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Patterson reportedly had deadline
Board gave him 6 months, sources say
Helen Parmley, The Dallas Morning News
Published: April 22, 1992
Criswell College president Paige Patterson was given six months to find another ministry after school trustees failed in their attempts to dismiss him in November, sources close to trustees said Tuesday.
Dr. Patterson announced Tuesday during the twice-a-week chapel service at the East Dallas school that he was resigning to become president of Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary in Wake Forest, N.C. Although his appointment will not be final until it is approved May 14 by Southeastern’s trustees, that approval is considered a formality.
Asked whether he had been forced out, the 49-year-old fundamentalist leader, who has been president of Criswell since 1975, said: “They have not tried to force me to do anything . . . but they have a direction they want to go in. They may be right and they may be wrong. And they’re answerable to God. But they’ll always be trustees.’
With his voice nearly breaking, Dr. Patterson told about 300 people at chapel that “God had freed me and indeed called me’ to be president of the seminary.
“I was a little more emotionally involved than I ought to be,’ Dr. Patterson said several hours later during an interview in his office. “I thought I at least could read a statement.’
Among those present for Dr. Patterson’s announcement was Dr. W.A. Criswell, longtime pastor of First Baptist Church of Dallas and founder and chancellor of the college that bears his name.
“He’s going to a wonderful place,’ Dr. Criswell said of Dr. Patterson. “He’ll be president of the only seminary we have on the Eastern Sea-board.
“He has an open door there that is incomparable.’
Dr. Criswell said an interim administration will run Criswell College while a search is conducted for a new president.
“It is a matter of supplication before God himself,’ the pastor said. “There will be a search from one side of the continent to the other.’
At Criswell, there was a mixture of regret, sadness, anger and hopefulness after Dr. Patterson’s announcement. Some students said they will transfer to other schools; others said they will wait to see what happens with the replacement.
“If the trustees are not pleased with the leadership of Dr. Patterson, the question remains: What kind of leadership do they want?’ said Wayne Grier, 33, a junior who said he would not return to Criswell in the fall.
“The trustees basically wanted Dr. Patterson out and they did not want to make public their agenda,’ said Mr. Grier, who plans to move back to Dallas, Ga.
Dr. Patterson said his influence at Southeastern will be different than it has been at Criswell, where he described himself as “a Socratic gad-fly on the posterior’ of the Southern Baptist Convention.
At the seminary, he said, “I will be a denominational servant.’
The move is a step up for Dr. Patterson, who leaves a small, independent Baptist school for a large denominational seminary supported and financed by the Southern Baptist Convention.
Conservatives have taken control of Southeastern in recent years, prompting complaints that the intellectual atmosphere has been stifled. Only seven of the 35 faculty members are left from 1987, and enrollment has dropped from 1,125 to 425 during the same period.
Dr. Patterson said he intends to fill seven or eight vacancies with theological conservatives. “It’s what my fellow conservatives want me to do,’ he said.
Criswell College, located in a sparkling new building at 4010 Gaston Ave., has been troubled in the last six months by a dispute between the board of trustees and Dr. Patterson, one of the leaders in the fundamentalist takeover of the Southern Baptist Convention.
Dr. Patterson was almost fired by the trustees in November, but the dismissal raised an outcry from six leading Southern Baptist pastors.
Led by the Rev. Adrian Rogers of Memphis, Tenn., and the Rev. Jack Graham of Prestonwood Baptist Church in North Dallas, the pastors met with the Criswell College trustees at Dallas/Fort Worth International Airport.
After nine hours, according to sources close to the trustees, an agreement was reached to give Dr. Patterson six months to find another ministry.
However, that agreement was not made public. Instead, the trustees issued a statement saying they had agreed to “wait on the Lord in connection with any leadership changes at the college.’
Dr. Patterson said he was “gratified but also humbled’ by the support he had received.
Meanwhile, it became apparent that the president of Southeastern, the Rev. Lewis Drummond, would be leaving the troubled seminary, sources said, and the cadre of leading pastors began putting into motion the process for naming Dr. Patterson as his successor.
After Dr. Drummond resigned, with a retirement package estimated at more than $100,000, a national search for a replacement was announced. Some Baptist insiders, however, say the search was a charade, that the job was Dr. Patterson’s from the start.
The specifics of Dr. Patterson’s dispute with Criswell trustees are not known, but some college officials say that the disagreement had to do with Dr. Patterson’s management style and that some trustees thought he spent too much time on denominational politics.
In moving to Southeastern, Dr. Patterson is leaving a school that 16 years ago had 12 students, four faculty members, no degrees, no accreditation and no money.
Criswell today has about 375 students, nearly 30 full-time faculty members, both bachelor’s and master’s degree programs, accreditation and an endowment that totals almost $12 million, most of it from the Criswell Foundation, school officials said.
The Associated Press contributed to this report