Former Southern Baptist Convention President Paige Patterson’s legacy seemed complete with his appointment to Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary’s presidency, but his fierce doctrinal purges and financial missteps thinned his list of allies.
As Patterson campaigned to “make the Southern Baptist Convention (SBC) ultraconservative” those who fell outside of his doctrinal mores found themselves targeted for ousting from positions of teaching and leadership, much as liberal theologians were ousted from the convention in successive years after 1979. As for those who remained stalwart Southern Baptists in accordance with Patterson’s definition of the term and served under him at his seminary, they were subjected not so much to targeting as to financial neglect, according not only to Patterson’s critics but also to fiscal reports. (RELATED: Baptist Seminary Fires Ousted President Over New Evidence In Sexual Abuse Case)
Patterson’s maneuvers fostered inter-convention opposition against him, which played a key role in his recent termination from Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary over his mishandling of an alleged rape case.
Scourge Of The Unworthy
Patterson was not only interested in maneuvering himself and his loyalists into positions of authority within the SBC, but he also orchestrated a doctrinal purge, narrowing the qualifications for being fully in line with Southern Baptist beliefs, according to Revs. Wade Burleson and Dwight McKissic.
“Oh he was very clear,” McKissic told The Daily Caller News Foundation. “His goal was to have the convention to be a conservative convention. The problem is how he defines conservative, in my judgment, would not always line up with Bible and would not always be in the best health and interests of Southern Baptists and women.”
Patterson orchestrated the ousting of women from teaching positions in seminaries due to his belief that women should never hold positions of authority over men. Patterson’s view of women was the natural outcome of historic Southern Baptist culture, according to McKissic, a prominent black Southern Baptist pastor
“That was a culture in Southern Baptist life that preceded the birth of Paige Patterson, that fostered a view of women that is less than what the Bible permits or allows,” McKissic told TheDCNF.
“Racism and sexism are deeply ingrained in the DNA of the Southern Baptist Convention,” he added.
McKissic did not levy any accusations of racism against Patterson, but with regard to sexism told TheDCNF that Patterson perpetuated a sinful and inexcusable culture within the denomination.
Patterson invited McKissic to teach at Southern Baptist seminaries several times before the two had a falling out in 2006.
The trustees of the International Missions Board (IMB) passed a policy in 2006 under Patterson’s influence that forbade all future missionaries who admitted to praying privately in tongues from serving on the mission field, acorrding to McKissic.
McKissic, speaking at Southwestern Baptist Seminary per Patterson’s invitation, delivered a sermon in which he supported missionaries praying in tongues and challenged the IMB to reconsider their new policy. That one sermon was enough to put an end to what had been a growing friendship, McKissic claimed.
He told TheDCNF that he shared a meal with Patterson after delivering the sermon and the two had “a great lunch” and that Patterson “said nothing. But later on he released a statement to the press saying my message was harmful to the churches.”
Patterson censored the sermon from the seminary, according to McKissic.
“It won’t be a part of the seminary library, it won’t be in the archives, it wouldn’t be accessible and available,” McKissic told TheDCNF. “It’s treated like it’s leprosy or something.”
The IMB has since dropped the ban on praying in a private prayer language as of 2015.
Patterson also clashed with Southern Baptist colleagues of the Calvinist persuasion, as his theology and definition of conservative Southern Baptist doctrine is decidedly more Arminian. Tom Ascol, an acquaintance of Patterson who pastors Grace Baptist Church in Cape Coral, Florida, told TheDCNF that he and Patterson have disagreed on the issue on multiple occasions given that Ascol is an avowed Calvinist. The disagreements have always remained civil and the two have maintained a mutual respect for one another, according to Ascol.
“Interestingly, Dr. Patterson would be on the side of what has come to be known as the traditionalist theology in the convention, which would be more Arminian in it’s understanding. And I have been pretty clear in my commitments to the reformed understanding or Calvinistic understanding of salvation. So that put us at odds quite a bit. And in that sense, we crossed theological swords more than a few times over the last 30 years,” Ascol told TheDCNF.
Calvinist ideology generally views those redeemed by Christ as having been predestined by God, whereas Arminianism places an emphasis on free will.
“But I’ve always respected him and esteemed him rightly, even though I disagreed with him significantly on these issues as he did with me and does with me,” Ascol added.
Yet video of a chapel service at Southwestern Seminary showed that Patterson took internationally renowned Christian author and pastor David Platt’s resignation from president of the IMB to criticize Platt for his Calvinist theology and his younger age in front of students.
He also sought to purge Calvinists from Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary in early 2009, according to Burleson. Patterson reportedly called a meeting with professors at the seminary’s school of theology and informed them that the seminary had to let some of the faculty go due to economic constraints. Patterson then grilled the professors on who among them considered themselves Calvinists and demanded to know how many of the five points of Calvinism to which they adhered, according to Burleson.
