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Seminary board fires Paige Patterson in dramatic turnabout

Paige Patterson preaches at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary on Feb. 28, 2017, in Fort Worth, Tx. Photo courtesy of SWBTS

(RNS) — Facing fresh evidence of an alleged rape cover-up by its former President Paige Patterson, the board of Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary voted to strip Patterson of the title and benefits it had granted him while ushering him out of the seminary’s leadership a week ago.

In a statement posted to its website Wednesday (May 30), the executive committee of the Fort Worth, Texas, school’s board of trustees took away “all the benefits, rights and privileges provided by the May 22-23 board meeting, including the title of President Emeritus, the invitation to reside at the Baptist Heritage Center as theologian-in-residence and ongoing compensation.”

Patterson’s swift firing represents the most dramatic turn in the #MeToo movement’s effects on the Southern Baptist Convention, the largest Protestant denomination in the United States.

The new evidence, the statement said, related to an allegation that in 2003 Patterson, then president of Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary in Wake Forest, N.C., incorrectly handled an allegation of sexual abuse.

It did not specify further. But The Washington Post reported last week that while Patterson was president of Southeastern, he told a female student not to report an alleged rape to the police and to forgive her assailant.

The about-face from the board caps a dramatic fall for Patterson, one of the leaders of the Southern Baptist Convention’s theological shift to the right and once a lionized figure in the denomination.

“There’s no joy in my heart over this decision,” said Wade Burleson, an Oklahoma pastor and blogger and one of Patterson’s most prominent critics. “However, this action declares to the world that the Southern Baptist Convention is able to self-correct. It may take time. It may be ugly at times. But in time, the SBC will do the right thing.”

Last week, the board appointed D. Jeffrey Bingham, dean of the School of Theology, to the position of interim president. Patterson was given the title of president emeritus, a newly created position that came with a salary and permitted Patterson and his wife to continue living in a house owned by the seminary.

According to the seminary statement, “new information confirmed this morning was presented regarding the handling of an allegation of sexual abuse against a student during Dr. Paige Patterson’s presidency at another institution and resulting issues connected with statements to the Board of Trustees that are inconsistent with SWBTS’s biblically informed core values.”

Board members have remained mum about their deliberations. But Danny Akin, Patterson’s successor at Southeastern, confirmed that he sent portions of the victim’s student files to the trustees at Southwestern with her permission. Those included interviews with the dean of students at Southeastern after the victim’s conversation with Patterson, in which he allegedly told the young woman not to report the rape. Files on the attacker, who was expelled, were also sent.

Akin also confirmed that Patterson or his assistants took all the presidential files with him to Southwestern and that Southeastern is asking for them back.

“Everything related to the presidential office was shipped to Southwestern,” Akin said.

On Monday, the woman who said she was raped in 2003 outed herself on Twitter. She is Megan Lively, a social media strategist who lives in Wilson, N.C. Lively declined an interview, saying she was only speaking to a local Christian publication.

Before Lively spoke out, demands for Patterson’s ouster had already multiplied in the wake of recently surfaced recordings in which he boasted that he advised a woman to stay with her abusive husband and “be as submissive as you can” and objectified the body of a 16-year-old girl.

Those remarks led more than 3,200 Southern Baptist women to sign an online letter in early May, asking the trustees to take action against Patterson.

“Many within the inner circles of the SBC knew and understood that the matters that were addressed in the petition I, and 3,000 others, signed were the tip of the iceberg,” said Karen Swallow Prior, a professor of English at Liberty University and a Southern Baptist. “It was just a matter of uncovering what lay beneath the surface. I’m sure there is much more.”

Prior said she and other women feel justice has been done.

“I’ve seen people remark that the arc of justice has moved,” she added. “It has moved slowly, but better slowly and later than not at all. Many who were frustrated with the board’s earlier decisions are happy, even if it feels like the decision could have been sooner and should have been made sooner.”

Patterson, the architect of the conservative takeover of the Southern Baptist Convention in the early 1980s, is also known for using his position to push back against feminism and the women’s movement. He helped reinstate a biblical literalism with regard to marriage, family and the role of women. He also helped push an amendment to the denomination’s statement of faith that says “a wife is to submit herself graciously to the servant leadership of her husband.”

