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Southern Baptist President Removed Over Language On Sexual Abuse Of Women


A major figure in the Southern Baptist Convention has been replaced following accusations of sexism. Paige Patterson served as president of the Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary but was criticized for appearing dismissive of sexual abuse victims. As part of his agreement with the school, Patterson gives up his leadership position but will still draw a salary and have free housing. Some Baptist women say he should pay a greater price. NPR's Tom Gjelten reports.

TOM GJELTEN, BYLINE: As president of the Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary, Paige Patterson has overseen the preparation of young men to be pastors. His seminary bio says his specialty is helping fathers build their sons from the mischievous raw material of boys into manhood. At Christian sportsmen banquets, he has told stories of hunting lions, leopards and Cape buffalo in Africa. As for women, Patterson has at times been dismissive of concerns about sexual harassment and abuse, as in 2014 when in a sermon he told of observing a woman scolding her son for making a lewd comment about a teenage girl who was walking by.


PAIGE PATTERSON: I saw my opportunity. I said, Ma'am, leave him alone. He is just being biblical. That's exactly what the Bible says.


GJELTEN: That women are made by God to be beautiful. Patterson recently apologized for those comments, but there have been others. He has acknowledged counseling women not to report abusive husbands to law enforcement. Earlier this month, more than 3,000 women from churches belonging to the Southern Baptist Convention signed a petition calling on the seminary trustees to oust Patterson as president. After 13 hours of discussion lasting into the wee hours this morning, the trustees did remove him. In an email today addressed to the school family, Patterson said he and his wife are of course hurt, but we did not compromise, he said, and we still have our voice. The trustees are keeping Patterson on faculty as a theologian in residence, and he'll get free housing on campus as well as his salary.

KRISSIE INSERRA: It was maybe a slap on the wrist.

GJELTEN: Krissie Inserra in Tallahassee, Fla., is one of the women who called for Patterson's ouster. Her husband is the pastor of a Southern Baptist church.

INSERRA: But these are serious, serious allegations, and I don't want this convention to be known for taking serious allegations and sweeping them under the rug. That's not right.

GJELTEN: The Patterson story shows that the #MeToo movement has spread throughout American society. Last fall, two women launched a #ChurchToo movement to draw attention to abuse and harassment in church communities. Now there's even an #SBCToo movement for Southern Baptist Convention women. The Southern Baptists will meet in convention next month in Dallas. One of the unanswered questions today is whether Paige Patterson will preach a sermon at the meeting. He is scheduled to do so, and no change in those plans has yet been announced. Tom Gjelten, NPR News. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Tom Gjelten reports on religion, faith, and belief for NPR News, a beat that encompasses such areas as the changing religious landscape in America, the formation of personal identity, the role of religion in politics, and conflict arising from religious differences. His reporting draws on his many years covering national and international news from posts in Washington and around the world.
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