Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary

In Baptist circles, which is the more powerful position: SBC president or SBC seminary president?

In Baptist circles, which is the more powerful position: SBC president or SBC seminary president?

I have a fair amount of experience reporting on the Southern Baptist Convention, going back two decades when I served as religion editor for The Oklahoman and traveled to the denomination’s annual meetings.

In my time with The Associated Press in Dallas, I did a 2004 series on the 25th anniversary of the 1979 conservative takeover of the Southern Baptist Convention. Last year, freelancing for the Washington Post, I covered an all-night meeting at which Paige Patterson was removed as president of Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary in Fort Worth, Texas.

But I’ll acknowledge that I’m no expert on the nation’s largest Protestant denomination. For example, I don’t have a clear idea of whether the Southern Baptist Convention’s president — an elected role generally filled by a pastor — is a more powerful, substantial position than serving as president of one of the denomination’s six regional seminaries. It seems to me that perhaps the seminary presidents are bigger, more major players in the long term.

The reason I bring this up is that the ongoing news coverage of the SBC’s sex abuse scandal — in which Patterson keeps making all the wrong kind of headlines — typically cites Patterson’s past SBC presidency before mentioning his tenure as seminary president.

In fact, the Fort Worth Star-Telegram — which should be as informed on this story as anyone — seems somewhat confused about which role Patterson was kicked out of last year.

Here’s the lede of the Star-Telegram’s report on a lawsuit (warning: the details are chilling) filed last week:

A woman who said she was threatened and humiliated after reporting multiple rapes to former Southern Baptist Convention president Paige Patterson has filed a lawsuit against him.

The lawsuit, which was filed by a former student of the Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminaryin Fort Worth, was unsealed this week. 

It says the woman was the victim of multiple violent sexual assaults on the school’s campus by a fellow student, who also was employed at the seminary, in 2014 and 2015. But even before she became a student, the lawsuit says, the seminary “was not a safe place for young women.”

But here’s the deal: Patterson was president of the SBC in 1999 and 2000. That was 20 years ago.

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Three weekend reads: Another #MeToo case for SBC, faith-based adoption and Bible teacher Jimmy Carter

Three weekend reads: Another #MeToo case for SBC, faith-based adoption and Bible teacher Jimmy Carter

After a week in Puerto Rico on a Christian Chronicle reporting trip, I'm still catching up on my sleep — and my reading.

Speaking of reading, here are three interesting religion stories from the last few days.

The first concerns the latest #MeToo case facing the Southern Baptist Convention. The second is an in-depth analysis of religious freedom vs. gay rights in taxpayer-funded adoption and foster care. The third is a feature on the Sunday school class in Plains, Ga., taught by former President Jimmy Carter.

1. Southern Baptist officials knew of sexual abuse allegations 11 years before leader’s arrest

Sarah Smith, an investigative reporter for the Fort Worth Star-Telegram, delves into how the Southern Baptist Convention's International Mission Board handled allegations that a 25-year-old seminary student sexually assaulted a 16-year-old girl.

A crucial question: Why didn't the board report the matter to police?

Smith meticulously reports the facts of the case and gives all the relevant parties ample space and opportunity to comment, even if some choose not to do so or to issue brief statements that shed little light. This is a solid piece of journalism.

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Beyond Dallas, onrushing #ChurchToo furor may spell trouble for biblical 'complementarians'

Beyond Dallas, onrushing #ChurchToo furor may spell trouble for biblical 'complementarians'

At this writing we don’t know whether Paige Patterson will turn up for his star appearance to preach the keynote sermon at the June 12-13 Dallas meeting of the Southern Baptist Convention (SBC).

Whatever, thanks to Patterson, reporters will flock to this gathering of the biggest U.S. Protestant denomination.

That’s due to the mop-up after Patterson’s sudden sacking as president of Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary (per this GetReligion item). It’s a dramatic turn in the onrushing #ChurchToo furor hitting U.S. Protestants after decades of Catholic ignominy over sexual misconduct.

The ouster involved his callous attitudes on spousal abuse, rape and reporting, plus sexist remarks, as protested by thousands of Baptist women. Patterson and Southwestern are also cover-up defendants in a sexual molesting case against retired Texas state Judge Paul Pressler. The storied Patterson-and- Pressler duo achieved what supporters call the SBC’s “conservative resurgence” and opponents the “fundamentalist takeover.”     

 The prime figure among their younger successors is R. Albert Mohler, Jr., president of Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville. He has denounced the current scandal as “a foretaste of the wrath of God,” and predicts ongoing woe for Southern Baptists and other  evangelicals. Doubtless he’s also upset over the downfall of SBC headquarters honcho Frank Page.

