The first order of business in Dallas


Southern Baptists will descend on Dallas, TX, for their annual meeting June 12-13. According to the published order of business, the first order of business for the Committee on Order of Business occurs at 8:38 A.M on Tuesday morning.

At that time, messengers will be asked to “adopt” the convention schedule, which includes a proposed item at 9:55 A.M. on Wednesday.  This scheduled item is the annual convention sermon. The elected sermon preacher is Paige Patterson, who doesn’t really want you to beat your wife and doesn’t really think it’s ok to sexualize and objectify teenage girls.

Southern Baptists will have a decision to make. Will they vote to approve a schedule that includes Paige Patterson as the convention sermon preacher, or will they amend the proposed schedule by a majority vote to allow the alternate convention preacher, Kie Bowman of Austin, TX (who is incidentally a Southwestern Seminary trustee), to give the address.

A motion to amend the proposed agenda is in order.

A simple majority can adopt an order of business.

Barry McCarty, a professor at Southwestern Seminary, is the convention parliamentarian.

A ballot vote can be ordered.

I can assure you, such a motion will be made. And it will be forced to a vote.

And Southern Baptists will kick off their annual meeting either approving of a man whose history of comments about women and abuse are repugnant.

Which means, Southern Baptists will be seen as affirming those comments, or rejecting them.

And all of this will be the very first thing messengers are asked to decide in Dallas.

You can put money on it.


Bump. Set. Spike

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From the Washington Post:

In a #Metoo moment, will Southern Baptists hold powerful men accountable

By Jonathan Merritt
Apr. 30, 2018

The Southern Baptist Convention’s statement of faith calls on its members to “contend for the sanctity of human life from conception to natural death.” But the nation’s largest Protestant denomination must now decide whether that includes situations in which respected men have abused their power with women.

Last week, an audio recording surfaced on which Paige Patterson, a high-profile Southern Baptist leader, says abused wives should avoid divorce, pray for their violent husbands, and “be submissive in every way that you can.” Patterson is an ordained pastor, a former SBC president and the current president of Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary in Fort Worth.

“It depends on the level of abuse to some degree,” Patterson is heard saying on the 2000 tape. “I have never in my ministry counseled anybody to seek a divorce, and I do think that is always wrong counsel.” He adds, “On an occasion or two when the level of abuse was serious enough,” he has suggested a temporary separation.

Patterson’s comments and the ensuing controversy have placed Southern Baptist leaders in a precarious situation given our current cultural moment. Over the weekend, several Southern Baptist leaders tweeted general statements condemning spousal abuse. None of those tweets called out Patterson by name.

The seminary president is nearly untouchable among Southern Baptists who revere him for decades of denominational leadership. But much has changed during Patterson’s reign as a religious gatekeeper. America has experienced a cultural reckoning where powerful men have been held accountable for abusive behaviors and dangerous comments.

After a wave of scandals from Bill Cosby to Harvey Weinstein, most Americans have adopted a zero-tolerance policy for the abuse of women. We have collectively decided not to abide powerful men who have contributed to bodily violence. During the past year in particular, this cultural consensus has seemingly reached a fever pitch, touching every corner of America from Hollywood to Wall Street.

But are Southern Baptists ready for their #Metoo moment?

Patterson is scheduled to deliver the coveted keynote sermon when Southern Baptists gather for their annual meeting in June. It would be wise for denominational leaders to rethink this invitation lest they appear both culturally out of step and lacking in moral courage. Replacing Patterson will send a message to millions of Southern Baptist women that their bodies are not dispensable and that their valid concerns have been heard loudly and clearly.

The Patterson controversy comes less than a month after Frank Page casually announced his retirement as president and chief executive of the SBC Executive Committee. The next day, however, it was revealed that the resignation was precipitated by “a morally inappropriate relationship,” which reportedly involved a female congregant under his care at a church he previously pastored. The denomination responded with only a statement asking for prayers, “especially for Dr. and Mrs. Page.” In the chapel at Patterson’s seminary, the newly departed Page is depicted in honor on a stained-glass window.

Patterson isn’t the only person currently under scrutiny who is scheduled to take the stage at the Dallas SBC gathering. Ravi Zacharias, a best-selling author and Christian apologist who was accused in 2017 of leveraging his public influence to engage in an online affair with a married woman, will take the stage as a “special guest.” 

