(Updated June 1, 8:55 p.m.)
Megan Lively, a former student at Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary (SEBTS) who was encouraged in 2003 by then-president Paige Patterson not to report an alleged sexual assault to police, said several women have contacted her with similar stories about Patterson since she came forward.
SWBTS photo by Adam Covington
Paige Patterson, shown here at a May 22 Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary trustee meeting, was terminated the following week.
Lively told the Biblical Recorder in a phone interview that she “wanted people to know” because she “felt like there were others.”
She recently described the experience of being assaulted by a male she was dating, who was also enrolled at the seminary, to The Washington Post, although she was unnamed in the May 22 article due to the Post’s policy of not identifying sexual abuse victims. She also said Patterson made her feel ashamed and guilty. Lively identified herself in a social media post May 28 as the woman in the article.
She said eight women with similar experiences involving Patterson have contacted her since she went public.
Lively told the Recorder that public expressions of compassion for women by Southern Baptist leaders inspired her to break 15 years of silence.
“I honestly felt like if people could put … a face and a name with a story, it made it real,” she said.
After seeing tweets in response to past comments made by Patterson related to domestic abuse and a teenage girl’s physical attractiveness, she said, “… [It] brought back all these memories of things that had happened and things that were done.”
Patterson was fired May 30 from his position as president emeritus of Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary (SWBTS) and stripped of all benefits, such as ongoing compensation and a post-retirement housing arrangement on campus. The honorary title and privileges were extended to him only eight days prior when trustees removed Patterson as SWBTS president.
The executive committee of the seminary’s board of trustees cited Patterson’s “handling of an allegation of sexual abuse … at another institution” and “resulting issues connected with statements to the Board of Trustees” as reasons for their unanimous decision to end his involvement with SWBTS.
Lively, a member of Peace Church in Wilson, N.C., said the committee’s decision was appropriate, but even if Patterson had not been let go, she “would still have hope in Christ.”
“We’re looking toward the future of the Southern Baptist Convention (SBC) with hope,” she said.
Addressing a May 25 tweet about her involvement in the SBC’s upcoming annual meeting, Lively said she had been pre-registered as a messenger but has since decided not to attend.
A spokesperson for SEBTS told the Recorder that an internal review of the 2003 incident was underway and no details could be released at this time.
When asked how she was made to feel ashamed by Patterson in a 2003 meeting about the sexual assault, she said he asked “questions a pastor should never ask a woman,” and added that she left the meeting feeling as if the incident was her fault.
Danny Akin, current president of SEBTS, told Baptist Press that Allan Moseley, the dean of students in 2003 and current faculty member, “handled things absolutely appropriately and in a Christ-honoring manner.” Moseley had initially overseen the seminary’s response to Lively’s allegations against her assailant, but the case was quickly taken over by Patterson, Lively said.
She agreed with Akin’s account of Moseley’s conduct. “Dr. Moseley was nothing but kind and encouraging to me,” said Lively.
Another matter currently under review concerns an allegation that documents belonging to SEBTS from the time period in which Patterson served as president of the institution have been removed from the library’s archives. The spokesperson for SEBTS said they are “currently in discussion” with SWBTS about the matter.
Past correspondence between Lively and Patterson, including photocopied messages on SEBTS letterhead from 2003, has been circulated online as part of a 15-page document apparently authored by Sharayah Colter, wife of Patterson’s chief of staff at SWBTS. Lively said some of the material came from her confidential student file at SEBTS and was being taken out of context to defend Patterson.
SEBTS legal counsel, George Harvey, confirmed that such correspondence should be held in student files under the protection of federal privacy laws regarding education records. Harvey, who is conducting the schools’ internal investigation, said he had not seen the correspondence between Patterson and Lively until it surfaced online and that SEBTS did not appear to be in possession of the material before it was shared publicly. It is unclear how the material was obtained by Colter.
Lively emphasized to the Recorder that she “does not want to be seen as an activist” and that she continues in her commitment to biblical complementarianism. She also said that, with the encouragement and support of her husband, she had forgiven Patterson.
