Updated May 23, 12:15 p.m.
Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary's (SWBTS) board of trustees convened May 22 at 1:30 p.m. on the school's campus in Fort Worth, Texas, to discuss and deliberate controversy that has engulfed SWBTS President Paige Patterson. As the meeting extended into the early morning hours of May 23, more than 13 hours later, the trustees decided move Patterson out of his active role leading the school into a paid, honorary position as president emeritus.
They also decided to appoint a current dean, Jeffrey Bingham, as the interim president, and offer resolutions of support for Patterson regarding accusations about sexual abuse reporting practices and the firing of an employee, Nathan Montgomery, who shared an article on social media that was critical of Patterson.
The board released the following statement:
"The Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary (SWBTS) board of trustees is grateful for the contributions Dr. and Mrs. Paige Patterson have made since his presidency began in 2003. Further, we honor his longstanding dedication and commitment to serving the Southern Baptist Convention (SBC) in its mission to present the Gospel of Jesus Christ to every person in the world and to make disciples of all the nations by leading the way for the conservative resurgence.
A special meeting of the SWBTS Board was held on May 22 to discuss our seminary, its future and our responsibility as trustees to ensure SWBTS is in the best position possible to fulfill our mission to biblically educate God-called men and women.
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.
The board passed a motion through a majority vote to appoint Dr. Patterson as President Emeritus with compensation, effective immediately, which he accepted. In addition, the board passed a motion to affirm the trustees’ September 2017 offer for Dr. and Mrs. Patterson 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 voted to appoint Dr. D. Jeffrey Bingham, Dean of the School of Theology, to the position of Interim President, pending his acceptance. Further, a special committee of the trustees was formed to work out all the details of leadership transition for Drs. Patterson and Bingham.
Additionally, the board affirmed a motion stating 1) evidence exists that Dr. Patterson has complied with reporting laws regarding assault and abuse, 2) the Seminary stands against all forms of abuse and 3) the board has not found evidence of misconduct in Nathan Montgomery’s employment file.
As we begin the process of ushering in a new season of leadership, SWBTS remains steadfast in its calling to assist the churches of the SBC by biblically educating God-called men and women for ministries that fulfill the Great Commission and glorify God."
Patterson came under fire last month when video and audio clips surfaced online that featured him recounting controversial advice he gave to a woman about domestic violence and making comments about a teenage girl’s physical attractiveness in a sermon.
Several Southern Baptist leaders responded with public statements at the time about domestic violence and the dignity of women, including SBC President Steve Gaines and well-known Bible teacher Beth Moore. An open letter from Southern Baptist women, which objected to Patterson being “allowed to continue in leadership,” garnered more than 3,000 signatures online. Patterson later apologized for his remarks, which he described as “obviously hurtful to women in several possible ways.”
New information came to light May 22 as trustees entered their meeting that Patterson had advised a female seminary student in 2003 not to report an alleged rape to law enforcement officials, according to The Washington Post. The instance took place while Patterson was president of Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary (SEBTS) in Wake Forest, N.C., and involved SEBTS students. He became president of SWBTS later that year.
The Southern Baptist Texan reported earlier this year about SWBTS plans for Patterson and his wife, Dorothy, to live on campus in a presidential apartment upon his retirement. The residence is under construction as part of the school’s Baptist Heritage Center, where Patterson is expected to remain as scholar-in-residence until physically unable.
Patterson is scheduled to give the keynote sermon and a task force report at next month's annual meeting of the Southern Baptist Convention (SBC). There is no word yet on whether Patterson plans to withdraw or keep those assignments.
He was a key figure in the SBC’s “Conservative Resurgence,” a transitional period in the 1980s and ‘90s that featured widespread debate and institutional turmoil among Southern Baptist entities over theological topics such as divine revelation and gender roles in the church. Many Southern Baptists revere Patterson for his efforts in steering the denomination in a more conservative direction.
Patterson said in an email to students seen by the Biblical Recorder that he was thankful for their support and encouraged them to focus on studying and ministry.
"As for the Pattersons," he added, "we are, of course, hurt. But we did not compromise and we still have our voice to witness. That we will attempt faithfully to do."
J.D. Greear, pastor of The Summit Church in Raleigh-Durham, N.C., and candidate for SBC president, released a statement saying, "Dr. Patterson was very influential in my early ministry, which has made this whole situation heartbreaking for me. I am grateful that the trustees at Southwestern desired to respond with accountability.
"One thing must be clear, however: 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. I hope that in the days to come, Southern Baptists will make that clear and act accordingly."
(EDITOR'S NOTE – More statements from Southern Baptist leaders will be added as they become available.)