Patterson, who has long been revered in the Southern Baptist Convention for his role in leading it in a conservative direction, was elected to give the sermon in a convention-wide vote last year during an annual meeting in Phoenix.
This year’s convention will be in Dallas near Patterson’s home turf of Fort Worth.
Several Southern Baptist leaders, worried about the message his presenting a sermon would send to women, have been urging him in recent days to withdraw, a decision he had to make or it would have been put to a convention-wide vote next week.
According to his Southwestern chief of staff, Scott Colter, Patterson was making “an effort to bring harmony to the Southern Baptist Convention.” Colter did not immediately return requests for comment.
The sermon will be given instead by Texas pastor Kie Bowman, who was elected last year as an alternate to Patterson.
Concerns surrounding Patterson’s behavior have emerged in recent weeks after recorded remarks surfaced this year that were viewed by many as demeaning toward women. His comments, made in 2000 and surfacing on a blog in April, included Patterson’s advice to a woman to return to her abusive husband.
The Washington Post reported May 22 that a woman who was a student at Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary in 2003, when Patterson was president of the North Carolina school, alleged that when she told Patterson she had been raped by her then-boyfriend, he encouraged her not to go to police and instead to forgive her assailant.
In a separate allegation, the chairman of the Southwestern board said in a statement that in 2015 Patterson wrote an email to the chief of Southwestern campus security concerning another student making a rape allegation. In the email, Patterson “discussed meeting with the student alone so that he could ‘break her down’ and that he preferred no officials be present,” Kevin Ueckert, the chairman, wrote.
In a statement quoted in Christianity Today, Patterson said, “I take exception to accusations that I ever knowingly ignored or failed to follow appropriate protocols in cases of reported abuse” when he was president.
“For my words, demeanor, sentiments, or disposition to have been twisted to suggest the very antithesis to who I am and the biblical message I have presented over half a century not only is crushing to me and my family but also inevitably proves hurtful to others in the process,” he said in the statement. “I have never sought to inflict hurt upon a woman or man.”
His statement took a turn from the past few weeks where he declined to respond to specific allegations in an interview with The Post after the seminary’s commencement ceremony in May. And in his last sermon at Southwestern on April 24, Patterson told those gathered that like Jesus, they should not be tempted to respond to people who attack them.
“You’ll want to defend yourself so much,” he said. “You’ll want to set the record straight! Put a defense out there! Oh, don’t do it.”
Patterson said in his statement that he “requested to be released from this high privilege [of giving the convention’s sermon] because I do not want my role as a preacher to detract in any way from the important business of our convention and because my desire is to work toward biblical harmony at our annual meeting. Many messengers have implored me to carry out this assignment, but this convention is not about me, and I have every confidence that this decision is best and right.”
Steve Gaines, the president of the Southern Baptist Convention, said Friday that he was sent an email from Patterson confirming “in a humble way” his plans to back down from the sermon. “He was a gentleman about it,” Gaines said, before he said he was scheduled to teach a class at Southwestern.
In his letter to Gaines, Patterson said:
Dear Mr. PresidentDays of soul-searching before our God, whose blessed forgiveness and grace are continually poured out upon us all, have led me to the conclusion that I herein now communicate to you. In an effort to do what I can to contribute to harmony within the Southern Baptist Convention and to respond to the request that has come especially from you and other Southern Baptist leadership, I am relinquishing my position as chairman of the Evangelism Task Force. The vice chairman, Dr. Adam Greenway, will bring the report we have prepared for the Convention in its 2018 annual session.In addition, I will not preach the convention sermon as I was invited to do by the 2017 committee on order of business and SBC messengers. The able and gifted Dr. Kie Bowman, who is the convention-elected alternate will preach in my place. My hope and confidence is that all will pray for him as he preaches and will hear him gladly.All of this I do with a heart full of confidence in our God and with the hope that He will favor the Convention and her churches with the benediction of heaven. I remain a proponent of God’s plan and purpose for marriage as the union of one man and one woman in lifetime commitment as delineated in Genesis 2 and 3; in the biblical, complementary role assignments for men and women as given in Scripture (1 Cor. 11; 1 Tim. 2); in the inerrancy and sufficiency of Scripture in every syllable (2 Tim. 3:16-17); in the task of world-wide evangelism since Christ died for all and has invited all to trust Him as Savior (1 Jn. 2:2); in the protection by the strong of all who are weaker (Is. 40:11); and in calling for absolute justice for every human being (Mic. 6:8).To those of you who have supported me with love, prayer, and encouragement, in addition to the reasons shared above, please understand this decision as an effort to protect my family as much as I can. Forever I am a debtor to all of you. May our Lord in heaven comfort your hearts and bless your every step.Until He comes,Paige Patterson