Southeastern Theological Seminary

After midnight: Dramatic turn in Paige Patterson drama, with religion-beat pros on the scene

After midnight: Dramatic turn in Paige Patterson drama, with religion-beat pros on the scene

Let's face it, it's going to be hard to do a GetReligion-style critique of a breaking hard-news story in The Washington Post that runs with this byline: "By Bobby Ross Jr., Sarah Pulliam Bailey and Michelle Boorstein — May 23 at 6:44 AM."

Luckily, Wednesday is Bobby's normal day off here at GetReligion. He was all over Twitter, into the wee, small hours of this morning, waiting for another shoe to drop in this high-profile drama in the Southern Baptist Convention, America's largest non-Catholic flock.

So what can I say about a story reported by a current GetReligionista, a former GetReligionista and one of the nation's most experienced religion-beat professionals?

Let's start with the obvious, focusing on the crucial thread that unites those three names: This was a job for experienced religion-beat reporters.

Yes, there will be Southern Baptists -- young and old (hold that thought) -- who may debate one or two wordings in the story that finally ran this morning with this headline: 

Prominent Southern Baptist leader removed as seminary president following controversial remarks about abused women

There are leaders in all kinds of religious groups who, when push comes to shove, want to see a public-relations approach to anything important that happens to them and their institutions. When it comes to bad news, they prefer gossip and PR, as opposed to journalism.

Meanwhile, you can find the following in the 12th chapter of the Gospel of St. Luke

Therefore whatsoever ye have spoken in darkness shall be heard in the light; and that which ye have spoken in the ear in closets shall be proclaimed upon the housetops.

Let's focus on two crucial decisions that faced the team writing this latest story about the long, twisted tale of Patterson and his views on sexual abuse.

First of all, this story is quite long, for a daily news story. However, it really needs to be read in the context of Sarah's earlier exclusive, the one that you know the trustees of Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary were discussing behind those executive-session doors. You also know that this Post report spend some time being "lawyered up." I'm talking about the story that ran with this headline:

Southern Baptist leader encouraged a woman not to report alleged rape to police and told her to forgive assailant, she says

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RNS wonders why more people are avoiding the MDiv degree in U.S. seminaries

RNS wonders why more people are avoiding the MDiv degree in U.S. seminaries

There was a fascinating piece by Yonat Shimron of Religion News Service last week about how more people in seminary are opting for two-year master’s degrees instead of three-year master’s of divinity degrees.

To most people, this may sound like an ecclesiastical yawner but stay with me. There’s some really interesting trends in there, trends that have been building up since the 1980s and the rise of pastoral counseling.

Back in 1992, I got a master’s degree in religion from Trinity School for Ministry, one of 11 Episcopal seminaries. I always felt the seminary favored the MDiv folks, while we MA students were definitely second class. This was beyond annoying in that the MA'ers were paying the same tuition amounts per year as the MDiv’ers.

But the three-year degree folks were seen as the real reason a seminary exists -- to get people into positions as priests and bishops in our denomination. The master’s degree earners were all laity whose callings weren’t held in the same esteem. So I was surprised to hear RNS saying that the MA degree is actually preferred these days.

This excerpt starts a few paragraphs into the article:

The gold standard for church leaders -- the Master of Divinity -- is losing some of its luster to its humbler cousin, the two-year Master of Arts.

“People are trying to get the training they need and get out,” said (Sean) Robinson, 28, who graduated Friday (May 11) from Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary in Wake Forest, N.C. “It all boils down to time and convenience and the culture and lifestyle we see today.

A new projection from the Association of Theological Schools, the main accrediting body for seminaries in the U.S. and Canada, finds that the number of seminary students enrolled in various Master of Arts degrees will likely exceed the number of Master of Divinity students by 2021.

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Southern Baptists and domestic violence: It's a tough issue to cover after Twitter explosion

Southern Baptists and domestic violence: It's a tough issue to cover after Twitter explosion

In case you have been on another planet for several years, let me state the obvious: One of the toughest challenges in journalism today is covering an important, valid story that has already been framed, defined and, well, set on fire by several thousand Twitter bombs.

We all know this game. For every calm and reasoned tweet -- by people on both sides -- there will be dozens of howls of outrage or acidic messages written to signal virtue.

After all of that, reporters are supposed to call people who have been Twitter bombed and ask some variation on that old question: Are you still beating your wife? This past weekend, that question sounded like: Are you still using the Bible to justify asking wives to be patient with abusive husbands, hoping that they will repent of their sins?

Please note, at this point, my earlier emphasis on the fact that we are talking about a valid subject for serious coverage -- which is certainly the case with anything related to domestic violence, in the homes of religious believers or anywhere else.

This brings us to a serious report at The Washington Post with this headline: "Southern Baptist leader pushes back after comments leak urging abused women to pray and avoid divorce."

Now, the word "leak" in that headline is strange, since we are talking about remarks by a major Southern Baptist leader that have been the subject of debate in the past. Here is the overture for this story:

The leader of a major Southern Baptist seminary issued a statement Sunday pushing back after a 2000 tape surfaced purporting to quote him saying that abused women should focus on praying and “be submissive in every way that you can” and not seek divorce.

Paige Patterson is president of the Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary, a Fort Worth school whose Web site says it is one of the largest seminaries in the world. ...

Patterson, who declined to comment Sunday, is heard on an audiotape being interviewed in 2000 about what he recommends for women “who are undergoing genuine physical abuse from their husbands, and the husband says they should submit.”

“It depends on the level of abuse, to some degree,” Patterson says. “I have never in my ministry counseled anyone to seek a divorce and that’s always wrong counsel.”

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