Beliefs Institutions

Southern Baptist seminary clears president after dispute over Muslim student

Paige Patterson, president of Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary in Fort Worth, Texas, gives a report to attendees at the Southern Baptist Convention's annual meeting on June 11, 2014. Photo courtesy Matt Miller via Baptist Press

(RNS) The trustees of Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary have affirmed the school’s president, Paige Patterson, after investigating his decision to admit a Muslim student into the school’s Ph.D. program.

Paige Patterson, president of Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary in Fort Worth, Texas, gives a report to attendees at the Southern Baptist Convention's annual meeting on June 11, 2014. Photo courtesy Matt Miller via Baptist Press

RNS photo courtesy Matt Miller via Baptist Press

Paige Patterson, president of Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary in Fort Worth, Texas, gives a report to attendees at the Southern Baptist Convention’s annual meeting on June 11, 2014. Photo courtesy of Matt Miller via Baptist Press

Patterson, one of the most revered Southern Baptist figures and an architect of the conservative resurgence of the Southern Baptist Convention a generation ago, faced heavy criticism from some Baptists who accused him of violating the standards of his school in Fort Worth, Texas.

“We join with our fellow Southern Baptists in appreciation for and admiration of the evangelistic heart of our president, Paige Patterson,” the trustee board said in a statement Wednesday (Oct. 22) as it concluded its fall meeting.

“Any violations of the seminary bylaws were done in a good-faith enthusiasm to pursue the seminary’s purpose, as set forth in its articles of incorporation.”

The trustees have closed their investigation, and Patterson told Religion News Service after the meeting that the Muslim student, Ghassan Nagagreh, is no longer enrolled at the seminary.

“He wrote me a letter declining to return,” Patterson said. “He was not specific about his reasons, but he had previously indicated that he had no desire to be a problem to anyone. He is one of the kindest men I know and I was not surprised at his decision, even though I was disappointed.”

Patterson suspects the negative publicity probably influenced Nagagreh to make the decision.

“For many reasons this is a great sorrow to me,” he said.

Patterson gave an emotional apology at the June annual meeting of the Southern Baptist Convention for what was considered an unusual step at an evangelical seminary.

“I made an exception to a rule that I assumed, probably wrongly, the president has the right to make if he feels that it is that important,” Patterson told convention delegates.

All six Southern Baptist seminaries require students to demonstrate their evangelical belief: a profession of faith, a testimony that gives evidence of that faith, a church endorsement and three references that affirm their Christian character.

While some Southern Baptists were shocked at Patterson’s actions, other prominent seminaries have students of various faiths studying side by side.

At the same June convention, the school’s program within the maximum-security Darrington Unit in Texas was questioned. Patterson said that Muslim and atheist inmates were included: “Unfortunately, it is the case that you cannot discriminate and have a program in prison.”

The trustees also addressed the prison program in the statement.

“While not compromising the missional purpose of Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary, we are taking steps to amend the seminary’s bylaws to improve accountability that will allow for flexibility in pursuing ministry opportunities such as the one at the Darrington Unit,” they said.

In both cases — the Muslim student and the prison program — Patterson cited his goal of evangelizing non-Christians.

In June, he described the Sunni Muslim student as “very open, at this point, to the gospel of Jesus Christ” and said of the prisoner program participants: “We have to admit them to class but the wonderful thing, of course, as you would guess, is that as they are studying in class they are coming to know the Lord.”


About the author

Adelle M. Banks

Adelle M. Banks, production editor and a national reporter, joined RNS in 1995. An award-winning journalist, she previously was the religion reporter at the Orlando Sentinel and a reporter at The Providence Journal and newspapers in the upstate New York communities of Syracuse and Binghamton.


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  • It is possible for Muslims and even Jews to become Christians (as evidenced in the Bible book of Acts concerning Jews).

    God is not partial, and in every nation the man who fears him and does what is right is acceptable to him (Acts 10:34,35). We should have the same mind-set in this regard as God does.

  • It is NOT possible for a Muslim to become a Christian. Unless, of course, he invests in some really good body armor. A Jew would be faking it, as he/she would have been taught from early childhood that Christ was not divine, and, as I understand Christianity, this would be rather central to that faith, no?
    “Can’t we all just get along?” is not found in the Bible, but was the question of a confused, drug-addicted, cop-hating bro from the crip, and while I agree with the general principle I despise the weakness inherent in its asking. We are what we are.

  • Sorry but I personally know Jews who becae Christians. Most paid a price, being disowned by their families. It is possible though and I am sure for Muslims as well. That said the rules should not have been broken for a muslim student.

  • so, that is how you respond? I guess you have strayed from the “high road”. BTW “Paige’ can be both male or female like Carol, Jean, Jo and so on. . . As to the point of the article, Dialogue is important. Will he “convert” probably not. But he can leave with a greater understanding of the Christian faith, just as hopefully his fellow students will have of his Islam. That understanding is vital. Not as a tool to conversion, solely. as it also helps expand our faith.

  • I guess your talking about the religion not the sister in law says I have to be nice to her because shes one of Gods chosen people .. I always tell her back no I don’t Lutherans don’t believe Jews are special and your Lutheran now ,.so put on your big girl panties and deal with it..

  • one day I got the guts up and asked my sister in law did she remember any thing when she was a little girl about Hitler .. She was born and lived in Germany for 60 years and only been married to my brother for 9 years now the only thing she knows about the guy was he planted fruit trees along the auto ban for people to eat fruit off of.. most times she not that friendly cold German SO
    I wanted to get her a t shirt that said Im a real sour kraut ..
    But my wife wouldn’t let me .. but she is a real sour kraut

  • Page Patterson realized Baptist presidents before him were not following the bible and had become mason’s . PAGE PATTERSON IS CREDITED for having a higher view of the bible than falling for masonic teachings as other Baptist presidents had done..

  • the deadly problem with masonic teachings is they break the first commandment and say
    any God will do ya there by right at the get go placing even the mason teaching above God..

    which is what eventually they will openly teach when you reach the highest order.. that the masons are now your god lord and church…

    the real truth is

    John 14:6

    Jesus answered, “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.

  • But Jesus looked at them and said, “With man this is impossible, but with God all things are possible.” – Matthew 19:26

    None of us would be Christians without God’s transforming power in our lives.