Two dozen major donors to Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary have threatened to end their support of the Southern Baptist Convention school unless trustees right “serious wrongs” committed against its former president.
Seven individuals and nine couples co-signed a June 29 letter, which is posted online, from Gary Loveless, an executive in the oil and gas exploration business in Houston, claiming the seminary’s board of trustees nudged President Paige Patterson into retirement without due process.
The seven-page letter, addressed to board chair Kevin Ueckert and the trustees’ executive committee, further accused board leaders of maligning the longtime denominational leader in attempts to justify their subsequent decision to fire him.
The benefactors with gifts in the past totaling in the millions of dollars denounced a 13-hour meeting of the full board on May 22 leading to Patterson’s title change to president emeritus and paid retirement with campus housing as “a complete miscarriage of justice.”
The letter also called action by the trustee executive committee a week later to fire Patterson without notice and strip him of all benefits granted by the full board “legally illegitimate.” Signers said it was done with full knowledge that Patterson would be out of the country on a preaching assignment and unable to respond to charges brought against him.
The donors accused individual trustee leaders of slander in statements to media and during discussion on the floor of the recent Southern Baptist Convention annual meeting in Dallas seeking to justify Patterson’s removal.
The letter asked the board of trustees to appoint a committee to investigate “all recent actions” involving Patterson. Should the probe fail to substantiate allegations that led to Patterson’s dismissal or reveal evidence of “dishonest or deceptive activity” by trustees, the donors said trustees should publicly apologize to Patterson and restore him to the financial position he held at the conclusion of the full board meeting on May 22.
Loveless, a member of Second Baptist Church in Houston and a former seminary trustee, donated $1 million in 2009 to help the seminary purchase a collection of unpublished Dead Sea Scroll fragments offered for sale while he and his wife were in the Holy Land on a tour led by then-President Paige and First Lady Dorothy Patterson.
The scrolls went on display in 2012 in an exhibit billed at the time as one of the largest of its kind ever seen in the United States.
Co-signatories of the letter have been honored in the past for gifts to a campaign to purchase pianos to make Southwestern Seminary an “All Steinway School,” a designation shared by just 187 institutions around the world. Some gave major gifts to building programs including the 3,500-seat MacGorman Chapel opened in 2011 carrying a $30 million price tag.
Loveless said the benefactors gave such large sums of money to Southwestern “because of Dr. Patterson’s unwavering commitment to proclaiming the entire truth of God’s Holy Word.” The signatories said Paige and Dorothy Patterson “continue to have our absolute and unwavering support.”
The trustee board met on May 22 to deal with controversy over old comments by Patterson about wife beating and divorce resurfaced in the context of the #MeToo movement protesting a history of mistreatment of women by powerful men in media, politics and eventually the church.
A Washington Post story the day of the meeting quoted a woman named Megan Lively saying officials at Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary mishandled her report of a rape while Patterson was president of the school in 2003.
Lively wrote June 28 that she forgives Patterson and plans to return to Southeastern to finish her degree but said she has evidence a letter she wrote Patterson in 2003 released without her permission was edited.
A few days after the Washington Post story appeared, a female student at Southwestern Seminary came forward with similar allegations after she reported a rape to Patterson in 2015. Loveless and the co-signers accused the board chairman of taking the three-word phrase that Patterson intended to “break her down” in the woman’s e-mail out of context, adding fuel to a “false narrative and image” of Patterson perpetuated by the media.