Zacharias denied impropriety but admitted to receiving inappropriate picture messages from the woman and apologized for failing “to exercise wise caution” in the relationship. I know of no SBC leader who has questioned Zacharias’s involvement in the event.

When it comes to Patterson, the situation has intensified. In the audio file, the seminary president recounts a story of a woman who told him that she was being abused by her husband. Patterson says he sent the woman back into the horror of her home, telling her to pray each night “not out loud, quietly” that God would intervene.

The woman returned to church with two black eyes from her violent husband. When Patterson saw her wounds, he told her that he was “very happy” because her pain had made her husband feel guilty enough to attend church for the first time.

Domestic violence victims and advocates predictably erupted in outrage, claiming that such advice is dangerous and perhaps illegal. In response, Patterson released a defiant statement defending his comments and attacking his critics. In it, he said those who were upset about his comments had engaged in “mischaracterization,” “misrepresentation,” and “lies” driven by “hatred.”

Such a statement is troubling in that it seeks to offer himself as the true victim. Also, Patterson fights back when he is attacked, unlike the women he has counseled to pray quietly.

In an interview with Baptist Press published on Monday, Patterson said he doubts “seriously” that a person experiencing physical abuse would be morally obligated to remain in the home with their spouse. Yet, he said, “minor noninjurious abuse which happens in so many marriages” might spur a woman to “pray [her husband] through this” rather than leave, he told the publication.

The denomination, which has never passed a resolution on sexual harassment and has not passed a resolution on domestic violence since 1979, is often criticized for its conservative doctrines regarding women. The denomination holds that wives must submit to husbands and that only men can be church pastors, beliefs that progressive critics claim opens the door to the oppression of women and even domestic abuse. If Southern Baptists choose not to take a strong stand in this moment, it will lend credence to such charges.

With their annual gathering just weeks away, how Southern Baptists respond will tell you everything you need to know about their courage and convictions in this time of #Metoo.


Man is she built . . .

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Southwestern Seminary President Paige Patterson spoke at Hope Church in Las Vegas, NV, on January 26, 2014, as part of that church’s AWAKEN 2014 conference. In his sermon, he spoke about a 16 year-old girl, described her as “built,” and made comments that could be interpreted as chauvinistic.  Even worse, they sound terribly similar to the kinds of things Roy Moore used to say about young teenage girls. Listen for yourself:

Will somebody please stop the brutal attacks on Paige Patterson


Southwestern Seminary President Paige Patterson has been abused. He’s a victim. He’s been subjected to all manner of emotional, verbal, and psychological abuse. His attackers are full of hate.

(Pause while the real victims of real abuse shed a tear)

We’ll let his statement speak for itself:

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Press Release from Paige Patterson
April 29, 2018

For the past several months, my life and the lives of my family have been subjected to rigorous misrepresentation. Even had I done some hideous wrong of which I am accused, my wife, children, and grandchildren have not and do not deserve such mischaracterization.

For the record, I have never been abusive to any woman. I have never counseled or condoned abuse of any kind. I will never be a party to any position other than that of the defense of any weaker party when subjected to the threat of a stronger party. This certainly includes women and children. Any physical or sexual abuse of anyone should be reported immediately to the appropriate authorities, as I have always done.

I have also said that I have never recommended or prescribed divorce. How could I as a minister of the Gospel? The Bible makes clear the way in which God views divorce. I have on more than one occasion counseled and aided women in leaving an abusive husband. So much is this the case that on an occasion during my New Orleans pastorate, my own life was threatened by an abusive husband because I counseled his wife, and assisted her, in departing their home to seek protection. In short, I have no sympathies at all for cowardly acts of abuse toward women.

Many years ago in West Texas, a woman approached me about the desire of her husband to prevent her attendance in church. He was neither harsh nor physical with her, but she felt abused. I suggested to her that she kneel by the bed at night and pray for him. Because he might hear her prayer, I warned her that he could become angry over this and seek to retaliate. Subsequently, on a Sunday morning, she arrived at church with some evidence of physical abuse. She was very surprised that this had happened. But I had seen her husband come into the church and sit down at the back. I knew that God had changed this man’s heart. What he had done to his wife had brought conviction to his heart. I was happy—not that she had suffered from his anger, but that God had used her to move her husband to conviction of his sin. I knew that she was going to be happy for him also. That morning, he did make his decision for Christ public before the church, and she was ecstatic. They lived happily together from that time on in commitment to Christ. There was no further abuse. In fact, their love for one another and commitment to their home was evident to all. She herself often shared this testimony. For sharing this illustration, especially in the climate of this culture, I was probably unwise. However, my suggestion was never that women should stay in the midst of abuse, hoping their husbands would eventually come to Christ. Rather, I was making the application that God often uses difficult things that happen to us to produce ultimate good. And I will preach that truth until I die.