Patterson is scheduled to give a keynote sermon to pastors during next month’s annual meeting of the Southern Baptist Convention.

But several resolutions are being drafted to affirm the denomination’s commitment to protecting women from abuse. One is titled “On Repudiating Predatory Behavior.” Another, drafted by Jason K. Allen, president of Midwestern Baptist Theological Seminary in Kansas City, reads in part: “We denounce not only sexual impropriety and abuse but also anyone who would facilitate or knowingly cover up such acts.”

The Southern Baptist Convention meets June 12-13 in Dallas.

About the author

Yonat Shimron

Yonat Shimron is an RNS National Reporter and Senior Editor.

42 Comments

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  • Very unexpected, very decisive, very impressive, especially when compared to the decades long abuse cover-up mess that the RC hierarchy has inflicted us with.

  • He has come to this appointment with the Samaritan woman. He fulfilled the appointment made 1900 years before by the patriarchs Jacob to Joseph in Genesis 49:22 “Joseph is a fruitful bough, even a fruitful bough by a WELL; whose branches run over the WALL:” Here is the place where the fruit branch is located at the well of Jacob to cross over the Judaic wall of religion to the outside wall, the first crop of the gentiles.

    Now He became the seventh Man of her life and she became the evangelist (the gentile church) to her village (gentile world) converting many. They invited Jesus to abode for two days (two thousand years). Then they said to the woman (the church) “Now we believe, not because of thy saying: for we have heard him ourselves, and know that this is indeed the Christ, the Savior of the world.”

    So this is the time for all believers to see Jesus and know Him by new covenant “for they shall all know me, from the least of them to the greatest. (Because) For I will be merciful toward their iniquities, and I will remember their sins no more.” Not via church organs which play brass of men but not always the ram’s horn of salvation.

  • Looks like the Southern Baptists are finally taking this issue seriously, and are worried about their reputation in society. Good. The Catholic Church could take a few lessons here.

  • Maybe they realized the poor optics of giving this arrogant little man a golden parachute would negatively affect their bottom line…profits and prestige.

  • Be serious.

    Do you really think that Patterson is the only prominent Baptist to cover up rape or defend domestic abuse? He is just the first to be caught saying it in tape.

    The SBC is throwing a sacrifice into a volcano, hoping it will make everything go back to how it was. They don’t think Patterson did anything wrong, just like they don’t think they were wrong when they said and did nearly identical crap.

    Remember Andy Savage, the dude that got a standing ovation for minimizing rape? He was protected by his former church. (Can’t remember of it was SBC.) They minimized rape and tossed the victim out like yesterday’s trash.

    The SBC refused to set up a data base of pastors who sexually abuse children. They said SBC Churches are autonomous. But apparently this is only when it comes to hiring child molesters. SBC Churches are not autonomous when they want to hire a female pastor or welcome gays.

    Do you seriously think that no other SBC church covered up rape or told abused women to take it and like it?

  • Could be, but when it comes to a church accepting responsibility and not rewarding criminal behavior among their own… I’ll take what I can get, sincere or not. Remember when churches were supposed to be examples of moral and righteous behavior? How low our standards have fallen.

  • I hope this news might provide an opening for Molly T. Marshall’s clear, insightful analysis of what’s at the heart of the abuse to receive a hearing. As she writes this week in an essay entitled “The peril of selective inerrancy” in Baptist News Global,

    I contend that biblical inerrancy was a mere tool for the preservation of patriarchal power and white male privilege.

    And: Hiding behind inerrancy in order to preserve male privilege does irreparable damage to a lucid Christian witness.

    She’s right.

    https://baptistnews.com/article/the-peril-of-selective-inerrancy/#.Ww_wgy_MyqT

  • People are free to be cynical and anti-SBC throughout their lives. Some folks in the secular media, will almost certainly be that way. It is what it is.

    But the fact remains that the Seminary Board received some new evidence on Patterson, and they acted on the new stuff quickly, “very decisive, very impresive,” as another poster said.

