The cries of thousands of women over decades-old wounds destroyed former Southern Baptist Convention President Paige Patterson’s dreams of a convention made in his image, but how after so many years did it all finally unravel?
Southern Baptist bloggers, some of whom had fought alongside Patterson in the early years of the Battle for the Bible, had criticized Patterson for alleged doctrinal hostilities, manipulations of convention politics, and later for alleged financial misdeeds. They waged their digital front against him for years, but nothing seemed to affect Patterson until over 2,000 Southern Baptist women, infuriated by alleged disregard for the safety of abused women and sexualization of a young girl, demanded his resignation. (RELATED: The Fall Of Southern Baptist Paige Patterson Part One: Lion Of The Convention)
But the comments for which they attacked Patterson were nearly two decades old, and some who came to the aid of the women in their crusade against Patterson had been in the audience when Patterson made those remarks. They said nothing then, but are full of fury now. What had changed, and what hand did Patterson have in staving off the coming storm against him until now?
The petition, public scrutiny aimed at Patterson’s comments, and accusations that he had mishandled cases involving rape allegations resulted in a relative slap on the wrist, partly because Patterson hid pertinent documents.
Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary’s board of trustees met with Patterson and decided to remove him as president of the seminary only to make him president emeritus and allow him and his wife, Dorothy, to remain at the seminary as its first “theologians-in-residence at the Baptist Heritage Center.” The Baptist Heritage Center is the $2.5 million retirement home that Paige and Dorothy began building for themselves while the seminary hemorrhaged money, due to falling enrollment and the Patterson’s spending habits.
Patterson retained his future at Southwestern despite accusations from a woman who came forward alleging that Patterson urged her not to go to police when she reported that she had been raped.
Rev. Wade Burleson first broke the story when the victim contacted him via email. The woman had been a student at Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary during Patterson’s presidency there. She claimed that she had gone to Dr. Allan Moseley, the seminary’s dean of students, in 2003 to report that she had been raped by her then-boyfriend and to ask for help. Moseley then reported the woman’s claim to Patterson, who then requested that she meet with him to discuss the matter.
The woman told Burleson that she met with Patterson and three or four of his “proteges” alone to discuss her claim. Patterson expelled the alleged perpetrator of the rape and the administration forbade the man from ever again attending an SBC seminary. Patterson also disciplined the victim, putting her on probation for two years for having a man in her apartment alone with her. She claimed that Patterson counseled her not to go to the police and to forgive her alleged assailant.
Burleson wrote on his blog that he believed the victim when she shared what Patterson had counseled her to do. It was, after all, consistent with what Patterson had and continued to teach.
“Settle it within the church of God,” Patterson said in a 2013 sermon, according to The Washington Post. “And if you suffer for it, and if you were misused, and if you were abused, and if you’re not represented properly, it’s okay. You can trust it to the God who judges justly.”
Patterson prayed, adding, “Lord, may we make up our minds that we won’t take our troubles to the press, we won’t take our troubles to the government, we won’t take our troubles anywhere except to the people of God and beyond that to the Lord Jesus.”
Confronted with the counsel of one of the biggest spiritual authorities in her life and that of the other men in the room, the victim complied. Neither she nor Patterson or anyone else present in the room reported the rape and the alleged assailant was never investigated or charged with a crime.
“They shamed the crap out of me, asking me question after question,” she told WaPo of her meeting with Patterson and the other seminarians. She claimed that they asked her for every detail of the alleged rape.
“He didn’t necessarily say it was my fault, but [the sense from him was] I let him into my home,” she added.
Moseley emailed her after the meeting to inform her that she had been put on probation, with suspension or expulsion to follow should she violate any more university policies. The administration ultimately allowed her to stay, though she dropped out in 2005 for what she said were reasons unrelated to the seminary’s handling of the rape case.
