SBC messengers refuse call to remove SWBTS executive committee trustees

Dallas city skyline, Dallas, Texas, the Dallas part of the Dallas/FortWorth Metroplex

DALLAS—As Southern Baptist messengers considered a motion June 13 to dismiss the executive committee of Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary’s board, trustee Bart Barber of Farmersville, Texas, asked them to “not rob the trustees throughout our convention of their spine” as they “keep our entities accountable to you.”

The motion submitted by Thomas Hatley of Rogers, Ark., was soundly defeated by messengers in a show of ballots. In light of the committee’s May 30 decision to fire Patterson a week after the full board had named him president emeritus, Hatley said, “I fear the loss of our organizational integrity.”

The former SWBTS president’s tenure was cut short after trustees dealt with concerns regarding the counsel he gave years ago to a woman in an abusive situation. “My motion is not seeking a reversal of anything, but declaring that this set of leaders is not a good option for the future of the school.”

He outlined seven concerns he had with the committee’s action, including lack of proper investigation, neglect of founding documents, abandonment of established procedures, failure to properly call the last meeting, disrespect of the binding vote of the full board, failure to allow the accused an opportunity for a response and possible violations of the law.

Hatley drew applause when he added, “Social media and secular press should never find us critical of one another. We should settle our issues biblically.”

Messenger Ronnie Floyd of Springdale, Ark., countered, expressing concern that “removing duly elected trustees would destroy our own system of governance” and could cause concern and hesitation by all Southern Baptist trustees when faced with “troubling decisions.”

SWBTS trustee Wayne Dickard of Easley, S.C., favored removal of the committee, saying, “If we can be overruled by the Executive Committee why serve?”

Barber gained a point of personal privilege as one of the trustees subject to removal, disclosing much of the basis for his decision-making process. As background he referenced a board review last fall of the seminary’s financial condition led by the chairman of the business administration subcommittee. “Shortly after the review began, Dr. Patterson began to question the legitimacy of that trustee’s eligibility to serve as a trustee and made efforts to have him removed,” Barber said.

He then shared that board chairman Kevin Ueckert had asked the president to receive his input before making any public reply to the allegations.

“Dr. Patterson disregarded this request from the chairman of the board and issued a press release without the chairman’s input,” Barber said, characterizing the reply as damaging to the reputations of the the board, seminary and Patterson.

The Texas trustee also claimed that Patterson “refused to attend meeting after meeting of the Executive Committee as we attempted to work through these problems despite formal requests that he do so and as I continued to say, ‘Let’s wait to hear from the president.’ But he refused to meet with us and refused to give us his side of the story or any of the facts,” Barber said of the timeframe leading up to the called board meeting.

He shared that trustees received an email from Patterson’s attorney days after the May 22-23 meeting, questioning the legal validity of the board’s decision. “What is your seminary to do with a president emeritus who is working to undermine the legitimacy and validity of the seminary’s board of trustees?”

Describing himself as “an old-time Baptist congregationalist,” Barber said, “It is a part of our polity that our entity heads don’t get to remove trustees, that entity heads have to answer to their boards both when they want to and when they don’t want to, and that seminary employees have to abide by board decisions.”

He added, “We all have to serve as people under accountability. Baptists don’t have popes and I’m accountable to you,” he said. “We’re there to keep our entity accountable to you.”

Barber drew widespread applause throughout the hall after closing by saying, “We have that charge and if you rob the trustees of their spine you rob the messengers of their voice.”

Southwestern Seminary’s board will consider another motion referred to them by the convention that asks the full board to review the recent deliberations of the executive committee.

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