    Megan Lively, the victim involved, openly tweeted that she has received much compassion & love, and is proud to be a SBC. That says it all.

  • Tara Isabella Burton originally published her article about Paige Patteeron’s initial “punishment” by Southwestern Baptist Seminary right after that punishment took place. Now that he’s been stripped of his title, had his emeritus status (and compensation) removed, and will no longer be housed for life by the seminary, she has republished it.

    I think her analysis of what’s going on in this story is exactly right. As she states,

    For at least 2,500 Southern Baptist women, Patterson’s attitudes were an example of a toxic sexism that the evangelical community needs to eradicate. Earlier this month signed an open letter demanding Patterson’s resignation from his seminary position.

    The sheer number of women who have spoken out against Patterson suggests a wider cultural change in the evangelical community, as more and more women — including self-described conservatives — see comments like the ones Patterson made as not just inappropriate but incompatible with their Christian values.

    This is about the claim of straight white men (and the hangers-on of straight white men in minority communities) to own God and Jesus and the Christian tradition in some kind of exclusive way. That claim is being contested in a new and vigorous way — because it’s simply flatly wrong.

    No matter how much these folks keep telling us that “the bible” is clear that God is themselves writ large in the sky — a straight white men — others of us who read the bible and seek to lead lives in the footsteps of Christ know better. We find the fatuous idolatry of this approach to what we hold sacred unacceptable, and we don’t intend to be quiet about that.

    https://www.vox.com/2018/5/9/17332524/paige-patterson-sbc-metoo-evangelical

  • ““However, this action declares to the world that the Southern Baptist Convention is able to self-correct. It may take time. It may be ugly at times. But in time, the SBC will do the right thing.”

    Well, it only took 150 years for you to apologize for slavery and segregation, so I’m sure this statement is correct.

    However, what it really sounds like to me is that the blowback didn’t stop given the golden parachute and the wink-slap-on-the-wrist-wink you gave Patterson. My suspicion is that this was hardly a decision that was made on the basis of principle, and less the principle’s name is mammon.

  • I guess now we know what it takes for the SBC to consider you immoral. Opposing female equality, objectifying underage girls, and providing general cover for abusive husbands is fine. Getting caught actually putting those views into practice is where they draw the line. Good for them.

  • More accurately, how high our awareness has risen.

    Getting off the subject of the SBC in this matter— I’m just too lazy right now to go to My numerous files and dig up a bunch of names. But we can look at the Catholic Church very easily. Its problem with child molestation goes back at least 1000 years, yet the it is still there.

  • Impressive would have been them doing this years ago when Patterson’s crimes actually occurred. Doing it now because of intense public pressure isn’t the action of a moral leader, but a moral follower.
    I can agree with you on unexpected, though. Didn’t expect the SBC to care enough about women’s issues for anything to register for them.

  • I am impressed with the board of the Baptist Seminary in Fort Worth for taking a new look at their decisions and recognizing they needed a different action. They should have done a more thorough investigation before acting earlier – but, hopefully, that is a lesson learned.

    The Southern Baptists at the Seminary can also take a lesson from the Catholic Church that when a leader retires, he needs to move on so that the one who follows is able to move on. Patterson remaining as “President Emeritus” on the campus and recognized as “theologian-in-residence” limits the one who follows him just a Pope Francis is stuck with the ever present BXVI looking over his shoulder.

    Or, are the Baptists going down the line of the Catholics with the ‘infallibility” kind of thinking that elevates man to God’s equal?

  • Ahhhh, William Lindsey. We are in for some interesting and stressful times, when we try to separate the real message of God from the cultural context in which He spoke, the cultures in which it was decided which accounts of His words and life were “authentic” and what they meant, and the effect of changes in culture and knowledge over the 2000-5000 years since that do influence what we understand of His message today.

    Inerrancy? Infallibility? We raise men to be Gods when we think such ideas are real.

    Big Thank You for the link to “The peril of selective inerrancy” by Molly Marshall. I had no idea there was this liviliness among Baptist theologians. Here is hoping Pope Francis frees Catholic theologians to explore and debate the message of God to the people of today – and teach the bishops a thing or two.

