(RNS) — Paige Patterson is still listed on the program as giving the sermon at his denomination’s upcoming annual convention, despite being condemned for expressing views “antithetical to the core values of our faith,” in the words of a member of a seminary board that fired him as president emeritus last week.
As the Southern Baptist Convention’s meeting approaches, the question remains: Will Patterson give the sermon or won’t he?
Denominational leaders say that the decision is up to Patterson. “It will be his call to make as to whether or not he would voluntarily withdraw prior to the annual meeting,” Roger S. Oldham, spokesman for the SBC’s Executive Committee, said Friday (June 1).
Long a lionized figure in the Southern Baptist Convention, considered a patriarch or founding father by many, Patterson was until recently best known for pushing back against feminism and the women’s movement. Last month, in a dramatic #MeToo moment, he was fired for demeaning women.
But according to the bylaws of the SBC’s meeting, to be held June 12-13 in Dallas, since Patterson was elected by the messengers, or delegates, at last year’s meeting to preach the sermon at the upcoming gathering in Dallas, that body must also vote to remove him.
“The only body that would have the authority to change that would be the messengers of this year’s meeting or he himself,” Oldham said.
If nothing else, Southern Baptists are sticklers for parliamentary rules, which can make governing the 15 million-member convention, the nation’s largest Protestant group, a knotty, difficult and sometimes taxing affair.
“The Southern Baptist Convention is the largest open meeting run by parliamentary procedure in the world,” said Wade Burleson, a Southern Baptist blogger and Oklahoma pastor. “It’s mass chaos.”
Still, few expect Patterson to give that sermon.
“Surely he will not press forward with giving the convention sermon,” said Russell Moore, president of the SBC’s Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission. “I can’t imagine that he would or why he would.”
Moore added that if Patterson did try to give the sermon, he is “fairly confident” the messengers would vote to replace him with Kie Bowman, pastor of Hyde Park Baptist Church in Austin, Texas, who was chosen last year for the alternate spot.
Early Monday afternoon, Bowman said: “As of this moment I am the alternate and I have not heard anything further.”
Patterson also was originally expected to make at least two other appearances on the stage of the Kay Bailey Hutchison Convention Center. He will no longer give the report from Southwestern Seminary and it is unlikely he will give a report from an evangelism task force he chairs.
Those recusals follow a damning letter by Kevin Ueckert, chairman of Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary’s board of trustees released on Friday, in which Ueckert explained the executive committee’s action in firing Patterson.
Ueckert said that Patterson lied about an alleged rape at another seminary he headed in 2003, and that in the case of alleged rape at Southwestern in 2015 he tried to meet with the victim alone so he could “break her down.”
The attitude expressed by Patterson in the email was “antithetical to the core values of our faith,” Ueckert said.
In Ueckert’s letter, and in previous sermons and interviews over the past 20 years, Patterson has appeared to disrespect, if not demean, of women. In addition to Patterson’s email to Southwestern’s chief of campus security saying he wanted to “break her down,” referring to the alleged rape victim, Patterson has been criticized for his advice to a woman to return to her abusive husband and for objectifying a teenager’s body on another occasion.
On May 22, the Texas seminary’s trustees demoted Patterson from his position as president of Southwestern Seminary but gave him the honorary title of “President Emeritus” and allowed him and his wife, Dorothy, to remain on campus as “theologians in residence” with compensation.
Then on May 30, the board’s executive committee voted to strip Patterson of the title and benefits it granted him a week earlier.
Ueckert’s letter confirmed that the board had received student files from Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary in Wake Forest, N.C., where Patterson served previously as president, corroborating reports that a student had been raped there in 2003 and that Patterson told the student not to report the rape to the police.
The victim in that alleged rape outed herself on Twitter last week as Megan Lively, a resident of Wilson, N.C.
Uekcert also confirmed that Patterson took files belonging to Southeastern Seminary with him to Southwestern when he became president in Fort Worth in the summer of 2003. His lawyer also appears to have misled trustees about the existence of those documents, which Southwestern has now seized from his residence after a supporter of Patterson’s published some confidential letters from those files.
Convention watchers say it is unlikely that Patterson will speak to the convention to which he has dedicated his life.
Burleson said there were three possible scenarios. The most likely is that Patterson will withdraw from giving the sermon ahead of the convention. The second is that the Committee on the Order of Business will recommend his replacement and ask messengers to approve that recommendation on June 12.
If the committee does not make that recommendation, the third scenario is that one of the estimated 9,000 messengers will make a motion asking that Patterson be replaced.
“I can guarantee there will be a motion to remove him at 8:35 on Tuesday morning,” said Burleson. “I’ve heard from several people that they intend to do it. Who gets to a microphone first is hard to say.”