Last night Southwestern Seminary released a statement that caught most of us completely off guard. The Executive Committee of the trustee board, a smaller group of the trustees, unanimously decided to terminate Dr. Paige Patterson effective immediately. Only a week ago the full trustee board had met in a long, likely contentious meeting that resulted in his removal from the role of president of the seminary, but with a visible continuing role on campus as President Emeritus, Theologian in Residence, living quarters, and continued salary.
There was little focus on the executive board meeting yesterday. The week before all eyes were on SWBTS, reporters waiting into the early hours of the morning for word of the decision, leaks from Patterson supporters that he had been fired, and finally the head-scratching decision that came out of that meeting. I don’t remember hearing anything about yesterday’s meeting ahead of the statement. I think everyone assumed that, if the trustees were going to act, the next time that might happen would be the next full meeting of the board which wouldn’t take place until after the convention. In short, we just didn’t expect any news to come out at this point.
We also assumed the board was in a closely-divided deadlock on whether or not Patterson should really be fired. He wasn’t fired at the last meeting so something significant would need to happen in order for the decision to change.
I’m reading between the lines here of the first and second press release, but it seems something significant did happen, and that most of us were wrong about which meeting that significant event would be dealt with. The Washington Post story about the 2003 sexual assault aftermath was released the day of last week’s trustee meeting, publicly posted during the meeting itself. Most expected the trustees to include that information in their deliberations last week, but the press release vaguely alluded to the fact that wasn’t a major factor in their decision-making process at that point. It appears that further investigation confirmed and/or brought new information to light that led to the immediate termination of Dr. Patterson.
Last night’s statement made clear the decision of the SWBTS Trustee Executive Committee was unanimous. What does that indicate? I believe it shows the information they considered was substantial and those trustees believed they had sufficient grounds to take the surprising step of revoking the benefits provided last week, even before a full BoT meeting could be called.
There should be no rejoicing over the fall of another person. We should be grateful the correct decision was made. I was really frustrated, along with many others, after last week’s meeting. It wasn’t clear at all they intended to continue with an immediate follow up and investigation. I think a lot of the criticism they received might have been withheld if that fact had been made clear, but they may have had completely valid reasons for feeling that detail wasn’t something they could say publicly at the time.
Most of all we should grieve with those who have been affected. Those who have told their stories. Those who have been fired, or put on probation, or mistreated. I’m thankful for their courage and they have been heard. For the 3,000+ women who signed the public letter to the SWBTS trustees. For Megan Lively. For Ed Stetzer whose CT article a few weeks ago seemed to bring many of these realities to the surface. For excellent reporting from Sarah Pulliam Bailey and Sarah Smith. For Thom Rainer and Russell Moore and others who spoke clearly and even broke the protocol of not criticizing other entity heads in order to say what all of us should have been saying. And for the SWBTS trustee board who showed real leadership yesterday and made the right decision.