  • Here’s hoping that many of these women of good conscience will recognize that the church itself is incompatible with their values (such as decency and honesty)… and leave it for good.

  • Yes, a difficult but much-needed conversation about those matters of what counts and is central and authentic, ATF.

    I agree: Molly Marshall’s statement is first-rate. I hope it gets a very wide hearing. I also very much agree that it would be wonderful if the muzzle is taken off Catholic theologians. Many of us colluded in muzzling ourselves during the papacies of JPII and BXVI, out of fear for what would happen if we spoke out. That has had a chilling effect on theological thought throughout the whole church, and, I’d argue, on the catechetical and moral formation of the last generation or so of Catholics.

    It needs to change if the church is to have a future.

  • Certainly counseling anyone to attempt to forgive an injury, even a grave one, is in keeping with most major world religions.

    But, shielding the assailant from the legal consequences of his acts makes Patterson an accessory after the fact.

    Patterson should be investigated and perhaps indicted if any statute of limitations hasn’t run.

  • Hardly says it all. You think Lively is the only woman to be harmed by SBC’s institutions and the deplorable theology of gender they put into practice?

  • I’m sure this makes sense to you – I am unable to imagine what that sense is.

  • Well, take a look. In the link below, 2,000 Southern Baptist women signed a letter that clearly condemns Patterson’s words & deeds, his “unbiblical view of authority, womanhood and sexuality”, and his defiance-tinged “apology.”

    I agree with all of those condemnations. But check it: At NO time do the 2,000 Southern Baptist women claim that the SBC’s own theology is “deplorable” or harmful.

    So now you’ve put yourself in the position of attacking all those Southern Baptist women and calling THEIR belief “deplorable”, haven’t you?

  • The second highlighted paragraph is reasonable. No problem there.

    But the first highlighted paragraph kills her credibility.

  • Separately, I want to offer a Russell Moore essay regarding Marshall (written 13 years before this Patterson scandal.)

    Again, there’s no justification for what Patterson did. We all agree. But one historically important good thing that Patterson did, was to help defeat “creeping liberalism” before it took over and killed the SBC, just like it’s killing the Methodists.

    Part of that “creeping liberalism”, it would seem, happens to be one Molly T. Marshall.

    https://www.russellmoore.com/2005/08/04/evangelical-feminism-lurches-leftward-is-molly-marshall-an-evangelical-feminist/

  • Nice try, I guess, fudging an attack on a theological idea with an attack on women, but it won’t work. The fact that some women survive, deal with, or even choose a deplorable theology like complementarianism in no way makes that theology any better or more acceptable.

    Women have been finding ways of dealing with all kinds of unequal institutions and ideologies for a long time and their ability to do so says far more about them than the value of those institutions or ideologies, even when they choose or find themselves unable or unwilling to question or resist them.

    Unless of course you put yourself in the position of not really believing women are as complicated and conflicted as rational agents as men are. You haven’t put yourself in that position, have you?

  • Now we’re talking.

    Not exactly based upon 1 Corinthians 5:5 – “to deliver [my born-again Christian brother, Paige Patterson] to Satan for the destruction of his flesh, so that his spirit may be saved in the day of the Lord Jesus”!

    But this decision is better than before, at least.

    GOOD ON YOU S.B.C.

  • “For this is the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel after those days, saith the Lord; I will put my laws into their mind, and write them in their hearts: and I will be to them a God, and they shall be to me a people:
    And they shall not teach every man his neighbor, and every man his brother, saying, Know the Lord: for all shall know me, from the least to the greatest.
    For I will be merciful to their unrighteousness, and their sins and their iniquities will I remember no more.
    In that he saith, A new covenant, he hath made the first old. Now that which decay and wax old is ready to vanish away.” Hebrew 8

  • And in the last days, your old men shall dream dreams!

    But no one shall know what the hell they mean!! :p

  • Not sure I’m a lot wiser about what you think we’ll get from your efforts. There appears to be no argument, simply a number of rather dubious statements of questionable relevance.

    Am I right to assume that you are placing some highly imaginative [the evangelist (the gentile church) – her village (gentile world) – two days (two thousand years) – the woman (the church)] interpretations on some scriptural writing and assuming you know better than the writer what he/she meant?

