Patterson named president emeritus at Southwestern

FORT WORTH—Trustees of Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary named Paige Patterson president emeritus after spending 13 hours behind closed doors discussing “challenges facing the institution, including those of enrollment, financial, leadership and institutional identity,” according to a statement issued May 23.

Patterson had requested the meeting after a 2000 audio clip circulated online launched a firestorm of criticism over his view of domestic abuse and avoidance of divorce.

The board expressed gratitude “for the contributions Dr. and Mrs. Paige Patterson have made since his presidency began in 2003,” the statement read. “Further, we honor his longstanding dedication and commitment to serving the Southern Baptist Convention in its mission to present the gospel of Jesus Christ to every person in the world and to make disciples of all the nations by leading the way for the conservative resurgence.”

Trustees heard an update on executive committee meetings held during that month, a report of a special trustee review committee, and considered the president’s performance and the situation currently facing the seminary in light of the social media frenzy.

After the doors were opened at 3 a.m., chairman Kevin Ueckert of Georgetown announced Patterson’s acceptance of the new role. With the vote taken behind closed doors, no tally was given as to the number of trustees supporting the action to change Patterson’s title, though a follow-up statement characterized it as a majority. Thirty-five trustees of the 40-member board were present for the meeting in Southwestern’s Riley Center, while one participated via video conferencing.

Ueckert also reported the board’s affirmation of a motion stating that “evidence exists that the president has complied with laws concerning assault and abuse.” He added, “The seminary stands against all forms of abuse.”

Furthermore, the chairman reported that the board found  no evidence of misconduct in the personnel file of Nathan Montgomery, a student who was fired from seminary employment after he tweeted an article by Wheaton College professor Ed Stetzer that criticized Patterson’s leadership.

Another motion affirmed the board’s offer last September for the Pattersons to live on campus as the first theologians-in-residence at the Baptist Heritage Center to be completed in July.

Trustees named theology dean Jeffrey Bingham to serve as interim president, pending his acceptance. Bingham gained administrative and teaching experience at Dallas Theological Seminary, Criswell College and Wheaton College before being named to lead the School of Theology in 2016. A committee that includes four trustees will assist in the transition from Patterson’s leadership to Bingham’s interim role.

“As we begin the process of ushering in a new season of leadership, SWBTS remains steadfast in its calling to assist the churches of the SBC by biblically educating God-called men and women for ministries that fulfill the Great Commission and glorify God,” the official news release stated.

Only one trustee supported a failed effort by board member Wayne Dickard of Easley, S.C., who objected to the Executive Committee having held “multiple meetings” instead of waiting for the full board to convene.

Within 15 minutes after convening at 1:30 p.m., the board went into executive session, hearing a presentation from Patterson with cabinet members and a few selected staff and faculty who were allowed to remain in the room. About 4 p.m. he was called back with his cabinet for another hour and a half,  and appeared once more late in the evening, amounting to nearly three hours in discussion with trustees.

Patterson’s 15-year tenure at Southwestern Seminary prioritized archaeology, missions, women’s studies and evangelism. Key accomplishments include:

  • a focus on academics paired with evangelism and missions known as “scholarship on fire”;
  • expansion of undergraduate, master’s and doctoral programs for women with Terri Stovall named as the first dean of women’s programs in a Southern Baptist seminary, Dorothy Patterson as professor of theology in women’s studies, Candi Finch as assistant professor of theology in women’s studies and Hongyi Yang as assistant professor of systematic theology in women’s studies;
  • launched undergraduate degrees in humanities, biblical studies and music through what came to be known as Scarborough College;
  • bolstered the School of Church Music and gaining funding to become an all-Steinway school;
  • completed MacGorman Chapel, the 3,500-seat auditorium and performance venue; Mathena Hall which houses the Roy Fish School of Missions and Evangelism along with the College;
  • created the School of Preaching;
  • launched the Richard Land Center for Cultural Engagement, Center for Expository Preaching, and Center for Early Christian Studies;
  • added the M.A. in archaeology and biblical studies along with the Tandy Institute for Archaeology; and
  • significantly increased the school’s endowment.
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