Tomorrow the full trustee board of Southwestern Seminary will meet to discuss what action, if any, will be taken in light of the recent controversy surrounding the seminary’s president, Dr. Paige Patterson. No one knows what to expect. The Baptist Press story linked above indicates that Patterson himself requested the meeting.
The trustees’ decision will likely have deep and far-reaching consequences regardless of what conclusion is reached. Opinions on this issue have been strong, and no doubt will continue to be. My purpose here isn’t to argue the merits of one choice over the other, but to lay out the possibilities that I see and offer a brief comment on each.
- Trustees give Dr. Patterson a vote of confidence and allow him to remain as SWBTS President. By this option, I mean that the trustees take the position of Patterson’s vocal defenders – that he didn’t really do anything wrong and/or that his apology was adequate and sufficient – that there doesn’t really need to be any more discussion about the controversy.
- Trustees censure Dr. Patterson (in some form) but allow him to remain as SWBTS President. It’s possible that the trustees will want to make a strong statement that they are not pleased with Dr. Patterson’s actions but they do not believe it rises to the level of removing him as President of the seminary. This option could potentially include restoring the job and scholarship of Nathan Montgomery, the student/staffer who was fired for his tweet critical of Dr. Patterson. Montgomery appealed to the board of trustees and that appeal could be part of tomorrow’s meeting.
- Trustees Remove Dr. Patterson from SWBTS Presidency. This decision would likely be the most difficult. Knowing Dr. Patterson’s place in SBC history and the long period of service many trustees have had working with Dr. Patterson, it’s difficult to imagine the position they are in if this option is one that’s being seriously considered. I don’t envy their position at all or the weight they bear. Should this be their decision, no doubt it would be done with great sadness. As for Dr. Patterson’s opponents, there should be no celebrating or rejoicing should the trustees feel this is a step they need to take.
- Dr. Patterson chooses to resign/retire. Maybe instead of forcing the trustees to make one of these difficult decisions, Dr. Patterson will make the choice for them and willingly step down. Could that be the reason he asked for the trustee meeting? That’s entirely unclear but could be a possibility. It would seem to go against Patterson’s reputation as willing to take on and defeat anyone opposed to him, but at some point maybe retirement and saying goodbye to dealing with all of this doesn’t sound like such a bad option.
- Separate but related: Trustees prevent/pressure Dr. Patterson to withdraw from preaching the convention sermon. The convention sermon isn’t specifically within the purview of the SWBTS trustees. Patterson was elected last year at the convention by the messengers to preach this year’s convention sermon. SBC President Steve Gaines laid out the procedural steps– what it would take for the SBC to remove him as the speaker for the convention sermon. As Gaines pointed out, unless Patterson decides not to preach, the only way that can be changed is by amending the meeting schedule when it’s presented by the Committee on Order of Business. The trustees could pressure Patterson or in some way insist that he withdraw from that role. It’s likely Dr. Patterson could refuse their request if he chose to do so. I don’t know if we’ll see anything from tomorrow’s meeting on this question or not.
Are there other possible outcomes I’m leaving out? Maybe (hopefully) somebody else sees an easier path than the options I’ve laid out here. Maybe the trustees already have and just aren’t telling us (which is fine!). If I had to guess which of these is most likely, my take is a combination of #2 and #5. But like I said above, no one knows at this point. One thing we do know is the trustees need our prayers right now for wisdom that only God can give. May God honor their work as they seek the best for His kingdom and for Southwestern Seminary.