A woman who claims in a lawsuit that she was mistreated after reporting rape at a Southern Baptist Convention seminary won’t get her day in court before 2021.
The lawsuit against Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary and former president Paige Patterson alleges that seminary officials dismissed claims that the woman identified as Jane Roe was repeatedly stalked and raped at gunpoint in 2014 and 2015 by a male student who also worked on campus as a plumber.
Jane Roe claims in her complaint filed in U.S. District Court in Texas that Patterson — a past president of the Southern Baptist Convention and key leader in the denomination’s rightward shift during the last quarter century — called her rape “a good thing” and waited to “break her down” in a private meeting before turning her story over to campus police.
The incident, coupled with reports that Patterson also mishandled a rape allegation years earlier at another SBC seminary, led to his firing in 2018.
Patterson disputes parts of the woman’s story, while invoking a blanket First Amendment defense claiming that his conversations with Roe and her alleged attacker are protected by the constitutionally mandated separation of church and state. Southwestern Seminary denies liability.
A synopsis of an attorney conference added to the case file Oct. 10 said that due to “the complexity and extensiveness” of preparation, both sides agreed that a trial should not be set until at least March 2021.
More than 25 potential witnesses are expected to give sworn out-of-court testimony during the discovery phase, where lawyers on both sides gain information to help build their case. The dispute also involves “complicated matters of law that should be resolved prior to trial,” the lawyers’ joint report said.
Individuals expected to be deposed include Paige Patterson and his wife, Dorothy, and family members of both Jane Roe and the alleged assailant, named in lawsuit by a pseudonym but identified last month by the Houston Chronicle as Sean Cole, a former seminarian who committed other crimes after leaving school and is now deceased.
Others expected to give depositions include Charles Patrick, Patterson’s vice president for strategic initiatives and communications who was in the Aug. 20, 2015, meeting where Patterson allegedly told Roe her rape was a “a good thing,” because the right man would not care if she is a virgin or not. Patterson denies the allegation.
Other names on the list include:
- John Nichols, the chief of campus security who after asking if he could meet with Roe received a memo from Patterson on Sept. 27, 2015, saying: “We will see. I have to break her down and I may need no official types there, but let me see.”
- Candi Finch, an assistant professor of theology in women’s studies at Southwestern fired last fall by the seminary’s board of trustees. According to court documents, Finch was present for the “break her down” meeting on Oct. 8, 2015, where Patterson allegedly told Jane Roe that the male student was claiming it was a consensual sexual relationship and he didn’t know whom to believe.
- Sharayah Colter, wife of Patterson’s chief of staff who wrote a blog defending Patterson after his firing as president emeritus. The blog included copies of letters from the file of a female student at Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary in 2003 reportedly obtained and published without the woman’s permission. That woman, Megan Lively, was among abuse survivors sharing their stories during the recent “Caring Well: Equipping the Church to Confront the Abuse Crisis” conference sponsored by the SBC Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission in partnership with a sexual abuse advisory group appointed by convention president J.D. Greear.
- Kevin Ueckert, chairman when the trustee executive committee voted unanimously on May 30, 2018, to immediately terminate Patterson, reversing a vote by the full board a week earlier naming Patterson president emeritus with compensation and an offer to live on campus in retirement.
- Gary Loveless, a close friend to Patterson and major benefactor who authored a letter in June 2018 accusing trustee leaders of denying due process, “maligning the longtime denominational leader in attempts to justify their subsequent decision to fire him” and calling for his reinstatement.