My purpose in writing this is not because I have any ill-will towards the Patterson’s but because this situation has much larger implications for the future of my alma mater, SWBTS, and the Southern Baptist Convention. I desire better for SWBTS and better for the SBC. My hope is that the situation involving the Pattersons encourages each member of the SBC to seek greater purity and accountability in our personal lives and our churches, along with a deeper desire to protect and respect women as co-image-bearers, co-heirs, and co-laborers in Christ.
*The following is my interpretation based upon my experiences. This is my story and my experiences alone. Many others have their own stories to be shared and listened to.
Coming into seminary, I naively believed that we would all be unified spiritually and everyone would be kind and godly since we were all called to ministry. But, I was desperately wrong, and my first year at SWBTS was difficult to say the least. The leadership and administration reminded me of all the characteristics of “church people” that turned me off of the gospel in my younger years. Arrogance, hypocrisy, narcissism, and the “Good Ol’ Boys” club mentality permeated most every part of the SWBTS culture to which I was exposed. It was then that bitterness, hurt, and anger began to take root in my heart towards the leadership at Southwestern which embodied all of these distasteful characteristics.
Thankfully, God rescued me from that bitterness and introduced me to wonderful and godly students and staff who helped shape and mold me into the person I am today. Nevertheless, the environment continued to be filled with toxic air stemming from its toxic leadership. The Patterson’s were to be feared and obeyed – or risk suffering the consequences. You were either in line with Patterson’s 100% or you were the enemy. It was an environment of fear and intimidation.
The Patterson’s & Money
During my 4 years there, we experienced many budget cuts, layoffs, and the shutdown of important programs. Enrollments continued to wane and money became tighter and tighter. Meanwhile, students continued to see the Patterson’s driving Escalades, hosting fancy dinner parties and luncheons, enjoying private chefs, traveling the world at the seminary’s expense and living comfortable lives while the students were suffering, losing jobs, and some employees were barely able to put food on the table for their families.
I was invited to many luncheons, dinners, and teas hosted at Pecan Manor and other locations on campus. During these events, the First Lady would raise millions and millions of dollars for their pet projects. Meanwhile, the seminary couldn’t afford its current staff. I never witnessed her raising money to help the school meet its budget. I only witnessed her raising funds for multi-million dollar buildings and ancient scrolls.
Admissions Office & Dr. Patterson*
From 2007-2011, I worked in the Admissions Office. My main role there was overseeing applicants’ files and documents and making sure they met all SWBTS and International admission requirements. When I heard about the admission of the Mormon and Muslim students in 2014, I cannot say I was surprised. During my time in the Admissions office, I was asked repeatedly to break SWBTS admission policies and even the International requirements. I was ordered numerous times to waive church endorsements, testimonies, transcripts, TOEFLs, WES credentials, and INS financial verifications.
Orders were sent down from the President’s office to break these policies for “exceptions,” which were usually made after Dr. Patterson traveled abroad and met someone who wanted an education at our school but could not meet the requirements, including the government’s requirements for international students; these requests were made knowing the consequences and risks to our school. For example, when the counseling program was replaced with the Biblical Counseling track, there were many applicants who did not meet the admission policies, including a personal testimony of faith, but I was told I had to accept as many applicants as possible to bump up the numbers for the new track so that it looked better for the trustees, even if that meant making more “exceptions.”
These orders from Dr. Patterson put our school in jeopardy with accreditation and the government over and over again. Each time I questioned these “exceptions” with my director and supervisor, I was told, “What the President wants, the President gets.”
*The is my interpretation based on my experience.
Misogyny and Discrimination in the SWBTS Workplace
Whenever my immediate supervisor left his position, I asked if I might be considered for the job since I had been doing much of his duties at the time. I was told by my immediate supervisor, however, that I would never be considered because I was woman. There was no mention of my lack of maturity or experience needed for the position, but it was solely because of my God-ordained sex. I was told that women were never considered for managerial positions on campus because Dr. Patterson would never allow it. I was also told that women would never be taken seriously as managers in the SWBTS workplace; that was just the way it was and I needed to accept that.
By the end of my time working on campus, I was assigned the responsibilities of several other staff members who no longer worked there. I asked the director for a raise considering that I was taking on many more tasks; my previous male coworker made more than me (“Because he had a family to take care of” I was told) and I thought it would be fair to be given the same salary considering I was working far more and had taken on his tasks. I was immediately rebuked and accused of “manipulating” him into giving me a raise. I was told I needed to adopt a more “smiles and sunshine” personality like the other girls in the office and just be grateful that I had a job instead of asking for a raise.
The SWBTS Modesty Culture
During my time working and studying on campus, I was singled out many times for my body type and clothing. One winter, Dr. Patterson’s executive secretary came down from the President’s office to my office and pulled me aside to tell me that I needed to go home and change. I was wearing a loose, long sleeve dress and knee-high boots that met the strict dress code requirements for female school employees (knee-length skirts and dresses only). The only parts of my body showing were my neck and my knees. She criticized me for dressing so immodestly and told me words I would never forget, “I don’t know what it is about men and knees, but they have a thing for knees. You need to leave and go home and change now.” I left that conversation feeling ashamed, demoralized, and like a hussy.