The Council on Biblical Manhood and Womanhood released a statement regarding abuse with which I agree entirely. I do not believe there is a woman or girl ever associated with me who would allege any abuse on my part. To all who love me and have supported me across the years and to those who have been wounded by these accusations, I express my deepest regret. I do not apologize for my stand for the family and for seeking to mend a marriage through forgiveness rather than divorce. But I do greatly regret that the way I expressed that conviction has brought hurt. I also regret for my own family this deliberate misrepresentation of my position as well as the hatred that lies behind much of it.

Paige Patterson, President
Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary
Fort Worth, Texas

Legitimate Rape vs. Serious Abuse

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When asked about abortion in the instance of rape, former Missouri Congressman Todd Akin had this to say:

Todd Akin: “Well, you know, people always want to make it one of those things of how do you sort of slice this particularly tough ethical question. It seems to be, first of all, from what I understand from doctors, it’s really rare. If it’s a legitimate rape, the female body has ways to try to shut the whole thing down.”

When asked about women who are abused by their husbands, current Southwestern Seminary President Paige Patterson had this to say:

Paige Patterson: It depends on the level of abuse to some degree.  I have never in my ministry counseled that anybody seek a divorce, and I do think that’s always wrong counsel.  There have been, however, an occasion or two when the level of the abuse was serious enough, dangerous enough, immoral enough that I have counseled temporary separation and the seeking of help.  I would urge you to understand that that should happen only in the most serious of cases. . . More often, when you face abuse, it is of a less serious variety.

Question: What would have happened to Todd Akin if he’d answered the same question Paige Patterson was asked, and responded in the same way?

Answer: He would be preaching the SBC Convention sermon in Dallas this summer, and probably chairing Steve Gaines’ Evangelism Task Force.


Reading for the weekend . . .

Bill Cosby was convicted yesterday, sending shockwaves through the news and a sense of overdue justice to women he victimized.

Having been reminded by a former Southwestern Seminary trustee of a letter dated January 8, 2008, which disclosed some matters related to the seminary president’s handling of a well-known sexual abuse case, I searched through a portion of my files to find that letter. I know I have it somewhere, but for the time being I’ve refreshed my memory about the subject of that letter.  You’ll find discussion of it beginning on page 133 of the following document. Readers may also find other interesting items:

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Are Paige Patterson’s days as a ‘power broker’ coming to an end?

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From the Richmond Times Dispatch — Religion Section
February 16, 1991

Author: Ed Briggs

Dr. Paige Patterson, one of two men credited with the modern fundamentalist resurgence in the Southern Baptist Convention, says his days of being a behind-the-scenes power broker are coming to an end.*

Dr. Patterson recently has been the subject of unofficial reports that he is being fired or that he is preparing to take control of the Foreign Mission Board in Richmond or the Sunday School Board in Nashville, Tenn. Dr. Patterson, 48, who has been head of the 400-student Criswell College in Dallas since 1974, denies it all.

However, Dr. Patterson, who helped hatch a plan a decade ago to gain political control of the nation’s largest Protestant denomination, says his job now is to spend his weekdays in Dallas raising money for the college, which is owned by First Baptist Church in Dallas.

Many of the denomination’s key moderates have been speculating for two weeks that Dr. Patterson’s new boss at First Baptist Church in Dallas, Dr. Joel Gregory, wants Dr. Patterson, an associate pastor, to leave. They claim that Dr. Patterson was house hunting in Nashville in preparation for replacing Dr. Lloyd Elder as president of the Sunday School Board, the convention’s publication wing.

Under pressure from his fundamentalist-dominated board of trustees, Dr. Elder last month announced that he’s taking early retirement next year.

Also, there is the report that Dr. Patterson is positioning himself to become president of the Foreign Mission Board, of which he is a trustee.

