Donors put pressure on Southwestern seminary trustees

B.H. Carroll Memorial Building at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary in Fort Worth, Texas (Photo: Michael-David Bradford / Wikimedia Commons)

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FORT WORTH—Unless “serious wrongs” against former President Paige Patterson are “righted,” a Houston oil and gas executive and more than two dozen other donors warned their gifts to Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary will cease—including estate gifts that could total “tens of millions of dollars.”

The donors asked seminary board of trustees to appoint a 10-member investigative committee to examine actions taken against Patterson—five members selected by the trustees and five members selected by the signers of the letter.

Some donors disapprove of trustee actions

Gary W. Loveless, chairman and chief executive officer of Square Mile Energy, drafted the June 29 letter to Kevin Ueckert, chair, and other members of the seminary trustees’ executive committee, expressing “disdain” for the committee’s May 30 actions.

The trustees’ executive committee stripped Patterson—an architect of the self-identified “conservative resurgence” in the Southern Baptist Convention—of the titles and benefits the full board had granted him a week earlier after additional evidence came to light regarding his alleged mishandling of sexual assault complaints.

Sarah Smith, an investigative reporter at the Fort Worth Star-Telegram, posted the letter from the donors on her Twitter feed.

In the letter, Loveless and the other donors accused the trustees’ executive committee of  “an abuse of power which is anathema to the moral and ethical principles embraced by an honorable people.”

“Your failure to afford even a modicum of due process to Dr. Patterson was a complete miscarriage of justice,” the letter said, referring to the 13-hour meeting of the full board that began May 22 and concluded in the wee hours the next morning.

At the end of that meeting, the trustees removed Patterson as president but granted him the title “president emeritus” with compensation and reaffirmed an earlier decision to let him live on campus in the Baptist Heritage Center as “theologian-in-residence.”

The donors asserted the actions of the full board of trustees were “completely unwarranted and unacceptable,” but the executive committee’s actions were “as indefensible in their substance as they are legally illegitimate in the manner in which they took place.”

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Particular dislike for Ueckert’s public statement

The donors claimed the executive committee failed to provide legal notice of their May 30 meeting, and they particularly took issue with a June 1 public statement Ueckert released.

In that statement, Ueckert recounted both Patterson’s alleged failure to report a sexual assault claim when he was president at Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary and his mishandling of an abuse complaint at Southwestern, where he asked to meet privately with the female student who made the complaint to “break her down.”

“We submit that Mr. Ueckert should bear responsibility for the irreputable harm his statements created,” the donor letter said. “We further submit that all members of the executive committee, as trustees of the seminary, bear equal responsibility for allowing his statements to go uncorrected and by failing to so act, they gave their blessings to his statements.”

Ueckert was not available for comment.

Donors prepared to withhold funds

In their letter, the donors threatened to withhold donations and bequests to the seminary.

“We believe our investment in the seminary has been substantial in the commitment of our time, talents, prayers and financial support,” the letter stated. “Our past financial gifts to the seminary total in the millions of dollars. Our future possible gifts and bequests from our estates we estimate could be well in excess of tens of millions of dollars.

“Please know that until the serious wrongs against Dr. and Mrs. Patterson are righted, we will be unable to continue our financial support of the seminary.”

Other donors prepared to continue giving

However, some other donors have stepped up in recent weeks.

“Despite the present circumstance, Southwestern Seminary finds itself walking through, ministry partners have not forgotten their unwavering focus—students,” Charles Patrick, vice president for strategic initiatives and communications, said in a June 8 news release announcing a $125,000 “unexpected gift” to equip students for missions service.

Patrick noted “countless other ministry partners” had communicated with the seminary to say they “remain fully committed to equipping Southwestern Seminary students for their God-called ministry assignments.”

The letter from the donor represented the latest effort by some Patterson loyalists to overturn the actions of the trustee board and its executive committee or fire the governing board.

Messenger motions during the SBC annual meeting

At the Southern Baptist Convention annual meeting in Dallas, Tom Hartley, a messenger from Immanuel Baptist Church in Rogers, Ark., introduced a motion to dismiss the seminary’s executive committee.

Hartley claimed the committee acted with “haste, lack of proper investigation,” apparent disregard of the seminary’s founding documents and failure to allow Patterson to respond to accusations against him.

In response, Trustee Bart Barber, pastor of First Baptist Church in Farmersville, addressed the messengers to say Patterson, while seminary president, attempted to remove a trustee, disregarded a request from trustee chairman Kevin Ueckert and refused to attend trustee executive committee meetings when asked to do so.

The letter from the donors claimed Barber’s comments were “contrary to … (the) facts” and were “false and slanderous.”

The donors also assailed Steve Gaines, who was presiding, for failing to rule Barber out of order, saying he “ignored the rules of the convention.”

Another messenger to the SBC annual meeting, Samuel Ray Henry of West Palm Beach, Fla., introduced a motion asking the full seminary trustee board to “consider revisiting their original decision” regarding Patterson, citing his “extensive service to the SBC.”

The matter was referred to the Southwestern Seminary trustees. SBC bylaws stipulate that convention entities respond in writing to any matter referred to them, reporting how a matter was considered, how it was reported to its constituency and any actions taken by the entity or proposed to the convention.

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