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Patterson won’t address meeting as Southern Baptists gather amid scandals

Paige Patterson closes his eyes during a special meeting of the Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary trustees on May 22, 2018. Photo by Adam Covington/SWBTS via Baptist Press

(RNS) — With Southern Baptists already comparing the state of their denomination to a natural disaster, another dramatic turn has come in the sexual abuse and misconduct scandal swirling around Paige Patterson, a revered institutional leader.

Patterson, fired recently from his post at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary in Fort Worth, Texas, announced Friday (June 8) that he won’t deliver the sermon at the convention’s annual meeting in Dallas next week, while denying that the events that led to his dismissal have been accurately portrayed.

“I have now respectfully requested to be released from this high privilege because I do not want my role as a preacher to detract in any way from the important business of our convention and because my desire is to work toward biblical harmony at our annual meeting,” Patterson said in a Friday (June 8) statement.

“Recently, I have been accused, publicly and privately, of a number of things — none of which I acknowledge as having done in the way portrayed, and others that I am confident I absolutely did not do,” he said.

Patterson’s firing in May followed reports that he had mishandled rape allegations by students who shared the information with him. Those reports came on the heels of allegations he demeaned women and Patterson’s own account, in a recording dating to 2000, of counseling one woman not to leave her husband whom, she said, was abusive.

“The mood of the Southern Baptist Convention right now would be similar to that of the country after Watergate,” said Russell Moore, president of the convention’s Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission, in an interview before Patterson’s announcement.

Patterson, an architect of the 1980s Southern Baptist movement known as the “conservative resurgence,” claimed that he still enjoyed support among the delegates, known as messengers, to the annual meeting. “Many messengers have implored me to carry out this assignment, but this convention is not about me,” he said in his statement, “and I have every confidence that this decision is best and right.”

His statement was his most explicit denial of the allegations to date. “I take exception to accusations that I ever knowingly ignored or failed to follow appropriate protocols in cases of reported abuse of women, students, or staff at any institution where I have served,” he said.

Patterson’s downfall is only one of several crises, which some Southern Baptists describe as “volcanic,” that will be roiling next week’s meeting:

In March, Frank Page, the man who handled the day-to-day operations of the SBC outside of its annual meetings, resigned as the president of the Executive Committee after what was described as a “morally inappropriate relationship in the recent past.” Committee spokesman Roger S. Oldham said an internal financial audit was conducted after Page’s departure and “there was no legal impropriety that was discovered.”

Frank S. Page, then the president and CEO of the Southern Baptist Convention Executive Committee, speaks during the SBC annual meeting at the Phoenix Convention Center on June 13, 2017. Photo by Matt Miller via Baptist Press

In October, Paul Pressler, a retired Texas judge and another prominent architect of what critics call a conservative takeover of the denomination, became the subject of a lawsuit by a male former office assistant charging him with decades of sexual abuse. Pressler has denied the allegations. The Southern Baptist Convention and Patterson, both named as co-defendants, have rejected the charges as meritless.

Despite the harrowing headlines, Moore said leaders at all levels of the denomination — which has local associations and state conventions — are trying to determine the best way forward.

“Part of the responsibility that churches and leaders have right now is to teach people through this how to react to such horror in the right way,” Moore said in early June. He said the scandals have helped churches think about how to protect victims of all sorts of abuse.

Russell Moore speaks during the annual meeting of the Southern Baptist Convention on June 15, 2016 in St. Louis. Photo by Adam Covington via Baptist Press

Months before the Patterson scandal broke, Moore’s commission had begun planning a session to take place on the eve of the annual meeting to address the church’s response to the #MeToo movement. But the hallways of the Kay Bailey Hutchison Convention Center in Dallas, where Baptists will meet June 12-13, also will likely be filled with such discussions, and they could well come to the convention floor.

Midwestern Baptist Theological Seminary President Jason K. Allen has proposed a resolution, “On Affirming the Dignity of Women and the Holiness of Ministers,” that he says has the support of outgoing SBC President Steve Gaines and six former presidents, among others.

Meanwhile, a group of women’s advocates intends to hold a “For Such a Time as This Rally” outside the convention center on the opening day of the meeting.