    I mean – I get that religious writings are often factually incorrect and/or incompatible with teachings but this seems to be awfully convoluted and smacks of trying to pound a piece of scripture into a meaning (whatever you may think that to be) that it was never intended to convey.

  • I am just a messenger. If you don’t have Holy Spirit you need to be born again first per Aleph Tav. Amen.

  • “However, this action declares to the world that the Southern Baptist Convention is able to self-correct. It may take time. It may be ugly at times. But in time, the SBC will do the right thing.”

    Let us know when SBC stops lying to the world about everything in the Bible being literally true, okay? Won’t take another 100 years, will it?

  • You base your worldview on unsupported stories about two people whose existence relies on believing, as though it were true, a single, very dubious story culled from a book which has almost no known connection with attested fact?

    Add a man who probably did exist but about whom we know (as in “know” rather than “believe”) absolutely nothing (your Alpha Tev) – but has served as a focal point for the weaving of myths, falsehoods, teachings and manipulation by people of both good and evil intent.

    Bring to the boil with the undemonstrable concept of “Holy Spirit” and you have, IMO, a very unhealthy stew.

    Anyroadup – since I grew up in a
    seriously religious family I’m obviously beyond the pail in your opinion.

    A thought occurs though – if only your argument were valid it would be the brilliant for opposing faith-based schools and parental teachings about imaginary deities wouldn’t it?

  • From what I hear/read about what a rape (forced, unwanted sexual intercourse) does to a woman, the idea that a powerful person can subvert a just law is cruel and ungodly.

  • I’ve had the unfortunate duty to respond as an EMT to domestic violence, sexual assault, and rape calls. The physical and emotional toll on the victims is heartbreaking.

    Patterson belongs in prison. Period.

  • The nation of Hebrew started from their ancestor Jacob who had 12 sons 3900 years ago. In the first generation of the twelve tribes, Joseph was sold off by his 10 brothers to Egypt. He suffered much as a slave and in prison to rise up to become the savior (as Jesus) of Egypt (gentile world) thru hard time. He married an Egyptian woman (gentile church) and was called savior in his Egyptian title.

    In the mean time (just one chapter of Genesis) Judah went off to marry a Canaanite (the world) woman named Shuah (wealth). They had three sons. Two of them died (slewed by God). In the end time even their family will be saved by heavenly Joseph when they recognize him the long lost brother was dead now lives while Jacob (Israel) suffer ALL his life. This IS the picture of the history of the nation of twelve tribes and the church still happening. All the other gods from 4000 years ago are in the museums.

    So if you look at the history of this small nation and their God, all the worst and the best in this world as well as how God in the Bible deal with them so all the world can turn and find salvation in Jesus, the Son of God. In the end times, young and old see dreams and vision by

  • Woo-hoo! Drinks on me, as Jesus and Elvis said! Another menace to freedom has been sliced off the beard of the universe.

  • And Patricia Heart robbed a bank with the Symbionese Liberation Army. same difference.

  • That isn’t history – it’s mythology.

    History
    1 – The study of past events,
    2 – The whole series of past events connected with a particular person or thing
    3 – A continuous, typically chronological, record of important or public events or of a particular trend or institution

    Mythology – A set of stories or beliefs about a particular person, institution, or situation, especially when exaggerated or fictitious

    Just because someone wrote something down and you chose to believe it doesn’t make it true.

    What makes you think that there is a God?
    There is no evidence to support the idea and reason says that any God is incompetent and/or without care for humanity and/or wicked – or imaginary.
    The most likely is that it’s imaginary.

  • So – you offer no refutation, no evidence, no rational argument.

    Your beliefs are based on fantasy – there was no Jacob as described in the Bible stories, no Moses or (as described) David. The evidence for the Flood is missing, as is any indication outside the Bible stories that there was an exodus.
    If the ark contained kangaroos and koalas there should be remains of them between Ararat and Australia – there aren’t.

    Yes – my brain, like yours, is limited. The difference, ISTM, is that I seek evidence and reason to guide my life whilst you appear to have abandoned both in favour of mythology and superstitious belief.

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