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Southern Baptist seminary drops bombshell: Why Paige Patterson was fired

The Washington Post logoThe Washington Post 6/2/2018 Sarah Pulliam Bailey
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Leaders of a Southern Baptist seminary dropped a bombshell Friday night about why they two days earlier fired their president, a longtime leader of the huge denomination: He lied about his treatment of an alleged rape victim, according to a new statement, and he tried to isolate another woman from the seminary’s chief of security so he could “break her down.”

Paige Patterson, who until a few weeks ago was a towering figure in the Southern Baptist Convention, the largest Protestant denomination with about 15 million members, set off a firestorm of controversy among conservative evangelicals after comments were revealed counseling a woman to go back to her abusive husband.

Last week, he was demoted from his position as president of Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary, a decision that upset many Southern Baptists who considered the decision too lenient since he was supposed to remain on paid staff as “president emeritus” and be able to retire on campus.

Then on Wednesday night, vaguely citing new information, the board’s trustees said that he had been fired, removing benefits, rights and privileges as a result of his mishandling of a rape victim.

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The Washington Post reported on May 22 that a woman who was a student at Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary in 2003 said she had come to Patterson — then president of that school — and was encouraged by him not to go to police and to forgive the man she said raped her.

The Post does not identify victims of sexual abuse, but earlier this week, Megan Lively identified herself on Twitter as the person in the Post article.

The seminary had declined to confirm to The Post for two days whether the executive committee’s decision to unanimously fire Patterson was connected to the alleged incident at Southeastern — until Friday night.

“We confirmed this week through a student record, made available to me with permission, that an allegation of rape was indeed made by a female student at Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary in 2003,” Kevin Ueckert, the chair of Southwestern’s board, said in a statement.

The information, Ueckert said, contradicts a statement previously provided by Patterson in response to a direct question by a board member regarding the incident at Southeastern. “The 2003 rape allegation was never reported to local law enforcement,” he said.

Patterson is revered in the Southern Baptist Convention for his role in steering the denomination in a conservative direction in a fight that goes back decades.

“People have always been afraid of him. Not anymore,” Lively said on Friday night. “Nobody’s ever won against him. Especially a female.”

In his statement, Ueckert said the wife of Patterson’s chief of staff, Sharayah Colter, published a blog post Friday and attached documents without the permission of the students referenced in the documents or from leaders of either seminary. “I believe this was inappropriate and unethical,” Ueckert said in a statement.

In a blog post published Thursday, Colter said Patterson “is not guilty of all of which he has been accused in recent days.” She posted letters appearing to show correspondence between Lively and Patterson. However, none of the documents appear to directly contradict Lively’s story. Lively said that the documents Colter published had been altered, that the original ones had referenced three meetings with Patterson.

Ueckert told The Post that the seminary cannot comment on the authenticity of the documents. He also said that Colter, who is a student at Southwestern, does not speak for the seminary or its board. Colter and her husband, Scott Colter, did not return requests for comment on Friday or requests to interview Patterson.

The board’s statement released to the media last week said, “Evidence exists that Dr. Patterson has complied with reporting laws regarding assault and abuse,” but it did not identify any specific incidents.

Ueckert told The Post last week that the board was referring to another incident raised in 2015 at Southwestern in Texas, not the woman’s allegations regarding Patterson’s response at Southeastern in North Carolina in 2003. It is unclear who raised that incident for consideration.

In his statement Friday, Ueckert said that police were notified after a woman said she had been raped in 2015.

Ueckert said Patterson wrote in an email to the chief of campus security where Patterson “discussed meeting with the student alone so that he could ‘break her down’ and that he preferred no officials be present,” he said. “The attitude expressed by Dr. Patterson in that email is antithetical to the core values of our faith and to [Southwestern]. Moreover, the correlation between what has been reported and also revealed in the student record regarding the 2003 allegation at Southeastern and the contents of this email are undeniable.”

“As I’ve said before, he shamed the crap out of me,” Lively said after seeing the statement. “He tried to ‘break her down.’ My story is almost identical to this girl’s story.”

Lively said that six women from Southwestern and two women from Southeastern have contacted her this week alleging that Patterson had silenced them from speaking to law enforcement after incidents.

Ueckert also confirmed that documents were taken from Southeastern in North Carolina when Patterson left to become president at Southwestern.

Danny Akin, who is now president of Southeastern seminary, said seminary documents show that after her alleged rape, Lively went to administrators and was sent to meet with Patterson on three separate occasions with three other men present. The seminary’s attorney and chief of security were never notified and a police report was never filed, Akin said. “Those are clear, unmitigated, fully witnessed facts,” he said.

“That she would in turn write a letter to someone she looked up to and done what he had asked her to do, that doesn’t surprise me in the least,” he said. “That doesn’t change any of the facts with the assault and no report of it.”

Akin did not know about the incident until May 11 when Lively emailed his provost and his provost forwarded the email to him. He told Lively the seminary would support her if she decided to press charges against her alleged assailant.

“For 15 years of my life, I thought I did something wrong,” Lively said. “It wasn’t until Dr. Akin told me I didn’t that I firmly believed it. That’s how strong and impressionable Dr. Patterson was to a 23-year-old woman who believed in who he was.”

The recent controversy around Patterson began after the publication of a flurry of statements he made starting in 2000 about the Bible’s view of women and his beliefs about spousal abuse and why it’s not grounds for divorce. Patterson was Akin’s preaching professor, and they worked together for nine years, Akin said, showing admiration for a man he has admired for decades.

“This is a man I love. Do I think he gave horrible, horrible counsel? I absolutely do,” Akin said, referring to Patterson’s 2000 comments.

Akin said he believes files that would help them investigate the incident were taken from Southeastern when Patterson left.

“You technically could’ve said they were stolen. I wouldn’t say that. I think they took them unwisely,” he said. “They’re still Dr. Patterson’s, in his mind. He doesn’t want to return them. I’m hopeful and pretty confident that Southwestern’s trustees will see fit to return them.”

Ueckert said in a statement that Southwestern has located those documents and is working on returning them to Southeastern. Patterson’s comments regarding women that began in 2000 caused thousands of Southern Baptist women to sign a May 6 petition calling for him to lose his job. Ueckert said the board based its decision on Patterson’s “current performance.”

“In this difficult situation, the Executive Committee based its decision on the current performance of the president and did not allow the legacy of Dr. Patterson or the #MeToo pressure to steer the outcome,” Ueckert said.

Patterson is scheduled to deliver a key sermon to thousands of people at the Southern Baptist Convention’s annual meeting in Texas later this month.

Michelle Boorstein contributed reporting.

This story has been updated to include comments from Megan Lively.

The Washington Post’s complete coverage of Paige Patterson:

Southern Baptist leader pushes back after comments leak urging abused women to pray and avoid divorce

Southern Baptist leader’s advice to abused women sends leaders scrambling to respond

Southern Baptist leader who advised abused women not to divorce doubles down, says he has nothing to apologize for

‘We are shocked’: Thousands of Southern Baptist women denounce leader’s ‘objectifying’ comments, advice to abused women

Southern Baptist leader apologizes for sermon example about teenage girl’s physical appearance

Southern Baptist leader encouraged a woman not to report alleged rape to police and told her to forgive assailant, she says

Prominent Southern Baptist leader removed as seminary president following controversial remarks about abused women

Controversial Southern Baptist leader still set to give prominent sermon in front of thousands

Southern Baptist leader Paige Patterson fired over handling of sex abuse allegation

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