“The woman I am now would’ve gone to authorities before the school,” she told WaPo. “There’s nothing I can do about it now. When you’re counseled by someone who you admire and respect, you just don’t.”
The woman brought her story to WaPo after encouragement from Burleson and his contact with WaPo reporter Sarah Pulliam Bailey, which prompted the board of trustees of Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary, where Patterson was then president, to address the matter.
Before they did so, the victim contacted Kevin Ueckert, chairman of the Southwestern board of trustees, to ask him to speak to the trustees and urge them to hold Patterson accountable, according to Burleson. Ueckert responded that he needed documentation of the incident proving that she met with Patterson and reported the rape before he could speak to the trustees about the matter. The victim could not provide the correspondence she’d received from Patterson concerning her probation. She had thrown the letters away because every time she looked at them she was reminded of her experience, she told Burleson.
Records of any letter that a seminary president of Southern Baptist seminaries receives or sends are archived and considered property of the seminary. Records of the victim’s meeting, her probation, correspondence with Patterson, and the expulsion of her alleged rapist would then be archived at Southeastern Baptist seminary.
The records, however, were missing. Someone had taken them in 2004 and Ueckert had no documentation to bring to the trustee meeting that ultimately chose to make Patterson President Emeritus.
Ret. USMC Major Shawn C. Madden, Ph.D., the head librarian of Southeastern, discovered in 2004 that the records were missing and that Patterson had taken them with him. Dr. Michael Lawson, chief of Southeastern security, informed Madden that Chris Thompson, who transferred to Southwestern seminary as a personal aide to Dorothy Patterson, had taken the archived records in the dead of night when the building was closed, according to Burleson.
Madden wrote Patterson and chastised him for taking the records and the manner in which they were taken. He demanded that Patterson return the archives as they were seminary property, not Patterson’s property.
(I am) not happy (to say the least) with your actions and methods of securing boxes from the archives, Madden wrote in a 2004 letter, which he shared with Burleson. Persons not associated with Southeastern entered our archives without informing myself nor my archivists and removed material that at that point was technically the possession of Southeastern Seminary and my responsibility for their security … My concern is that material from the President’s office was removed, material that is the possession of this institution and not of an individual. What is generated by the President of this institution is owned by this institution and ought not to have been removed, especially in the dark of night.
Patterson claimed that he needed to keep the archives for legal reasons, in a letter he sent to Madden dated Dec. 10, 2004.
“We have kept my father’s papers, our long collected archives of the Southern Baptist Convention, and my correspondence and travel documents. The keeping of the travel and correspondence documents are essential to me until such time as I do retire in part for legal reasons,” Patterson wrote.
“Now Shawn, I have made no final determination about where those will be deposited. I am not close to retirement at the moment. … However I know that you will understand when I say that there are dozens of factors that could influence where exactly the archive and my correspondence are permanently placed,” Patterson continued.
“Furthermore, my correspondence (I say with a touch of fear that I may be about to indulge in chutzpah of the unbelievable variety) will probably be of great interest to some folks working on dissertations in the future. For such to be openly available at the moment would not be advisable because of the possibility of bringing hurt to others,” he wrote in the letter’s conclusion.
Danny Akin, current president of Southeastern Seminary, admitted that Patterson’s removal of the archives could technically be called theft, since the archives are Southeastern’s property. He was reticent, however, to overtly accuse Patterson of intentional theft.
“You technically could’ve said they were stolen. I wouldn’t say that. I think they took them unwisely,” Akin told WaPo. “They’re still Dr. Patterson’s in his mind. He doesn’t want to return them. I’m hopeful and pretty confident that Southwestern’s trustees will see fit to return them.”
The distinction between intentionally stealing the archives and taking them “unwisely” hinges on whether or not someone in Southeastern leadership gave Patterson permission to take the archives.
Despite correspondence with Patterson and leadership at Southeastern about the removal of the archives, Patterson did not once mention that anyone in Southeastern leadership allowed him to take the archives, according to an email from Madden provided to The Daily Caller News Foundation.
