Often, we get advanced warning about big events but yesterday’s decision came as a complete shock to us here. I knew that the trustees had received a report on the Washington Post article during their meeting and decided to wait until they were able to get all the facts before acting on it, but I had no idea that the action would come this quickly and this decisively. In the last year the two icons of the Conservative Resurgence, Judge Pressler and Dr. Patterson, have taken hits to their reputations and legacies. I would have never believed that the tenure of Dr. Patterson would end with an immediate and summary dismissal. It is shocking.
I would like to make some brief observations about the situation.
Let me be clear. I have been neither a great fan nor a passionate opponent of Dr. Patterson. I could wish that he had retired within the last couple of years before all of this happened. But, as time went on, things have changed.
1. Dr. Patterson is not a victim.
Many of his ardent supporters have painted this as if it were a “get Dr. Patterson” vendetta. Certainly, it was for some who drove the social media campaign. Ben Cole, the driving force behind much of this, as the “Baptist Blogger” has been a critic of Dr. Patterson since the early days of blogging. It is easy to pass this off as some kind of grudge. God will judge motives but I have yet to find great factual inaccuracies in Cole’s accusations. Shooting the messenger is not the way to go here.
Besides, it was not bloggers who got Dr. Patterson in trouble. Declining FTE enrollment at SWBTS and deep financial issues have been reported. There were many issues on the table during that 13-hour meeting – issues none of us knows or likely will know. The Trustees did not meet to deal with accusations made on social media. There were substantive issues
Dr. Patterson’s responses which alternated between defiant, defensive, and what seemed like genuinely apologetic were often less than helpful. The WaPo article was the last straw but the problems ran much deeper.
Trying to pass this off as a blogger’s vendetta is simplistic – an exercise in avoidance.
2. The Trustees did their work.
I am not sure there were a dozen people satisfied with the action of the SWBTS Trustees at their previous meeting. For reasons that perhaps will come out in time (it tends to happen) they ended up with the President Emeritus solution to the problem. Those who supported Dr. Patterson were not happy because he was removed from office. Those who did not support him were unhappy because they felt the “punishment didn’t fit the crime.”
I am going to add two and two and hopefully get four. The Washington Post story was published during the Trustees meeting and it was reported to them, but it was not the focus of their meeting. They had a full agenda with a lot of issues to discuss. It would have been irresponsible, would it not, to take decisive action on the basis of a news report? Sarah Pulliam Bailey is a great reporter but they did the right thing to verify the facts first before they took action. Once they got their ducks in a row, they acted.
I am not claiming they are perfect. There are likely valid criticisms of the SWBTS trustees. But the trustees have far more information than any of us. It is easy to declare our outrage or to substitute our wisdom for theirs. But in our system, we elect trustees and we have to trust them to do their work.
All in all, it seems these men and women were working for us and seeking to do what was best.
3. The Executive Committee acted within its power.
I have seen questions about how the Executive Committee was able to dismiss Dr. Patterson after the full board reached its decision. Evidently, the ability to dismiss was always within the power of the EC. Dr. Patterson asked the full board to meet and deal with the issue.. But, when the new information came in and fully confirmed about the incident at SEBTS, the Executive Committee had the authority to act.
This is my understanding of the dynamics and I will take instruction if this is incorrect.
4. A good hire now is essential.
A commenter named Josh Parsons last night pointed out that the last 3 presidents of SWBTS have left under less than ideal circumstances. We need to pray for Dr. Bingham and for the Search Team and for whoever they hire. They need to get someone who will be a solid, forward-thinking leader. I assume that they will hire someone on the less Calvinistic end of the SBC spectrum, and I have no problem with that. But the time for rancor and antagonism over this is gone and I hope that the hire will be someone from the less strident and more cooperative non-Calvinistic circles. The new president should respect where we’ve been but be concerned with setting a new direction for the seminary.
5. We have a lot of work to do as a denomination on the role of women.
Obviously, those who abandoned the biblical teachings of complementarian are pouncing on this and other issues to say we need to do that as well. But abuse of women is not endemic to complementarianism nor is it absent among egalitarianism. Egalitarianism is not the answer because we are a people of the Book and that is not built on sound hermeneutics.
But we have a LOT of work to do on how we recognize the dignity and worth of women, how we give them their proper place to express their gifts in the church, and how we hold men accountable in the church. Dr. Jason Allen’s resolution is a good starting place but it is only a starting place. I’m a little bit weary of “task forces” because they seldom change anything but maybe we need an SBC task force on the role of women in the church (and for the love of all that is holy – NOT made up of all white men!).
This is our next great challenge! Holding on a biblical theology of complementarianism and abandoning an unbiblical patriarchy that treats women as second class.
6. Pray for Dr. and Mrs. Patterson.
The time for recrimination is over. Dr. Patterson has paid the price for his misdeeds. I doubt he is destitute but he is certainly suffering consequences. Now is the time to lay down our weapons and to pray for the Pattersons.
7. Dr. Patterson, I assume, will NOT preach at the Convention?
I have heard nothing definite on this, but I assume that after this Dr. Patterson will back out. He must not be the convention preacher now. Hopefully, in the next day or two we will hear word that he has given up that position. It has to happen.
I am a little nervous to even ask this, but what say you?