FORT WORTH (BP)—An attorney for terminated Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary President Paige Patterson issued a media release late afternoon June 4 defending Patterson against alleged “wide-spread misrepresentation and misinformation.”
Hours later, Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary issued a statement responding to the attorney’s claims about documents from Patterson’s tenure as Southeastern’s president from 1992-2003.
Also in response to statements in the release, current Southeastern President Danny Akin said institutional records indicate former student Megan Lively reported to seminary officials in 2003 that “a nonconsensual sexual act had been performed against her person.” Patterson has drawn fire for—among other issues—his handling of Lively’s report.
In an interview, Patterson’s attorney, Shelby Sharpe of Fort Worth, said Patterson “had nothing to do” with the June 4 release.
“I initiated it myself as a person and not as his lawyer at all,” Sharpe said, although he submitted the release over the signature line of his legal firm.
Sharpe informed Patterson he was compiling the release, but “I did not get his approval,” he said. “I did not ask him for any input whatsoever.”
The release’s aim was “character defense,” Sharpe said, and intended “to straighten out erroneous statements that are in” a June 1 statement released by Southwestern trustee Chair Kevin Ueckert. Sharpe’s release was separate from any severance negotiations with Southwestern, he said.
Ueckert’s release stated the trustee executive committee fired Patterson May 30 after obtaining evidence that contradicts a claim by Patterson about the alleged 2003 sexual assault at Southeastern.
Among Sharpe’s claims in his media release:
- “No reasonable reading” of correspondence from Patterson’s personal archives suggested Lively reported a rape to Patterson in 2003 when he was Southeastern’s president “and certainly not that he ignored” such a report.
- “Dr. Patterson first learned of the charges that he allegedly did not report a rape at SEBTS during the May 22 board meeting” of Southwestern’s trustees. “Dr. Patterson’s response was that he had no recollection of a rape being reported to him.”
In the interview with Baptist Press, Sharpe said Patterson didn’t “remember a lady reporting a rape” while he was at Southeastern, so he called Allan Moseley, Southeastern’s dean of students in 2003.
Sign up for our weekly email newsletter.
“Dr. Moseley said, ‘I don’t recall the lady telling me that.’ And then the lady who became Lively’s accountability partner” said, when she was queried May 22, “‘I don’t ever remember this student telling me that.’”
Sharpe alleged Lively, in 2003, confessed to consensual sexual conduct and “referred to it as a sin on her part.”
- During the May 22 Southwestern trustee meeting, Patterson “explained the full context” of a 2015 email concerning a rape allegation by a female student at the Fort Worth seminary, including his alleged statement that he wanted to meet with the accuser alone to “break her down,” he said.
Patterson’s explanation was “to the apparent satisfaction of the full board, as evidenced by the fact that the full trustee board voted to name Dr. Patterson ‘president emeritus’ instead of terminating him.”
Sharpe said the accuser met “with Dr. Patterson and with others and reported the rape. The guy was immediately expelled from school and it’s reported to law enforcement. A week later, she sends an email to Dr. Patterson thanking him for the way he handled the delicate matter.”
More than a month later, Sharpe said, Patterson made the “break her down” statement to express his desire to more fully understand circumstances “concerning a forthcoming meeting that had nothing to do with the reporting of the rape.”
- “Dr. Patterson flatly denies that private SEBTS archives were ever stolen,” and his personal attorney has invited Southeastern to “join with him in having Peacemakers Ministries provide an arbitrator agreeable to both parties to decide the ownership” of disputed records.
Regarding correspondence between Patterson and Lively that has been made public, Sharpe said, “Communications to and from a student that are personal are not a part of” legally confidential student files.
“There’s not anything that has been released that would be unlawful,” he added.
Sharpe said he had not discussed with Patterson whether he will preach the convention sermon at the SBC annual meeting because “I only visit with him on legal matters.”
Patterson is in the process of moving out of the president’s home at Southwestern, Sharpe said, and “under negotiation” with the seminary about final details of the separation.
Southeastern Seminary responds
Southeastern Seminary’s June 4 statement in response to Sharpe’s release, noted “SEBTS does not believe” official communications by Patterson while he was president were “maliciously removed” from the property.
“However, we believe there is a misunderstanding on the part of the Pattersons and their attorney as to what is owned by SEBTS under the work for hire doctrine,” the seminary said.
Southeastern said it had not yet received a request to settle disputed documents through Peacemakers Ministries.
Regarding Lively’s allegation, Akin clarified to Baptist Press, “She was very clear” in 2003 “that a nonconsensual sexual act had been performed against her person.” Southeastern’s records from 2003 indicate Lively “screamed and fled the room” when the alleged assault occurred, Akin said.
Lively did not use the word “rape” in her report, Akin said, but the act she alleged fit the definition of that term.
There is no record at Southeastern, Akin said, of what information about Lively’s case was given to Patterson when he became involved in the matter.
Regarding correspondence between Patterson and Lively that has been released publicly, Akin said, “All files must remain confidential that relate to a student at an institution.” There is “no question that any type of correspondence related to a student’s status or ongoing activity at a school is covered by federal law and the privacy act.”