Mohler especially fears damage to the “complementarian” movement in which he and Patterson have been allied. It believes the Bible restricts women’s authority in church and home. Their evangelical foes charge that this theology disrespects women and their policy input, ignores victims’ voices and fosters abuse and cover-ups.

The Religion Guy has depicted the debate between “egalitarian” evangelicals and complementarians here. For other background, note this narrative from a female ex-professor at Southwestern.

Complementarians gained momentum with the 1987 launch of the Council on Biblical Manhood and Womanhood, backed by conservatives including Patterson’s wife Dorothy, Mohler, Daniel Akin who succeeded Patterson’s as president of Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary, and many non-Baptists. 


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A key Paige Patterson critic is hit by bus: Tennessean takes gentle look at 'Why?' angle

A key Paige Patterson critic is hit by bus: Tennessean takes gentle look at 'Why?' angle

One of the most dramatic sidebars to the controversies surrounding #SBCToo and the Rev. Paige Patterson was the freakish timing of a serious accident in the life of one of his most articulate female critics within evangelicalism.

Karen Swallow Prior is one of those individuals whose existence perfectly illustrates why your GetReligionistas are not fond of sticking shallow labels on complex religious believers.

First of all, she is professor of English at Liberty University. Then again, she used to identify herself as a conservative feminist, which is a conversation starter, to say the least.

I first ran into her back in 2003 when I was writing about a Southern Baptist congregation that created a service blending Celtic liturgy and symbols with evangelical content ("Postmodern Celtic Baptists). Prior's research into liturgy and poetry was at the heart of that effort.

Now this, care of a recent story in The Tennessean:

Karen Swallow Prior helped raise the voices of thousands of women who called out a revered Southern Baptist leader for his counsel on women, abuse and divorce. 

The same day a Texas seminary removed him as its president, Prior got hit by a bus. 

The timing of the freak accident in Nashville felt uncanny to her. Prior and others advocating alongside her for better treatment of women in the evangelical denomination say they saw a parallel between the bus wrecking her body and the misogynistic forces of the church causing brokenness among women. 

The symbolism they found in the May 23 crash that played out at the intersection of Church Street and 20th Avenue North resonated with Prior on a visceral level. 

"There's no winners, and just talking about it and speaking on behalf of others was just difficult. It's an ugly situation," Prior said ... from her room at Vanderbilt University Medical Center. "Then, just to be slammed by a bus literally, physically in the midst of that moment, this was just eerie."

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Next act in Southern Baptist drama? Judge Paul Pressler still fighting 'closet' accusations

Next act in Southern Baptist drama? Judge Paul Pressler still fighting 'closet' accusations

The telephone calls began in the early 1980s, including one from a liberal Baptist with a five-star track record in American politics and media. I was the religion-beat reporter at The Charlotte News at the time, the long-gone afternoon paper that operated alongside The Charlotte Observer.

The big news in American religion back then was the conservative revolt in the giant Southern Baptist Convention, which began in the late 1970s and took six-plus years to run its course, in terms of changes in national SBC boards and agencies. The leaders of this revolt were Texas Judge Paul Pressler and the Rev. Paige Patterson.

Readers may have heard of Patterson, since he has made a bit of news in recent weeks. You think? To catch up, see this post from yesterday: "Watching Southern Baptist dominoes: Whither the Paige Patterson files on 2003 rape report?"

The calls in the early 1980s, however, were about Pressler. They focused on rumors -- not public documents and events that could lead to coverage -- that Pressler had been accused of sexual abuse by a young man in the Presbyterian church where the future judge was a youth leader, before he became a Southern Baptist.

The rumors continued, leading to fierce debates about the importance of out-of-court settlements and other complications linked to Pressler's past. Now, the Pressler story is one elite-media headline away from competing with the Patterson drama, as Southern Baptists wrestle with sins in the past and their leadership going into the future.

Yes, that's was the topic of this week's "Crossroads" podcast. Click here to tune that in.

To see the larger context, consider this passage from a Ross Douthat column -- "The Baptist Apocalypse" -- in The New York Times. Yes, there is a hint of a Donald Trump angle here, but this story is actually much bigger than that.

Late last year I wrote an essay speculating about the possibility of an “evangelical crisis” in this era, driven by the gap between the older and strongly pro-Trump constituency in evangelical churches and those evangelicals, often younger, who either voted for the president reluctantly or rejected his brand of politics outright. But I didn’t anticipate that the crisis would take a specific sex-and-power form -- that the Trump presidency and the #MeToo era between them would make the treatment of women the place where evangelical divisions were laid bare.

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

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."

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It's wrath of God stuff: Thinking past Paige Patterson and into the Southern Baptist future

It's wrath of God stuff: Thinking past Paige Patterson and into the Southern Baptist future

If you are following the Southern Baptist Convention's #MeToo crisis, with the not-so-graceful retirement of Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary President Paige Patterson, then there is no question about the newsiest "think piece" for this long weekend.