During an interview here Tuesday during bi-monthly meetings of the board, Dr. Patterson denied the claims as rumors.

He said he and First Baptist’s Dr. Gregory are the best of friends. In a separate meeting, Dr. Gregory, also a member of the mission board, denied the suggestions of a Patterson firing.

Dr. Patterson said, “It’s quite the opposite. I’ve been asked to stay awhile.”

However, Dr. Patterson said the trustees of the college, which recently moved to its own building that requires expensive maintenance, “have asked me to restrict my travel to weekends.”

He explained that moving to the Greek-architecture building in a “tough area of town,” meant that the college must raise an additional $750,000 to meet expenses. The trustees, he added, “realized that someone would have to get with it on funding,” which he said is a part of his job that he doesn’t like.

He said that the trustees’ decision to tell him to stay in Dallas during the week to raise money “has pretty well taken me off the shelf” in terms of midweek speaking engagements.

However, he said it’s time for his role to “decrease” while other people take leadership roles in the faction.

He added, “Anyway, the turn in the convention has been accomplished and is secure. A lower profile for me will be a healthy development for the convention as a whole.”**

He said he has been making a “conscientious effort” for two years to lower his profile in the denomination.

He said he has no plans to move from Dallas to take either the leadership posts in the Sunday School Board or the Foreign Mission Board in Richmond.

In recent months, according to board sources, at least one trustee has said the board’s president, Dr. R. Keith Parks, will retire when he reaches 65 on Oct. 23, 1992.

Dr. Parks has not said whether he will retire then. His predecessor, Dr. Baker James Cauthen, retired in 1979 at 70. Moderates interpret the report of fundamentalist activity revolving around Dr. Parks’ retirement as indicating that an attempt will be made to force him to step down.

Dr. Patterson said that suggestions that he is ready to take over Dr. Parks’ job are “just rumor. We have an executive director. I have not heard him issue any plans for retirement.”

Dr. Patterson added, “There are times when I definitely disagree with Dr. Parks. But I have love and respect for the man.

“Under no circumstances would I seek to undermine him or to seek his job.”

Dr. Patterson said that if Dr. Parks decided to retire, “it is unlikely a search committee would turn to anyone who is a member of this board” because of the perception that the job — perhaps the most prestigious in the denomination — would be subject to a spoils system run by the board’s fundamentalist faction.***

He said when the Sunday School Board’s Dr. Elder was forced into his retirement, “there were substantive differences. I don’t think there are substantive differences here (at the Foreign Mission Board). Our differences here are occasional . . . and not career threatening.”

He said that in the 12 years of control by his faction, only four people have been purposely fired or forced into retirement. They are: Dr. Elder; the Revs. Al Shackleford and Dan Martin, who were fired in July for unspecified reasons although Dr. Patterson said they were unbalanced in their coverage of the controversy; and Dr. Michael Willett, a missionary-in-training who was fired in 1988 for harboring liberal views of the Bible.

“I think people can see that we’re not rolling over everyone,” said Dr. Patterson.

Dr. Patterson said that as the Southern Baptist drama unfolds, he sees the Southern Baptist Alliance, a moderate organization, eventually leaving the denomination. He also expects that the Fellowship, a loose-knit moderate organization dedicated to the support of agencies dumped by the fundamentalists, will dry up from lack of major support; and that rebellious state conventions, led by the Baptist General Association of Virginia, will return to the fold.

“Things will never go back to the way they were,” Dr. Patterson said. “Some sort of new cooperative arrangement — some with old forms and some new — will come out of this tying together 98 percent of our people.”


*We could not agree more, though they’ve been “coming to an end” now for 27 years.
**If it were healthy then, why not now?
***Was a “spoils” system at work when Patterson hired three members of the Southwestern Board of Trustees to work under him within a short time of his hiring? See also David Allen, Matthew McKellar, and Denny Autry.

Is Paige Patterson a racist?

One year ago this week, Southwestern Seminary found itself in the middle of another controversy when five professors from the School of Preaching — two of whom* served on the Board of Trustees that brought Paige Patterson to the Fort Worth school, one of whom is the SBC convention parliamentarian, and another who is the Vice President of Student Services — posted a now infamous photo of themselves dressed in what was regarded as racially insensitive attire.  Barry McCarty was holding a gun.

