Policy violation may stir bylaw change, SWBTS trustees say

FORT WORTH -- An investigation prompted by Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary President Paige Patterson's decision to admit a Muslim into the school's biblical archeology doctoral program is complete -- and could trigger a bylaw change to improve "accountability" and "flexibility in pursuing ministry opportunities" -- trustees said Oct. 22 in a statement.

Patterson apologized to the Southern Baptist Convention in June for making an exception to the school's admissions policy, which requires a profession of faith and an expression of a call to ministry.

"We admittedly recognize that there are inconsistencies between the seminary's bylaws and the actions of its administration and board," the trustees' statement said. "We acknowledge an exception should have been requested until such time that the bylaws could have been amended for launching various initiatives."

The trustees also said, "While not compromising the missional purpose of Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary, we are taking steps to amend the seminary's bylaws to improve accountability that will allow for flexibility in pursuing ministry opportunities such as the one at the Darrington [Prison] Unit."

Trustee John Brunson of Houston told the TEXAN that the mention of the seminary's bachelor's degree program at the Darrington Prison Unit near Houston "is because the difference in who gets admitted is very significant."

"We have not adopted bylaw changes yet. We have merely said that is what we'd be looking to in the spring meeting," Brunson said.

Inmates at Darrington are admitted into the College at Southwestern without a profession of faith and call to ministry but are not seeking theological degrees, Brunson said.

Because the program is housed in a state facility, "we cannot bar anyone from whatever faith they may come from attending," he said, adding that the Southwestern population at Darrington is diverse.

"They are from many different faiths. The intent, of course, is that by the amount of Bible study that's required in the curriculum, many will be led to Christ," Brunson said. "But that is not a requisite."

The program at Darrington is patterned after a similar program provided by New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary at Angola Prison in Louisiana.

During his report to messengers at the annual meeting in June, Patterson explained that the student who was admitted to the archeology program is a Palestinian from a Muslim background who is "a remarkable young man, very open at this point to the Gospel of Jesus Christ."

"I made an exception to the rule that I assumed, probably wrongly, that the president has a right to make if he feels it is important," Patterson told messengers. "He was admitted as a special student in the Ph.D. program, and that is not with Cooperative Program assistance."

Patterson said he was most concerned with "what I will say to God when I stand before the judgment seat of the Lord" regarding the decision.

The student, whose identity was revealed online last spring by critical bloggers, has since withdrawn from the program in the wake of the controversy.

"We join with our fellow Southern Baptists in appreciation for and admiration of the evangelistic heart of our president, Paige Patterson," the Southwestern trustees, in their statement, said. "Any violations of the seminary bylaws were done in a good-faith enthusiasm to pursue the seminary's purpose, as set forth in its articles of incorporation.

"It is our desire and intent," the trustees said in their statement, "to ensure that the seminary's governing documents allow development of ministries to meet opportunities, as yet unknown to any of us, always being mindful of the great stewardship Southern Baptists have placed in our hands."

Trustee Mike Boyd of Tennessee, chairman of bylaws and policies, said during the board's meeting on campus Oct. 22 that trustees will seek to "get all the language where it needs to be."

Bylaw changes will address student body composition including online students "relative to the various belief systems being admitted," with board consent, Boyd said.

The changes also will address faith-based and adult education initiatives in state and/or federal facilities, Boyd said, adding that the efforts are "to bring into line our policy relative to our practice."

A third area trustees could address in the spring is lifestyle expectations relative to biblical moral standards including heterosexual misconduct, homosexual or bisexual behavior, transgenderism and other forms of sexual misconduct, Boyd said.

Erin Curry Roach is a freelance writer for the Southern Baptist Texan, newsjournal of the Southern Baptists of Texas Convention. With reporting by Tammi Reed Ledbetter.
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