us all that Paul specifically warned believers to be aware that some will rise up and distort the truth from WITHIN our own cohort of believers. Dorothy Patterson’s writings consistently distort the truth of Scripture, claiming “biblical” womanhood while simultaneously stating that multiple verses from the Bible say something they actually do not say.1 Whether this constitutes what Paul meant by wolf or not, we can at least agree that all those who submit to the authority of the Scripture for faith and practice must take such distortions seriously.
Most who are regular readers know my burdens for this blog. Because I by conviction hold to an orthodox understanding of the inspiration and authority of the Scriptures, I am gravely burdened that it is not the folks who deny that Scripture is authoritative that are most at fault for pushing others out of the church, but those that pervert/distort that truth, claiming that something is biblical that is not actually supported by a close examination of Scripture. My closest personal experience of this was around the fallout from Mars Hill in Seattle. If I know one, I know a hundred women (and/or their families) who no longer trust the authority of Scripture because Scripture was misinterpreted and misused to support an agenda. It’s a serious stewardship, this teaching of Scripture, and it is morally right to expose misuses of Scripture for what they are.
I can say confidently, though soberly with grief, that based on the evidence I have seen from his wife’s commentary, Paige Patterson’s comments encouraging a woman to stay in a situation in which she was further abused and drawing attention to the sexual beauty of an adolescent girl were not thoughtless words given on the fly. Rather, they are consistent with a system of thought he and his wife have taught for years, one they claim is biblical.
I will only offer a brief look into the Old Testament Women’s Evangelical Commentary by Dorothy Patterson and Rhonda Kelley (Dorothy’s sister-in-law). There is an overwhelming amount of bad teaching in that commentary in my opinion, but I will limit what I share here to a few key problems that mirror the things for which Paige Patterson is currently under fire. Patterson has vehemently denied that he counsels wives to endure abuse, but the Patterson’s long track record of teaching show their belief that abusive situations are a thing for wives to endure to reflect God’s created order, which they present as the essence of what it means to be a Biblical man or woman.
On Vashti’s lack of submission
“Her flat and unqualified refusal was public—no private note or whispered message. Some have tried to make this pagan queen into a heroine who was responding with her own modesty, but again there is no basis for this virtue in the text or in any logical approach to the history of pagan queens. In Vashti’s response to a foolish command, she may have responded unwisely more from personal pride even if under the guise of modesty.”
And a few pages later …
“… the conclusion of the pagan advisers of the king coincides with the creation order of God Himself: All women will honor [Hb. yeqar, “precious, heavy” in the sense of having weighty and thus high responsibility] their husbands (v. 20). The plan of God from creation is expressed as calling for the husband’s loving headship and wife’s responding gracious submission, firmly established as the divine mandate long before the time of Ahasuerus and the wise men of Persia.”
Summary: Patterson teaches that Vashti’s refusal to flaunt herself in front of her husband’s drunken party violated God’s created order and design for Biblical manhood and womanhood. She and Kelley further teach that the unbelieving leaders of this godless kingdom nevertheless reflected God’s created order in perfection in what they expected of the women in their court, particularly Vashti and Esther.
On Naaman’s slave girl as an example of wifely submission
“This young girl in Naaman’s household was a slave, separated from her family and country, yet she accepted her situation. She gladly yielded to be an instrument of great blessing to her master in order to honor the Lord. This young girl models the principle of submission (wives are called to submit to their husbands for the glory of God; likewise, daughters are called to submit to their parents, Eph 5:22; 6:1). However, submission does not suggest lack of worth or usefulness.”
Summary: Patterson and Kelley teach humble perseverance under oppressed servitude as a righteous example of wifely submission. Similar ideas show up in their comments regarding Hagar and Esther as well.
Patterson and Kelley present a world view in which a “biblical” understanding of submission and femininity is based on the created ORDER (man first, woman second). Woman’s identity at every turn is then defined by how she submits to male leadership (including to literally being owned by a man) because she was created second, in response to the man. Though caveats are given (abuse is bad, this doesn’t mean servitude, etc.), the actual examples used show that submission to abuse and even slavery is good/rewarding/faithful and it does in fact, in Dorothy and Rhonda’s worldview, include servitude. Submission to abuse, rather than standing against it, is the more noble way in the Patterson/Kelley paradigm.
These entries reflect the Pattersons’ long history of teaching wifely submission as a permeating piece of the woman’s nature based on the created order. The examples given in this commentary of good wifely submission clearly show that their line of reasoning results in encouraging women to submit to abuse as part of a woman’s essential role in society.
In response to this, some will point out Southwestern’s and other’s recent statements of repudiation of abuse. I am glad to see those statements. But just recognize that those recent statements contradict decades of teaching readily available in the Pattersons’ own works that reveal the pressure they put on women to endure abuse with a submissive spirit.
The Pattersons as People
A friend shared with me this article full of personal anecdotes written in defense of Dr. Patterson. I understood the sentiment expressed in that article very much. I experienced similar emotions when Mark Driscoll received criticism early in my time at Mars Hill. Mark and his wife had received me at their house at midnight a few years before when I was overcome with exhaustion while sitting with my husband in intensive care at the hospital. They were sweet and compassionate, and I believe they showed their genuine heart of ministry in that moment. When others criticized Mark in popular media outlets, I saw Mark as a convenient, misunderstood punching bag for liberals. It took long examination over the years of what Mark actually taught for me to recognize the harmful ways it diverged from Scripture and the rotten fruit it produced down the road.
The more I look at Paige and Dorothy Patterson’s writings, the more it reveals a worldview on men and women that they manipulated Scripture to uphold, reverse engineering at least this Bible commentary to say what they wanted it to say, rather than the other way around. They are a team, and we understand the work of one by examining the work of the other. I hope they can own that they have treated oppression of a woman by a man as an essential part of biblical femininity and a noble thing for a woman to endure. Their teaching has projected shame on women who stand up against abuse. May they confess that and repair with those who have been harmed by this teaching.
1 For example, in their discussion of Proverbs 31’s statement that charm is deceitful and beauty is vain, they say, “There is no decrying of feminine “charm and beauty,” which is affirmed elsewhere in Scripture (cp. Pr 4:7-9; 1 Sm 25:3; Jb 42:15; Sg 2:14), …” Dorothy Kelley Patterson & Rhonda Harrington Kelley. Women’s Evangelical Commentary: Old Testament (Kindle Locations 32788-32794).
If you look up these references that the authors cite as affirming physical beauty (which for some odd reason seems really important to the Pattersons), zero of them actually do so. It’s disturbing, and not the only example of this.