It took a while for the Board of Trustees for the Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary to take real action against its president Paige Patterson. And now donors are revolting.
Patterson, you may recall, is the former Southern Baptist Convention leader who, years ago, offered “advice” to women trapped in abusive marriages, telling them to stay and pray. In a separate sermon, he also made creepy sexual remarks about an underage girl. Both of those comments reemerged a couple of months ago, and there was a national outcry over why someone like this would ever be considered a religious leader, much less one in charge of students.
In response, the Seminary first gave Patterson an early, yet cushy, retirement package. He would become “President Emeritus” and still get paid by the school.
That only changed after a former seminary student came forward to say she told Patterson she had been raped (while attending the school), only to have him respond by telling her to forgive her rapist and not report the crime to authorities. (It wasn’t the only time he mishandled a rape allegation.)
After that, the Trustees voted to strip Patterson of all those perks. He would just be kicked out, period. End of story.
So the Trustees did the right thing… after all other options had been exhausted. But it finally happened.
Now, the Washington Post reports that donors are pushing back. In a letter to the Trustees, more than two dozen donors who have given millions of dollars to the school are pledging to withhold tens of millions more unless Patterson is once again made “President Emeritus” with all the perks and benefits that come with it:
… [The letter claims] the trustees acted improperly in ousting Patterson and vowing to withhold their donations from the seminary unless the decision to fire Patterson is reopened.“Dr. and Mrs. Patterson continue to have our absolute and unwavering support. They are both esteemed scholars and were stately ambassadors for the Seminary. Your treatment of them is a travesty that must not go unaddressed,” the group of 16 individuals and couples wrote. They say they have given millions of dollars to the seminary and would potentially give tens of millions more, including bequests from their estates.
It’s telling that the donors care more about the treatment of Patterson than the treatment of the women who suffered as a result of his actions.
This isn’t a moral dilemma. There’s a clear right answer here. The Trustees should burn the letter on camera and post it on YouTube (for my amusement), before reaffirming their commitment to the students at the school. “The treatment of women matters far more to us than any amount of money!” they would say.
(There’s no way in hell that will never happen.)
But as one professor notes in the Post‘s article, if the donors really wanted to punish the Trustees, they had the opportunity to do it at the recent Southern Baptist Convention annual meeting. There was a motion to remove all the Trustees from the school in response to the Patterson controversy — but it failed. There just wasn’t enough support. That should’ve been the end of the story. “There’s nothing Baptist or Christian about” using money as leverage against the Trustees now, the professor said.
In other words, the letter is a dick move by the donors. They’re punishing the school for caring about the students instead of protecting their president.
In a sensible world, other Southern Baptists would rebuke the donors and make their own contributions to the Seminary so that there’s no net loss of money. So far, there’s no rush to do that.
But the Trustees haven’t rebuked those donors publicly either. They should. It would send a strong message that their recent actions weren’t just a PR move, but a sign that they’re serious about curbing abuse at the Seminary. They shouldn’t let misguided donors lead them down the wrong path.