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SWBTS ‘moving forward’ despite ‘certain events’

NASHVILLE (BP) — “Although certain events took place this summer,” Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary interim president Jeffrey Bingham told the Southern Baptist Convention Executive Committee, Southern Baptists are invited to “move forward” with Southwestern.

During his Sept. 18 report to the EC in Nashville, Bingham referred at least five times to the May 30 termination of Southwestern president emeritus Paige Patterson, a week after he was accorded that status. Yet in an effort to focus on the future, Bingham never described what happened, utilizing instead the refrain “certain events.” His only mention of Patterson by name was a request that EC members pray for him and his wife Dorothy.

“Yes, events happened this summer,” Bingham said. “But you know what? Southwestern, by the grace and the mercy of God, is moving ahead to fulfill its mission, which is to train God-called men and women for a variety of ministries. We are not living in the past.”

As evidence of Southwestern’s forward-looking posture, Bingham noted a total enrollment of 3,200, including students at the Fort Worth, Texas, campus; at extension centers; online; and in a Mandarin Chinese-language program. The seminary’s 600 new students this fall come from 25 countries and speak 13 different languages, he said.

During welcome week, “you would never have known that we were in the midst of a presidential transition,” Bingham said, because faculty and staff “showed up, did their work and brought ministry to the students who had shown up to begin their studies.”

Another step forward for Southwestern is to launch in the spring a required training for all students that will teach them to prevent and deal with sexual abuse. The seminary also will “increase and improve the harassment training that all of our employees must take,” Bingham said.

Yet even as Southwestern moves forward, Bingham acknowledged some Southern Baptists still have “questions” about the seminary, “confusion that is perhaps tearing you up inside,” “anger” and “other feelings which you don’t even quite know how to express.” In response, he offered to “listen” and “talk to you about what you’re thinking and what’s going on inside you.”

“I know that I’m tall,” Bingham said, referencing his 6’7″ stature. But “when I sit down in common brotherly or sisterly conversation with you, I’m the same height you are. And when we kneel together on the floor in order to seek the Lord in prayer, in order to accomplish reconciliation and common brotherly and sisterly understanding and a rededicated heart to the mission of God to reach the nations — on the floor on our knees, we’re the same height.”

Bingham repeated in closing, “Would you move forward with Southwestern Seminary? That’s what we’re doing.”