The Executive Committee of the Board of Trustees of Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary voted Wednesday to cut all ties with former President Paige Patterson. The vote came one week after the trustees removed Patterson as President, but gave him the title President Emeritus, with ongoing compensation and allowing him to live on campus in the newly constructed Baptist Heritage Center. Wednesday’s decision removed the new title, canceled future compensation, and rescinded the invitation to live on campus.
Dr. Patterson initially came under fire after remarks surfaced of him saying he encouraged a woman who had been abused to return home and saying her subsequent black eye was a sign the Lord was dealing with her husband. Then, a video circulated of a 2014 sermon of Patterson preaching on the creation of Eve in Genesis 2 and used an illustration where he talked about the physique of a 16-year-old girl in a church where he had preached.
The woman who was a victim of the sexual assault also recently revealed her identity on Twitter. She tweeted:
I am the woman you read about, #SEBTS 2003, not afraid, ashamed, or fearful. I am proud to be #SBC, bc of how many have responded with compassion & love. Our history isn’t our future. Ephesians 4:30-32, Romans 8.Please join us in praying tomorrow. #PaigePatterson #sbc18 #matthew5 pic.twitter.com/ZQNbL2zHip— Megan Lively (@megannlively) May 29, 2018
A group of women in the SBC penned a letter to the SWBTS Trustees in response and over 3,000 people have signed it. They concluded their appeal by saying, “The fact that he has not fully repudiated his earlier counsel or apologized for his inappropriate words indicates that he continues to maintain positions that are at odds with Southern Baptists and, more importantly, the Bible’s elevated view of womanhood. The Southern Baptist Convention cannot allow the biblical view of leadership to be misused in such a way that a leader with an unbiblical view of authority, womanhood, and sexuality be allowed to continue in leadership.” This letter, and other similar appeals led to the meeting of the full Board of Trustees on May 22nd, which resulted in Patterson’s removal as President.
The Executive Committee cited confirmed evidence of mishandling of a sexual abuse case at a previous institution as the reason for the stripping of titles and privileges at the Seminary. While they do not cite a specific case, a Washington Post story released during the May 22nd trustee meeting told the story of a female student who was sexually assaulted by a male student while at Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary in Wake Forest, NC in 2003, which during Patterson’s tenure as President there.
The woman reported the assault. They made her tell the story in gruesome detail to Patterson and as many as five other people who sat in the room. They told her to forgive her attacker and dissuaded her from filing a report with the authorities. The next day she received a notice that she had been placed on probation, although the notice did not state a reason.
The details of this story led to a widespread backlash against the decision to allow Patterson to become President Emeritus and be allowed to live on campus, with many viewing it as a “golden parachute” that allowed Patterson to keep drawing a salary and exercising influence.
In announcing their decision to strip the new title from Dr. Patterson, the Executive Committee and Interim President Dr. Jeffrey Bingham stated their commitment to properly handle instances of abuse and desire to help victims in the future. “Further, the Seminary stands against all forms of abuse and grieves for individuals wounded by abuse. Today, Dr. Bingham made it clear that SWBTS denounces all abusive behavior, any behavior that enables abuse, any failure to protect the abused and any failure to safeguard those who are vulnerable to abuse. Additionally, Dr. Bingham called for the SWBTS community to join the Body of Christ in praying for healing for all individuals affected by abuse.”
Beth Moore, who has been vocal throughout this controversy, applauded the Trustee’s decision in a blog post. After reflecting on what the decision communicates, she said, “I deeply respect their decision and applaud their tremendous courage in what has surely been a brutal process.” Moore linked this incident to many others that are coming to light in our culture and in the evangelical community and closed with an admonition. “The winds of change have been blowing for a while. But these winds have been upgraded to a hurricane. A holy hurricane. And what you do after a hurricane – I know this for a fact – is roll up your sleeves, love like you’ve never loved before, prepare for a long haul of healing, run first to the aid of those with the most destruction then to the larger community hurting, survey the damage, clean out the mud and debris and start rebuilding on solid rock.”
Dr. Patterson remains scheduled to give the sermon at the Annual Meeting of the Southern Baptist Convention in Dallas in two weeks.
Photo courtesy: Wikimedia Commons
Publication date: May 31, 2018