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Patterson firing met with strong reaction, cancellations

FORT WORTH, Texas (BP) — Following Paige Patterson’s termination by a 12-member committee of the Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary trustees, reactions have ranged from affirmation of the trustees to defense of Patterson.

The seminary has canceled planned on-campus events in conjunction with the June 12-13 Southern Baptist Convention annual meeting in Dallas, and at least two of Patterson’s speaking engagements at ancillary meetings have been canceled. Patterson has not said whether he will deliver the convention sermon in Dallas, a task messengers at the 2017 SBC annual meeting elected him to fulfill.

Meanwhile, the Southwestern trustee executive committee announced today (May 31) that it also “has reinstated” Nathan Montgomery “as an employee of SWBTS.” Montgomery is the student worker who was fired May 2 after he tweeted an article critical of Patterson that called for his retirement.

Patterson has been under fire since late April for statements he has made about domestic abuse and women’s physical appearance.

The trustee executive committee convened May 30 in what an email from Southwestern called a “previously scheduled” meeting and voted unanimously to fire Patterson as the institution’s president emeritus, effective immediately. The decision, according to a statement, was based on “new information … regarding the handling of an allegation of sexual abuse against a student during Dr. Patterson’s presidency at another institution and resulting issues connected with statements to the Board of Trustees that are inconsistent with SWBTS’s biblically informed core values.”

Previously, the full 40-member board voted to transition Patterson from president to president emeritus at a May 22-23 meeting that included 13 hours of executive session. As president emeritus, Patterson would have received ongoing compensation and an invitation to reside on campus as theologian in residence. Those benefits were revoked by Wednesday’s action.

The statement from Southwestern’s trustees did not specify what allegation or institution prompted the firing. A May 22 Washington Post report, however, claimed Patterson told a female student at Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary in 2003 not to report an alleged rape to the police. Later in 2003, Patterson moved from Southeastern to Southwestern.

Current Southeastern President Danny Akin told The Post he could not confirm whether the Southwestern trustees were referencing the alleged 2003 rape in their May 30 statement. He added that files he believes would help Southeastern investigate the incident were taken to Southwestern in 2003, “whether by mistake or intentionally, I don’t know. We think there are files that probably belong to Southeastern so we’ve asked folks at Southwestern to look into that. They’re in the process of doing that.”

Southwestern spokesman Charles Patrick told Baptist Press via email the full trustee board was notified of the decision to terminate Patterson before it was made public. Patterson also was notified in advance of the public announcement.

The trustee executive committee, according to the seminary’s bylaws, “is authorized, between meetings of the Board, to have charge of the Seminary and to transact all trustee matters pertaining to the Seminary which appear to demand immediate action and cannot be deferred until a regular meeting of the Board.”

Patrick said the executive committee comprises board chairman Kevin Ueckert (Texas), vice chairman Connie Hancock (Ohio), David Maron (Mississippi), Bart Barber (Texas), Jeff Crook (Georgia), Jamie Green (Texas), Danny Johnson (Arkansas), Philip Levant (Texas), Mark Mucklow (Arizona), John Rayburn (Texas), George Tynes (Pennsylvania) and Don Whorton (Texas).

Ueckert was not able to reply to BP’s request for comment by its publication deadline.

Russell Moore, president of the Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission, told The Post the termination was “the right call.” He expressed hope Patterson will withdraw from delivering the SBC’s convention sermon.

“I’ve been hearing constantly from women in Southern Baptist life who are hurt and angry,” Moore told The Post, “and understandably so. I’m hoping that coming out of this, we will have a reconsideration of how to teach and train churches to deal with abuse and with abuse victims.”

Bible teacher and author Beth Moore said in a May 31 statement on her blog, “I deeply respect [the Southwestern executive committee’s] decision and applaud their tremendous courage in what has surely been a brutal process. The committee members, too, should be in our prayers.”

Southeastern student identified

Preceding the May 30 meeting of Southwestern’s executive committee, Megan Lively of North Carolina identified herself in a May 28 tweet as the anonymous woman referenced in The Post’s May 22 article claiming Patterson told her not to report an alleged rape at Southeastern to the police.

“I am the woman you read about, #SEBTS 2003, not afraid, ashamed, or fearful,” Lively tweeted. “I am proud to be #SBC, [because] of how many have responded with compassion & love. Our history isn’t our future. Ephesians 4:30-32, Romans 8. Please join us in praying tomorrow.”

According to the Post, Lively also tweeted that she and her husband have forgiven Patterson and that she has not spoken with him since identifying herself. BP was not able to locate a tweet with this information in a May 31 search of Lively’s Twitter feed.

Akin confirmed to BP that, as Lively has explained to him, Patterson personally counseled her not to report the alleged sexual abuse to police “when he met with her on three occasions.”

Southeastern “has come across no additional information that changes anything with respect to our initial understanding of what happened in the sexual abuse of Megan Nichols Lively,” Akin said.

Southeastern’s dean of students in 2003, Allan Moseley “handled things absolutely appropriately and in a Christ-honoring manner,” Akin said, noting Moseley met with Lively and then handed the case over to Patterson.

Patterson defended

In Patterson’s defense, Sharayah Colter, a Southwestern student and wife of Patterson’s former chief of staff, released a 15-page document to BP and other media outlets May 31 addressing, among other claims, the charge that Patterson counseled Lively not to report her alleged rape to police. Colter’s document is accompanied by alleged 2003 correspondence between Patterson and Lively.

Colter also attempted to refute claims Patterson “did not handle appropriately an alleged case of sexual assault against a SWBTS student,” addressed statements Patterson has made about domestic abuse and women’s physical appearance and claimed Patterson did not direct Montgomery’s firing. In addition, Colter offered information purportedly about the Southwestern trustees’ executive session May 22-23 and the executive committee’s meeting May 30. Copies of alleged correspondence related to the various allegations accompanied Colter’s assessment.

In related news, Southwestern has canceled activities previously scheduled on campus June 13 in conjunction with the SBC annual meeting. The Southern Baptist Conference of Associational Leaders has announced Patterson will no longer speak at its June 10-11 meeting as previously scheduled, nor will he speak at the Council of Korean Southern Baptist Churches’ June 11-13 meeting. The Association of Certified Biblical Counselors has announced they are no longer going to hold their annual gathering in October at Southwestern.