The first to plead his case seems right, until another comes and examines him.” – Proverbs 18:17 (NASB)
When I received news that Paige Patterson had been fired from his role as president emeritus, I was standing under a sunny sky listening to my toddler son squealing with pure delight as he chased his dog around my legs. It struck me how oblivious he was to the sobering news, and I felt the weight of the realization that the history we write today is the future he lives tomorrow. In the spirit of writing a truthful history, I’d like to offer a more complete picture of what has transpired over the past month in regard to Patterson and Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary. I believe we are all better served operating with the truth, and since I am aware of these truths, I feel I need to share them.
The first fact I’d like to offer in full disclosure is that I have had a front row seat to observing Paige Patterson during my time at Southwestern as a student and most recently as wife to his chief of staff, Scott Colter. I have been in his home, ridden in his car, passed him on the sidewalk, been a student in his class, sat through his chapel sermons, emailed with him and shared meals with him. I’ve observed him in large groups and small family gatherings.
Second, I want to be clear that I have compiled this account of the truth completely of my own volition. Paige and Dorothy Patterson have not asked me to write on behalf of or in defense of them, and my words are my own.
Third, the fact is, Southern Baptists deserve to know the whole story. Thus far you’ve heard one side of it, and that is because Patterson holds the conviction not to defend himself personally, following the example of Christ. However, this story has spiraled out of control to a point that demands a balanced and truthful response. The facts below will characterize a man who — while a sinner with feet of clay like each us — is not guilty of all of which he has been accused in recent days.
Please allow me to address the accusations against him here.
Accusation # 1: Patterson encouraged a female Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary student not to report an alleged rape to police.
This accusation was outlined in a Washington Post article published May 22 while the trustees of Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary (SWBTS) were meeting. In the article, a student who in a Tweet later identified herself as Megan Lively (Megan Nichols during her time at Southeastern), alleges that Patterson met with her along with four male seminarians and encouraged her not to report the alleged rape to police. The article states that she was placed on probation but that she did not know why.
Truth: Patterson says he does not recall meeting with Lively, which appears in keeping with a letter Lively sent to Patterson dated April 15, 2003 (see attached letter and response).
“Finally, thank you for the accountability and for putting me on probation. Even though Dr. Moseley has handled this, I think it is great that the school enforces discipline,” Lively wrote in the letter. “At first, I was humiliated and embarrassed. But I know now this is from my own actions and the consequences of those.”
In the letter, Lively apologized and admitted what she recalled then as sin.
“I just wanted to write you and first of all apologize,” Lively wrote in the April 15 letter. “I know that you have been made aware of the sin that was in my life. While I have confessed this to the Lord, repented and sought accountability in my own life, I feel that I have disgraced the school.”
In July 2003, Lively sent a handwritten notecard to Patterson again offering her gratitude and appreciation to him (see attached notecard and response).
“I just wanted to take the time to thank you for the difference you have made in the life of our seminary and in my personal life,” Lively wrote in the notecard. “We will be praying for you and support you 100 percent. The faculty and students at Southwestern have no idea how blessed they are to have you as their new president.”
If a rape had indeed been alleged in 2003, and Patterson had known about it, he would have reported it to authorities, as he demonstrated in a different scenario involving a Southwestern Seminary student when he called police even when the student asked him not to do so.
This brings me to the second accusation against Patterson.
Accusation # 2: Patterson did not handle appropriately an alleged case of sexual assault against a SWBTS student.
Truth: Patterson immediately called police in response to a female student claiming she had been raped. The accused man admitted to having sexual relations with the woman, but said it was consensual. The man also produced evidence to the police to that effect.
Southwestern’s chief of police can confirm that the Fort Worth Police Department was called and responded. Patterson expelled the male student accused of rape. However, because the female student refused to press charges, Patterson had done all he could by calling the police, expelling the student and encouraging the woman multiple times to press charges.
