Southern Baptist leader Paige Patterson removed as Texas seminary president after comments on women, abuse

Holly Meyer
The Tennessean

Prominent Southern Baptist leader Paige Patterson was removed early Wednesday as the president of a Texas seminary following growing criticism of past comments he made about women and domestic abuse. 

Paige Patterson, seen here delivering his Southern Baptist Convention president's address on June 13, 2000,  at the South Baptist Convention 2000 in Orlando, Fla. On Wednesday, May 23, 2018, Patterson was removed as head of a Texas seminary after growing criticism of comments he made about women and domestic abuse.

The Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary's board of trustees voted to make Patterson president emeritus during a lengthy special meeting that started Tuesday afternoon and extended into the early morning hours, according to a statement from the board of trustees. The motion passed with majority support from the board and is effective immediately.

"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's statement said. 

More:Top Southern Baptist leader Paige Patterson apologizes to women, rejects 'any form of abuse'

More:Thousands of women are pushing back against a top Southern Baptist leader. Here's why.

Patterson's removal comes on the heels of a growing number of Southern Baptist women and their supporters now taking issue with the counsel Patterson has provided and shared in recent decades related to women. 

Past remarks draw criticism

More than 3,200 people signed a May 6 letter to the board of trustees critical of Patterson for previously advising an abused woman to pray for her violent husband. They also took issue with remarks he made about at teen girl's appearance. 

The pushback against Patterson only grew louder Tuesday when The Washington Post reported that a woman is accusing Patterson of telling her not to report her rape to police and to forgive her alleged assailant.

Patterson was not available for comment Wednesday, said Charles W. Patrick Jr., a seminary spokesman. 

While he has yet to publicly address the allegations in The Post story, he has issued two statements over the last month. Both said Patterson rejects any form of abuse, and in the May 10 statement, he apologized to women he has wounded with past remarks that were inappropriate or lacked clarity. 

The Post story published Tuesday afternoon while the seminary's board of trustees were still meeting at the seminary in Fort Worth.

Patterson offered compensation, housing

The board continued its discussions and eventually announced its decision in the early morning hours. 

It decided that Patterson will receive compensation and that he and his wife can live on campus as the first theologians-in-residence at the Baptist Heritage Center, which is under construction. The offer to live in the center, first extended to the Pattersons in September, was affirmed Wednesday by the board.  

The board's decision to offer Patterson a new job and additional perks did not sit well with some. 

Liz Guinn, who joined thousands in signing the May 6 letter to the board of trustees, did not agree with that portion of board's decision. Guinn lives in East Tennessee and her husband is the pastor of Calvary Baptist Church in Elizabethton.

"Now the board of trustees making him president emeritus and giving him a house on campus and continued salary shows that they don’t think what he has said and done is wrong," Guinn said in an email. "I love the SBC, but I am disappointed in this outcome."  

Jacqueline Weiss, who signed the letter as a way to stand up for her daughters' future in the church, thinks the board's decision to remove Patterson was deflated by giving him a new job and the other perks. But she can see why they did it given his overall contributions to the denomination.  

"I think it was the right decision to remove him," said Weiss, who attends Brentwood Baptist Church in Brentwood with her family. "It's a step in the right direction."    

The board, in their statement, said it was grateful for the contributions Patterson and his wife have made since he became president of the seminary in 2003.

They also honored his commitment to the Nashville-based Southern Baptist Convention, the largest Protestant denomination in America, as well as the leadership role he played in evangelical network of churches' conservative shift in recent decades.

Trusting Southwestern's trustees

Patterson has been revered by many for his role in the conservative resurgence and continues to have supporters. A May 5 petition standing up for him has nearly 600 signatures

Keith Vaughan, the senior pastor of Valley Grove Baptist Church in Knoxville, signed his name to that petition on May 6.

While Vaughan did not agree with Patterson's comments on abuse and women, he did not think Patterson deserved to be cut out of Southern Baptist life as some were demanding, especially given his overall contributions to the denomination. 

"I am more inclined to say, 'Can we take a step back from everything and not be over reactive?'" Vaughan said. "There has to be within the Christian community, there has to be grace extended everywhere." 

The newest allegations laid out against Patterson in The Post do raise real concerns for Vaughan about the possibility that a sexual assault was covered up. While he needs more facts before making a judgment call on that, he is not blindly supporting Patterson, either.  

But he is comfortable with the board's decision, especially given that he was not a part of the discussions happening in the 13-hour meeting. Although the trustee system may not be the perfect oversight system, Vaughan said it is the one the denomination has in place for the seminaries it operates. 

"I just have to trust the trustee system," Vaughan said. 

On Wednesday morning, the board also affirmed that the seminary stands against all forms of abuse and that evidence exists that Patterson complied with reporting laws for assault and abuse. 

What exactly did Patterson say?

The statement did not specifically mention the recordings of Patterson's past remarks on domestic abuse and women's appearance. The recordings, which have widely circulated online, helped fuel the fervor that has been building around Patterson over the last month.  

In a video of a 2014 church conference talk, Patterson comments on the attractiveness of a teenage girl and remembers telling a concerned mother that her teenage son and his friend were acting biblically when one of them called the girl "built."

A 2000 audio recording is also at issue. In it, Patterson spoke against divorce and recounted how he advised a woman being abused by her husband to pray for God to intervene. When she showed up with two black eyes angry with his advice, Patterson told her he was happy because her husband had attended church for the first time that Sunday.

The board statement also did not specifically address the allegations raised by The Post. 

That incident occurred in 2003 while the woman was pursuing a degree from Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary in Wake Forest, N.C., The Post reported. Patterson was president of the school at the time. The Post does not name victims of sexual assault. 

After the story broke, Danny Akin, the North Carolina seminary's current president, addressed the allegations in a Tuesday afternoon email to students. Akin said he asked the school's general counsel to review the previous administration's actions and consulted law enforcement. He also spoke with the former student. 

"I want to make sure the campus knows that we have a zero-tolerance policy on campus regarding rape, sexual harassment, abuse, etc.," Akin said in the email. "If you ever are the victim of any of these, I want to encourage you to immediately report what has happened to the authorities in addition to working with our Student Life division to receive care and counseling."

What happens next?

In Texas, the dean of the School of Theology at Southwestern seminary, D. Jeffrey Bingham, will serve as interim president. Bingham said in a statement that he is humbled and honored to serve. 

"May I please request that the Southwestern Seminary family and the churches of the Southern Baptist Convention faithfully pray for Dr. and Mrs. Patterson, Southwestern’s administration, the trustee transition committee, and me in the months ahead as we collectively work together in unity and love during this transition period," Bingham said.  

A special committee of trustees also was formed to help with the leadership transition. 

While the board of trustees has made its decision, the conversation swirling around Patterson continues. It could come to a head again during the Southern Baptist Convention's annual meeting, which is set for June 12-13, in Dallas. 

Patterson is slated to deliver the convention sermon and some calling for him not to preach due to his controversial comments.

Southern Baptist Convention President Steve Gaines, who leads Bellevue Baptist Church in Memphis, addressed the issue in a May 11 statement published in the Baptist Press, which is an official publication of the denomination.

Some had been calling for Gaines to remove Patterson as speaker, but he explained that he did not have the power to do so. 

Patterson can recuse himself, but only the voting body at the annual meeting can vote him out in favor of having the alternate speaker deliver the sermon, Gaines said.  

Reach Holly Meyer at or 615-259-8241 and on Twitter @HollyAMeyer.