EDITOR’S NOTE: This story was updated June 5 at 3:41 p.m.
FORT WORTH, Texas (BP) — An attorney for terminated Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary President Paige Patterson issued a media release late Monday afternoon (June 4) defending Patterson against alleged “wide-spread misrepresentation and misinformation.”
Hours later, Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary issued a statement responding to the attorney’s claims about documents from Patterson’s tenure as Southeastern’s president from 1992-2003. Also in response to statements in the release, current Southeastern President Danny Akin told Baptist Press institutional records indicate former student Megan Lively reported to seminary officials in 2003 that “a nonconsensual sexual act had been performed against her person.”
Patterson has drawn fire for, among other issues, his handling of Lively’s report.
In an interview with BP, Patterson’s attorney — Shelby Sharpe of Fort Worth, Texas — said Patterson “had nothing to do” with the June 4 release. Though the release was submitted by Sharpe over the signature line of his legal firm, Sharpe said, “I initiated it myself as a person and not as his lawyer at all.” Sharpe informed Patterson he was compiling the release, but “I did not get his approval. I did not ask him for any input whatsoever.”
The release’s aim was “character defense,” Sharpe said, and “to straighten out erroneous statements that are in” a June 1 statement released by Southwestern trustee chair Kevin Ueckert. Sharpe’s release was separate from any severance negotiations with Southwestern, he said.
Ueckert’s release stated the trustee executive committee fired Patterson May 30 after obtaining evidence which “contradicts” a claim by Patterson about the alleged 2003 sexual assault at Southeastern.
Among Sharpe’s claims in his media release:
— “No reasonable reading of” correspondence from Patterson’s personal archives suggested Lively “reported a rape to Dr. Patterson” in 2003 when he was Southeastern’s president “and certainly not that he ignored” such a report, “as is alleged.”
— “Dr. Patterson first learned of the charges that he allegedly did not report a rape at SEBTS during the May 22 board meeting” of Southwestern’s trustees. “Dr. Patterson’s response was that he had no recollection of a rape being reported to him.”
Sharpe told BP Patterson didn’t “remember a lady reporting a rape” while he was at Southeastern, so he called Allan Moseley, Southeastern’s dean of students in 2003. “Dr. Moseley said, ‘I don’t recall the lady telling me that.’ And then the lady who became [Lively’s] accountability partner” said, when she was queried May 22, “I don’t ever remember this student telling me that.”
Sharpe alleged that Lively, in 2003, “confessed to consensual” sexual conduct and “referred to it as a sin on her part.”
— During the May 22 Southwestern trustee meeting, “Dr. Patterson explained the full context” of a 2015 email concerning a rape allegation by a female student at the Fort Worth seminary, including his alleged statement that he wanted to meet with the accuser alone to “break her down.” Patterson’s explanation was “to the apparent satisfaction of the full board, as evidenced by the fact that the full trustee board voted to name Dr. Patterson ‘president emeritus’ instead of terminating him.”
Sharpe told BP the accuser met “with Dr. Patterson and with others and report[ed] the rape. The guy was immediately expelled from school and it’s reported to law enforcement. A week later, she sends an email to Dr. Patterson thanking him for the way he handled the delicate matter.”
More than “a month later,” Sharpe said, Patterson made the “break her down” statement to express his desire to more fully understand circumstances “concerning a forthcoming meeting that had nothing to do with the reporting of the rape.”
— “Dr. Patterson flatly denies that private SEBTS archives were ever stolen,” and his personal attorney has invited Southeastern to “join with him in having Peacemakers Ministries provide an arbitrator agreeable to both parties to decide the ownership of” disputed records “in accordance with 1 Corinthians 6, which prescribes how Christians are to settle disputes rather than using the secular court system.”
Regarding correspondence between Patterson and Lively that has been made public, Sharpe told BP, “Communications to and from a student that are personal are not a part of” legally confidential student files. “There’s not anything that has been released that would be unlawful.”
Sharpe said he has not discussed with Patterson whether he will preach the convention sermon at next week’s SBC annual meeting because “I only visit with him on legal matters.”
Southern Baptists should pray, Sharpe said, “that God will provide for [the Pattersons] as is appropriate and that those things that have been spoken falsely will come to light and be seen for what they truly are.”
Patterson is “in the process of moving out” of the president’s home at Southwestern, Sharpe said, and “under negotiation” with the seminary about final details of the separation.
