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'Soft Landing?' Southern Baptists Oust Seminary Head


A Southern Baptist seminary has dismissed its president, who was a prominent leader in the denomination for decades.

The board of trustees of the Ft. Worth-based Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary removed Paige Patterson as president following a 13-hour meeting that stretched into the early morning hours on Wednesday.  

In a statement released overnight, the board explained its decision as necessary to "move in the direction of new leadership for the benefit of the future mission of the seminary."

Patterson came under fire in recent weeks after an audio recording surfaced in which he recounted advising a woman to stay in her physically abusive marriage. Another comment was made public in which he remarked on a teenage girl's body.

As The Washington Post has reported, Patterson apologized for the comments about the teenager but did not apologize for his comments about abuse.

The Post published a story on Patterson as the board was in its 13-hour meeting on Tuesday. It featured the account of a woman who said Patterson told her in 2003 not to report her alleged rape. At the time, she was a student at Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary and he was the president. 

Boz Tchvidjian, a consultant to faith-based organizations on the issue of abuse, said if the student's account is true, it demonstrates a very low view of women and children on the part of seminary administrators. 

"Instead of leadership welcoming, affirming and being her greatest advocate they silenced, shamed and punished her," he said.

Tchvidjian is also questioning, as are many other observers, the perks that the Southwestern board gave Patterson even as it dismissed him. They include naming him as president emeritus with pay and allowing him and his wife to live on-campus as theologians-in-residence.

The well-known speaker and blogger Mary DeMuth told CBN News, "I'm a little confused about what seems to be a really soft fall for him--being emeritus and having money and a place to live and continued reverence."

Religion writer Jonathan Merritt called it a "soft landing" and noted, "the board's decision feels more like a celebrated send-off than a stiff censure."

Some Southern Baptist leaders are speaking out regarding Patterson and what must happen next in the denomination. North Carolina pastor J.D. Greear, who will be nominated for Southern Baptist Convention (SBC) president next month, applauded the Southwestern trustees for acting with accountability and said the church must protect the abused.  

"Abuse can never be tolerated, minimized, hidden or 'handled internally,'" he said in a statement. "Those in leadership who turn a blind eye toward abuse are complicit with it and must be held accountable."

Russell Moore, the Southern Baptist public policy spokesperson, said the SBC needs a "resurgence of women's voices and women's leadership and women's empowerment."

Karen Swallow Prior, a Liberty University professor and noted writer and speaker, said the decision to remove Patterson  was "hard but necessary" and called it a "step toward the corporate repentance and healing needed in the SBC."

"This denomination is at a crossroads as it relates to understanding, preventing, responding to the victimization of women and children," said Tchvidjian, "they'll either make the difficult but critically important decisions to learn, to be teachable, to be vulnerable, to be transparent and hopefully transform the culture of the SBC to be the safest place for women, children and others or they'll continue down the same road."

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