By Lonnie Wilkey
Editor, Baptist and Reflector
Baptist Press reported early on May 23 that trustees of Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary have appointed President Paige Patterson as “president emeritus effective immediately.”
Here’s what that really means: Paige Patterson was removed as seminary president. He supposedly no longer has any authority. By its very definition “emeritus” means: “a person retired from professional life but permitted to retain as an honorary title the rank of the last office held” (Merriam-Webster Dictionary).
Southwestern trustees took it a step further and have already appointed an interim president (Southwestern dean Jeffrey Bingham), pending his acceptance.
Though Patterson is revered by many Southern Baptists for his role in the “conservative resurgence” of the Southern Baptist Convention, comments he made about domestic abuse and women necessitated the trustee action.
A video clip from 2000 resurfaced in recent months in which Patterson said the proper response of a wife to domestic abuse “depends on the level of abuse to some degree.” Most Southern Baptists disagree vehemently. Domestic abuse of any level cannot be tolerated or excused.
As trustees met on May 22 to decide Patterson’s fate, The Washington Post published a report claiming Patterson told a student at Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary (where he was then president) in 2003 to not report an alleged rape to the police. Southwestern trustees affirmed a motion stating “evidence exists that Dr. Patterson has complied with reporting laws regarding assault and abuse.”
Personally, I think the seminary trustees have shown too much kindness. Patterson will continue to be compensated and allowed to live on campus as a “theologian-in-residence” at the seminary’s new Baptist Heritage Center, according to a statement from Southwestern trustees. Patterson should be given any benefits due him for his tenure, but he should not be compensated in the future as if he was still an employee of the seminary. If he is compensated those funds should come from sources other than the Cooperative Program.
I agree with a Southwestern alumnus who told me that he thinks Patterson should “be shown the door.”
In addition, Patterson is scheduled to preach the annual convention sermon at the SBC annual meeting in Dallas. He should do the right thing and step down and allow the alternate (Kie Bowman) to preach. If not, then messengers have the right to vote at the annual meeting for Patterson not to speak. If he does preach, I imagine a lot of people simply will not attend that session or will get up and leave.
People make mistakes and God forgives those mistakes (if the person asks forgiveness) and so should we as Southern Baptists. But there are consequences.
Pray for our convention and for Dr. Patterson and his family. God is still in control. He always is.