Trustees: Patterson move aims for 'benefit' of SWBTS

FORT WORTH, Texas (BP) -- The Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary trustees say their decision to "move in the direction of new leadership" by making Paige Patterson president emeritus effective immediately was intended "for the benefit of the future mission of the seminary." Patterson's new role will come "with compensation" and was approved by a "majority vote."

Patterson released a statement today (May 23) to Baptist Press in response to the trustee's decision.

"'The Lord gives, and the Lord takes away. Blessed be the name of the Lord,'" he said quoting from Job 1:20. "I am grateful for our Southern Baptist churches, their love and their prayers. The future of Southwestern Seminary is bright. The best days lie ahead. God is gracious to the Pattersons. We will exit this world someday still witnessing to the lost about our amazing Savior."

The trustees' statement -- released online around 4 a.m. today following a 13-hour special-called meeting in executive session -- expressed gratefulness for Patterson's contributions to the seminary as president since 2003 and affirmed a previous decision to allow Patterson and his wife Dorothy to continue to live at the Fort Worth, Texas, campus as "theologians in residence at the Baptist Heritage Center."

Paige Patterson reads a statement to Southwestern Seminary trustees at a special called meeting May 22. At the meeting, trustees removed Patterson as president and named him president emeritus at the Fort Worth seminary.
Photo by Adam Covington/SWBTS
As the executive session stretched past 3 a.m., about two dozen people -- including seminary administrators, media and friends and family of the Pattersons -- awaited trustees' decision outside the meeting room in Southwestern's Riley Center. At midnight, the lights automatically dimmed in the waiting area but trustees exiting the room for breaks indicated they didn't know how much longer the meeting would last.

Patterson appeared to join trustees for just over two and a half hours of the executive session, which was convened to discuss controversy surrounding statements Patterson has made on domestic abuse and the physical appearance of women.

The trustees did not release vote totals for any of their decisions in the executive decision, but brief business items transacted in open session May 22 seemed to suggest some tension among the board.

When the agenda was presented, South Carolina trustee Wayne Dickard raised a point of order, stating the trustee executive committee had "acted in an illegitimate way" by continuing to meet after announcing the special-called meeting of the full board. Trustee policies, Dickard said, prohibit such meetings.

Board chairman Kevin Ueckert responded, "Even after the meeting was announced, we felt like that there were items associated with preparation for this meeting and also dealing with the current circumstances that necessitated our further meetings." Ueckert then ruled the point of order not well taken.

The board sustained Ueckert's ruling on a voice vote with what appeared to be two dissents.

Among the board's other decisions in executive session:

-- Jeffrey Bingham, dean of Southwestern's School of Theology, was named interim president, pending his acceptance.

-- A special committee of the trustees was "formed to work out all the details of leadership transition for Drs. Patterson and Bingham," the trustees' statement said. The number of trustees on that committee and their names were not stated.

-- Trustees 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." Montgomery is a Southwestern student fired from his job with campus dining services earlier this month after he tweeted an article critical of Patterson. It is not yet clear whether Montgomery will resume working at the seminary.

Following the meeting, Ueckert, pastor of First Baptist Church in Georgetown, Texas, told Baptist Press the printed statement said all that the trustees desired to communicate, and he declined to be interviewed.

Patterson is scheduled to deliver the convention sermon next month at the Southern Baptist Convention's annual meeting in Dallas. SBC President Steve Gaines has noted the only two ways that can be changed are if Patterson voluntarily withdraws from preaching or if messengers vote to replace him with alternate convention preacher Kie Bowman, a Southwestern trustee who was present at the May 22-23 meeting.

Southwestern's trustees convened their meeting in response to controversy surrounding Patterson since late April over statements he made years ago about the proper response to domestic violence and about a teenage girl's physical appearance.

In an audio clip from 2000, Patterson expressed his views regarding domestic violence, stating the proper response of a wife to domestic abuse "depends on the level of abuse to some degree." In an online video of a 2014 sermon, he illustrated the Hebrew word used to describe Eve's being "built" from Adam's rib in Genesis 2:22 by quoting a teenage boy's assessment that a teen girl was "built." Patterson added that the girl's appearance was "nice."

Patterson issued a statement May 10, in which he apologized for a "failure to be as thoughtful ... as I should have been" in describing domestic violence and the physical attractiveness of women in sermon illustrations.

Since the years-old video and audio clips surfaced, thousands of Southern Baptists have signed open letters both supporting and opposing Patterson.

As the trustees met, The Washington Post published a report claiming Patterson told a student at Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary in 2003 not to report an alleged rape to the police. He was Southeastern's president at the time, moving to Southwestern later that year.

Current Southeastern President Danny Akin sent an email to Southeastern students May 22 stating he was "only recently made aware of" the alleged rape, has "consulted with law enforcement" and is committed to "a zero-tolerance policy on campus regarding rape."

Southwestern's trustees concluded their statement, "As we begin the process of ushering in a new season of leadership, SWBTS remains steadfast in its calling to assist the churches of the SBC by biblically educating God-called men and women for ministries that fulfill the Great Commission and glorify God."

The full text of the Southwestern trustees' statement is printed below.

**********

Statement Regarding Dr. Paige Patterson

May 23, 2018

The Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary (SWBTS) board of trustees is grateful for the contributions Dr. and Mrs. Paige Patterson have made since his presidency began in 2003. Further, we honor his longstanding dedication and commitment to serving the Southern Baptist Convention (SBC) in its mission to present the Gospel of Jesus Christ to every person in the world and to make disciples of all the nations by leading the way for the conservative resurgence.

A special meeting of the SWBTS Board was held on May 22 to discuss our seminary, its future and our responsibility as trustees to ensure SWBTS is in the best position possible to fulfill our mission to biblically educate God-called men and women.

After much prayer and a more than 13-hour discussion regarding challenges facing the Institution, including those of enrollment, financial, leadership and institutional identity, the Board determined to move in the direction of new leadership for the benefit of the future mission of the Seminary.

The board passed a motion through a majority vote to appoint Dr. Patterson as President Emeritus with compensation, effective immediately, which he accepted. In addition, the board passed a motion to affirm the trustees' September 2017 offer for Dr. and Mrs. Patterson to live on campus as the first theologians-in-residence at the Baptist Heritage Center, scheduled to be completed in July 2018.

The board also voted to appoint Dr. D. Jeffrey Bingham, dean of the School of Theology, to the position of interim president, pending his acceptance. Further, a special committee of the trustees was formed to work out all the details of leadership transition for Drs. Patterson and Bingham.

Additionally, 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.

As we begin the process of ushering in a new season of leadership, SWBTS remains steadfast in its calling to assist the churches of the SBC by biblically educating God-called men and women for ministries that fulfill the Great Commission and glorify God.

David Roach is chief national correspondent for Baptist Press, the Southern Baptist Convention's news service. BP reports on missions, ministry and witness advanced through the Cooperative Program and on news related to Southern Baptists' concerns nationally and globally.
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