Burleson said the implied intent of the questioning, which happened both individually and at times in groups, was to use the professors’ soteriological beliefs as the criteria for who would be laid off. His exposure of the targeting of Calvinists at Southwestern caused a firestorm of accusations and mudslinging between several different Baptist digital publications.
The result of Patterson’s doctrinal purges within Southwestern seminary was the creation of a culture that was “anti-women, anti-charismatic, anti-Calvinist, Landmark” and fundamentalist in the narrowest sense, according to his critics.
“Driving out liberals and reshaping the Baptist faith and message was never enough for Paige and Dorothy Patterson,” Benjamin Cole, a former Southern Baptist pastor and Paige understudy, told TheDCNF. “They cannot rest until every man, woman, boy, girl, Church Association, State Convention, Trustee board, denominational executive have been made in their own image.”
“The Pattersons have erected themselves as the homemade deities of the nation’s largest Protestant denomination, and Southern Baptists have finally reached a tipping point where they are willing to destroy homegrown idols with the same purifying vengeance that they ejected liberalism from the convention over the last 30 years,” Cole added.
The Spendthrift King
In addition to striking a polarizing figure as a doctrinal watchdog and backstage power broker in the denomination, Patterson ran afoul of severe financial irregularities during his tenure as president of Soutwestern Baptist Theological Seminary.
Overall enrollment in the seminary during Patterson’s presidential tenure dropped by 48 percent. Seminary faculty endured cuts to their retirement benefits between 2009 and 2014 and received no retirement pay in the fiscal year ending in July 31, 2010.
As enrollment dropped and faculty tightened their belts, Paige and his wife Dorothy moved forward with plans to build a $2.5 million on-campus retirement home to be known as the Baptist Heritage Center where they planned to stay with free room and board as the campus theologians once the seminary board of trustees made Patterson president emeritus.
He and his wife also bought alleged fragments of Dead Sea scrolls in 2009 from a man named William Kando to feature in an exhibit at the seminary. Dorothy raised the necessary funds, though the Pattersons have not disclosed how much their purchase from Kando utlimately cost. Friends of the Pattersons are known to have made substantial financial donations for the acquisition of the exhibit pieces, like Gary and Stephanie Loveless who donated $1 million and Jerry and Danielle Dearing who donated $500,000.
Dorothy, who has correspondence degrees from the University of South Africa and Luther Rice University, appraised Kando’s alleged scroll fragments at a Swiss bank vault in Zurich. She has no expertise in antiquities, and actual experts have called into question the authenticity of fragments.
Patterson’s history of financial indiscretions trace back to his time at Southeastern Seminary. The seminary had to pay nearly $140,000 to replace furnishings and furniture the Pattersons took from Magnolia Hill, the institution’s presidential home. Patterson also spent over $10,000 in the seminary’s funds on taxidermy.
He was also connected to the disputed gifting and retroactive purchasing of a seminary car by his then aide. Southeastern Seminary leadership subsequently ousted those who exposed or questioned the incident. Those ousted included Pastor C.B. Scott, then director of special projects and housing who was fired after exposing the man who initially gifted the car to Patterson’s aide. Scott is now a prominent Southern Baptist pastor in Kentucky. Faculty member Stephen Prescott was also allegedly removed for raising questions about the car.
Patterson declined to comment at the time on whether he had any involvement in firing the whistle blowers.
“Do I look like I just fell off a pumpkin truck? It would be inappropriate for me to comment. I’m not the president there,” Patterson said, according to Baptist News Global.
The history of Patterson’s questionable financial moves stretches back even further to his tenure at the Criswell Center for Biblical Studies. A Dallas local by the name of Velma Farry, filed a lawsuit against Paige and Dorothy for allegedly bullying, intimidating, and coercing Farry and her husband into signing the deeds for all of their belongings over to the Criswell Center, while he lay on his deathbed.
The financial irregularities raise the question – why didn’t Southern Baptist leadership subject Patterson to more scrutiny? Part of the answer may lie in a comment Scott made when faced with the reality that Patterson knew all along about his aide’s improper purchase of the seminary car.
“I followed that guy through a war,” Scott said of Patterson, referring to the Battle for the Bible, according to Baptist News Global. “I said, ‘I’m walking away from it if Patterson knew about it. For that matter, you can fire me right now.'”
Many involved in the Conservative Resurgence bore similar loyalty to Patterson, and those who were younger but admired the movement revered Patterson, according to multiple sources interviewed. He profited much from their respect for him.
A small group of hungry, frustrated Southern Baptist bloggers steadily chipped away at Patterson’s veneer. Little did they know of the hammer that an army of Southern Baptist women who felt much maligned by Patterson’s view of women would bring crashing down.
This is part 2 of a 3 part series.
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