FORT WORTH, Texas – Southern Baptist leader Paige Patterson was removed from his position as President of Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary on Wednesday. The decision was made after a 13 hour meeting held by the Board of Trustees, extending into the early hours of Wednesday morning.
The Board’s decisive action comes on the heels of controversy regarding Patterson’s history of comments on abuse and women in the church, and its subsequent reflection on the Southern Baptist denomination.
Patterson is known for his far-reaching impact in the Southern Baptist Convention––defending inerrancy of Scripture––and is a prominent figure in modern American evangelicalism. Recently circulated records, however, have called into question Patterson’s understanding of biblical complementarity.
In a 2000 audio clip, Patterson advised abused wives to remain and pray for their abusive husbands rather than seek safety and immediate help.
"Get ready because he may get a little more violent."
He tells the story of a woman who took his advice and returned to church "with both eyes black." After the woman said, "I hope you're happy," Patterson said, "Yes ma'am, I am.” He said he was happy "her husband had come in and was standing at the back” and had appeared repentant.
Counseling abused women to avoid divorce at all costs, Patterson said, "Do what you can at home to be submissive in every way that you can and to elevate him. Obviously, if he’s doing that kind of thing (abuse) he’s got some very deep spiritual problems in his life and you have to pray that God brings into the intersection of his life those people and those events that need to come into his life."
Speaking on abuse again, Patterson said in a message, "Settle it within the church of God. And if you suffer for it—and if you are misused—and if you are abused—and if you're not represented properly—it's OK. You can trust it to the God who judges justly."
"The fact of the matter is we don't take matters before unbelievers," he said. "We won't take our troubles to the press. We won't take our troubles to the government. We won't take our troubles anywhere except to the people of God."
"Why don't you learn to just accept wrong and just accept injustice? It is what God's Word demands," Patterson asserted. "It's between God and the miscreant."
In 2014, Patterson spoke to a Las Vegas crowd, explaining a word used of Eve in Genesis 2 means "to beautifully and artistically construct."
"I didn't need to learn Hebrew to figure that out," Patterson chuckled. He recalls being with two older teenage boys, when a "very attractive young coed" walked past, prompting the boys to comment, "Man, is she built."
"She wasn't more than about 16, but let me just say, she was nice," the 72-year-old Patterson commented.
Patterson responded to the boy's appalled mother by saying, "Ma'am, leave him alone––he's just being biblical.” After laughter from the crowd, he added, “That's exactly what the Bible says,” equating the ogling of teenage boys to Adam’s response to seeing Eve in Genesis 2.
Patterson was also named in a December 2017 lawsuit against former Texas judge Paul Pressler. The suit claimed Patterson knew about years of sexual abuse and molestation beginning in the 1980s and was complicit in an alleged cover-up.
After the aforementioned instances were widely circulated and causing a swath of reactions from Christians and secular media outlets, Patterson spoke out. He clarified his 2000 abuse story in an April 29 statement by saying of the husband, "he was neither harsh nor physical with her, but she felt abused.” His 2000 account of the story, though, involved the woman having "two black eyes" soon after Patterson’s counsel to stay and pray. Patterson called the recent media exposure “deliberate misrepresentation of my position as well as the hatred that lies behind much of it.”
Ed Stetzer, executive director of the Billy Graham Center at Wheaton College, wrote on his blog, “Patterson, in a sense, built an era...But many SBC leaders I know think this and privately acknowledge that it is time for a new era.”
Patterson is slated to preach at the SBC annual meeting in June and Stetzer said, "Every news story will point to that moment, tie it together with the accusations against Paul Pressler, and say that Southern Baptists don’t take abuse seriously."
PhD student Nathan Montgomery was fired from his SWBTS job after endorsing Stetzer’s post on Twitter. His termination notice from May 2 recorded his tweet did not "exhibit conduct becoming a follower of Jesus," "does not exhibit loyalty in dealing with the seminary," and that "public disagreement does not align with Scripture.”
In an interview with The Washington Post, Patterson commented, “I can’t apologize for what I didn’t do wrong,” and claimed he was being falsely accused, though he did not give specific examples as to how.