Assistant Professor of Theology in Women’s Studies Candi Finch, who also served as assistant to Dorothy Patterson during her time as first lady at Southwestern, was in one of the meetings where Patterson met with the female student and her family members.
“I personally sat in a meeting with Dr. Patterson and this female student and two of her family members,” Finch recalled. “Dr. Patterson opened and closed the meeting with prayer for this young lady. He encouraged her in my presence to press criminal charges against the young man, but she said she wanted to think and pray about it more.”
Finch said to her knowledge the woman has not pressed charges to date.
Accusation # 3: Patterson says an abused wife should return to an abusive husband.
Truth: Fifty-four years ago, a woman in Patterson’s church told him she was feeling spiritually abused because her husband would not let her go to church or tithe. After the woman emphatically assured Patterson her husband had never hurt her physically and would never hurt her, Patterson advised her to go home and pray for her husband. Surprisingly to the woman, the husband did hurt her. They both came to church, and the man was saved, about which Patterson said he was happy. Contrary to the narrative spun through social media, Patterson was not happy the woman was hurt. Patterson has apologized for not expressing himself clearly in the retelling of this story giving the impression he condones abuse. As one who has risked his life to remove wives from domestic violence, nothing could be further from the truth.
Many Southern Baptist leaders have condemned Patterson by explaining their stance on abuse and setting it up in juxtaposition to Patterson’s portrayed beliefs. Patterson has offered multiple statements clarifying his stance on abuse.
“I utterly reject any form of abuse in demeaning or threatening talk, in physical blows, or in forced sexual acts,” Patterson stated in “An Apology to God’s People,” posted on Southwestern’s website on May 10, 2018. “There is no excuse for anyone to use intemperate language or to attempt to injure another person.”
For Patterson, those are not just hollow words; they are strong beliefs which he has demonstrated by physically removing women from abusive husbands on more than one occasion.
“I was the one being hit and Dr. Patterson never suggested to ‘stick around and get smacked.’” tweeted Angie Brock on May 4. “What he did was bring the authorities, remove my violent husband and encourage me in the Word. Not recommending divorce does not mean approval of abuse.”
Accusation # 4: Patterson objectified a 16-year-old girl in conversation with a woman and her son.
Truth: Patterson, upon hearing a teenage boy say to his friend that a girl passing by was “built,” commented to the boy’s mother that the boy was just being biblical, meaning that he was using the same language the Bible uses to describe Eve in the creation account. In the retelling of this story during a sermon illustration while preaching on Genesis 2, Patterson said that the “young co-ed” who had passed by the boys, was “nice.”
Patterson has issued a statement saying he regrets any hurt his words have caused.
“[A] sermon illustration used to try to explain a Hebrew word (Heb. banah “build or construct,” Gen. 2:22) [has] obviously been hurtful to women in several possible ways,” Patterson said in his May 10 statement “An Apology to God’s People.” “I wish to apologize to every woman who has been wounded by anything I have said that was inappropriate or that lacked clarity. We live in a world of hurt and sorrow, and the last thing that I need to do is add to anyone’s heartache. Please forgive the failure to be as thoughtful and careful in my extemporaneous expression as I should have been.”
Accusation # 5: Patterson fired student employee Nathan Montgomery in retaliation for Tweeting an article calling for his retirement.
Truth: When Montgomery’s Tweet was shown to Patterson, he instructed that the employee not be fired. Vice President of Communications Charles Patrick, however, had already fired Montgomery.
The matter was taken out of Patterson’s hands when Montgomery appealed directly to the board of trustees instead of appealing to Patterson.
The last few remaining truths that Southern Baptists should know is the way in which the Southwestern board of trustees has handled the social media crisis and ensuing termination of Patterson. While many godly men and women comprise the board of trustees, the manner in which the matter was handled was disappointing at best, especially in light of the many bylaw infractions and violations of trustee confidentiality.
The executive committee of the board of trustees worked outside the bounds of its bylaws by not giving the required 10-day notice before holding meetings.