Southeastern Seminary’s June 4 statement in response to Sharpe’s release, noted “SEBTS does not believe” official communications by Patterson while he was president “were maliciously removed from the property. However, we believe there is a misunderstanding on the part of the Pattersons and their attorney as to what is owned by SEBTS under the work for hire doctrine.” Southeastern said it had not yet received a request to settle disputed documents through Peacemakers Ministries.
Regarding Lively’s allegation, Akin clarified to BP, “She was very clear” in 2003 “that a nonconsensual sexual act had been performed against her person.” Southeastern’s records from 2003 indicate Lively “screamed and fled the room” when the alleged assault occurred, Akin said.
Lively did not use the word “rape” in her report, Akin said, but the act she alleged fit the definition of that term.
There is no record at Southeastern, Akin said, of what information about Lively’s case was given to Patterson when he became involved in the matter.
Regarding correspondence between Patterson and Lively that has been released publicly, Akin said, “All files must remain confidential that relate to a student at an institution.” There is “no question that any type of correspondence related to a student’s status or ongoing activity at a school is covered by federal law and the privacy act.”
The full statement released by Shelby Sharpe follows.
Following is the statement released June 4 by attorney Shelby Sharpe of Fort Worth, Texas, titled, “The release of facts in response to further accusations against terminated SWBTS president Paige Patterson.”
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
Given the wide-spread misrepresentation and misinformation regarding Dr. Patterson, it is important to set the facts straight. Insofar as they continue to be misrepresented publicly, accurate and appropriate responses will be issued.
This media release is in response to a release late Friday afternoon, June 1, 2018, from Kevin Ueckert, chairman of the board of trustees of Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary (SWBTS), concerning an executive committee decision of May 30, 2018, to terminate Dr. Patterson immediately.
The sole purpose of this release is to set forth facts and to put into perspective the committee’s decision and the way in which that decision was made.
Following is an itemization of the facts regarding the middle of the night termination made by the executive committee without all the relevant documents on which to base a decision:
— Chairman Ueckert states in the release that the executive committee received student records from Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary (SEBTS) that contradicted an answer Dr. Patterson gave to a trustee’s question during the full board meeting of May 22.
— Dr. Patterson was terminated without an opportunity to see the material or to respond to it.
— Neither Dr. Patterson nor his legal counsel was notified of the existence of this material allegedly incriminating Dr. Patterson prior to his termination.
— To date, requests by Dr. Patterson’s legal counsel to see the material have been denied.
— At Dr. Patterson’s request and after being made aware of the name of the Southeastern student making the accusation against Dr. Patterson, Dr. Patterson’s staff checked the terminated president’s personal archives for any related correspondence. Letters found from the accuser to Dr. Patterson appear to validate that Dr. Allan Moseley, the SEBTS Dean of Students, and not Dr. Patterson, handled the matter. The accuser also apologizes for what she called her sin and makes no mention of or reference to rape.
— Copies of these letters were provided to Southwestern’s legal counsel on May 31, 2018.
— Because the executive committee did not give Dr. Patterson an opportunity to respond before his termination while in Germany for a long-standing commitment, the committee did not have in hand all relevant documents on which to base its decision prior to making that decision.
Following is an itemization of the facts pertaining to the charge in the chairman’s release that Dr. Patterson lied in answer to a trustee’s question at the May 22 board meeting:
— The incident in question concerns a time period in which Dr. Patterson was in the process of moving to Fort Worth, Texas, from Wake Forest, North Carolina, approximately 15 years ago.
— A personal ‘thank you’ letter to Dr. Patterson provided to Southwestern Seminary’s legal counsel plainly states that a student at SEBTS first interacted with a faculty member and then with Dr. Moseley. She thanked Dr. Patterson for being able to stay in school and for the way in which the school handled the matter.
— No reasonable reading of the letter suggests that the student had reported a rape to Dr. Patterson and certainly not that he ignored it, as is alleged.
— Dr. Patterson first learned of the charges that he allegedly did not report a rape at SEBTS during the May 22 board meeting. Dr. Patterson’s response was that he had no recollection of a rape being reported to him.
— To date, as far as we are aware, all parties with direct involvement and knowledge of the situation have stated rape was not mentioned. These individuals include the Dean of Students at SEBTS at the time, a woman assigned to meet with Mrs. Lively, and several staff members.
— Thus, when Dr. Patterson was asked about this charge during the May 22 meeting, he did not have a recollection of any such accusation.
— Significantly, one of the trustees sent a communication during the May 22 meeting to the SEBTS woman assigned to counsel the young woman, and this former SEBTS staff member further confirmed what Dr. Patterson shared.
