Unsealed court documents are shedding new light on last year’s dismissal of Paige Patterson as president of Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary (SWBTS) in Fort Worth, Texas. A former female student is suing Patterson and SWBTS in U.S. District Court, claiming that the school “was not a safe place for young women” and that leaders “had a custom of ignoring female students’ complaints of sexual harassment and stalking behavior by male student-employees.”
The lawsuit states: “Void of even the most basic standards of support for victims required by state and federal law, SWBTS had put in place a construct in which sexual harassment and violence were ignored—or at times—even celebrated by its leaders. Through intimidation and victim-blaming, any young woman who dared speak up was shamed into silence.”
“I have to break her down,” Patterson wrote
In documents unsealed earlier this month, a student using the pseudonym Jane Roe details multiple attacks and threats from a male student beginning in October 2014. She says the man, who worked as an on-campus plumber and had keys to buildings, flashed a gun during the first attack and later threatened to kill her.
When Roe met with seminary leaders in August 2015, she says Patterson “seemed to enjoy” questioning her about “graphic details” of the assault. He allegedly tried to justify rape as “a good thing” because it would reveal a potential spouse’s true character. Roe also claims Patterson said he was “too busy” to deal with her claims. When police found nine weapons at the alleged attacker’s campus residence, the school expelled him for firearms violations.
The seminary’s security chief asked to meet with Patterson, who allegedly responded via email, “I have to break her down and I may need no official types there.” While meeting with Roe, the lawsuit claims, Patterson accused her of lying and said, “So far, it’s just your word against his.” When Roe’s mother inquired about the alleged attacker’s previous criminal history, Patterson reportedly lunged toward her and “threatened to ‘unleash’ lawyers on her if she dared question his leadership at SWBTS.”
Patterson Didn’t Fight His Dismissal
In the lawsuit, Roe is requesting a jury trial and seeking monetary damages. Patterson, 76, was given 21 days to file a response.
Last May, as Patterson was accused of mishandling a rape allegation while president of Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary in North Carolina, SWBTS trustees voted to pursue new leadership. They appointed Patterson as president emeritus with pay, saying he “complied with reporting laws.” A week later, the trustees fired Patterson without pay or benefits, saying he hadn’t been truthful.
“The attitude expressed by Dr. Patterson…is antithetical to the core values of our faith and to SWBTS,” said trustee chair Kevin Ueckert in a June 1, 2018, statement. Although Patterson disagreed with his dismissal, he didn’t fight it.
SWBTS says it can’t comment on ongoing litigation, but current president Adam Greenway assures the seminary community “that we take these matters seriously and are committed to our campus being a safe place for the vulnerable and for survivors of abuse.”