Trustee confidentiality was violated by the release of information from the executive session of the board’s May 22 meeting to people outside the room and not on the board during the 13-hour meeting. Confidential seminary information which was only shared with the trustees appeared both on Twitter (@eyesonSBC) and in a blog.
May 22, 2018 meeting of the board of trustees
Despite the fact that Patterson requested the meeting to have a hearing from the full board, only a fraction of the time was allotted by the trustees for him to address the group. His time was limited and he was only allowed to answer specific questions posed by the board. On the second brief occasion when he was summoned to speak to the board, he was not allowed to bring his cabinet with him, as he desired.
Then, after waiting into the wee hours of the morning while the board met in executive session and upon offering Patterson the position of president emeritus, Patterson returned to a side room down the hall from the trustees’ meeting room to discuss the board’s solution with his cabinet. After about 20 minutes, when Patterson was nearly ready to return to the board’s meeting room in reply, a Southwestern employee noticed the trustees were returning to open session and rushed down the hall to let Patterson and his cabinet know so that they could return to the meeting.
I personally walked down the hall to hear what the board would announce in open session, since they had not waited for Patterson to return. When I arrived at the room, trustees and media were pouring out, having already ended the meeting after only a couple of minutes, if that, in open session. I had to ask a reporter what the board had announced and then returned immediately to deliver the news to Patterson that they had removed him as president and named him president emeritus.
May 30, 2018 action of the executive committee of the board of trustees
After midnight in Germany, while Patterson was sleeping, the chairman of the board of trustees, Kevin Ueckert, ordered Scott Colter to wake Patterson for a phone call. On the call, Ueckert told Patterson he was fired effective immediately, with no salary, no health insurance and no home. He then relayed that Patterson would receive instructions for vacating Pecan Manor upon returning to Fort Worth.
Before the phone call, both Pattersons’ and Colter’s email accounts, including personal contacts and calendar, were shut down without notice and while the three were traveling in Germany on behalf of Southwestern, leaving them without access to itineraries, train tickets, local contact information, hotel confirmation and flight boarding passes.
Also at some point before the phone call, the locks were changed without notice to the room on Southwestern’s campus housing Patterson’s private and personal archives containing ministry materials and documents from Criswell College and the Conservative Resurgence. No notice was given, and the Pattersons had no knowledge that this was being done and had not given permission for such. Despite accusations that the archives were mishandled, the attached correspondence from 2004 from Patterson to Southeastern’s librarian and president indicate he believes all was handled properly.
It is regrettable that the trustees did not contact Patterson during their May 30 executive committee meeting to hear any explanation of these accusations before his immediate termination. I wish to reiterate that the purpose of sharing the details of what has transpired over the past month is the hope that Southern Baptists, who own Southwestern Seminary and control its work, have a fuller picture of what actually occurred.
So why was Paige Patterson actually terminated? Was it for …
– encouraging a female student not to report to police an alleged rape at Southeastern? —We now know that he does not recall meeting with her and that she thanked him and sang his praises.
– not handling appropriately an alleged case of sexual assault against a SWBTS student? — We now know that he called the police, urged the woman to press charges and expelled the male student.
– telling an abused wife to return to an abusive husband? — We now know the wife assured him that her husband had not and would never physically harm her.
– objectified a 16-year-old girl in conversation with a woman and her son? — We now know Patterson has apologized for using a sermon illustration that misconstrued his heart and beliefs.
– fired student employee Nathan Montgomery? — We now know Patterson did not fire Montgomery and instructed that he not be fired.
We serve a God of truth. I have written in the spirit of that truth, and I pray you will receive it in that spirit as well.
Carroll instructed Scarborough, “Lee, keep the Seminary lashed to the cross. If heresy ever comes in the teaching, take it to the faculty. If they will not hear you and take prompt action, take it to the trustees of the Seminary. If they will not hear you, take it to the Convention that appoints the Board of Trustees, and if they will not hear you, take it to the great common people of our churches. You will not fail to get a hearing then.”
– B.H. Carroll – Founder of Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary