April Armstrong on the Culture of Paige Patterson’s Southwestern Baptist Seminary

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I imagine we will hear more stories like the ones April Armstrong has shared at the website #SBCToo: Breaking the Southern Baptist Seminary Silence.  Armstrong attended Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary while Paige Patterson was president and then went on to get a Ph.D in Religion at Princeton.  She currently works in Princeton’s Mudd Library.

Here is a taste of her post “Why the ‘Removal’ of Paige Patterson Isn’t Enough“:

….My nightmare wasn’t over, however. My roommate and I were sitting a few rows back from the front in chapel that week when the predator and a group of men I didn’t know sat in the row behind me. It felt like an effort to intimidate me. He said, loudly and in my direction, that he had met with Paige Patterson and he’d been vindicated, because Dr. Patterson had exercised his authority to unilaterally reverse the decision of the ethics committee. He said, “Dr. Patterson said, ‘It’s not like you’re on drugs or anything. It’s just girls.’” He was not expelled, he said. He would continue his pursuit of a Master of Divinity degree. I wondered if the other men knew who I was.

I looked up at Paige Patterson, sitting less than 100 feet away from me on the chapel stage. He surely could see this, I thought, and must know who I was. I felt sure he could see that in addition to everything else, the predator was wholly unrepentant. It apparently did not matter. Some time later I discussed my disappointment with the situation with a professor whose response was that I was sinning by not accepting the decision of “those in authority over you.”

I believe a lay person rather than a minister or seminary professor did the more righteous thing in response to this turn of events. The Chief told me he’d told his entire squad to look out for me. They patrolled 24/7. It seemed as though wherever I went in that short span of time that the predator remained a student, a uniformed officer would walk up and say hello to me, just a friendly greeting, but it felt like more than that—a public warning, in a subtle way, that I was being watched over. It didn’t make me feel altogether safe at SWBTS—I never really did after that—but it mitigated a tiny bit of the harm, and reminded me that someone had believed me.

The predator left SWBTS not long after that, having been expelled again, a source close to the matter told me, because he refused to comply with the rules imposed by seminary housing. He was gone but my feeling of unease never left me, because after that I felt sure that no one was going to stand up for a woman at Southwestern.

Indeed, it felt like no one did. I was there when the last woman was fired as a professor in the School of Theology (Sheri Klouda, my Hebrew professor) on the stated basis that she wasa woman; when Paige Patterson approached the pulpit after a female student in chapel had sung a solo and said it was good she’d worn a skirt down to her ankles or else nobody would have been able to think about anything but her body; when a member of the faculty told me he agreed that women weren’t being treated well at SWBTS but “I’m only a few years away from retirement and I don’t want to die on this hill.;” when a man in one of my classes joked that sophia, the Greek word for wisdom, shouldn’t be in the feminine because “no woman is wise” and the instructor just shrugged and looked at me, the only woman in the room, with a kind of embarrassment but didn’t tell the student not to make such comments, or the rest of the class not to laugh at them; when a man laughed in my face because I was angry that another male student had sought me out to tell me that women and men are not equal in value; when a close friend was supposed to give a sermon in expository preaching class and the instructor told all the (male) students not to show up to hear it and sent his wife to take notes so he wouldn’t hear it either and graded her from that; I was there to experience three years of unrelenting misogyny that it seemed no one was willing to stop, because speaking out against it would realistically have drawn down the wrath of Paige Patterson, who could make or break your career, and I supposed these men had more fear of him than they did of the God they claimed to serve, or else they had sympathies with his misogyny and just weren’t as comfortable being quite as open about it to my face.

Read the entire piece here.

 

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