(RNS) — After considering fresh evidence of an alleged rape cover-up, the board of Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary in Fort Worth voted to strip embattled former President Paige Patterson of the title and benefits it had granted him a week ago.
In a statement posted to its website Wednesday (May 30), the board of trustees took away “all the benefits, rights and privileges provided by the May 22-23 board meeting, including the title of President Emeritus, the invitation to reside at the Baptist Heritage Center as theologian-in-residence and ongoing compensation.”
His swift termination represents the most dramatic example of the #MeToo movement pervading the top reaches of the Southern Baptist Convention.
The new evidence, the statement said, related to an allegation that in 2003 Patterson, then president of Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary in Wake Forest, N.C., asked a female student not to report an alleged rape to the police and to forgive her assailant.
The about-face from the board caps a dramatic fall for Patterson, one of the leaders of the Southern Baptist Convention’s theological shift to the right, and once a lionized figure within America’s largest Protestant denomination.
“There’s no joy in my heart over this decision,” said Wade Burleson, an Oklahoma pastor and blogger and one of Patterson’s many critics. “However, this action declares to the world that the Southern Baptist Convention is able to self-correct. It may take time. It may be ugly at times. But in time, the SBC will do the right thing.”
The board appointed D. Jeffrey Bingham, dean of the School of Theology, to the position of interim president.
According to the release, “new information confirmed this morning was presented regarding the handling of an allegation of sexual abuse against a student during Dr. Paige Patterson’s presidency at another institution and resulting issues connected with statements to the Board of Trustees that are inconsistent with SWBTS’s biblically informed core values.”
On Monday, the woman who said she was raped in 2003, outed herself on Twitter. She is Megan Lively, a social media strategist who lives in Wilson, N.C. She has not responded to media requests.
I am the woman you read about, #SEBTS 2003, not afraid, ashamed, or fearful. I am proud to be #SBC, bc of how many have responded with compassion & love. Our history isn’t our future. Ephesians 4:30-32, Romans 8.Please join us in praying tomorrow. #PaigePatterson #sbc18 #matthew5 pic.twitter.com/ZQNbL2zHip
— Megan Lively (@megannlively) May 29, 2018
Demands for Patterson’s ouster had already multiplied in the wake of recently surfaced recordings in which he boasted that he advised a woman to stay with her abusive husband and objectified the body of a 16-year-old girl.
Those remarks led more than 3,200 Southern Baptist women to sign an online letter asking the trustees to take action against Patterson.
Then, on May 22, The Washington Post published a story about a woman who said she was raped on the campus of Southeastern and was asked to keep quiet. It now appears the board made further inquiries into those allegations, resulting in its statement on Wednesday.
Patterson, the architect of the conservative takeover of the Southern Baptist Convention in the early 1980s, is also known for using his position to push back against feminism and the women’s movement. He helped reinstate a biblical literalism with regard to marriage, family and the role of women. He also helped push an amendment to the denomination’s statement of faith in 1998 that says “a wife is to submit herself graciously to the servant leadership of her husband.”
Patterson is scheduled to give a keynote sermon to pastors during next month’s annual meeting of the Southern Baptist Convention in Dallas.