“The rally is not opposing the Southern Baptist Convention as a whole. It’s a rally opposing abuse and discrimination against women,” said Ashley Easter, spokesperson for the event, and host of an annual conference for abuse survivors and their advocates.

Wade Burleson. Photo by Brian Sallee via Emmanuel Enid

“We want to be very clear that we love the Southern Baptist Convention. We believe it can be better.”

Easter’s group wants to see the completion of a database of Southern Baptist sex offenders that was raised more than a decade ago. In 2007, Wade Burleson, an Oklahoma pastor, requested a feasibility study for such a database, but the idea was rejected out of respect for the autonomy of local Southern Baptist congregations. Instead, Baptist leaders offered new resources — including an online link to the Department of Justice’s national database — and urged individual churches to contact authorities about any sex abuse accusations.

Burleson told RNS that the issue needs to be revisited.

“Hopefully, there’s more of a willingness to begin searching for answers on how we protect Southern Baptists from sexual predators who seek to cover their tracks through Christian ministry,” he said.

Moore said leaders are already discussing what kind of training and other resources can be provided to churches in light of the recent scandals.

“We don’t have a system where there is a bishop who can implement specific policies in specific churches, but we do have a system where we can provide resources and train and equip,” he said.

Southern Baptists are used to controversy. Last year, the committee that considers resolutions initially opted not to bring to a vote a statement proposed by a messenger condemning the alt-right movement. After a social media storm largely condemned the decision, the committee passed a statement denouncing “alt-right white supremacy” as antithetical to the gospel.

Alan Cross, an Alabama Southern Baptist minister who supported adoption of the alt-right statement, said this year’s gathering could bring the unexpected for the second year in a row.

“There has been a lot of grasping for power, for platform, for prominence, for influence and that falls apart,” said Cross.

“That’s not what God calls us to do. We’re called to lay down our lives for Christ and for one another and when we’re grasping for power, things always go awry.”

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.

40 Comments

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  • So, are the Baptists now against free speech? They’re shutting down Patterson.

  • So there you go, folks. Patterson officially won’t be preaching his scheduled convention sermon (nor should he do so anyway). The SBC has completely cleaned house on Patterson, which is the right thing to do.

    Therefore, all the angst, broad-brushing, SBC-hating, and hand-wringing that we’ve been seeing recently in this RNS forum, can now settle down, relax, and move on already. Yes?

  • See? The SBC eventually does the right thing… when they’re exposed to the light of public scrutiny and cornered like a cockroach.

  • Not surprising the SBC is in disarray. A theology built on the Heresy of Eternal Security. Can a rotten tree bare good fruit? No.

  • What are you waiting for, my fellow Southern Baptists (back in the day)? Stop talking about it. Just do it, now, before Judgment Day:

    “The completion of a database of Southern Baptist sex offenders … ‘who seek to cover their tracks through Christian ministry'”!

  • THE Christ Jesus of the gospels, epistles and revelation was “cornered like a cockroach.” Good for us.

  • At least 2× now, this week, you’ve been saying this. Spell it out, then. What’s so heretical about “the Heresy of Eternal Security”?

  • The further they dip into political conservatism, the harder it is to function as a body. Don’t feel alone, SBC. This is happening all over.

  • As long as members of the Body of Christ doggedly persevere and aim towards the goals Christ set for His Church, then there remains hope for the Faith here on earth, even in the face of past missteps, errors, and transgressions. Such struggles and events are not confined to the SBC.

  • Not good enough. Let me see your rebuttal to the next SBC President J.D. Greear’s declaration: “I do believe in eternal security: once saved, always saved … the way that some of the great Baptists of the past–like Charles Spurgeon and John Bunyan–described eternal security. … Persevering in the faith is proof that you have the salvation you could never lose; failing to persevere shows that you never had it to begin with.”

    Source: J.D. Greear in Jonathan Merritt, “Shifting our understanding of “salvation’: An interview with J.D. Greear”, Religion News Service, February 21, 2013.

  • One of the hang up is if you don’t believe in healing and prosperity, they cannot receive the abundance of grace and gift of righteousness.

