By Aaron Earls
After a marathon executive session, Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary trustees appointed Paige Patterson president emeritus, effective immediately.
Jeffrey Bingham, dean of the School of Theology, was named interim president pending his acceptance.
In a statement, the trustees said, “After much prayer and a more than 13-hour discussion regarding challenges facing the Institution, including those of enrollment, financial, leadership and institutional identity, the Board determined to move in the direction of new leadership for the benefit of the future mission of the Seminary.”
While the SWBTS trustees were deciding Patterson’s fate at the seminary, The Washington Post reported on allegations made by a former student at Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary while Patterson was president there.
She told the Post she was raped by another student. When she reported the incident to leadership at the seminary, she claims Patterson encouraged her to forgive her assailant and not report the rape to the police.
Previously, Patterson issued an apology on May 10 for a sermon illustration that had “obviously been hurtful to women in several possible ways.”
In multiple sermons that garnered attention, Patterson attempted to illustrate the Hebrew word used in Genesis 2:22 to describe God creating Eve. He said a young boy who described a young woman as being “built” was being biblical. In at least one telling of the story, Patterson said the young girl being discussed was 16 years old.
Prior to those sermons drawing attention, controversy was already swirling around the former SWBTS president for comments on domestic violence.
In an audiotaped interview from 2000, Patterson spoke about what he recommends for wives who are being abused by their husbands.
In the recording, he said, “It depends on the level of abuse, to some degree. I have never in ministry counseled anyone to seek a divorce and that’s always wrong counsel.”
He said he had only twice recommended a temporary separation when the abuse “was serious enough, dangerous enough, immoral enough.”
After the interview resurfaced last month, Patterson released a statement on April 29 seeking to clarify his comments. He said, “For the record, I have never been abusive to any woman. I have never counseled or condoned abuse of any kind.”
On May 6, an open letter to SWBTS trustees from Southern Baptist women critical of Patterson was published online and began gathering additional signatures. In expressing concern of his statements, the women wrote, “We cannot defend or support Dr. Patterson’s past remarks. No one should.”
Other letters began circulating later, including one from Southern Baptist men in support of the women’s letter and one defending Patterson.
As a leading figure in the “conservative resurgence” of the SBC, Patterson carries significant influence within the denomination.
Prior to becoming president of SWBTS in 2003, he served as a local church pastor and in various Baptist academic leadership roles.
Patterson is scheduled to preach at the SBC’s annual meeting in June.
In a statement on May 11, current SBC president Steve Gaines said some have asked him to “stop Dr. Patterson from preaching the Convention Sermon in Dallas.” He clarified that he does not have the authority to make that decision in his role as president, nor does any SBC committee.
“There are only two scenarios in which Dr. Patterson will not preach the Convention Sermon,” he said, “1) the messengers of the SBC vote at the annual meeting in Dallas for him not to do so, or 2) Dr. Patterson personally withdraws from that responsibility.”
After the SWBTS trustee meeting that stretched from Tuesday afternoon until 3 a.m. Wednesday, the board passed a motion to affirm the trustees’ September 2017 offer for Patterson and his wife to live on campus as the first theologians-in-residence at the Baptist Heritage Center, scheduled to be completed in July 2018.
The board also affirmed a motion stating evidence exists that Patterson has complied with reporting laws regarding assault and abuse and that the board has not found evidence of misconduct in Nathan Montgomery’s employment file.
Montgomery, a Ph.D. student at Southwestern, was fired from his campus job after tweeting an article critical of Patterson.
The seminary stands against all forms of abuse, the motion stated.