I’ve been reading the recent resurgence of wrangling regarding Dr. Paige Patterson and Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary (SWBTS). The question of guilt involves not only these two parties, but by extension also impacts the coming SBC presidential election. Pastor Mike Stone bears the public perception of being Dr. Patterson’s man by way of their mutual involvement in the organization Mr. Stone and Dr. Patterson helped to found, the Conservative Baptist Network (CBN). Should Dr. Patterson be (in this matter) the rascal many claim, the resulting guilty-by-voluntary-assocation scars both Mr. Stone’s candidacy and the CBN; at least, so it seems to me.
To provide a little background, Dr. Patterson departed SWBTS in a storm of controversy regarding, well, a lot of things. The Texas heat died down a bit, and then the CBN ruptured into existence. Many people insisted on perceiving Dr. Patterson’s hand behind the scenes, a notion which CBN members vociferously, bizarrely, and incorrectly denied; see the above link for more on that matter. In time, pastor Mike Stone of the CBN and formerly of the Executive Committee of the SBC rose as a CBN-endorsed candidate for SBC presidency, going toe-to-toe-to-toe-to-toe with Ed Litton (Alabama), Randy Adams (somewhere north of California), and Dr. Al Mohler of Southern Seminary.
I’m watching all this from my church/garage/garden, wondering how to determine the truth. Do I believe the Pattersonittes, conclude he was treated dishonorably, and trust his legacy, his new organization, and the man he’s put forth (by way of Dr. Patterson’s and CBN’s circularly-logical endorsement), Mike Stone? Do I go with the West Coast guy (Adams) and his plea for transparency right down to the toilet paper? Write in Dr. Russell Moore’s name just to watch the world burn? And wouldn’t a vote for Litton put Nick Saban one heartbeat away from the presidency?
Thankfully, the 2021 Book of Reports saved me by hitting newsstands across the internet. I downloaded it this weekend and let me tell ya – it’s a complete snoozefest. If you like numbers and need something to read, this is the PDF for you; I’ll assume you’re also into waterboarding kittens.
However, there’s a fascinating section in which each entity answers specific questions or motions which were put forth at the previous SBC meeting. For example, in 2019 (the date of our last SBC meeting), each entity faced the question of what they were doing to monitor, limit, and report various sorts of abuse. In the newest Book of Reports, each entity answers those questions.
On page 176 of our somnolent literature, a plot twist appears in the form of a 2019 motion:
Motion: Benjamin Cole, Oklahoma
“That this Convention request the trustees of SWBTS to authorize the seminary president and legal counsel to pursue through all means necessary the lawful recovery of seminary property, both tangible and intangible, including furniture, household furnishings, artifacts, antiquities, memorabilia, audiovisual and computer equipment, and any official records that may have been removed from the presidential home or other campus facilities without authorization between the dates of May 30, 2018, and February 27, 2019”
The convention’s official response in 2019:
SBC Referral: To request Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary to pursue the recovery of certain seminary property (Items 40 and 79, Proceedings of the Southern Baptist Convention, June 11-12, 2019, SBC Annual, p. 60, 80)
Pages 176 – 178 of the Book of Reports form the response from the SWBTS, and what a response it is.
- Dr. Patterson, et al., removed records and documents of various types, declining to return any of them because they had been “purged.”
- Dr. Patterson, et al., had the SWBTS-owned confidential donor list emailed to an associate, and in a documented fashion used that confidential list to solicit funds for his Sandy Creek Foundation while drawing funds away from SWBTS.
- Dr. Patterson, et al., misrepresented his personal financial situation in order to malign SWBTS in spite of living in a million-dollar home Sandy Creek purchased for them.
- Dr. Patterson, et al., removed antiques and artwork belonging to SWBTS, a fact verified by photos on the internet of the inside of the Pattersons’ new home.
- Etcetera, etcetera, etcetera. If you want all the original details in the original format, go to the Book of Reports yourself and aggressively scroll down like you’re searching for your birth year on a drop-down menu.
In one corner, I’ve got Dr. Patterson, he of the welcomed and needed Conservative Resurgence. He’s spent years in the pastorate, decades in SBC politics. He’s a former SBC president and former head of two different SBC seminaries. He has enjoyed broad support for his work and legacy. His contributions lie ready to be autopsied in the public arena. I’ve also got – again, by implication – the CBN and their/his chosen candidate and co-founder, Mr. Stone standing in Dr. Patterson’s sizable shadow.
In the other corner, I have a faceless SWBTS response to the 2019 motion in the Book of Reports.