  • You have hit on a VERY important matter. Aside from the governmental catastrophe of Trumpism, the “every word of this Bible is true” crowd is poisoning Christianity—–transforming it from a kindly thing to a mean thing. This is world wide, by the way.

  • What “missteps, errors, and transgressions”? What “struggles”? You didn’t say even by saying.

  • James wrote — “Then our evil desires conceive and give birth to sin; and sin, when it is full-grown, gives birth to death.” James 1:15
    Proof Text! “Sin” can and will thwart a believer’s path to Eternal Life.

  • The Calvinistic doctrine of the perseverance of the saints may look to you like it’s contradicted and everything by James 1:13-15 – “Let no one say when he is tempted, ‘I am being tempted by God’; for God cannot be tempted by evil, and He Himself does not tempt anyone. But each one is tempted when he is carried away and enticed by his own lust. Then when lust has conceived, it gives birth to sin; and when sin is accomplished, it brings forth death.”

    Actually, though, it’s what comes before and after those verses, namely James 1:2-4, 12, that Calvinists (I refuse to be one, by the way) often use to uphold that doctrine. It reads: “Consider it all joy, my brethren, when you encounter various trials, knowing that the testing of your faith produces endurance. And let endurance have its perfect result, so that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing. … Blessed is a man who perseveres under trial; for once he has been approved, he will receive the crown of life which the Lord has promised to those who love Him.”

    And then also, there’s the doctrinal validation coming from James 5:10-11: “As an example, brethren, of suffering and patience, take the prophets who spoke in the name of the Lord. We count those blessed who endured. You have heard of the endurance of Job and have seen the outcome of the Lord’s dealings, that the Lord is full of compassion and is merciful.”

    SO it’s that all you’ve got, brother?

  • The Calvinistic doctrine of the perseverance of the saints may look to you like it’s contradicted and everything by John 14:21, where, Christ Jesus speaking, it says – “He who has My commandments and keeps them is the one who loves Me; and he who loves Me will be loved by My Father, and I will love him and will disclose Myself to him.”

    Actually, though, it’s what comes right before those verses, namely John 14:16-19, that Calvinists (I won’t ever be one, like I said before) often use to uphold that doctrine. Jesus speaking, it reads: “I will ask the Father, and He will give you another Helper to be with you forever; that is the Spirit of truth, whom … you know … because He abides with you and will be in you. I will not leave you as orphans …. since because I live, you will live also.”

    Give it to me if you’ve got more Arminianism stuff for me.

  • HpO…………………you are going to give me a response for every verse I quote. So………rather than quote the entire Bible, it all boils down to the question of “sin”. Did Christ die so that believers could still sin; or did Christ die so that believers can live above sin.
    Since we are not “robots” after our conversion, we still have to walk. We are either “righteous” in fiction; or ‘righteous’ in reality.
    You pick. I really don’t care what you ultimately believe.

  • SO it’s that all you’ve got, brother?
    Hardly. See my other comment. The entire Bible is against you.
    It started in the Garden — “you shall not surely die”. The same lie then is the same lie today. Evangelicals teach “sin” will not cause spiritual death. The same lie in the garden; is the same lie today.

  • AGREED: “Christ [did] die so that believers can live above sin. … After our conversion, we still have to walk … [by becoming] ‘righteous’ in reality.”

  • I only go by [THE Christ Jesus of] the gospels, epistles and revelation throughout my post-conversion life – never learning anything from Christian (and non-Christian) writings. In fact, I always use the former to nullify the latter. It works every time, up to this morning.

  • AGREED: “‘Sin’ will … cause spiritual death” – even for me and my fellow born-again Christian people of faith.

  • It is simply a translation. You don’t use multiple translations? I study from an Interlinear; but I compare difficult passages with a variety of translations. Malcolm is the only translation that I am aware of that gets “Atonement” correct. Christ was not ‘punished’ in Atonement.

  • he would like his disciples to believe that Calvinists actually proclaim to members of Adam’s fallen race that they have no hope and God has abandoned them.
    Absolute absurdity. 99% of reviews, the reviewer fails to even read the material.

