Yesterday I tweeted a thread on several pieces of Southern Baptist controversy and what the implications are for this year’s SBC Annual Meeting that meets in Nashville next week, June 15-16. What follows is largely the content of that thread. The original thread can be found here.
To begin, the purpose of this article is not to address the brewing controversy surrounding CRT/I nor the punches being thrown left and right regarding the ever-resurfacing debate about the nature of the convention’s complementarianism. This article cannot consider every issue that needs to be addressed in Nashville. There are many issues coming to a singular head this year, but this thread will focus on the abuses of power by those in leadership.
In 2019 Augie Boto retired from the Executive Committee (EC). Boto was, at the time, the Executive Vice President of the EC. In 2020 there was a lawsuit filed over the “attempted takeover” of a charity that had Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary and Baylor University as its beneficiaries. Boto was in the middle of it. Guilty, in part, of intentionally mishandling this endowment and for seeking unethical board appointments. So much so, he agreed to never hold a position of leadership at an SBC entity or Texas based charity ever again.
This matters because Boto, while embroiled in fraudulent fiduciary actions and serving Southern Baptists as the Executive Vice President of the Executive Committee at the same time, discredited the testimonies of Christa Brown & Rachael Denhollander regarding the sexual abuse crisis in the SBC:
Boto’s remarks are in line with the culture of dismissal he inherited from SBC leaders like Paige Patterson, who encouraged Megan Lively not to report her abuse case. But Patterson, who we will come back to, was not the only influential figure close to Boto with a checkered history. Frank Page, the former President of the SBC Executive Committee, resigned in 2018 due to a “morally inappropriate relationship.” Yet, in 2017, while in the middle of this “morally inappropriate relationship,” Page saw it fit to investigate the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission of the SBC. In the words of Page, Russell Moore, the President of the ERLC at the time, caused “deep hurt” to the convention because of his “personality issue.”
Page was the President of the Executive Committee at the time of all of this. He sought to preserve his own power against the backlash of fabricated funding issues by formally investigating a man with whom he had fundamental disagreements with, while failing morally himself. Moore wrote of this in his 2020 letter to the Board of Trustees of the ERLC. That letter was leaked last week. Here is a screen shot were Moore addresses the Page situation:
Through cover-up and distraction, Page was able to take the light off himself, focus it on Moore, all while preserving himself and gaining accolades from Southern Baptists who were critical of the ERLC. This was the same tactic Boto used when he dismissed Brown and Denhollander.
Boto and Page, however, are not the only in recent history to abuse their status in the SBC for immoral personal gain. Two other examples would be Paige Patterson, as stated previously, and Paul Pressler: the “architects” of the SBC Conservative Resurgence.
Pressler allegedly abused Gareld Duane Rollins Jr. and did so repeatedly for some 20 years starting in 1980. This occurred one year after the infamous Annual Meeting in Houston, “while” the Conservative Resurgence was in full swing. Pressler not only helped initiate the Conservative Resurgence, but he profited from it as well. He got a book deal out of it and enjoyed a place alongside SBC greats until these allegations arose. Pressler’s status in the SBC had been so unquestioned, during his decades of allegedly abusing Rollins and after, that in 2016 he attempted defend the confederate flag from the floor of that year’s Annual Meeting in St. Louis. I was at this meeting and saw Pressler at the mic in person. He was passionate and animated in his desire to defend the confederate flag.
While Pressler has enjoyed moderate prominence in the SBC, the Conservative Resurgence launched Patterson to the highest echelon of the SBC world and he used this power to insulate himself and cover up abuse. Patterson, alongside Jerry Vines, downplayed the nature and character of Darrell Gilyard’s sex abuse allegation. You can find video of Gillyard being confronted with his allegations here. Another disturbing example of Patterson’s mishandling of sex abuse cases, comes from when a student at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary in 2015 reported abuse and he wanted to meet with her alone so he could “break her down.”
Patterson served Southern Baptists as President of Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary from 1992-2003, President of the SBC from 1998-2000, and President of Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary from 2003-2018. Yet, this prominence didn’t stop Patterson from objectifying a 16 year old girl. Moreover, according to Phillip Bethancourt and others, Patterson is the man behind these racist words regarding Trillia Newbell:
Though Patterson denies that he said these things, it wouldn’t be the first time he questioned the integrity of an individual on the basis of their skin color.
Why does all of this matter for next week’s Annual Meeting? I refer to the abuses perpetuated by these four individuals (Boto, Page, Pressler, and Patterson) because they were able to persist in their positions of prominence within the SBC *while* actively architecting and participating in abuse. These pieces of SBC controversy and history matter because time and time again those in power have covered up, dismissed, or participated in abuse while leading our convention. These situations matter because they are not isolated incidents, but a pattern perpetuated by those in power.
While the SBC has formally distanced itself from Patterson because of his abuses, there is an entire network of Southern Baptists, the Conservative Baptist Network, cozying up to Patterson. Moreover, these situations matter because Moore named Mike Stone, former Chairman of the Executive Committee, leader in the Conservative Baptist Network, and SBC presidential candidate, as one who tried to prevent the formulation of the Credentials Committee yet saw no problem starting a Page-esque probe into the ERLC:
Also, Bethancourt recently released a document containing an audio file of Stone making the above remarks. The audio files therein both corroborate Moore’s story regarding Stone, and indicts Ronnie Floyd, the current President of the Executive Committee, for his desire to “preserve the base” over advocating for survivors. The Annual Meeting in Nashville will, at least for the next two years, determine whether Southern Baptists desire to be led by individuals with ties to Patterson and the culture of abuse that follows him.
As such, these situations matter because Grant Gaines and Ronnie Parrot are going to make a motion to investigate the Executive Committee and the motion needs to pass. Lively, Jennifer Lyell, and the thousands of others who have experienced abuse at the hands of SBC leaders, pastors, & laity deserve to be believed, not dismissed, and have justice served. A third-party investigation into the Executive Committee, its dismissal and cover-up of abuse allegations, is a good place to begin pursuing justice.
We are a large convention with many churches comprised of followers of Jesus who deserve to know the full truth of what has been taking place among our leadership structures so that repentance and corrective change can begin to take place.
[PLEASE NOTE: In the original thread I did not tag Christa Brown, Rachael Denhollander, nor any survivor whose story was referenced so they would not feel obligated to reengage their situation. If you share this article, please observe that same courtesy.]
Colton Strother is a PhD student in historical theology at Midwestern Baptist Theological Seminary where he serves as adjunct faculty. He’s also a graduate of MBTS (MDiv) and Missouri State University. You can follow him on Twitter.