If this were all I had to go on, what would I decide about this dispute? And how would that impact my view of Mike Stone and the CBN? And how on earth can I honor God and His expectations for me as I try to make decisions and explain my reasonings to church members who might ask? Had Dr. Patterson drifted into retirement, none of this would be, practically speaking, any of my business. But now that Mr. Stone and the CBN and the Book of Reports have joined the fray, it seems I’ve got to figure this out.
I’ve primarily written to probe my own thinking; I had no idea my conclusions until I had written about 75% of this.
My answer is a child birthed of two combative parents: SWBTS’s lawyers and Dr. Patterson’s reputation for pugnacity.
Say what you will about SWBTS, at least they’ve got lawyers both in-house and outhouse. Before leadership wrote a single syllable of their response to the SBC’s motion/mandate, you can bet the lawyers had already voiced, “You can’t say that!” at least 70 times 70. When you write something and point fingers, you open yourself up to litigation of the highest order. When you make your position not only public, but internet-public, you’ve got to be absolutely sure the facts are on your side because (a) it’s now actionable and (b) you can’t take it back.
And when you say something about a man who reportedly attended a meeting with his own bosses in 2018 with a personal lawyer, a man with a reputation for confrontational tenacity, a man who has a history of political combativeness (albeit for good causes), you’d better make darn sure you don’t hand him any ammunition.
Note: I’m not saying Dr. Patterson IS pugnacious, but rather that he’s got a reputation for it in some quarters. That reputation surely figures into the way in which people deal with him just as surely as my reputation for idiocy figures into how people address me.
SWBTS has laid out a case in print, in public, on the internet and in official documents, to their organizational supervisors (the SBC messengers) and pointed some very large fingers; you can bet they’ll answer for their words in a thousand conversations this summer. While the leaders at SWBTS are as error-prone as anyone else, the likelihood of a fabricated document slipping past multiple legal censors is so low that I’m faced with a single, unpleasant, inescapable conclusion: They must have several large, warm, smoking guns.
I’m almost done.
The willingness of SWBTS to go as far as they did in the Book of Reports does not prove anything; however, their willingness to speak on the record reflects their rock-solid belief in a verifiably factual foundation that points towards malfeasance of some sort by Dr. Patterson, and I take no pleasure in facing this notion. Even so, I lack a response from Dr. Patterson (he does not answer to me) and in that silence, all I have to go on is SWBTS’s bold response.
And the optics, as they say, are not good. More than that, it provides an impetus for figuring out what to do with Mike Stone.
When Thom Rainer left Lifeway, there were some unfortunate words and actions that entered the relationship between him and the organization. Rainer reportedly communicated, In the interest of peace, I’ll give them whatever they want even though I know I’m not wrong. That’s a rough summary, not a direct quote. When Dr. Rankin departed the IMB, the search committee ran into some sort of trouble and their preferred candidate at the time communicated, Even though I’m in the clear here, this is problematic enough that I’m going to pull back (again, a summary).
Like the examples above, there’s a possibility that Mike Stone and the CBN are free of anything which might besmirch them, any substantive connection to the disturbing claims made about Dr. Patterson’s behavior. But it’s also true there’s a preponderance of evidence – or the closest thing to it – pointing towards the likelihood of Dr. Patterson’s bad behavior. When I consider Dr. Patterson’s tendency to be the dominant voice within his circles; when I consider Dr. Patterson’s involvement in the creation of CBN; when I consider Pastor Stone’s involvement in founding CBN; when I consider CBN’s (with Dr. Patterson’s presence) endorsement of Mr. Stone, I cannot help but grow uncomfortable with the overlapping and intertwining relationships and their implications.
I think for me the best response is to say, Perhaps this isn’t your time, Mr. Stone. Let’s play it safe – if you’re the right president now, you’ll be the right president a year from now when these things are clearer. Perhaps, like the examples above, you’re truly innocent, but like the examples above there should be an interest in living in peace through difficult times.
The likelihood that those in Dr. Patterson’s powerful, single-voice orbit are tainted by the possibilities of his own potentially bad behavior is just too great.
I am Jeremy Parks, a 20-year veteran of the IMB (resigned) and currently a bi-vocational pastor. I lead a small SBC church when I’m not at my day job, teaching an SBC-affiliated university. I’m a graduate of SWBTS (under Dr. Patterson), but I started my education at SEBTS (also under Dr. Patterson). I have a garden, several hand tools, and a remarkably unintelligent dog named Nigel. Pretty sure I also have a family.