My contribution to the question is that I wrote Dr. Patterson directly and cced those at the healm (sic) of SEBTS each time I wrote, Madden wrote. Not once did either Dr. Patterson point to someone at SEBTS who said that he had their permission to remove those documents or has anyone from leadership say to me in all of this, ‘Dr. Patterson had my permission to do as he has done.’ So too Dr. Thompson in his letter on this matter never named the individual on the bridge at SEBTS who allowed him to stear (sic) the course that he did.
Regardless of his intent, Patterson’s removal of the archives temporarily saved him from termination. (RELATED: Prominent Baptist Seminary President Removed After His Teaching On Abuse Surfaces)
With no record of Lively’s exchange with Patterson, no police record of the alleged rape, and no records of any other cases of alleged abuse or rape that Patterson was accused of mishandling, the board of trustees issued the following finding:
“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.”
Ueckert later issued a statement to WaPo after Patterson’s termination, clarifying that the initial point of that finding referred to a 2015 case of alleged rape at Southwestern seminary and not to the 2003 case at Southeastern. He claimed new evidence showed that Patterson mishandled both cases.
The last point of the seminary’s affirmations referred to the case of Nathan Montgomery’s termination from Southwestern Seminary in May. Montgomery, a doctoral student and employee of Southwestern, tweeted an article written by Ed Stetzer, executive director of the Billy Graham Center at Wheaton College, in which Stetzer suggested that Patterson retire.
I’ve had many friends asking me about this, because they know I am a current student at Southwestern. I believe it is my moral obligation to give a public response. This is the best article I have read, and I agree with it fully. https://t.co/TPfhk3lqzA via @edstetzer
— Nathan Montgomery (@montynem) May 1, 2018
The seminary fired Montgomery shortly thereafter and told him “public disagreement does not align with Scripture,” his tweet “does not exhibit conduct becoming a follower of Jesus” and he had disrespected “those placed in authority over you,” according to WaPo.
Patterson later referred to Montgomery in an interview he gave during a graduation ceremony at Southwestern.
“If you are going to be problematic and you’re indiscreet, you’ll be fired,” Patterson said, according to WaPo.
Patterson also claimed during the interview that Montgomery had “a long history” of misconduct. The only record of misconduct listed on Montgomery’s employment file, however, was a misunderstanding between Montgomery and Patterson’s wife, Dorothy, over a catering assignment.
Patterson’s harsh treatment of those critical of him is not out of character, according to those who know him and have followed his career.
Patterson had a history of sending neckties pre-tied as nooses to those who wrote negatively about him, Benjamin Cole, a former Southern Baptist Pastor and understudy of Patterson’s when he attended Southeastern, told The Daily Caller News Foundation. Paige and Dorothy Patterson also sent floral sprays to Burleson on two separate occasions. Two of Burleson’s friends, upon seeing the flowers, said to him “Wade, those are funeral sprays,” he told TheDCNF.
Patterson’s attempts to intimidate his critics into silence did not help him when the trustee board of Southwestern received the documents that not only confirmed the 2003 rape victims story, but also showed that Patterson sought to intimidate another alleged rape victim in 2015.
To Fell A Giant
One week after making Patterson president emeritus of Southwestern, the board of trustees fired him. Ueckert called Patterson while he was in Germany and informed him that he was terminated from employment at Southwestern. He would no longer receive retirement benefits or live out the rest of his days in the $2.5 million Baptist Heritage Center.
Ueckert issued a statement two days later, explaining that the board chose to fire Patterson in light of a student record that proved that the first victim had, in fact, made an allegation of rape, despite Patterson’s claim that he did not remember ever meeting with her. Email records also showed that Patterson had asked campus security at Southwestern if he could meet privately with another student who alleged rape so that he could “break her down.”
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. …
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, the statement read.
