Four months after his fall from the presidency of Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary, long-time conservative Baptist leader Paige Patterson is returning to the classroom.
Patterson — whose controversial statements about women and alleged indifference to rape victims turned the Southern Baptist Convention this summer into a #MeToo moment covered by major media — will co-teach a weeklong course on Christian ethics at Southern Evangelical Seminary with his longtime friend and colleague Richard Land.
Land, president of the non-denominational Christian college near Charlotte, North Carolina, since 2013, said in a Sept. 27 press release that the Oct. 15-20 course “will seek to apply the timeless truths of God’s Word to the moral issues of our day.”
“I normally teach this class by myself,” Land told the Christian Post, an online news outlet he leads as executive editor. “I was thinking, ‘Dr. Patterson is available and he is no longer associated with another seminary. So he is fair game.’”
The course – open to the public via webcast for a $150 audit fee – reunites two key leaders of the inerrancy controversy that reshaped the nation’s largest Protestant body in the late 20th century.
Patterson, co-founder of the movement often called the “conservative resurgence” with layman Paul Pressler, served as president of two SBC seminaries and as convention president 1998-2000, before his ouster by Southwestern Seminary trustee leaders in May.
Land worked 25 years as head of the SBC Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission (formerly Christian Life Commission) before retiring following controversies over alleged plagiarism and racially insensitive remarks on radio after the 2015 shooting death of African-American teenager Trayvon Martin by a neighborhood watch volunteer inside a gated community in Florida.
Their bromance dates back to early in their academic careers. They met at New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary, where Land earned a master’s degree in 1972 and where Patterson got his Ph.D.
They were colleagues at Criswell College, where Patterson served as president from 1975 until his election as president of Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary in 1992 and Land taught theology and church history 1975-1988, including eight years as vice president for academic affairs.
“There’s no one in the ministry that I owe as much of a debt to as I do Dr. Paige Patterson,” Land said while introducing Patterson at a conference in 2015. “There is no one I have learned more from than Dr. Paige Patterson, and there is no one I would rather hear preach any given Sunday than Paige Patterson.”
Patterson showed his admiration for Land in 2007 by establishing the Richard Land Center for Cultural Engagement, a program at Southwestern Seminary for study and research of ethics, public policy and other cultural and philosophical issues where Land’s resume lists him as visiting professor.
Patterson’s downfall from leadership was quick after old comments advising an abused spouse to stay and pray for her husband instead of seeking a divorce and sermon illustrations objectifying young females resurface online in wake of the #MeToo movement protesting mistreatment of woman by powerful males in entertainment, politics and religion.
Any hope of keeping his job faded when two women came forward with stories of mishandled reports of rape on Patterson’s watch both at Southeastern Seminary, where he was president 1992-2003, and at Southwestern.
While Patterson’s reputation suffered among many conservatives who formerly viewed him as a hero, he still has supporters.
“I believe he’s a godly, saintly man who has enormous wisdom and spiritual truth to impart to the Body of Christ and we’re happy to give him the opportunity to do it,” Land said in comments about his invitation to Patterson quoted by OneNewsNow.
“I believe there are millions of informed Southern Baptists who are standing with Dr. Patterson,” added Alex McFarland, director of the Center for Christian Worldview and Apologetics at North Greenville University, a private school affiliated with the South Carolina Baptist Convention.
“He was treated worse than corporate America would have handled an accusation against a coworker,” McFarland told the website affiliated with the American Family Association. McFarland said Patterson was “not treated in a professional manner, and I believe certainly not treated in a Christian manner” by seminary trustees.
Patterson’s public return to ministry came in the form of media reports about a recent revival in Alabama where he is quoted making jokes about a woman’s size and criticizing women who falsely accuse men of abuse.
His former chief of staff at Southwestern, however, said Patterson has been busy with other speaking engagements.
“Dr. Patterson continues to receive frequent speaking invitations both domestically and internationally,” spokesman Scott Colter told Religion News Service. “Encouraging God’s people and sharing the saving message of Christ remains his top priority in every engagement. His calendar is quite full in the months ahead, and he is currently booking into late 2019.”
While supporters defend him as a scapegoat caught up in the heat of #MeToo, longtime critics say Patterson’s misogynistic tendencies are nothing new.
A 1991 story in the Dallas Morning News claimed that Patterson disbelieved numerous women alleging sexual abuse by a young preacher he was mentoring at the time, unless the accusers could produce evidence to prove they were telling the truth.
Confronted with those allegations in 2008, Patterson criticized a support and advocacy group for survivors of sexual abuse by clergy as “evil-doers” and “just as reprehensible as sex criminals.”