2nd Opinion: Gloats and goats: Thoughts on Southwestern trustees’ prayer

Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary trustee chairman Kevin Ueckert (left) addresses trustees at a special called meeting at the Fort Worth campus May 22, 2019. The board met to discuss the controversy surrounding Paige Patterson (right), then president of the seminary. (Photo by Adam Covington/SWBTS via BP)

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I wonder if any of my fellow Southwestern Seminary alumni shared my roller-coaster ride related to the goings-on at our once-beloved alma mater.

I guess the dust has cleared and settled there. I never was a supporter of Paige Patterson; so it took all of my spiritual and moral muscle not to gloat when his trespasses found him out.

I kept quoting Galatians 6:1-5 to myself, but I could not stop at verse five because verses seven and eight interrupted the conversation and provided ample justification for gloating.

When someone I dislike “falls,” what emerges in me and in us?

News of Patterson’s termination and assumed humiliation caused my baser nature to surface like a previously sunken battleship.

I felt the same thing when Bobby Knight left the University of Indiana and Joel Gregory left First Baptist Church in Dallas. I went to war with gloating undergirded by jealousy. Noxious, gloating fumes filled my nose. I inhaled deeply.

I confess that my lungs were saturated before I gagged on gloating fumes—and I learned to my own humiliation that those fumes addicted me. Hard to imagine a Christian and a Southwesterner smoking gloat!

What I learned about myself while gloating

So I learned a dark, buried lesson about myself as I watched the proceedings unfold on “The Hill” in August. Patterson does not know me and probably does not care, but I ask his forgiveness for smoking gloat.

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What the trustees learned

Those among us who loved Southwestern watched to see what lessons the trustees learned from the recent debacle. Very few, it seems. Southwestern trustees wasted no time forming a search committee to select and replace the terminated Patterson.

Speaking of replacement efforts, I am waiting for them to replace the Patterson Window from the chapel on campus. Has anyone else wondered about its future? I think even Roman Catholics let several decades pass before they endorse sainthood for their heroes.

I giggled when I read the call to prayer for the work of the presidential search committee. Any “seasoned” Southern Baptist knows that who is noton the search committee is as important as who is on it.

What the trustees haven’t learned

It appears Patterson’s legacy has infiltrated the presidential search committee’s outlooks and attitudes regarding his replacement. The committee called Southwestern alumni to prayer, emphasizing God will lead them to the “man best suited” for the president’s duties.

I guess the committee won’t be considering any female candidates for that vacancy.

What an ironic—if not hypocritical—position to take. By limiting their search to men, the committee tells God they already have eliminated at least half of Southern Baptists from consideration.

Was Patterson scapegoated?

I know enough about how groups work to entertain the notion that Patterson was a scapegoat. I have read some accounts of the proceedings that lend some credence to casting him in that role.

Scapegoating involves an anxious and mysterious mixture of voluntarism and communal selection. Any scapegoat carries away the sins of the group and is banished from return. The group unconsciousness functions so powerfully that the group bids the scapegoat farewell without festival but with ceremonial callousness.

As a group theorist, I must ask what sins Patterson carried away. What sins was he not able to carry away because the group of Southwestern trustees would not impose them or “scape” them on him?

What the trustees are likely to do

Evidently, Southwestern leadership will continue to be a “good ol’ boys club.” How sad, because they have been presented an opportunity to divest that club, but it will live on as the Patterson legacy.

Trustees failed to learn anything from the recent upheaval about gender exclusivity—so sad. In making their choice, the trustees will take the path of least resistance and confuse it with the path of prudence.

I suspect the trustees will demonstrate an uncanny inability and unwillingness to examine and question any prior assumptions regarding the office of president. During a critical transition, such unwillingness indicates fossilized leadership.

Southwestern trustees will clone themselves; let’s send them all mirrors.

I wonder who would want the job, honestly? But in as much as past is prologue, I am sure that next president of Southwestern Seminary will be white and male. How many trustees fit that description?

Steven Smith received an M.Div. from Southwestern Seminary in 1983 and a Ph.D. from New Orleans Seminary in 1989. He lives in Harlingen, Texas.

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