Former Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary President Paige Patterson said in a wide ranging radio interview this week that he believes his termination by trustees was unjust, but at age 76 after decades of denominational leadership he isn’t dwelling on the past.
“I didn’t feel they did the right thing for the right reason, and I think their subsequent behavior after that has been subject to serious question, but I’m not going to let that make me bitter,” Patterson said about his May firing by seminary trustees Oct. 24 on American Family Radio’s Janet Mefferd Live. “I’m going to accept it, and I’m going to do my best to live for the Lord.”
Patterson’s past comments on women and allegations that he turned a deaf ear to women reporting rape during his presidency at two Southern Baptist Convention seminaries turned this summer’s SBC meeting into a referendum on the #MeToo movement protesting exploitation of women by powerful males.
He declined in his first media interview since the uproar to speculate on whether convention politics played a major role in his dismissal.
“I do know that our convention is in a time of upheaval,” said Patterson, co-founder with Texas layman Paul Pressler of the “conservative resurgence” movement credited with defending biblical orthodoxy in the nation’s second largest faith group behind Roman Catholics.
“Part of it is generational,” Patterson said. “Part of it is young versus old, although we’ve had tremendous support from many younger people, younger pastors, too. Part of it is a social justice movement that has asserted itself.”
“As far as I can tell, most of the people in the social justice movement seem to me to be orthodox believers, but I do believe that they have put certain things to the forefront as concerns that outweigh other concerns that evangelical Christians primarily ought to have,” Patterson said.
“For example, I’m one of these fellows that believes that you can never by legislation or by forcing change people’s heart,” he continued. “The only way you can change a man’s heart about what he’s going to do and what he’s going to think, what he’s going to believe, is for Christ to bring about a regeneration and new life there. That’s the reason I spend as much time as I do trying to help churches get a hold on winning people to Christ, because I know that you can’t legislate social justice.”
“It seems to me that many younger people have forgotten that you can’t legislate justice,” Patterson said. “It just won’t do. You can try. You can make some efforts, but in the final analysis you have to have something that comes from God that changes their heart. So I think that’s a problem.”
Patterson said he agrees with the basic premise of #MeToo, that men guilty of misusing power to abuse women under their authority ought to be held accountable for their actions.
“I have no ability to contain myself when it comes to the cowardice of the person who is usually the stronger figure physically abusing the weaker,” he said. “Whether that’s a man abusing a woman or a woman or man abusing a child or whatever, it is without any ground whatever of rightness and needs to be punished, and I’m in favor of that punishment.”
“On the other hand, I am very concerned about cases of accusation that have turned out not to be accurate, because what happens on that is you end up essentially ruining a man’s life when he’s not guilty,” Patterson said. “So I urge be accurate, then the necessary means to correct it needs to be taken.”
Patterson said he has both a hope and a fear about the future of the Southern Baptist Convention.
“My fear is that we are going to decimate our own effort, and that what’s going to happen is that I don’t think a lot of people are going to cease being Southern Baptist,” he said. “I think they are going to be Southern Baptist, but my fear is they will be less and less involved financially and otherwise in the mission programs of the Southern Baptist Convention. That’s my fear.”
Patterson said his hope grows from the benefit of having watched events unfold over his decades of denominational involvement.
”I know that history is cyclical to a certain degree, and so I every reason to hope, ‘OK, Satan has us sidetracked for a moment, we are looking at things and acting in ways that are unfortunate, but God has a way of bringing his people back,’” he said. “That’s what I hope will happen, and I hope the future will be the brightest ever.”
The 54-minute interview, which also includes Patterson’s side of the story about events that supposedly led to his firing, is available online here.