The #MeToo movement has reached the southern evangelical community. Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary president Paige Patterson was ousted on Wednesday, following allegations that he counseled domestic abuse survivors to simply pray for their husbands and had made comments objectifying a teenage girl. Patterson was removed from his position after thousands of Southern Baptist women signed an open letter asking the seminary to "take a strong stand" against domestic violence.
"After much prayer and a more than 13-hour discussion regarding challenges facing the Institution, including those of enrollment, financial, leadership and institutional identity, the Board determined to move in the direction of new leadership for the benefit of the future mission of the Seminary," the Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary board of trustees said in a statement.
Patterson had led the Fort Worth, Texas institution since 2003. The national spotlight turned on him last month when an 18-year-old audio recording surfaced in which Patterson says that abused women shouldn't file for divorce, but instead pray for their husbands and “be submissive in every way that you can."
Patterson issued a statement saying he has never been abusive to women and denying he had "counseled or condoned abuse of any kind." He acknowledged that he did advise one woman to pray for her abusive husband, but added that "God had used her to move her husband to conviction of his sin." His statement further said that couple "lived happily together from that time on in commitment to Christ."
The board of trustees said in its statement that the group of roughly 30 men and three women “affirmed a motion stating 1) evidence exists that Dr. Patterson has complied with reporting laws regarding assault and abuse, 2) the Seminary stands against all forms of abuse.” The board also passed a motion allowing Patterson and his wife to retire on the seminary's property as previously planned, and he will continue to be compensated as President Emeritus, according to the statement.
In addition to the recorded comment, a woman told The Washington Post that Patterson discouraged her from reporting a sexual assault to the authorities in 2003. She told The Post she was raped while studying at the Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary in Wake Forest, North Carolina, where Patterson was president at the time, and alleged that Patterson told her to forgive her rapist. Patterson has not responded to this allegation.
Those two alleged incidents may have been nearly two decades ago, but more recent comments from the pastor have also raised eyebrows this month. Critics brought up a 2014 sermon in which Patterson said women were created by God "beautifully and artistically," for example.
In the sermon, Patterson talked about a conversation he had with a woman while her son and her son's friend were standing beside them. As they talked, a teenage girl walked by, who Patterson described as "very attractive." When one of the boys said, "Man, is she built," the woman told him not to talk like that. But Patterson said he cut in to say: "Ma'am, leave him alone. He is just being biblical. That's exactly what the Bible says."
Although Patterson apologized to "every woman who has been wounded by anything I have said that was inappropriate or that lacked clarity," the thousands of Southern Baptist women who asked the seminary to take action didn't think his behavior befitted a religious leader.
"We are shocked by the video that has surfaced showing Dr. Paige Patterson objectify a teenage girl and then suggest this as behavior that is biblical," their open letter read. "This pattern of discourse is unbefitting the sober, wise, and sound character required of an elder, pastor, and leader."