As for the missing records from Southeastern, Ueckert said that some of those were recently located on Southwestern’s campus and preserved with the intention of returning them to Southeastern. Shelby Sharpe, Patterson’s attorney, also handed over some of the documents at a May 30 Executive Committee meeting. The wife of Patterson’s chief of staff, Sharyah Colter, subsequently published those documents without permission in a blog post in an attempt to defend Patterson and discredit the victim from the 2003 allegations. The documents did not, however, directly contradict her account and only served to further prove that she had indeed corresponded with Patterson.
Patterson, giant of the SBC, champion of the Conservative Resurgence, had officially fallen.
“The Southern Baptist Convention is eventually saying to Paige Patterson what Moses said to the sons of Korah – ‘Thus far you have come, and you will go no further,'” Cole told TheDCNF.
But how and why? Was his fall the result of two mishandled rape allegations, a combination of his abuses of power, or an act of God? It depends on who you ask.
“I’ll tell you how,” Burleson told TheDCNF. “Because loyal soldiers like Wade Burleson have awakened to the fact that when Christians grab power and take control and rule over other people to the point of running them over, it is no longer about the Bible and it’s about something that Christ himself would have nothing to do with.”
Burleson had awakened to that notion as early as 2005, as had others, like Cole, Stetzer, Pastor C.B. Scott, Jonathan Merritt, and Russell Moore, who at varying times began to stand up to what they saw as Patterson’s harmful, unbiblical doctrines and his penchant for power.
Rev. Dwight McKissic said that Patterson’s fall had less to do with ardent soldiers of faith and more to do with a shift in culture — the perpetual hurdle of the Southern Baptist Convention.
“In 2000, the message that caused the uproar when he was addressing the Council of Biblical Manhood and Womanhood I believe, and the remarks were made about divorce and spousal abuse — that information was widely known then. But it was largely met with a yawn in Southern Baptist life,” McKissic told TheDCNF.
“People who are criticizing him now were not, did not do so in 2000. And some of them were in the audience when he actually gave that message or answered those questions in 2000 and said nothing about it, but yet they’re horrified by it today,” McKissic added.
That sort of delayed response has been typical of the SBC throughout its history, according to McKissic.
“Unfortunately, the Southern Baptist Convention is always late. They were late in how they opposed slavery — actually never opposed it until 1995 officially. They were late in how they addressed civil rights. They were against civil rights and were strongly against Martin Luther King and his movement. And they’re late to this #MeToo movement,” McKissic said.
He recounted Southwestern seminary’s refusal to grant tenure to Professor Sheri Klouda under Patterson’s leadership as an example. Klouda said seminary officials told her that it was not biblically sound for a woman to teach men.
Patterson, too, was late to that change in culture and paid the price, according to McKissic.
“Paige Patterson has become a victim of a culture that was very acceptable in the ’60s, ’70s, ’80s, ’90s,” McKissic said. “Women created a problem. The trustees would’ve never fired him for any of this in the ’60s and’ 70s or ’80s. But the culture has changed,” McKissic said. “That’s how you explain the rise and fall of Paige Patterson.”
That kind of doctrinal stance toward women played a part in how Patterson dealt with cases of alleged rape, according to McKissic.
“I don’t care how you describe it, it devalues a woman. And that same thinking of devaluing a woman will foster into how you treat her, how you relate to her. And if you’re presented with information, then you weigh that information in light of how you weigh women,” McKissic said.
Rev. Tom Ascol also attributed Patterson’s fall to a change in culture, but one of which, unlike McKissic, he is wary. Ascol crossed theological swords with Patterson several times down the years over Calvinism, which Ascol professes, but said that the two have maintained respect and esteem for one another. He was also quick to point out that he had a limited perspective on the controversy surrounding Patterson and was not privy to all of the details concerning his case.
