A New Page? SWBTS Removes Patterson

By Alex Chediak Published on May 23, 2018

Southern Baptist leader Paige Patterson has been removed as President of Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary (SWBTS). The move comes after a firestorm of controversy over past comments from Patterson. They also come in the wake of news within the last few days that in 2003 Patterson encouraged a woman not to report an alleged rape to police.

 A Challenged Leadership

Patterson assumed the Presidency of SWBTS in 2003. The seminary had been struggling for about 20 years. On August 12 of that year, he invited faculty and staff to “celebrate the end of the decline in student numbers” at the Texas seminary.

But it was not to be. Reports from the Association of Theological Schools show that enrollment declined further under Patterson’s leadership. There were 2,072 fulltime equivalent students (FTE) in 2004–2005 but only 1,393 in 2017–2018. That’s a 33% drop.

Granted, seminary education has been challenged nationwide. The once-popular Master of Divinity degree has lost favor. Just yesterday Fuller Seminary announced a decision to sell its property. Fuller will move to a location where it could lower its operating costs. But, Patterson’s gaffes were likely not a plus. There were two public apologies in 2014 followed by another in 2017. This past December Patterson and Southwestern were named in a lawsuit. The claim is that Patterson knew about decades of sexual abuse yet failed to report the abuse.

But remarks Patterson made in 2000 about domestic abuse and in 2014 about the attractiveness of a 16-year-old girl were particularly controversial in recent days. 

Patterson’s Controversial Remarks 

At a conference in 2000, Patterson explained his counsel to women experiencing domestic violence. His counsel was to never divorce, seek to elevate your husband, and leverage the opportunity to pray for and evangelize your husband. He did say that there has been “an occasion or two” when he’s counseled temporary separation, but only in “severe” abuse situations.

What was troubling to many is that Patterson’s counsel did not distinguish between sins and crimes. Beating your wife is criminal behavior. Patterson’s 2000 illustration recounts a woman showing up at church with two black eyes. Patterson has also made clear, elsewhere, that Christians should not take their difficulties to secular authorities, which includes the police. They should only take it to their church leaders. If battered wives can’t go to the police, and if their pastors — influenced by Patterson — don’t deem the abuse sufficiently serious, that leaves women exposed to ongoing domestic violence.

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More recently, in 2014, at a conference sermon, Patterson made somewhat crude, objectifying remarks about a 16-year-old girl. As prominent Southern Baptist Ed Stetzer writes, “These comments have been described as chauvinistic at best and creepy at worst.”

In the wake of the #MeToo and #ChurchToo movements, the resurfacing of Patterson’s 2000 and 2014 comments led to thousands of Southern Baptist women signing a petition to remove Patterson from his Presidency. 

SWBTS’s Response 

A SWBTS student, Nathan Montgomery, shared a tweet linking to an article suggesting that Patterson retire as President. Montgomery was then fired from his on-campus employment. He also lost his tuition-free arrangement with the seminary.

But in their statement today, SWBTS said “The board has not found evidence of misconduct in Nathan Montgomery’s employment file.”  The reporter who published this report is seeking clarification on this point. It’s unclear as of yet whether Montgomery is being reinstated.

The Board also affirmed a motion. It stated that “evidence exists that Dr. Patterson has complied with reporting laws regarding assault and abuse.” They don’t say what that evidence is. It’s also unclear to what this statement refers. Is it to the litigation on which Patterson and Southwestern were named? Or perhaps the more recent allegation that Patterson, in 2003, counseled a woman not to report a rape?

Patterson was a key leader within the conservative resurgence within the Southern Baptist Convention. SWBTS’s Board of Trustees have appointed Patterson as President Emeritus. He will receive compensation. He has accepted this arrangement. Dr. and Mrs. Patterson will live on campus as the first theologians-in-residence. They’ll reside at the Baptist Heritage Center, scheduled to be completed this July.

 

Dr. Alex Chediak (Ph.D., U.C. Berkeley) is a professor and the author of Thriving at College (Tyndale House, 2011), a roadmap for how students can best navigate the challenges of their college years. His latest book is Beating the College Debt Trap. Learn more about him at www.alexchediak.com or follow him on Twitter (@chediak).

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