Thursday, March 3, 2016

Why Ted Cruz should see "Spotlight"

Paige Patterson (AP photo)
In the same week that the movie “Spotlight” won Oscars, Republican presidential candidate Ted Cruz created a Religious Liberty Advisory Council and named Paige Patterson, president of Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary, as one of its members to provide Cruz with guidance.
This is the same Paige Patterson who, in emails made public by the Nashville Scene and EthicsDaily, characterized SNAP, the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests, as “evil-doers” and said they were “just as reprehensible as sex criminals.” SNAP is the very organization whose tireless work helped to uncover the story on which “Spotlight” is based -- i.e., the story of clergy sex abuse and cover-ups in the Boston archdiocese. SNAP’s former New England leader, Phil Saviano, is portrayed in the movie by actor Neil Huff, and Phil himself attended the Oscars ceremony and took the stage, along with the actors and filmmakers, when the “best picture” award was announced.
“Just as reprehensible as sex criminals.” Think about those words. Can you imagine anything more hateful for a religious leader to say about a group of child rape victims? SNAP people are people who seek only to support one another, protect others, and shine a light on the problem.
Furthermore, Patterson wrote those words to a distraught young woman who, as a teen, had been sexually assaulted by a pastor who was still in the pulpit. Patterson’s response was obviously far from compassionate or helpful.
But it’s not just harsh talk. Patterson wrote those ugly words shortly after SNAP requested that Southwestern’s trustees put Patterson on administrative leave to consider whether he should have done more in the handling of repeated abuse allegations against Darrell Gilyard, a pastor whom Patterson had mentored. By the time Gilyard was convicted on child sex charges in Florida, over forty young women and underage teens had made allegations against him -- and that’s just the ones we know about. According to the Dallas Morning News, many of those claims had been reported directly to Paige Patterson, but to no avail.
So, at the time Patterson made those hateful remarks, SNAP was doing the same sort of work to try to expose Baptist abuse cover-ups as what it had done to expose Catholic abuse cover-ups. And Patterson didn’t like it. SNAP’s president Barbara Blaine pointed out that, even with all the difficult work that SNAP had done over a period of twenty years, and even with all the hostility that many Catholic clergy had dished out, no one had ever before called the organization “evil” or said that they were just as bad as sex criminals. It took a Southern Baptist preacher named Paige Patterson to stoop to such a low level as that.
I can’t imagine why a presidential candidate would want to seek guidance from someone who has demonstrated such a harsh and wrong-headed attitude toward a support group for child rape victims. And I would think that a presidential candidate should have considered the import of the Patterson-Gilyard connection before elevating Patterson to the role of a trusted advisor.
Perhaps Ted Cruz should take a break from the campaign trail, go see "Spotlight," and ponder the lessons that it offers.

Thanks to Baptist News Global, Real Clear Religion, and My Christian Daily for picking up this column. And SNAP, the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests, did a press release urging Cruz to oust Patterson from his advisory panel.