“We’ve come to this time where the person who’s to be most highly regarded is the one who is most highly offended and so if a person can prove his offendedness being greater than yours then that gives him higher moral ground, the way it’s being trotted out to us now,” Ascol told TheDCNF.
“So those things combined with this kind of general atmosphere in the convention over the last few years where I think these cultural movements wanting to see social justice done, where that social justice is ill-defined and not defined biblically in terms of biblical justice, has created almost a perfect storm to say, ‘Well look, here’s this man, and he said these things and he did these things and therefore he should be removed,'” he added.
Ascol also attributed part of the reaction to Patterson to a fear that the same abuse scandals that have rocked the Roman Catholic Church may also be happening in the SBC. He asserted that Patterson’s comments, on their own merits out of context, were indefensible, but clarified that “there is always a context.”
“I don’t know what the trustees did or how they did it. The rationale baffles me to go from making him president emeritus to summarily firing him in a matter of a week or 10 days. So that … I don’t understand that. And I hope that there will be some explanation of that given to us at the upcoming convention,” he added.
McKissic, however, had an explanation.
“He said judgment will begin at the house of God, and that’s how you explain it,” McKissic said, referencing I Peter 4:17. “God is no longer going to tolerate an attitude toward women being less than, not given the benefit of the doubt, treated differently – especially when it comes to basic human rights – than He allows for men to be treated.”
Where Does The SBC Go From Here?
“Well, I think that is the $6,000,000 question,” Ascol said.
Some who follow convention politics see the SBC’s upcoming battle as one waged between the old guard of traditional doctrine and the newer generation who are “agitating” for reforms like allowing women pastors and the acceptance of homosexual identity for those who claim to follow Christ, according to Ascol. Those who hold that view saw then SBC presidential candidates J.D. Greear as the champion of those urging reform, and Ken Hemphill as the champion of those hoping to adhere to traditional theology.
“I see the issues far more complex and nuanced than that because in my estimation, the real pivot point that we’re facing hinges not so much on reform versus traditionalist theology, but on whether or not we’re going to take the Bible as fully authoritative and sufficient for how we should live and minister, or not, and that crosses those reform traditionalist lines,” Ascol said.
The 2018 SBC meeting in Dallas elected Greear as the convention’s new president on June 12, alluding to cultural change within the SBC perhaps partly in reaction to Patterson.
Ascol also wanted a hearing for Patterson, in the interest of preserving justice. He called for the executive committee that fired Patterson to be transparent and present the evidence and reasons that led them to their decision.
“I think the process has not been as careful and as honorable as it should be for those of us who name the name of Christ,” Ascol said.
“I think there needs to be a legitimate hearing. There needs to be a trial and if he’s guilty, if Paige Patterson’s guilty of the things that he’s been accused of, then okay, let’s let the consequences be what they ought to be. But what’s happened, it seems like today, is that there’s been this precipitous judgment made upon him,” Ascol added.
It is unclear whether Ascol had seen Ueckert’s statement at the time of his interview with TheDCNF.
McKissic asserted, however, that the way forward for the SBC was one of repentance.
When asked where the convention will go from here, McKissic replied:
On our knees seeking God in His wholeness and Holiness, asking for healing, cleansing, or washing, a reconciliation of all of us to God. Praying for the Pattersons, praying for the victims, praying that there is a divine intervention that our future will be greater than our past and we will no longer view women in some kind of inferior, subordinate. or less than equal to men in spirituality and under God, and treat them differently than we do men as relates to just interpersonal relationships and human decency.
Burleson told TheDCNF that the convention’s future depended largely on the resolutions committee which, while comprised of people Burleson called “great men and women,” was also “the most heavily stacked” with employees of Southwestern and “Patterson loyalists.”
“Now, what kind of resolutions are they going to submit? Will they speak boldly and prophetically against the abuse of women or will they come out with some resolution of appreciation for Paige Patterson? I’ll be watching it very carefully,” Burleson said.
This is part 3 of a 3 part series.
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