A week after trustees voted to immediately shift Paige Patterson to “president emeritus” at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary (SWBTS), the board’s executive committee has stripped the Southern Baptist stalwart of all “benefits, rights and privileges.”
In a statement announcing Patterson’s termination, the committee stated today that it had confirmed information regarding reports that he mishandled a sexual abuse allegation while president of Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary (SEBTS).
Last Tuesday, a former SEBTS graduate student told The Washington Post that after she reported her rape to Patterson and fellow seminary officials in 2003, they failed to notify authorities and the former president encouraged her to forgive the perpetrator. Patterson did not respond to the claims, but SEBTS launched an internal review of its own.
The news came after weeks of controversy—and calls for Patterson’s dismissal—over his past counsel and statements regarding women, abuse, and divorce.
Best known as the leader who orchestrated the “conservative resurgence” in America’s largest Protestant denomination, the Southern Baptist Convention (SBC), Patterson spent decades as a revered and seemingly untouchable denominational figurehead; previous controversies had come up, but had not threatened his position or reputation until now. His case has been widely viewed as a prominent example of the fallout of the #MeToo movement and how it has changed expectations for institutional leaders.
The same day as the former student’s story broke last week, following a 13-hour meeting of SWBTS’s board of trustees, Patterson was ousted from the presidency he’d held since leaving SEBTS in 2003. The board’s decision came despite his issuing an apology “especially to women” who were hurt by his past remarks.
The initial move seemed to go both ways: Patterson was out of the presidency, partly satisfying critics who opposed his stances or were concerned about his impact on the SBC as a whole, but still kept the campus clout that came with the position, partly satisfying supporters who did not want to see the legacy of such a significant denominational leader tarnished by contemporary pressures.
“Patterson supporters seemed willing to live with the decision but it infuriated many, especially conservative Christian women, who said Patterson had not been explicitly held accountable and had been allowed to retire with his stature intact,” The Post reported today.
“Ironically Patterson, leader of a historic conservative purifying in the 1980s and 1990s of Southern Baptism that called for male-only pastors and women to ‘submit graciously’ to their husbands, was being held under the public light by conservative women, who by the thousand signed a May 6 petition calling for him to lose his job.”
Today’s decision, though, squarely sides with his critics. The executive committee deemed Patterson’s response to the SEBTS student’s allegation “inconsistent with SWBTS’s biblically informed core values,” and said the information “demanded immediate action.”
This week, Megan Lively tweeted publicly to identify herself as the former student at the center of the SEBTS story:
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
SEBTS’s current president, Danny Akin, has offered Lively his “love, prayers, and support” as the school undergoes an internal investigation of her case. Beth Moore, who wrote a viral open letter to fellow Southern Baptists regarding sexism and harassment, praised Lively for her bravery and belief.
Following Wednesday night’s news, Lively posted the lyrics to a verse from “In Christ Alone,” starting with the lines, “No guilt in life, no fear in death, this is the power of Christ in me.”
Several Southern Baptist pastors and leaders spoke out Wednesday night to praise the SWBTS trustees’ latest decision.
“I am very grateful that the trustees chose to act with moral clarity,” wrote Denny Burk, a Southern Baptist professor and president of the complementarian Council on Biblical Manhood and Womanhood. “If there was some question about that before, there can be no question now. Indeed, they declare ‘the Seminary stands against all forms of abuse and grieves for individuals wounded by abuse.’”
Russell Moore, head of the SBC Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission, and J. D. Greear, a protégé of Patterson’s and an SBC presidential candidate, asked for prayers for the SWBTS community.
“Pray for the faculty & students of @swbts and the individuals hurting and confused in this moment,” said Greear. “And hope in God’s grace. The Lord chastens those whom he loves. Aslan is on the move. God be merciful to us & bless us, that your… salvation may be known among all nations. Ps 67”
The full statement from SWBTS reads:
During the May 30, 2018, Executive Committee meeting of the Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary (SWBTS) Board of Trustees, 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.
Deeming the information demanded immediate action and could not be deferred to a regular meeting of the Board, based on the details presented, the Executive Committee unanimously resolved to terminate Dr. Paige Patterson, effective immediately, removing 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.
Under the leadership of Interim President Dr. Jeffrey Bingham, SWBTS remains committed to its calling to assist the churches of the Southern Baptist Convention by biblically educating God-called men and women for ministries that fulfill the Great Commission and glorify God.
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.
Patterson is still slated to speak at the upcoming SBC annual meeting in Dallas on June 13, but the delegation will have an opportunity to vote to replace him on the schedule.
Fellow Southern Baptist affiliates had already been forced to distance themselves from Patterson and SWBTS prior to his firing.
The former president backed out of a speaking gig at a Southern Baptist Conference of Associational Leaders event in Dallas, and the Association of Certified Biblical Counselors, led by Southern Baptist Theological Seminary professor Heath Lambert, relocated a fall conference originally scheduled to take place on the SWBTS campus.