I was on campus in 2010 when Dr. Patterson said in his chapel sermon, “It shouldn’t be any wonder why some of you don’t get a second look.” I witnessed the aftermath of those comments and saw the hurt caused for so many women on campus. The disrespect he showed to his sisters in Christ that day offended many of us deeply, but we never saw any repentance for his hurtful and careless speech. This was a running theme throughout my years and interaction with Dr. Paige Patterson.
My last year at the seminary, I was exercising at the campus’ recreation center in yoga pants and a loose t-shirt. During my workout, a friend who worked there told me that I would have to leave because the Director of the RAC (Recreation and Aerobic Center) said I was in violation of the dress code. I asked my friend why I had to leave and what was wrong with the way I was dressed. There were several women exercising in running shorts and I asked why they were able to wear shorts but I wasn’t allowed to wear yoga pants and a t-shirt. My friend was kind to me but said that’s what he was told to do and maybe I should consider getting some men’s basketball shorts. The next day at my office, the Director of the RAC asked to have a private conversation with me in the Vice President of Student Service’s office. I felt uncomfortable being alone with him but he made it clear I had no choice. He then aggressively accused and rebuked me for being confrontational and questioning the RAC staff about his decision. I told him that my husband had no problems with what I was wearing and he replied, “Well then you need to up your standards of modesty.”
When I asked why other women were allowed to wear shorts and yoga pants, the RAC Director told me that women with a different, less curvy body type could break the dress code at the RAC because they wouldn’t be a stumbling block to men, but my curvier body was a stumbling block, so I wouldn’t be allowed to enter the facility unless I wore baggy men’s clothes to exercise. Afterward, I received an email from the Director apologizing for the discord the conversation put between us and that I got hurt, but that he felt he had made the right decision.
After each of these interactions, I felt ashamed, demoralized, enraged, and broken. I cried many tears over the comments about my lack of modesty, as though I were purposefully trying to cause men to lust when I felt like I had been trying my best to honor God through my dress. There was rarely grace, understanding, or love in the rebukes from the Pattersonian leadership on campus and even rarer was repentance or humility.
My Experiences as a Female MDIV Student
My experience took a turn for the better whenever I felt God lead me to begin studying an MDIV in Women’s Studies. I was surrounded by professors, both male and female, who encouraged me, pushed me to deeper thinking, and helped me develop a side that I never knew was there before. Personally, I never experienced any disrespect or discrimination in the classroom from professors because of my sex, though I know many women who had quite the opposite experience, and I witnessed other female students treated with disrespect. It was for this reason that I purposefully chose professors, when I could, that weren’t too close to leadership and were known for their academic capabilities, rather than their connection to the President.
Mrs. Patterson and the Women’s Program staff always pushed us to know that we could be capable theologians too. I was spurred on to want to delve deeper into theology, grapple more with Scripture, and discover more about women in Scripture. However, this was only ‘OK’ as long as we played the part of a non-Calvinist, Pattersonian ideal female; differing from that ideal resulted in negative consequences.
One particular female professor, who was very close to the Patterson’s, required me to write a paper on contraception for a class. I received a failing grade because my viewpoint differed from her and the Pattersons’ beliefs on contraception. The professor gave me a second chance to rewrite the paper, and once I rewrote it to reflect their viewpoints on contraception, I was given a passing grade.
Through my association with new friends and my new field of study in Women’s Studies, I began a relationship with Mrs. Patterson. When my friends and I began to write a blog, she encouraged us, promoted us, and gave us a voice that we wouldn’t otherwise have had without her influence. She even helped connect us with a publisher with whom we eventually published a book. I was able to meet, shadow, and learn from so many strong, intelligent women in the SBC, and I will forever be grateful for those opportunities and for the part Mrs. Patterson played in that. I received an education in the Women’s Studies Program that I am still proud of and thankful for today.
My last year at SWBTS, I was awarded the Priscilla scholarship. Part of the scholarship entailed one-on-one mentorship meetings with Mrs. Patterson. The meetings turned into me becoming wait staff, serving hors d’oeuvres in the dining room corner at parties where Mrs. Patterson barely offered me a nod. Many noted the lack of kindness and sincerity shown by the Patterson’s hospitality; rather it was seen as a chance for the Patterson’s to entertain and impress. When you entered their door, you were given the perfect smile, the perfect greeting, but behind closed doors you heard the snaps at staff, the criticism, and the lack of grace and love shown towards those deemed less important than the big names and big pockets invited to the events.
While I had many wonderful experiences during my time at SWBTS, the hurt caused by the words and actions of Dr. and Mrs. Patterson will forever be in my and many others’ memories. The culture they created on that campus has damaged the gospel to a watching world and hurt many brothers and sisters in Christ.
Dr. & Mrs. Patterson, the SWBTS Trustees, and many of my former professors have let it be known that the pain and offense that Dr. Patterson caused does not matter. Our stories, our hurts mean nothing to them. They have shown that the only offense they are concerned with is that which the Pattersons are feeling. They are willing to defend him no matter what, even when his sins go against the women, the innocent, and the abused whom they claim to want to defend. Their silence or defense of his words and actions have spoken volumes to thousands of women around the world.
The SWBTS Trustees’ decision to exalt Dr. Patterson with an honorary title and make the SBC pay for him to retire in an on-campus mansion, along with maids and chefs all paid for by the SBC, only enables Dr. Patterson’s behavior to continue without any repentance or change and encourages this type of behavior to continue in SBC churches and seminaries.