Six hundred supporters of Patterson responded to the ensuing firestorm with a petition May 5, claiming calls for Patterson’s resignation were “malicious attacks.”
The leader of the petition, Samuel Schmidt continued in his open letter, stating, “Patterson – with key individuals – just so happened to save the Southern Baptist Convention from liberalism and the decline of the authority and sufficiency of Scripture.”
Schmidt said his resignation, therefore, is uncalled for. “This isn’t about divorce at all with many individuals, but about forcibly removing Dr. Patterson from his role, due to decades old vendettas and other personal reasons,” he wrote.
Schmidt did not list personal reasons but went on to write that concerns over Patterson’s comments are bowing to a cultural agenda, “for the sake of political correctness at the expense of the glory of the Gospel.” Schmidt did not directly address the comments made by Patterson, but emphasized the positive impact of Patterson’s ministry.
Current SBC President Steve Gaines tweeted May 5, “Southern Baptists are biting and fussing when we should be praying and weeping. Start talking directly to people, not about them.” He added his support for Patterson in subsequent tweets. Past SBC president Johnny Hunt also expressed support for Patterson.
In a letter to the SWBTS Board of Trustees, Southern Baptist women wrote a “plea” for decisive action. Signees included Karen Swallow Prior, Lauren Chandler, and others. An excerpt of the letter reads,
“His recent remarks of clarification do not repudiate his unwise counsel in the past; nor has he offered explanation or repentance for inappropriate comments regarding a teenage girl, the unbiblical teaching he offered on the biblical meaning of womanhood in that objectification, and the inappropriate nature of his own observations of her body.”
“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.”
The letter had over 3200 signatures, and a later brother petition was written with over 300 signatures from concurring Southern Baptist men.
In an official statement, Patterson wrote, “Please forgive the failure to be as thoughtful and careful in my extemporaneous expression as I should have been.”
Patterson did not reference specific comments in his apology and did not admit clear wrongdoing, but wrote, “I wish to apologize to every woman who has been wounded by anything I have said that was inappropriate or that lacked clarity.”
On Tuesday, an accusation was leveled from a former student at Southeastern Seminary, where Patterson was previously president. The woman told The Washington Post that Patterson allegedly counseled her not to reported her rape at the seminary to police. The female student was placed on two-year probation and The Washington Post confirmed a report was never filed with the local police department.
On Patterson, SWBTS Trustees wrote Wednesday morning, "we honor his longstanding dedication and commitment to serving the Southern Baptist Convention (SBC)."
“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.”
Patterson was named President Emeritus with compensation, and the Board announced he and his wife will live on campus as “theologians-in-residence” starting in July. Dr. Jeffrey Bingham was appointed as Interim President.
The board maintained that Patterson had complied with reporting laws regarding assault and abuse in the past, and that the previously fired Nathan Montgomery did not have evidence of misconduct on his employment record.
Mid-morning on Wednesday, Patterson wrote in an email, "We are, of course, hurt. But we did not compromise and we still have our voice to witness." It’s unclear what "compromise" Patterson was referring to––the email focused primarily on the bright future of the seminary.
Wednesday Ed Stetzer wrote a follow-up blog post, saying, "Hard times require honest conversations. It is time for all of us to step up, women and men. No individual is greater than our mission, and that mission needs some honest conversations before everyone is told to just “move on.”
Pastor J.D. Greear wrote, “There can be no ambiguity about the church’s responsibility to protect the abused and to be a safe place for the vulnerable. Abuse can never be tolerated, minimized, hidden, or ‘handled internally.’ Those in leadership who turn a blind eye toward abuse are complicit with it and must be held accountable.”
Southern Seminary President Al Mohler wrote later Wednesday, “The same Bible that reveals the complementarian pattern of male leadership in the home and the church also reveals God’s steadfast and unyielding concern for the abused, the threatened, the suffering, and the fearful. There is no excuse whatsoever for abuse of any form, verbal, emotional, physical, spiritual or sexual.”