The whole thing went viral. Locally and nationally.

It brought unwanted attention to the school. It was embarrassing for many.

I watched the whole thing unfold from Washington, D.C. I kept up with the local and national news.

And then, I decided to email Paige. He responded within minutes.

I will let the email speak for itself.

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*Matthew McKellar also served on the 2017 SBC Committee on Resolutions under appointment by SBC President Steve Gaines. That committee, as we have noted before, nearly botched the resolution offered by Rev. Dwight McKissic condemning the alt-right. I remain disturbed that McKellar had opposed the resolution in committee given the fact that he had been so thoroughly and publicly chastened for racial insensitivity in weeks leading up to the convention.


In lieu of apparent Pattersonian presbyopia


On February 26th, I sent a letter via certified mail to the President of Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary. I confirmed that it was received with the United Postal Service. It has now been two months since I sent this original correspondence, and I have not received a response. Paige Patterson, a man with no small epistolary compulsion as any denominational executive can attest, must not have been able to read my standard font. Knowing that he reads this blog, therefore, and as a courtesy to both Dorothy and him, I am reposting the text of that letter with a more accommodating font:

February 26, 2018

Rev. Paige Patterson
Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary
2001 W. Seminary Dr.
Fort Worth, TX 76115

Rev. Patterson:

On August 29, 2006, you ordered seminary personnel to remove from the online chapel archives a sermon by Rev. William Dwight McKissic, then a seminary trustee elected by the Southern Baptist Convention. This decision prevented the free distribution of Rev. McKissic’s sermon, and to date it remains inaccessible on Southwestern Seminary’s website.

At the time, you stated that your decision to censor Rev. McKissic’s sermon was because he had criticized a “sister” SBC institution, namely the controversial policy on private prayer language adopted by the trustees of the International Mission Board (IMB) in November 2005. That policy, as you may know, was reversed in the May 2015 meeting of the IMB trustees.

No longer are potential Southern Baptist missionary candidates who believe in the post-Apostolic continuation of the so-called “sign gifts” and practice the same in their private devotional lives precluded prima facie from appointed service on foreign mission fields. This means, of course, that Rev. McKissic’s sermon – while potentially objectionable to you personally despite your own published commentary on the matter – no longer contains any criticism of existing IMB policy. The stated basis for your ongoing censorship of his sermon, therefore, is no longer relevant or valid.

I write to request that in light of this alteration of IMB policy – without need to mention the SBC’s own affirmation of the 2000 Baptist Faith & Message as the “only consensus statement of doctrinal beliefs . . . sufficient in its current form to guide trustees in their establishment of policies and practices of entities of the convention” – you reverse your 2006 decision to censor Rev. McKissic’s sermon. In so doing, you will reinforce a commitment to the preservation of Baptist history evident in Southwestern’s decision to open a Baptist Heritage Center on campus later this year.

Until then,
Benjamin S. Cole

CC:           Rev. Wm. Dwight McKissic

The day Paige Patterson auctioned Solomon’s Temple


Back in 2003, when Paige Patterson dedicated the J. Dalton Havard campus of Southwestern Seminary as the school’s newly elected president, Baptist Press reported that “Patterson likened the dedication of the facility to Solomon’s dedication of the temple he built and his father, David, envisioned.”

The 8.5 acre Houston campus was valued at $5.7 million at the time it was deeded to Southwestern.

Not long after that ceremonious Solomonic dedication, Patterson named J. Denny Autry, the former chairman of the presidential search committee that brought him to Southwestern Seminary, as the resident dean of the Houston campus. Though he denied it at the time, Autry was widely suspected among a number of Southwestern trustees who forced out Ken Hemphill over concerns about declining enrollment.

Fun fact: Southwestern reported FTE enrollment at the time of Hemphill’s departure at 2,381. Total FTE enrollment under Patterson last year was 1,249.

At its inaugural graduation ceremony, the Havard campus conferred degrees on 10 students. By 2006, there were 28 graduates. In 2008, during a ceremony in which Patterson likened the Houston campus’s significance to the birthplace of the Texas revolution, the campus saw 18 graduates. Last year, the Havard campus graduated 17 master’s students and 2 undergraduates.

Despite the strategic significance Patterson has placed on the Houston campus, Southwestern trustees voted to sell the multi-million dollar property earlier this month.

