AUDIE CORNISH, HOST:
Southern Baptist women are coming together to rebuke a leader of their faith for comments he's made about women. Southern Baptists generally believe men and women have different roles, and they believe the Bible in some circumstances instructs wives to submit to their husbands. These women say they're not questioning that principle, only that it's being abused by a prominent figure.
NPR's Tom Gjelten reports.
TOM GJELTEN, BYLINE: Southern Baptists are conservative Christians and devout students of the Bible. But they're not immune from scandals of sexual abuse and misogyny. The latest controversy centers on a prominent Southern Baptist leader, Paige Patterson, president of the Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary. About 10 days ago, a recording surfaced of a sermon Patterson gave back in 2000 about how women should deal with violent husbands.
He said he had told one woman whose husband was physically abusive that she should just pray for him to stop hitting her.
(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)
PAIGE PATTERSON: She came to church one morning with both eyes black. And she was angry at me. And she said, I hope you're happy. And I said, yes, ma'am, I am.
GJELTEN: His reason - the husband had just come to church feeling contrite. The suggestion - women may just need to be patient with abusive husbands as opposed to divorcing them. Attention then turned to another of Patterson's sermons, this one from 2014 when he quoted the Bible as saying that God constructed women beautifully and artistically.
He recalled a conversation he'd had with a woman while her son stood alongside with a friend. Just then, a 16-year-old girl passed by.
(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)
PATTERSON: One young man turned to the other one. And he said, man, is she built. She stopped, wheeled around, said, young man, don't you ever say anything like that again. I saw my opportunity. I said, ma'am, leave him alone. He is just being biblical. That's exactly what the Bible says.
GJELTEN: For Karen Prior, an English professor at Liberty University, a conservative Christian school in Virginia, it was those comments, more even than Patterson's views on divorce, that really set her off.
KAREN PRIOR: Regardless of one's view on how pastors should counsel women who are being abused, we should be uniform in denouncing any sexualization of a child.
GJELTEN: Prior was one of 30 Southern Baptist women who drafted an open letter to the trustees of Patterson's seminary that said in part they cannot allow that someone, quote, "with an un-biblical view of authority, womanhood and sexuality be allowed to continue in leadership."
PRIOR: We're trying to offer this correction in love because we are a body. That's what we believe as Christians. And we need to correct one another and spur one another onto good deeds. And that's what we're trying to do with this letter.
GJELTEN: Patterson's future is now in the hands of the seminary trustees. Southern Baptists believe in a principle known as complementarity, which holds that the Bible teaches that men and women have complimentary roles with men designated as leaders. Prior and other signers of the letter say they are not challenging that principle, only warning that men not use it in hurtful ways.
Krissie Inserra, whose husband leads a Southern Baptist church in Tallahassee, Fla., signed the letter. She says the problem goes beyond what Paige Patterson said.
KRISSIE INSERRA: There's been a lot that has happened with pastors and with so many - I feel like there's been a lot of just shaking up that's happened in the last year or so. And I feel like women are finally - yeah, they're done.
GJELTEN: The letter was released at 5 p.m. yesterday. Within 24 hours, more than 2,000 Southern Baptist women had signed it. Tom Gjelten, NPR News. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.