  • Hendryx was actually re-quoting Lavender, then critiquing it:

    “Lavender takes it upon himself to explain what Calvinists mean when they interpret John 3:16:

    John 3:16-17 is interpreted according to their canon:

    “16For God so loved the world of the elect that He gave His only Son, for the purpose that every one of the elect who believes in Him irresistibly cannot perish, but has eternal life unconditionally. 17For God did not send the Son to the elect to judge the elect, but that the elect be unconditionally saved through Him.” (Lavender)

    “The issue before us is whether God extends to all the sons and daughters of Adam’s fallen race the opportunity to be saved, or whether His love is for the elect only, and so limited. The issue is supreme; the argument is vital! Here then the outcome is truth at its highest level or apostasy from the lowest hell. Accordingly, the Five Point system stands or falls at John 3:16. The Truth stands as an objective fact and it is our purpose to pursue the path that leads to that fact.” (Lavender)

    Lets take these sweeping and far-reaching accusations one by one.

    “Here the imagination is strained, utterly, as the Calvinistic gospel tells multiplied millions and billions of Adam’s fallen race: “You have no hope because God has abandoned you.” This is the gospel? This is good news?” (Lavender)

    Mr. Lavender appears he would like his disciples to believe that Calvinists actually proclaim to members of Adam’s fallen race that they have no hope and God has abandoned them. Why is there the need to misrepresent our beliefs in such a way? There is really no need to produce these fabrications against what is actually being taught. Lavender knows he is not quoting anyone here, so why is there this desperate and continual compulsion to bring down his opponents with straw men and ad hominem arguments? What Calvinist has ever had such a thought even cross his mind when presenting the gospel to unbelievers? The statement made by Lavender is dishonest, irresponsible and patently false.

  • It’s a translation. Take it or leave it.
    Lavender is only a handful of men who understand and interpret correctly that Christ was not punished in Atonement. It is what He did; not what was done to Him.
    Sin, can and will remove Grace from even a Believer. And you admit to this. So………….not sure why you would have a problem with Lavender. As I said, I would send you a copy if you were serious. If not……………………..see ya.

  • “And Jesus said unto them, I am the bread of life: he that come to me shall never hunger; and he that believe on me shall never thirst. But I said unto you, That ye also have seen me, and believe not. All that the Father give me shall come to me; and him that come to me I will in no wise cast out. For I came down from heaven, not to do mine own will, but the will of him that sent me. And this is the Father’s will which hath sent me, that of all which he hath given me I should lose nothing, but should raise it up again at the last day. And this is the will of him that sent me, that every one which see the Son, and believe on him, may have everlasting life: and I will raise him up at the last day.”

    See and believe Jesus has everlasting life.

  • “Easter’s group wants to see the completion of a database of Southern Baptist sex offenders that was raised more than a decade ago. In 2007, Wade Burleson, an Oklahoma pastor, requested a feasibility study for such a database, but the idea was rejected out of respect for the autonomy of local Southern Baptist congregations.”

    I believe the SBC makes too much of it’s “respect for the autonomy of local Southern Baptist congregations.” There’s a chance that some of their churches would choose to use this database to reach out to Southern Baptist sex offenders in their midst, and assist in their rehabilitation. That’s what “repentance” means: changing directions. That’s the business all Christian churches should be about, helping people headed in wrong directions in their lives, to change them for the better.

  • Well, not really, Floydee. Patterson’s acolytes are still around, and will havet their influence be felt for a long time after the Patterson scandal has died down. There’s a huge mother-lode of conservative, male-dominant thinking at work in the SBC, that hasn’t been wiped out yet–not by a long shot!

  • “The mood of the Southern Baptist Convention right now would be similar to that of the country after Watergate November 8, 2016,” said Russell Moore

    Fixed.

  • What about the Southern Baptist divorce rate? Is that chronic rather than an acute scandal? Or just acceptable collateral damage resulting from God’s will that the role for women in marriage be subordinate and demeaning? But of course there’s nothing in the Bible that condemns adultery as much as it condemns (seemingly) gay relationships.

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