But let's pause a second before we get to that commentary -- "The Wrath of God Poured Out: The Humiliation of the Southern Baptist Convention," by Southern Baptist Seminary President Albert Mohler, Jr.

The big story behind the story of Patterson's fall is a high-stakes showdown between two generations of Southern Baptist leaders.

Patterson is one of the iconic figures in the old-guard SBC wing that is linked to the old Religious Right. While Mohler is 58 years old, he became president of Southern when he was 33 and, ever since, has been a cornerstone personality in a wave of SBC leaders who are very theologically conservative, but have a radically different style and agenda than the old guard, especially on matters of race and other hot-button issues in public life.

So glance, for a few moments, at the YouTube video at the top of this post. It's a 2015 panel at Midwestern Baptist Seminary discussing this topic -- "Passing the Baton: Raising Up the Next Generation of SBC Leaders." The moderator is Paige Patterson. Mohler is one of the panelists. Listen long enough to get the flavor of things.

Then head over to this much discussed Christianity Today commentary by another symbolic SBC leader, the Rev. Ed Stetzer of Wheaton College, who holds the Billy Graham chair of Church, Mission and Evangelism. This piece followed an earlier Stetzer piece asking Patterson to stand down on his own -- pronto -- including his high-profile role as keynote speaker in June at the national SBC gathering in Dallas.

In the new piece, Stetzer added:

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Friday Five: Paige Patterson all-nighter, pope's Europe worries, royal celebrity pastor and more

Friday Five: Paige Patterson all-nighter, pope's Europe worries, royal celebrity pastor and more

On Tuesday, I made what I thought would be a quick trip to Fort Worth, Texas, to cover the Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary's board meeting for the Washington Post.

I arrived at noon for the meeting that started at 1:30 p.m. and figured the trustees' deliberations on embattled President Paige Patterson would last a few hours.

I fully expected to be back home in Oklahoma City in plenty of time to enjoy a full night's rest.

Wrong!

Suffice it to say that the "quick trip" turned into an all-nighter as the board's closed-door session stretched into the wee hours — finally ending, after more than 13 hours, just after 3 a.m. Wednesday.

For more details, be sure to read tmatt's post headlined "After midnight: Dramatic turn in Paige Patterson drama, with religion-beat pros on the scene."

Meanwhile, please forgive me if I'm still a little groggy as we dive into this week's Friday Five:

1. Religion story of the week: As I mentioned, I was honored to help on this piece, but Washington Post religion writers Sarah Pulliam Bailey (a former GetReligion contributor) and Michelle Boorstein did much of the heavy lifting: "Prominent Southern Baptist leader removed as seminary president following controversial remarks about abused women." 

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After midnight: Dramatic turn in Paige Patterson drama, with religion-beat pros on the scene

After midnight: Dramatic turn in Paige Patterson drama, with religion-beat pros on the scene

Let's face it, it's going to be hard to do a GetReligion-style critique of a breaking hard-news story in The Washington Post that runs with this byline: "By Bobby Ross Jr., Sarah Pulliam Bailey and Michelle Boorstein — May 23 at 6:44 AM."

Luckily, Wednesday is Bobby's normal day off here at GetReligion. He was all over Twitter, into the wee, small hours of this morning, waiting for another shoe to drop in this high-profile drama in the Southern Baptist Convention, America's largest non-Catholic flock.

So what can I say about a story reported by a current GetReligionista, a former GetReligionista and one of the nation's most experienced religion-beat professionals?

Let's start with the obvious, focusing on the crucial thread that unites those three names: This was a job for experienced religion-beat reporters.

Yes, there will be Southern Baptists -- young and old (hold that thought) -- who may debate one or two wordings in the story that finally ran this morning with this headline: 

Prominent Southern Baptist leader removed as seminary president following controversial remarks about abused women

There are leaders in all kinds of religious groups who, when push comes to shove, want to see a public-relations approach to anything important that happens to them and their institutions. When it comes to bad news, they prefer gossip and PR, as opposed to journalism.

Meanwhile, you can find the following in the 12th chapter of the Gospel of St. Luke

Therefore whatsoever ye have spoken in darkness shall be heard in the light; and that which ye have spoken in the ear in closets shall be proclaimed upon the housetops.

Let's focus on two crucial decisions that faced the team writing this latest story about the long, twisted tale of Patterson and his views on sexual abuse.

First of all, this story is quite long, for a daily news story. However, it really needs to be read in the context of Sarah's earlier exclusive, the one that you know the trustees of Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary were discussing behind those executive-session doors. You also know that this Post report spend some time being "lawyered up." I'm talking about the story 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

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