Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary’s Trustees Uphold Decision to Fire Paige Patterson

In a meeting characterized by unity despite differences of opinion, Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary’s trustees voted to uphold the trustee executive committee’s decision in May to terminate former president Paige Patterson.

Trustees revisited Patterson’s termination at their Oct. 15-17 meeting based on a motion, referred to Southwestern by the Southern Baptist Convention in June, “that the whole board of trustees at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary consider revisiting their original decision concerning Dr. Paige Patterson.”

The board also heard a report from its presidential search committee and affirmed an administration decision to discipline a faculty member — though the faculty member was not named during the board’s one public session.

“I was deeply worried about this meeting,” said trustee Bart Barber, pastor of First Baptist Church in Farmersville, Texas, adding he “forbade” his wife and children from attending. “I should have brought them not only because it wasn’t bad, but because it was good.”

Trustees convened for committee meetings and informal “working sessions” Oct. 16-17 that were closed to the public before holding one public, 45-minute “general session” today (Oct. 17), in which they voted without discussion on the matters considered in private sessions.

‘A 10-percent difference’

New Mexico trustee Jonathan Richard moved that the full board ratify “the executive committee actions since the last full board meeting.” The executive committee’s actions included terminating Patterson May 30 after the full board had moved him to president emeritus status a week earlier. See related Baptist Press stories here and here.

The 34 trustees present at the Oct. 17 general session adopted Richard’s motion on a voice vote with what Baptist Press estimated as no more than four negative votes.

Dickard said he was “sad” at Patterson’s departure, and Barber fought back tears as he discussed it.

“We’re all Christians, and we’re not angry with each other,” said Dickard, an evangelist and retired pastor. “We differ greatly. Bart and I voted in different directions on a number of different issues. That doesn’t make him my enemy.”

Dickard believes the “process” and the “result” of the executive committee’s dealings with Patterson were flawed, including the committee’s decision during a series of meetings in April and May to waive a requirement of Southwestern’s bylaws that 10-days’ notice be given for all executive committee meetings. He also believes the executive committee violated a requirement of Robert’s Rules of Order that a committee not “pass motions that conflict with the full board.”

Barber said waiver of notice requirements for meetings is “common practice” for boards and that Patterson skipped “numerous” meetings of the executive committee in April and May where “matters of great significance were discussed,” though he could have attended. Then Patterson declined a formal request that he attend an executive committee meeting, Barber said.

Ultimately the relationship between Patterson and the board became unworkable in Barber’s view. However, Barber noted “people ought to listen” to Dickard’s concerns as they evaluate whether circumstances “were extenuating enough to justify” the executive committee’s departure from standard operating procedures.

One reason to move forward, Dickard said, is that Patterson “didn’t have the votes on the board to remain here…. In May, I thought he had those votes, and the first vote that was taken [in the May 22-23 meeting], he did have them. But today he doesn’t have the votes on the board to still be president.”

Barber said it’s difficult to state one main reason Patterson departed because “we have a 40-member board” and “there are at least 40 answers to the question of why.”

Trustees who vote differently “may agree on 90 percent of what we talked about, but there’s a 10-percent difference that nudges me onto one side of the line and nudges him onto the other,” Barber said.

Trustee chairman Kevin Ueckert told BP, “We had things to discuss that were difficult and challenging. Everybody experienced a great deal of encouragement because of our common belief that God is leading us forward as a seminary around our core mission.”

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Source: Baptist Press