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Southern Baptist Leader Paige Patterson, Ousted Over Abuses Of Power, To Teach Ethics Class At Seminary

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Joshua Gill Religion Reporter
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  • Paige Patterson, ousted as president of Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary in Texas for concealing documents proving that a former student made an allegation of rape that went unreported, will now teach a Christian ethics class at another seminary.
  • Richard Land, friend and former student of Patterson and president of the seminary at which he will teach, said he is untroubled by Patterson’s history of abuses of power.
  • Sexual abuse advocates lambasted Patterson’s new teaching engagement as hypocrisy.

The president ousted from Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary over abuses of power in handling rape allegations will teach ethics in a seminary class.

The board of trustees of Southwestern Seminary fired Paige Patterson, then seminary president emeritus, in May after discovering evidence that he had concealed documents proving that a former student had made an allegation of rape and that he did not report it to authorities, which contradicted testimony he gave during a previous trustee meeting. Patterson will now co-teach a class called “Christian Ethics: The Bible and Moral Issues” in mid-October at Southern Evangelical Seminary in North Carolina, which is not affiliated with the Southern Baptist Convention, along with seminary President Richard Land. (RELATED: The Fall Of Southern Baptist Paige Patterson Part One: Lion Of The Convention)

Students of the seminary typically take courses online, and the seminary’s overall enrollment as of Oct. 1 numbers at 201.

“Dr. Patterson’s one of the most significant figures in evangelicalism in the last 20 years, at least, of the 20th century and the first part of the 21st century, and we believe that there are a lot of people who would like to hear from him about living the Christian life in America,” Land told Religion News Service. “I believe he’s an asset to evangelicalism and we’re looking forward to it.”

Patterson is famous among Southern Baptist circles, largely for leading the convention’s “Conservative Resurgence” of 1979 in which he helped wrest control of the denomination from theologically liberal leaders and implemented a plan that ensured convention leadership positions would be held by theologically conservative individuals for years to come. He was considered a Martin Luther figure of the SBC and was elected as convention president three times, twice by acclamation.

Patterson fell from grace in 2018, however, after decades of what proved to be a litany of abuses of power on his part, from his terms as convention president all the way to his tenure as president of Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary in Texas.

While the trustees of Southwestern considered evidence of his concealment of a rape allegation enough to merit his ousting on its own accord, others within the Southern Baptist Convention felt it was only the latest of Patterson’s abuses, to include manipulation of convention politics for personal gain, purging women and Calvinists from seminary teaching positions, misusing millions of dollars of seminary money for personal ventures while the seminary was hemorrhaging funds, dropping in enrollment, and faculty members were enduring cuts to retirement benefits, among other misdeeds.

All of those abuses flew relatively under the radar, save for the outcry of a small group of SBC leaders, until over 2,000 Southern Baptist women signed a petition demanding his resignation over comments and teachings in which he encouraged women in potentially abusive relationships to keep their troubles within the church and stay with their husbands. The outcry that arose from that effort forged the path to Patterson’s eventual firing.

Land, however, who is a former student of Patterson and at whose wedding Patterson and Southern Baptist leader and accused sexual abuser Judge Paul Pressler served as groomsmen, remains untroubled by Patterson’s history.

Concerning those who might object to Patterson teaching Christian ethics, Land said, “No one’s forcing them to take the class.”

Ashley Easter, spokeswoman for the “Such a Time As This Rally,” which since June has been demonstrating to increase awareness of the plight of the sexually abused or assaulted within the SBC, lambasted Patterson’s new teaching engagement as hypocrisy.

“Paige Patterson has proved time and time again that he is unfit to educate others on topics of ethics and morality,” Easter said. “Anyone who invites him to speak on these topics is guilty of the same hypocrisy as Patterson himself.”

The list of those deemed hypocrites in Easter’s eyes may prove to be long indeed, as Patterson has and continues to be busy with speaking engagements around the world, according to his spokesman, Scott Colter.

“Dr. Patterson continues to receive frequent speaking invitations both domestically and internationally,” Colter told RNS. “Encouraging God’s people and sharing the saving message of Christ remains his top priority in every engagement. His calendar is quite full in the months ahead, and he is currently booking into late 2019.”

Former Liberty University English professor Karen Swallow Prior, who helped draft the petition demanding Patterson’s resignation, said that despite his past, she sees an opportunity in the upcoming class for progress concerning church leaders’ approach to sexual abuse.

“I strongly and sincerely encourage them to invite women who have been subject to ethical failures within the evangelical church to come and share their experiences with the students,” Prior told RNS. “Doing this would be a great step forward in advancing these important conversations, particularly around sexual ethics.”

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