(RNS) — Author and speaker Trillia Newbell was minding her own business this week, “doing the good work the Lord planned for me,” when she was drawn into another Southern Baptist controversy.
Newbell, a former staff member of the Southern Baptist Convention’s Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission, was mentioned in a controversial leaked letter published Wednesday (June 2) by Religion News Service. The letter, which was leaked over the weekend to the news service, was written in February 2020 by then-ERLC head Russell Moore to the commission’s trustees.
In it, Moore cited an unnamed SBC leader who was critical of his decision to hire Newbell. Moore recently left his ERLC post after years of controversy, especially over his criticism of Donald Trump.
“I was really just concerned about that black girl, whether she’s egalitarian,” Moore recalled the leader as saying.
After seeing news of the letter on social media, Newbell tweeted she was “a grown woman” and would not let those comments stand in her way.
“I’ve experienced racism my entire life. Not gonna stop me now,” she wrote.
Two Southern Baptist sources have confirmed with RNS the SBC leader who made the comment about Newbell.
“It was Paige Patterson,” Phillip Bethancourt, the pastor of Central Church in College Station, Texas, and former vice president of the ERLC, told RNS. Bethancourt said he and other staffers heard about the comments critical of Newbell and Dan Darling, another former ERLC staffer, right after Moore spoke with Patterson. Patterson, a longtime Baptist leader, and former SBC president, was fired as president of Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary in 2018 for mishandling allegations of sexual abuse.
Patterson denied making the comments in a phone interview with RNS and said he had never heard of Newbell.
“I don’t know who the girl is,” he said.
He also said that Moore was “obviously wrong.”
A legend among Southern Baptists, Patterson, along with retired Texas Judge Paul Pressler, was one of the chief architects of the “conservative resurgence” that took over the nation’s largest Protestant denomination in the 1980s and 1990s.