Just two days after Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary in Fort Worth, Texas, accused former President Paige Patterson of theft, Patterson preached Sunday (May 30) at First Baptist Church in Dallas, Texas, a Southern Baptist megachurch led by Robert Jeffress. Patterson, who preached in both the 9:15 and 11 a.m. services, claimed a “lynch mob” was trying to get him.
“[Jeffress] was going to be gone at the time when he set this up,” Patterson said at the start of his sermon in the second service after Jeffress introduced him. “I tried to get out of it for your sakes. And also because of the lynch mob that I saw out there trying to get hold of me.”
Patterson didn’t add any other details about what he called a “lynch mob,” and he didn’t mention it in the first service when he instead told a story about former FBC Dallas pastor W.A. Criswell. (Patterson’s sermon, on the genealogy found at the end of the book of Ruth, otherwise didn’t address the controversies.) But Patterson appeared to be referencing the criticism directed to FBC Dallas for inviting Patterson.
After SWBTS’s allegations were released online Friday, Word&Way published the first news report on the claims. That story included additional information about the Pattersons’ personal nonprofit and the fact that he would preach Sunday at FBC Dallas.
Criticism of both Patterson and FBC Dallas appeared on social media throughout the weekend — not just because of the new allegations. SWBTS fired Patterson in 2018 for mishandling reports of student rapes. Thus, invites for him to preach have sparked criticism from SBC denominational leaders and those who advocate for victims of clergy sexual abuse.
“Trustees terminated Paige Patterson for cause, publicly disclosing that his conduct was ‘antithetical to the core values of our faith,’” SBC President J.D. Greear told the Houston Chronicle in January 2020. “I advise any Southern Baptist church to consider this severe action before having Dr. Patterson preach or speak and to contact trustee officers if additional information is necessary.”
Before the service, Ben Lovvorn, executive pastor at FBC Dallas, responded to Word&Way’s request for comment about Patterson preaching in light of the allegations by SWBTS. Lovvorn defended the preaching invite but ignored the claims about the Pattersons.
“Dr. Patterson has actually been scheduled for several months to preach tomorrow,” told Word&Way on Saturday. “The Pattersons are longtime members of First Baptist Dallas. Dr. Patterson served as an associate pastor of the church in the 1970’s and 80’s, and teaches a Sunday School class at the church.”
The scandals surrounding Patterson’s firing in 2018 and the new allegations from Friday were also ignored during the services on Sunday. As Jeffress introduced Patterson during the services, he mentioned Patterson’s time leading SWBTS. Without any reference to Patterson’s firing or the recent allegations, Jeffress declared, “Paige did a marvelous job there as president of the seminary.”
Jeffress also praised Patterson for his role in leading the rightward shift of the SBC, even calling Patterson “the Winston Churchill of the Southern Baptist Convention.”
Jeffress, who recently claimed that Baylor University in Waco, Texas, has “infidels in the religion department” who have “torn apart” the faith of students, praised Patterson for “spearheading” the effort to move the SBC from “the same liberal rot that had infected Baptist universities and continues to infect Baptists universities” that was “spreading like gangrene throughout our entire Southern Baptist Convention.”
“We are grateful to Dr. Patterson. Not just those who call themselves Southern Baptists but all evangelicals, all Christians around the world,” Jeffress said. “Oh, Dr. Patterson, a debt of gratitude we can never repay for turning the Southern Baptist Convention around.”
“We count it a privilege to have him back here at First Baptist Church, Dallas,” Jeffress added. “What a treat it’s going to be for all of us.”
Patterson returned the compliment during the second service, calling Jeffress “the pastor with the greatest courage of any pastor I’ve run across in 25 years.”