In June 2019, a lawsuit was filed against Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary (SWBTS) and its former leader, Paige Patterson, by an unnamed plaintiff known as Roe. She alleged multiple incidents of sexual assault committed against her by a former seminary student, referred to in the lawsuit as Doe and claimed that she was mistreated when she reported being repeatedly raped and stalked by the male student.
These allegations were serious and demanded a thorough investigation, but many of us were skeptical of the claims from the beginning, as the allegations simply did not add up. This seemed to discerning Christians at the time to just be another blindly #believewomen attack against conservative men.
Rumblings of these complaints had been circulating on social media for some time, and in 2018, Ed Stetzer penned a scathing hit piece against Patterson in Christianity Today, accusing him of covering up sexual abuse. That article has now been deleted from Christianity Today but is still available on the Wayback Machine.
Honestly, I can’t count how many times Ed Stetzer has been demonstrably wrong about something he insisted was absolutely right while urging us that his advice was the best in the industry to follow. Last year, he scrubbed another article from Christianity Today after telling us that anyone who believes the COVID-19 virus came from a lab in China was a conspiracy theorist and that we needed to trust the government. That proved to be false.
In his piece at CT, Stetzer focused particularly on the alleged role of Patterson, who was instrumental in the Conservative Resurgence movement that steered the Southern Baptist Convention (SBC) towards greater conservatism. However, Stetzer contended that Patterson’s continuing leadership role complicated the situation, as he was one of the SBC’s most significant leaders and rarely criticized without significant backlash.
Stetzer’s article highlighted the unofficial custom within the SBC of not speaking ill of one another, which contributed to the silence surrounding the allegations against Patterson and other prominent figures. He insisted that in the age of #MeToo, the SBC could not afford to remain silent on the issue of abuse. Stetzer cited leaders such as openly homosexual Jonathan Merritt and another SBC seminary leader who has since been accused of abusing his wife, which ended in divorce, as examples of those who have stood up for women.
Concluding his piece, Stetzer urged the SBC to focus on its mission and hold each other accountable rather than turning its heroes into gods and urged Patterson to step into a “well-earned retirement,” thinking first of the SBC’s future mission. Ultimately, due to the allegations, Patterson was fired and lost his benefits.
Fast-forward to April 2023, United States Federal Judge Sean D. Jordan dismissed all charges against Patterson, a prominent figure in the Southern Baptist community, effectively refuting the claims made by Ed Stetzer and others who ferociously backed him without solid evidence. In doing so, Judge Jordan dismantled the accusations that Patterson fostered a toxic environment enabling sexual misconduct.
In his memorandum, Judge Jordan meticulously analyzed the evidence presented by Roe, ultimately finding it insufficient to support her negligence claims against Patterson and SWBTS. He reasoned that Roe had not provided compelling evidence to suggest that SWBTS or Patterson had any reason to foresee that John Doe would commit such a heinous act.
Moreover, Judge Jordan took issue with Roe’s use of “conclusory assertions” about the atmosphere at SWBTS under Patterson’s leadership. Roe had claimed that women experienced a “toxic environment” at SWBTS, treated as “petty annoyances” or “evil seductresses” by Patterson and other men on campus. The judge dismissed these claims as mere opinions, not evidence, and insufficient to support a legal case.
Additionally, Judge Jordan addressed Roe’s assertion that Patterson was “a proponent of guns” and that they were “prevalent” on the SWBTS campus. The judge found this claim irrelevant to the case, as SWBTS had a policy prohibiting firearms on campus unless students had permission to carry them. The record showed that Doe was expelled from SWBTS when it was discovered that he had firearms on campus, and there was no evidence to suggest that Patterson or SWBTS had condoned his actions.
Judge Jordan also refuted Roe’s claim that “women who tried to report sexual harassment and sexual abuse were ignored, dismissed or disciplined themselves.” He argued that this claim was a “gross distortion of the evidence before the court,” and that there was no proof that SWBTS had condoned or ignored sexual harassment or assault of female students.
In his memorandum, Judge Jordan demonstrated that the evidence presented by Roe was insufficient to support her claims against Patterson and SWBTS. He found that the allegations made by Ed Stetzer and others were not supported by the evidence and that Paige Patterson was a victim of a false narrative. The judge’s analysis was thorough and careful, and his decision was based on the facts presented in court.
This legal outcome casts a shadow of doubt over Stetzer’s motives and the skepticism surrounding Patterson’s leadership. It seems like a clear political attack against conservatives in the Southern Baptist Convention. It calls into question the motives of those who accused him of fostering a toxic environment that enabled sexual misconduct. The dismissal of all charges against Patterson highlights the importance of evidence-based investigations and the pitfalls of engaging in premature condemnation of public figures, yet, Southern Baptist leaders continue to do this.
Jumping to conclusions is not only unwise, it’s also unbiblical. As Proverbs 18:17 states, “The one who states his case first seems right, until the other comes and examines him.”
With the court’s decision now in the public domain, it remains to be seen how this development will affect the Southern Baptist community’s perception of its leaders and the broader conversation around addressing sexual misconduct allegations. For now, the exoneration of Paige Patterson serves as a potent reminder of the need for due diligence and the preservation of a presumption of innocence until proven guilty. But it really doesn’t matter at this point as Ed Stetzer’s mission has been accomplished—conservatives have already been driven out of the denomination in droves.