News Articles

Dorothy Patterson speaks on roles of women in ministries, marriage

NEW ORLEANS (BP)–Dorothy Patterson approaches the topic of what the Bible has to say about women “from a bit of a different angle” than might be presented by the typical male seminary professor because “I am a woman and these passages are directed to me.”
The wife of Paige Patterson, president of Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary in Wake Forest, N.C., and president of the Southern Baptist Convention, she is a scholar in her own right. This year she completed a doctor of theology degree on the biblical definition of womanhood — her second doctorate — in addition to a master of theology degree.
Moreover, Patterson was general editor of The Woman’s Study Bible, published by Thomas Nelson in 1995. In compiling the marginal notes and biblical background information for the study Bible, Patterson, along with managing editor Rhonda Kelley of NOBTS, assembled a team of more than 80 international and interdenominational female scholars. The end result was the first and only study Bible produced by women for women.
Patterson spoke on the topic of what the Bible has to say about women as she presented this year’s Founders Day address at New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary, her alma mater, on Oct. 6, at the invitation of seminary President Chuck Kelley, her brother.
Kelley said he invited Patterson to present the Founders Day address because “women have played a very important part in the history of New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary.”
Patterson herself, while she and her husband were students at NOBTS, played the seminary’s foot-pumped box organ in New Orleans’ French Quarter to help gather crowds to hear street preaching. That same organ was used in that morning’s chapel service and was by her as she stood at the Leavell Chapel pulpit to speak.
Patterson presented “my own pilgrimage” in working her way through some “very difficult and challenging passages and finding to my satisfaction what God has said to me about the role of women in kingdom ministries.”
In discussing such passages as the second chapter of Genesis, the third chapter of Galatians and the second chapter of 1 Timothy, Patterson said, “We are not bound to what has been done over the generations, but we do have to be very cautious about adding to Scripture according to our personal whims or our cultural setting.”
While the Bible does speak clearly on what is right and wrong in many areas, she said, “there are a whole host of decisions we have to make that we do not have a specific verse to turn to.”
In fact, she said, on the role of women in kingdom ministries, “even with all the Apostle Paul has written, I would be the last to say there is a clear description of this particular area found in Scripture.”
Nonetheless, God has provided Christians “timeless principles that we can go to in the Bible,” Patterson said.
“Part of our decision-making process in the Christian life is walking through those challenging experiences and those decisions we have to make, clinging to the timeless principles that are there, and then on faith accepting that God knows far better than we the purpose and the plan he has for our lives.”
Momentarily speaking to the often-misunderstood topic of submission, Patterson said God did not intend for a woman to be “a menial servant” when he gave her the role assignment in marriage to be a helper.
“That is not the biblical usage of the word, ‘helper,'” she said. “In fact, God has chosen to use this word to describe himself, for when you call on God to be your helper, you do not ask him to divest himself of his deity and to come squeaking under the door just to be there to shake and tremble with you. You want him to come with all the angels of heaven, all the power he has and come to your assistance.”
Before women become offended at the word “helper,” they must consider “it is a very wonderful privilege we have that God would use this term, that he uses to describe himself, to describe that role and that function” women are to have in the home, said Patterson, who served on the SBC committee that wrote the new family article for the Baptist Faith and Message confessional statement.
“In God’s wonderful plan, I think he wants us as women to be available, to be helpers in the kingdom, helpers first of all to our husbands and then to the work of the church itself, bringing everything we have — all of our education, all of our giftedness,” she said, bringing to the relationship “something the other person does not have for himself.”
The unique relationship God intended in marriage was a relationship of equality, she said, “a knitting together of souls on an equal plane,” along with “a difference in function and role assignment that enables the weakness of each to be turned to the strength of complementarity.”
Nothing in the Bible prohibits a woman from being “a woman of strength,” Patterson said, and nothing is written to discourage a woman from being strong in her convictions or from having all the learning she can amass.
However, “it’s using that [strength] in a particular way,” she said, that is key: “with submission, under authority, lining up under, accepting the boundaries God has given.”
In referring to some of those boundaries, presented by the Apostle Paul in 1 Timothy, chapter two — not to teach men and to have authority over men — Patterson said these statements “are not meant to be blanket prohibitions. There are limitations. It does not say that women cannot teach. It says women cannot teach men.”
Another limitation is the setting, she said, for the passage “is talking about church order, what is to be done in the local church,” not in para-church organizations or government.
“It may be that the spirit of this passage would extend your boundaries, as it has mine, but the passage itself does not say that,” Patterson said.
“We have to be very careful about prohibiting what God does not prohibit,” she said, “making situations oppressive when God did not intend for them to be so.
“We also need to be careful to preserve what God said and accept it,” she said. Just as Satan, through the serpent, asked Eve, “Did God really say that?” some people want to add to or distort the original message or principle God gave because it does not seem to suit their particular situations.
Concerning the boundary of not having authority over men, Patterson said the passage does not prohibit feminine leadership in the church.
“We have many women who have tremendous responsibilities in the area of teaching women and directing their programs, and in the areas of childhood education and music and evangelism,” she said, pointing out that most of the non-Christian women in the world “cannot be won to Christ by a man. If they are in the Islamic world, there is no way a man is going to present the gospel to them.”
Patterson urged women “not ever to be ashamed to be a worker in the home” and said if they have a family, the work of ministry should start there.
“Homemakers are the backbone of our society and I am very proud to be counted in their number,” she said. The Pattersons have two grown children, one son-in-law and one granddaughter.
Things aren’t always the way they seem, Patterson said in conclusion.
“Some would have us believe that the instructions given by the Apostle Paul to women in the first century, most of whom did not have access to formal, theological education or the public platform, are therefore wrong or are not applicable to women today,” she said.
However, Patterson said for any person to claim that “any call from the Holy Spirit to do any task forbidden by Scripture is to put contradiction within the divine trinity and is to put divine authority within human hands, and that is dangerous.”
Whether in the home or in the church, Patterson said, “I think if we will work within the authorities God has placed in our lives and if we will keep ourselves always under the umbrella of his Word, we cannot go wrong.”

    About the Author

  • Debbie Moore