Following is an itemization of the facts in response to the accusation that an email from Dr. Patterson to the SWBTS chief of the campus security department contains a statement that is “antithetical to the core values of our faith and to SWBTS”:
— The fact that an isolated statement from an email is being widely distributed by SWBTS trustees without providing adequate context is unfortunate.
— Dr. Patterson explained the full context of the statement to the apparent satisfaction of the full board, as evidenced by the fact that the full trustee board voted to name Dr. Patterson “president emeritus” instead of terminating him without salary, benefits, or residence as the executive committee later did on its own.
— The student in question had given several different accounts of her story to authorities, school administration, and her family. Dr. Patterson was seeking to understand what actually occurred among the many contradictory statements.
— Anyone who knows Dr. Patterson knows that he never meets alone with women without clear accountability practices in place. He preferred that there be no police presence so the young women would not feel intimidated.
One must wonder what transformed the explanation of this statement from satisfactory at the May 22 meeting of the full board to “antithetical to core values” when considered by the executive committee May 30.
Following is an itemization of the facts related to the accusation that Dr. Patterson failed to deliver documents belonging to SEBTS in his possession:
— Dr. Patterson flatly denies that private SEBTS archives were ever stolen.
— Curiously, these accusations are now surfacing after more than 15 years, which raises the question of motive. Why raise the issue of supposed missing archives after all this time when correspondence shows that the question was raised and settled in 2004.
— This request was actually made to Dr. Patterson’s legal counsel.
— Dr. Patterson’s legal counsel immediately began an investigation which included contacting Dr. Chris Thompson, who supervised the transfer of Dr. Patterson’s library and personal archives from SEBTS to SWBTS.
— Dr. Thompson provided a letter (included below) referencing what transpired. In the letter he writes emphatically that the materials transferred included no SEBTS materials.
— Dr. Thompson had an obligation to SEBTS that no SEBTS papers leave its campus, and he attests to that in his letter.
Following is an itemization of the facts responding to the chairman’s charge that the papers given to the SWBTS’s legal counsel are SEBTS papers:
— Any reasonable reading of the letters reveals that they are personal, not institutional.
— Many officials of organizations receive ‘thank you’ letters.
— The fact that an official responds on institutional letterhead does not change the personal nature of the letter received nor any response to it.
To resolve the dispute about the true ownership of the documents in question, Dr. Patterson’s legal counsel has requested Southeastern Seminary join with him in having Peacemakers Ministries provide an arbitrator agreeable to both parties to decide the ownership of the records in accordance with 1 Corinthians 6, which prescribes how Christians are to settle disputes rather than using the secular court system. So far, SEBTS has not accepted this request.
While confident that no SEBTS documents were taken, Dr. and Mrs. Patterson are glad for SEBTS to have copies of any appropriate correspondence that they are unable to locate.
It is regrettable that these matters have been handled in the manner that they were. Had Dr. and Mrs. Patterson been included in the process and given an opportunity to respond, a much more amicable and less public outcome could have been achieved.
Letter by Chris Thompson, referenced above.
South River Baptist Church
May 31, 2018
To Whom it May Concern:
In 2003, while serving as Special Assistant to the President, I assisted Dr. and Mrs. Patterson in the move from Southeastern Seminary to Southwestern Seminary. This relocation involved the packing of the Patterson’s personal belongings, their expansive library, their personal files, archived material related to the Conservative Resurgence and the Southern Baptist Convention, and the T.A. Patterson historical collection. I was employed by SEBTS and had access to all locations where these items were located. All materials were loaded into a tractor trailer and two 20 foot Ryder trucks.
Office staff at Magnolia Hill and in the President’s Office identified and boxed files that were to be moved to Southwestern in the weeks leading up to the move. Material consider relevant to SEBTS was not taken. Archival material not related to SEBTS was collected from Appleby Hall. The T.A. Patterson historical collection and other archival material related to the Conservative Resurgence were collected from the archival room in the SEBTS library. All items were collected on a Friday and Saturday during office hours and loaded for shipment.
I continued employment at SEBTS until the end of August 2003 and began work at Southwestern Seminary in September of 2003.
Contrary to allegations, nothing was stolen. No building or rooms were broken into to acquire the material. Everything taken was considered as material belonging to Dr. and Mrs. Patterson.
Dr. Chris Thompson
2659 S. Chipley Ford Rd
Statesville, NC 28625