Southern Baptist Leader’s Apology Falls Short

Dr. Paige Patterson, president of Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary in Fort Worth, Texas, and influential leader in the Southern Baptist Convention, has been in the news lately for his views on biblical commands for wives who are victims of domestic violence, and other comments he has made about women over the last twenty years.

Last week, he issued a statement of apology; here’s the heart of it (click here for the full text):

“I wish to apologize to every woman who has been wounded by anything I have said that was inappropriate or that lacked clarity. We live in a world of hurt and sorrow, and the last thing that I need to do is add to anyone’s heartache. Please forgive the failure to be as thoughtful and careful in my extemporaneous expression as I should have been.”

It’s no wonder that, as one Baptist woman commented, the apology “felt incomplete.” Recognizing that it’s difficult to do public apologies well, and that we all need help crafting effective apologies, it’s worth analyzing why this one doesn’t do the job. A couple of word choices stand out:

  • “by anything I have said” – Either Dr. Patterson is unaware of what he said that was offensive, or he disagrees, but in either case, the vagueness of this phrase leaves his audience wondering whether he “gets it.” One of the “7 A’s of Confession” of Peacemaker Ministries is to “Admit specifically” – the apology needs to express specifically the harmful action done. This apology does not do that.
  • “my extemporaneous expression” – This sounds like an excuse; the implication is that he shouldn’t be held too responsible for comments that he made on the fly, that he didn’t have time to reflect on. What the speaker intends as an explanation, is heard as an excuse. Excuses do not belong in apologies, and serve to undercut them. A good apology invites the listener to ask questions, and only then may the speaker offer an explanation. This observation goes to his comment about translating a Hebrew term as well — almost sounds like he’s blaming the listener for not understanding his goal.

A couple of other things make this an ineffective apology:

  • His apology is to “every woman,” but men were also hurt by his actions, as indicated by the letter sent to the Seminary board regarding Dr. Patterson. Another of the “7 A’s of Confession” is to “Address everyone involved;” he missed half the audience.
  • Where are the consequences? A good apology includes some indication of how the speaker will rectify the wrong. He promises to pray, but that’s not enough to make this apology work. Elsewhere it’s been announced that he is calling for a special meeting of the board of trustees of his institution, which may result in more follow-up, but it would have been good to include in the apology any plans to, as the “7 A’s of confession” call it, “Alter behavior.”

It takes courage and effort to make a good apology, the kind that brings healing (see James 5:16). Dr. Patterson made the effort, and we can all learn from it.

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