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Abuse survivors protest Paige Patterson’s invitation to speak at Florida Baptist church

Sponsors and speakers are distancing themselves from an event in February at a Florida Baptist church featuring Paige Patterson, a former Southern Baptist Convention leader fired from his job as a seminary president for mishandling reports of sexual assault.

Susan Codone, a Mercer University professor and abuse survivor, has been tweeting all month about the Feb. 7-9 Great Commission Weekend at Fellowship Church in Immokalee, asking others to help her persuade Pastor Timothy Pigg to replace Patterson out of respect for victims.

“When leaders enable damage to women, mishandle institutional leadership and diminish diverse racial leadership in the Southern Baptist churches, they do not belong in our pulpits,” Codone wrote in open letter to Florida Baptist pastors Jan. 7.

A Jan. 4 screenshot of a web page promoting the event listed “special guests” including Paige and Dorothy Patterson alongside Tommy Green, executive director of the Florida Baptist Convention, and Wayne Briant, a regional catalyst for the statewide affiliate of the Southern Baptist Convention.

Within days both Green and Briant disappeared from the lineup. The Florida Baptist Convention was originally listed as a sponsor, but that designation disappeared from subsequent versions. Green did not respond to an e-mail requesting comment, and Briant told the Naples Daily News that a conflict came up and he could no longer attend.

As of Jan. 21, the lineup includes the Pattersons; Brad Jurkovich, senior pastor of First Bossier Church in Louisiana; and Scott Colter, Patterson’s former chief of staff and now executive director of the Sandy Creek Foundation, where Paige Patterson serves as president.

Patterson, organizer of an effort in the 1980s to replace moderate leaders in the Southern Baptist Convention with like-minded conservatives, lost his job as president of Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary in 2018. His firing involved a specific case at Southwestern and a previous incident while he was president at Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary.

A lawsuit pending in federal court alleges that Patterson asked for time to interview an alleged victim of rape and stalking in order to “break her down” before bringing in campus police.

His reputation for putting the burden of proof on survivors and giving alleged perpetrators the benefit of the doubt, however, goes back decades, including one pastor accused of misconduct by 25 different women in three Dallas-area churches in the 1980s.

Patterson eventually confronted Pastor Darrell Gilyard and got him to confess. Gilyard later went to prison for sexting teenagers. He is no longer a Southern Baptist but remains in ministry and is reportedly about to move to a new church in Jacksonville, Florida.

Susan Codone

“I oppose the platforming of Paige and Dorothy on behalf of all sexual abuse survivors in the Southern Baptist Convention, of those who suffered sexual assaults at Southeastern and Southwestern Seminaries, and of those affected by the ministry of Darrell Gilyard,” Codone wrote in a blog published Jan. 11 on SBC Voices. “For many documented reasons, I am confident the Pattersons are not qualified to lead or speak in a Southern Baptist church.”

Pigg, who earned his M.Div. from Southwestern Seminary in 2015 an is currently enrolled in the doctoral program, has not spoken publicly about the controversy and did not respond to e-mail requests for comment.

Last year the Houston Chronicle and San Antonio Express-News published articles reporting widespread abuse in Southern Baptist churches and organizations and few safeguards to prevent offenders from moving from church-to-church. The series  prompted steps toward reform initiated at the 2019 SBC annual meeting and a fall conference aimed at equipping churches to “care well” for abuse survivors.

Codone, one of the survivors who shared her story of abuse during the Oct. 3-5 Caring Well Conference sponsored by the SBC Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission, said on Twitter she is speaking on behalf  of “the survivors of sexual abuse enabled and protected by Patterson.”

“We have come too far … to allow a known enabler back into the pulpit,” Codone tweeted Jan. 10. “Patterson’s presence pours salt into open wounds.”