Historical theologian Jeffrey Bingham has accepted the interim presidency of Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary (SWBTS). The position was offered to him May 23 in a 3 a.m. phone call from trustee chairman Kevin Ueckert after trustees named former president Paige Patterson as president emeritus.
Meanwhile, reaction to trustees’ decision about Patterson has come from a range of Southern Baptists, including Southern Baptist Convention (SBC) President Steve Gaines and both announced candidates for next month’s SBC presidential election in Dallas.
Patterson’s shift to president emeritus occurred amid controversy surrounding statements he has made about domestic violence and the physical appearance of women.
Bingham, dean of SWBTS’s School of Theology since 2016, said he is “humbled and honored to be asked to serve SWBTS Seminary in the capacity of interim president,” according to a May 23 seminary news release.
“May I please request that the Southwestern Seminary family and the churches of the Southern Baptist Convention faithfully pray for Dr. and Mrs. Patterson, Southwestern’s administration, the trustee transition committee and me in the months ahead as we collectively work together in unity and love during this transition period,” Bingham said. “Jesus remains on His throne, and Southwestern Seminary remains faithful to its commitment to Preach the Word and Reach the World.”
Bingham has served in a variety of academic roles at Wheaton College, Dallas Theological Seminary, Criswell College and SWBTS.
Patristics – the study of the first several centuries of church history following the New Testament era – is among Bingham’s academic specialties; his 2017-2018 term as president of the North American Patristics Society concludes at the society’s May 24-26 meeting in Chicago. Bingham’s presidential address Friday will address second-century Christianity.
Gaines, pastor of Memphis, Tenn.-area Bellevue Baptist Church, expressed trust in SWBTS’s trustees.
“The Southern Baptist Convention elects trustees to govern our entities and to provide accountability for our entity heads,” Gaines said in written comments to Baptist Press. “Southwestern’s trustees have prayerfully analyzed the situation surrounding Dr. Patterson and have made their decisions. I trust the trustees at SWBTS and I am confident that they did due diligence regarding all the related issues. I love and appreciate Dr. and Mrs. Patterson, even though, as I have stated previously, I disagree with some of the counsel he has given and some of the comments he has made in the past. I pray for SWBTS daily and I believe God will bless the school in the years to come.”
Both announced candidates for the June 12 SBC presidential election – J.D. Greear and Ken Hemphill – have commented on social media since the SWBTS trustee meeting.
Greear, pastor of The Summit Church in Raleigh-Durham, N.C., said in a statement released via Twitter, “Dr. Patterson was very influential in my early ministry, which has made this whole situation heartbreaking for me.” Patterson was Greear’s doctor of philosophy supervisor at Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary.
“I am grateful that the trustees at Southwestern desired to respond with accountability,” Greear continued. “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,” Greear said.
Hemphill, Southwestern’s president from 1994-2003, tweeted his opposition to an inappropriate social media post by one of his supporters concerning the Patterson controversy. Then he added in a separate tweet, “I am glad ‘everything’ in Romans 8:28 includes the challenges we are facing in SBC life. The ‘good’ that God desires to accomplish is that of conforming us to the image of His Son. Let’s humble ourselves, seek His face, and turn from our wicked ways. Oh Lord, heal our land!”
Immediate past SBC president Ronnie Floyd said in a statement released on Twitter, “We are in difficult days in the Southern Baptist Convention. It is the duty of all pastors and leaders in our convention to ensure the safety of all women and uphold them as sisters made in the image of God. I would like to ask the 2018 resolutions committee of the SBC to bring a strong and clear resolution on the value and dignity of women, as well as their unique role, contribution, and representation within our convention of churches.”
Wheaton professor Ed Stetzer, who called for Patterson to retire from SWBTS in an April 30 blog post, said in a May 23 post “there is still more to do” for both the SBC and SWBTS’s trustees.
“Moving forward, hard questions had to be asked about accountability, transparency, and misogyny in the Southern Baptist Convention,” wrote Stetzer, executive director of Wheaton’s Billy Graham Center. Patterson “should not (and must not) preach the SBC annual meeting sermon, and I will speak up again if he does.”
Patterson was elected in 2017 as preacher of the 2018 SBC annual meeting sermon. Gaines stated previously the only ways Patterson will not preach are if he voluntarily withdraws or if messengers in Dallas vote to replace him with alternate preacher Kie Bowman, pastor of Hyde Park Baptist Church in Austin, Texas.
(EDITOR’S NOTE – David Roach is chief national correspondent for Baptist Press, the Southern Baptist Convention’s news service.)