In the first chapel service since trustees forced out President Paige Patterson, the interim president of Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary urged students to model virtues of self-denial, deference and service.
“The cross just doesn’t do something for you; the cross should do something to you,” Interim President Jeffrey Bingham said in his first convocation address Aug. 23. “It should transform you from a person who is seeking power, glory, kingdom and dominion to a person who pursues — during their entire life on this planet — self-denial, taking last place and orienting their entire life around serving others.”
The fall semester follows a tumultuous summer at the Southern Baptist Convention-owned seminary in Fort Worth, Texas. In May Patterson, a hero of a rightward shift in the nation’s largest Protestant body fondly remembered as the “conservative resurgence,” drew criticism after old comments about women, abuse and divorce resurfaced on social media.
As the full board of trustees gathered to consider options, the Washington Post dropped a bombshell story quoting a woman who claimed administrators turned a deaf ear when she reported being raped by a fellow student while attending Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary when Patterson was president before moving to Southwestern in 2003.
The trustee board agreed to let Patterson retire with benefits and an honorary title, but when a second woman came forward claiming similar treatment at Southwestern, the trustee executive committee reversed the full board’s action, terminating him immediately without benefits.
Patterson withdrew from a scheduled sermon and report at the SBC annual meeting in June, consumed by fervor of the #MeToo movement naming names of powerful men accused of abusing women, including in religious settings.
Denominational leaders promised reform. At the same time, a group of wealthy donors claimed Patterson was being scapegoated and threatened to withhold future gifts unless trustees correct “serious wrongs” committed against the former leader.
Bingham, a theology professor who previously served as dean, outlined his dream for the coming year like this: “That I begin to hear everywhere I go throughout the metroplex and throughout the nation and overseas, that every time I appear anywhere I hear these words: We can always tell a Southwesterner because she always denies herself. We can always recognize a Southwesterner, because he always takes last place. You know how we know that he is from Southwestern? Because his whole life is consumed with serving us.”