As the Southern Baptist Convention prepares to converge on Dallas next week for its annual meeting, the denomination finds itself in the throes of the #MeToo movement moment that has rocked the entertainment, political and business worlds over the last several months.
The focus of the controversy is on Paige Patterson, who was recently removed as president of the Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary located in Fort Worth, Texas.
The removal came following a story in The Washington Post on May 22 charging that Patterson, while serving as president of the Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary in Wake Forest, North Carolina in 2003, encouraged a woman who alleged she was raped by a fellow student not to report it to police.
The Post did not reveal the name of the accuser or the alleged perpetrator, but Megan Lively has since come forward to say she was the victim.
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
Lively wrote that she is still proud to be part of the 15 million strong Southern Baptist Convention.
A similar incident occurred at Southwest Baptist Theological Seminary in 2015, which led directly to Patterson’s removal on May 30.
A female SWBTS student reported being raped. The police were notified in this case, but Patterson sent an email to the Chief of Campus Security seeking to meet alone with the woman so he could “break her down.”
The SWBTS Board of Trustees released a statement in response condemning the sentiments in Patterson’s email.
“The attitude expressed by Dr. Patterson in that email is antithetical to the core values of our faith and to SWBTS,” the statement read. “Moreover, the correlation between what has been reported and also revealed in the student record regarding the 2003 allegation at Southeastern and the contents of this email are undeniable.”
The SWBTS woman in question withdrew from the school because of her treatment by school officials.
The board voted to remove 75-year-old Patterson — who has been head of the school since 2003 — and strip him of all “benefits, rights and privileges.”
Patterson’s attorney, Shelby Sharpe, responded to the board’s decision by seeking to defend his client against “wide-spread misrepresentation and misinformation,” Baptist Press reported.
Sharpe stated that the SWBTS board made its decision without having all the relevant facts in hand and without his client being able to review the materials used to justify his termination.
“Letters found from the (2003 rape) accuser (Lively) to Dr. Patterson appear to validate that Dr. Allan Moseley, the SEBTS Dean of Students, and not Dr. Patterson, handled the matter,” the attorney’s statement read. “The accuser also apologizes for what she called her sin (of engaging in consensual sex) and makes no mention of or reference to rape.”
“No reasonable reading of the letter suggests that the student had reported a rape to Dr. Patterson and certainly not that he ignored it, as is alleged,” Sharpe wrote.
Copies of the letters were provided to the board the day after it voted to remove Patterson, who was traveling in Germany at the time.
Regarding Patterson’s “break her down” email after the 2015 SWBTS incident, Sharpe said the thought his client was trying to express was his desire to more fully understand the circumstances “concerning a forthcoming meeting that had nothing to do with the reporting of the rape.”
Patterson is best known as the leader who orchestrated the ‘conservative resurgence’ in America’s largest Protestant denomination, the Southern Baptist Convention (SBC), Christianity Today reported. He “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,” according to the news outlet.
Patterson had already been under the microscope before The Post story came out for past statements that he had made discouraging women who are victims of spousal abuse from seeking a divorce.
“All abuse is serious,” the then-head of the SBC said in a 2000 audio clip that surfaced in April; however, he advocated a temporary separation (not divorce) only when there was a “severe physical and/or moral danger.” Otherwise his counsel to wives suffering from abuse was to be submissive and pray to God to change their husbands’ hearts.
In response to the audio, Patterson released a statement in April, saying, “I have never counseled or condoned abuse of any kind.”
“I have on more than one occasion counseled and aided women in leaving an abusive husband,” Patterson added. “So much is this the case that on an occasion during my New Orleans pastorate, my own life was threatened by an abusive husband because I counseled his wife, and assisted her, in departing their home to seek protection.”
A woman came forward to confirm Patterson did intervene on her behalf when she was the victim of spousal abuse.
I was the one being hit and Dr Patterson never suggested to "stick around and get smacked". What he did was bring the authorities, remove my violent husband and encourage me in the Word. Not recommending divorce does not mean approval of abuse #paigepatterson
— Angie Brock (@angiebrocksells) May 4, 2018
Renown Christian Scholar Albert Mohler — who currently serves as president of Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville, Kentucky — wrote a post before Patterson’s removal describing the entire controversy as “The Wrath of God.”
“The #MeToo moment has come to American evangelicals,” he contended. “This moment has come to some of my friends and brothers in Christ. This moment has come to me, and I am called to deal with it as a Christian, as a minister of the Gospel, as a seminary and college president, and as a public leader. I pray that I will lead rightly.”
The Western Journal spoke with Gary Hair — a minister from Arkansas with 50 years experience as a member of the Southern Baptist Convention — who regrets how sensationalized the story has become.
“The most dangerous thing is how you recount and tell that story to a large group, when they don’t have the rest of the story,” he said. “There is an open danger for the details to be widely misunderstood.”
“I generally feel like a lot of this should have been kept smaller,” the preacher added. “That is one of the things I hate about Facebook is it so denigrates or obscures the proper spirit of church discipline.
“Matthew 18 says you go to somebody with a witness…you don’t broadcast it to the nation, and then try to pick up all the pieces.”
The minister does not plan to attend next week’s annual meeting in Dallas, but anticipates the firing of Patterson will be a major topic of discussion among the attendees.
“With news people (on hand), it could very well prove to be an embarrassing meeting,” he said.
Brian Bowman, pastor of Valley Life Church in Phoenix, plans to attend the gathering, and he, along with others he has spoken to ahead of the event, hope the Patterson issue will not overshadow all.
“I doubt that either side felt like it’s been handled well,” he told The Western Journal.
Patterson is still listed as giving the convention sermon at the SBC meeting.
Religious News Service reports, “(A)ccording to the bylaws of the SBC’s meeting, to be held June 12-13 in Dallas, since Patterson was elected by the messengers, or delegates, at last year’s meeting to preach the sermon…that body must also vote to remove him.”
Bowman said he is “with the notion we should just leave the pulpit empty that day and pray. I would think that would be good decision.”
Update: Patterson announced by email to SBC President Steve Gaines on Friday that he has withdrawn from preaching the convention sermon, Baptist Press reported.
“I will not preach the convention sermon as I was invited to do by the 2017 Committee on Order of Business and SBC messengers,” Patterson wrote.
The Christian leader also withdrew as chairman of SBC’s Evangelism Task Force, relating that both decisions came as a result of “days of soul-searching before our God, whose blessed forgiveness and grace are continually poured out upon us all.”
Patterson said his decisions are “an effort to do what I can to contribute to harmony within the Southern Baptist Convention and to respond to the request that has come especially from [Gaines] and other Southern Baptist leadership.”
Dr. Kie Bowman, pastor of Hyde Park Baptist Church in Austin, will deliver the sermon in Patterson’s place.
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