Watching Southern Baptist dominoes: Whither the Paige Patterson files on 2003 rape report?

Several weeks ago, I recommended that editors needed to budget for airplane tickets and hotel space so that their religion-beat pros could be on the scene when the Southern Baptist Convention meets in Dallas, Jun 12-13. Those that acted back then saved money.

Yes, leaders of Southwestern Baptist Theological seminary have acted twice in reaction to controversies surrounding the Rev. Paige Patterson. Seminary trustees voted on May 23 to remove him as president and then, reacting to new evidence, their executive committee acted yesterday to strip him of his new "theologian in residence" title, his new living quarters on campus and, well, any other remaining ties that bind.

What new evidence? Once again, head over to The Washington Post -- since the religion-desk team there has been leading the charge on this story since Day 1. I'll come back to that subject in a minute.

First I want to note two items in the very buzz-worthy essay written by Southern Baptist Theological Seminary President Al Mohler, after the May 23 action by the Southwestern trustees. The headline on that Mohler essay -- discussed in last weekend's GetReligion "think piece" -- was colorful, to say the least: "The Wrath of God Poured Out -- The Humiliation of the Southern Baptist Convention." Read this Mohler passage carefully:

The church must make every appropriate call to law enforcement and recognize the rightful God-ordained responsibility of civil government to protect, to investigate and to prosecute.

Doesn't the word "prosecute" jump out at you, just a bit? Mohler goes on to say:

A church, denomination, or Christian ministry must look outside of itself when confronted with a pattern of mishandling such responsibilities, or merely of being charged with such a pattern. We cannot vindicate ourselves. ... I believe that any public accusation concerning such a pattern requires an independent, third-party investigation. 

With that in mind, consider this important passage in the new Post report about yesterday's action by Southwestern Seminary leaders to cut remaining ties to Patterson. This passage is, of course, linked to the earlier Post bombshell by Sarah Pulliam Bailey that ran with this headline: "Southern Baptist leader encouraged a woman not to report alleged rape to police and told her to forgive assailant, she says."

Concerning that "new information" in the Patterson controversy, read the following (perhaps while listening to this movie theme). Ready? Read on:

Danny Akin, president of Southeastern seminary, said he couldn’t confirm if the Southwestern leaders were referring to Lively’s alleged 2003 rape at his school. Akin said he believes files that would help them investigate the incident were taken from Southeastern when Patterson left that same year to become president at Southwestern in Texas.
“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,” he said.

The big question looming in the background is this: What happened to the male seminary student who was accused in this 2003 case? 

The female in this case was a student under Patterson's leadership at Southeastern. So was the male student who was accused. What happened to the male student? Is that information in the missing files? Was this a cover-up of a criminal act, something along the lines of Catholic bishops hiding the crimes of their clergy?

By the way, it's important to note the following passage in the new Post report:

The Post does not identify victims of sexual abuse, but on Monday, Megan Lively identified herself in public as the person in the Post article. She later tweeted that she and her husband forgave Patterson on Saturday. She didn’t speak with him.
On Wednesday night, Lively declined to comment to the Post.

However, in the Twitter age, this pivotal figure in the Southern Baptist drama spoke once again, and she had this to say:

One of the most interesting challenges in the Post coverage of this series of events has been making it clear that, while there are many Patterson critics who challenge the SBC's conservative teachings on marriage and gender roles, there are many women who do not.

Note this passage, which rather ironically opens with the word "ironically."

Ironically Patterson, leader of a historic conservative purifying in the 1980s and 1990s of Southern Baptism that called for male-only pastors and women to “submit graciously” to their husbands, was being held under the public light by conservative women, who by the thousand signed a May 6 petition calling for him to lose his job.
On Wednesday, some said they finally felt heard.
“It’s a sigh of relief. Maybe we feel somewhat dignified. They listened to us,” said Lauren Chandler, wife of Dallas megachurch pastor Matt Chandler and one of the first to sign the petition. Last week’s decision, she said, was a case of  “the punishment didn’t fit the crime…There was a lot of damage to women in particular. … I’m saddened for people who have been bullied or silenced or made to feel less. I’m saddened for the loss of [the Pattersons] a couple who had led the way in the SBC for a while.”

The brave actions taken by these women is "ironic," I guess, if one assumes that many women who embrace the SBC's conservative doctrines would not be inclined to stand up on issues of domestic abuse, harassment and even rape.

The Post team should be praised for the fact that the newspaper's reporting throughout this controversy has made it clear that, in Southern Baptist life, there are courageous female conservatives as well as females of the "moderate" Baptist persuasion.

Stay tuned, because there's no way that this story is over. Are there many plane tickets and hotel rooms left?

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