June 1, 2018

Hashtag Hell: The Southern Baptist Convention and Dr. Paige Patterson

Dr. Paige Patterson is living in hashtag hell. You know, a barrage of public comments and opinions without full knowledge of the people or events involved. The nature of social media quickly spirals into a modern-day public stoning. People choose a side, then choose words to hurl like digital stones. While this may be common behavior for the lost, professing Christians have blatantly entered the ring. The behavior of Christians on both sides of the Paige Patterson issue is unbiblical. Biblical truth should transcend cultural trends and practices – always.

The Bible is clear regarding the confrontation and correction of a fellow believer. As a matter of fact, the plan for restoration in Matthew 18:15 comes straight from the lips of Jesus, “If your brother sins, go and show him his fault in private; if he listens to you, you have won your brother.” Verses 16-17 give escalating steps for those who don’t listen. Of course, much of what I’ve read online in regards to Paige Patterson has nothing to do with restoration; it’s more of a mob mentality. But the ability to use social media does not negate the practice of Matthew 18; neither does the fact that Dr. Patterson is a public figure.

Galatians 6:1 instructs, “Brethren, even if anyone is caught in any trespass, you who are spiritual, restore such a one in a spirit of gentleness; each one looking to yourself, so that you too will not be tempted.” If we go by recent posts and tweets, then we have a serious depletion in the ranks of the spiritual. These people fail to consider that they’re posting about real people with real families who experience real hurt. Aren’t these simple things that any Bible-believing Christians should know?

Sadly, hashtag hell isn’t a new phenomenon in the Southern Baptist Convention. I was caught in the storm of hashtag hell as the chairmen of trustees at Brewton Parker College when Ergun Caner was hired as president. The amount of hate unleashed on Ergun, on the college, and on me was unbelievable. Some even dared to post extremely negative comments about Ergun on his son’s Facebook page. The vicious onslaught took its toll on the Caner family. After five years of intense stress under constant social media assault, their marriage is destroyed and Ergun’s health has been severely affected. But worst of all, it is believed that cyber-bullying may have been the cause of Braxton Caner taking his own life at the age of 15.

It appears that the SBC itself is heading for the same type of hashtag hell devastation. In addition to the heated disagreement over Paige Patterson, there’s also division over soteriology, personalities, race, and liberalism. The fiery arrows are constant and intense. Each arrow promotes further polarization by making generalizations about opposing views and the people who hold them. The constant stress of the present discourse is taking its toll, which deeply saddens me.

The call for unity, revival, and peace from some on both sides seems to be met with skepticism; with many questioning the authenticity of the opposition’s motives. We have done what Nehemiah refused to do. We’ve come down from the wall to negotiate with the delegation from hashtag hell and a great work has been halted. I pray that we quickly realize the error and get back on the wall, working side-by-side. That doesn’t mean we’ll agree on every issue, or that one must not voice opposing views. It simply means that we choose to respond in the Spirit and under the authority of Scripture. We desperately need to remember the great work to which we’re called –  hashtag hope.

Social media is now part of the world culture. It can be used for good or for evil; to build up or to tear down. As Christians, our call to live different than the world should be evident in what we post or tweet. I’m attaching “Braxton’s List”, which was developed in the aftermath of his death, in hopes that it will encourage all of us to think before we post.

Braxton’s List for Social Media Conduct

  1. If you can’t post something nice…ask yourself if you should post at all.
  2. Don’t let momentary anger become a permanent post.
  3. Remember, the people you want to attack have families, who also feel their hurt.
  4. God says, “Vengeance is Mine.”
  5. If you post your opinion once, it’s probably enough.
  6. Post above reproach. If in doubt, don’t.
  7. There are two sides to every story. The internet is not the best place to tell the difference between the two, or to settle the difference.
  8. It’s better not to post and let people think you’re a fool than to post and remove all doubt.
  9. Nobody wins on the internet but lives and families can be lost because of it.
  10. Satan is the accuser of the brethren; he doesn’t need our help.
  11. Praying for our enemies accomplishes more than posting about them. Remember though, just because we pray for them doesn’t give us the right to post mean and hurtful things about them.