Well-known Bible teacher Beth Moore and other female leaders have expressed solidarity with Lively online. Moore said in a recent blog post, “What outshines this present darkness is the stunning number of courageous people who gleam like stars in the sky, holding firmly to the word of life in a warped and crooked generation. People like Megan Lively, who valiantly came forward, giving [SWBTS] the gift of opportunity to act rightly …”
Lively said, “My intent is to glorify God, while also showing a lost world there are people in the church, biblical complementarians, specifically men, that are willing to help, love and fight for women in our churches and in our seminaries. My pastor and the leaders at SEBTS have showed me that in the last month.”
SWBTS trustee chair responds
Kevin Ueckert, chairman of the SWBTS board of trustees, released a statement June 1 responding to questions about allegations against Patterson and the student files leaked online. Read the full statement below:
“Based on a number of follow-up questions I have received this week, I am providing this additional statement related to our May 30, 2018 statement. The unanimous decision by the Executive Committee to immediately terminate Dr. Paige Patterson was prayerfully considered and warranted.
“We confirmed this week through a student record, made available to me with permission, that an allegation of rape was indeed made by a female student at Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary in 2003. This information contradicts a statement previously provided by Dr. Patterson in response to a direct question by a Board member regarding the incident referenced in our May 30 statement. The 2003 rape allegation was never reported to local law enforcement. SWBTS will not release the student record to the public without additional appropriate permissions.
“In addition, as previously disclosed, a female student at SWBTS reported to Dr. Patterson that she had been raped in 2015. Police were notified of that report. But in connection with that allegation of rape, Dr. Patterson sent an email (the contents of which were shared with the Board on May 22) to the Chief of Campus Security in which Dr. Patterson discussed meeting with the student alone so that he could ‘break her down’ and that he preferred no officials be present. The attitude expressed by Dr. Patterson in that email is antithetical to the core values of our faith and to SWBTS. 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.
“Further, SWBTS received a request from Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary requesting the return of any documents taken by Dr. Patterson upon his departure from Southeastern. Counsel for SWBTS, Michael Anderson, immediately reached out to counsel for Dr. Patterson, Shelby Sharpe, on May 25 and made inquiry regarding the documents. Mr. Sharpe advised Mr. Anderson that Dr. Patterson only took documents from Southeastern that belonged to him. Yet, independent of that request, following the May 30 Executive Committee meeting, SWBTS located Southeastern documents on the SWBTS campus and began taking steps to preserve them. Mr. Anderson is in contact with George Harvey, counsel for Southeastern, and is working with Mr. Harvey regarding Southeastern’s request for the return of its documents.
“The morning after the May 30 Executive Committee meeting, Mr. Sharp provided a few documents he reportedly obtained from Dr. Patterson. The documents clearly dealt with Dr. Patterson’s tenure at Southeastern and should have been previously provided in response to Mr. Anderson’s May 25 request. Shortly after these documents were provided, the wife of Dr. Patterson’s Chief of Staff published a blog and attached these documents without the permission of the students referenced in the documents or appropriate leadership from SEBTS or SWBTS. I believe this was inappropriate and unethical. Regardless, the additional documents do not alter the decision of the Executive Committee.
“Ultimately, the decision of the Executive Committee to immediately terminate Dr. Patterson was clear and unanimous.
“I also want to reiterate what SWBTS Interim President Dr. Jeffrey Bingham said earlier this week. SWBTS denounces all abusive behavior, any behavior that enables abuse, any failure to protect the abused, and any failure to safeguard those who are vulnerable to abuse.
“In this difficult situation, the Executive Committee based its decision on the current performance of the president and did not allow the legacy of Dr. Patterson or the #MeToo pressure to steer the outcome. We did not react; rather, we decisively exercised our responsibility based on the Seminary’s biblically informed core values and integrity.
“I join Dr. Bingham in his call for the SWBTS community to join the Body of Christ in praying for healing for all individuals affected by abuse.”