This is curious, especially given that the Houston property went on sale in 2014 for $3.9 million.  Apparently it didn’t sell at the time, but who authorized the listing if the trustees have only recently voted to sell it?

And of course, Southern Baptists are left wondering just how many bogus Dead Sea Scroll Fragments Dorothy Patterson could buy with that kind of money?

King Solomon must be weeping today.

The parable of Dottie’s magic beans

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A modern day parable. Or maybe not.

Dottie lives in a relatively modest 12,000 sqft mansion on a hill in Fort Worth, TX, in a little village of poor peasants and even poorer professors. Times have been tough for the villagers. There aren’t many new people moving to the village, and money is tight. The village mayor has slashed their pay, fired scores of workers, and robbed their pensions.

But Dottie lives a relatively easy life. Plenty of servants. Full-time chefs. She hasn’t even driven her own buggy in years.

Amid the tough times, the only thing really of value in the village is Dottie’s milk cow. But after a while, the milk cow started drying up. So the mayor of the village, who Dottie likes to call ‘Big Daddy’, told Dottie to take the milk cow to market and sell it.

So Dottie traveled thousands of miles — several times — accompanied by her most trusted lady’s maid Candi, to sell the village cow. But along the way, she crossed paths with Billy.

Now Billy and Dottie had known each other for years. But this time, Billy had some news for Dottie that he’d never mentioned before.  Locked deep in his father’s safe were some magic beans.  Beanstalk beans.  And he wanted to sell some of them to Dottie.

Dottie was not really an expert in beans.  Or in beanstalks.  Or really in much of anything. Nevertheless, she wanted to buy the beans for the village.  She just knew they were magic. Her heart told her they were.

So she “consulted” some beanstalk buyers and a few magicians and took notes. Careful notes.  And she and her lady’s maid Candi went back to Billy with all the milk cows the village owned. They even got some wealthy village idiots to give her more money to buy the beans because they were very expensive.  And with all the cutbacks in pay for the professors and peasants, Dottie needed the outside cash.

After many trips to Billy’s bean safe, and without any experience in determining whether the beans were really magic beanstalk beans, Dottie sold all the cows and spent millions of dollars to buy some of the beans. Satisfied she was doing the Lord’s work, she returned to the village on the Texas hill with much fanfare. The magic bean exhibit cost the village millions, but Big Daddy and Dottie have never really worried much about costs.

She even had her son, who also had no expertise in magic beanstalk beans either, to write a pamphlet about how his mommy, Dottie, had acquired the magic beans.  The village held parties, and called for neighboring villagers to come and see the special beans that Dottie had bought with money that should have paid professors and peasants who were working for dirt.

But Dottie wanted her magic beans.  And Dottie’s husband, Big Daddy, had never really been able to stop Dottie when her mind was made up.

So the village built a special house to display the magic beans. And the village press wrote lots of stories about the magic beans and told how special they were and how they provided the village with something different from all the other villages.

But eventually people began asking questions about the magic beans.

Why were these beans not being recognized as magical by all the other bean experts?

Why did the village Mayor send Dottie and her handmaid Candi — neither of whom had any expertise in buying beans — to conduct six and seven figure transactions to buy these magic beans.

Why did the Mayor, Big Daddy, not want anyone to know how much Dottie had spent on the magic beans?

Why had no expert bean analyst been brought along to determine the authenticity of Dottie’s magic beans.

And why would the Society of Magic Bean Authenticity hold a meeting this past November where a major topic of conversation was the dubious provenance and bogus character of Dottie’s magic beans?

And why would the village spend millions of dollars on unproven, unauthenticated magic beans when they couldn’t even pay their professors and the other peasant workers who served the village?

Nevertheless, the village has the magic beans. But the professors don’t have their retirement pay. And dozens of peasants don’t have jobs.

If you’d like to read more about Dottie’s travels to buy the dubious magic beans, click here.

But hold on . . .because there’s more to come.  LOTS more.

(P.S. I will be sending a copy of this parable to all Southwestern Seminary professors with a couple of dried beans for them to keep on their desks as a reminder of the priorities the President and First Lady have for seminary funds.)




Southwestern whistleblowers come forward

Brown, J. R.; Final Horse Charge of Richard III at Bosworth Field
Richard III makes his final charge at the Battle of Bosworth Hill

If you’ve been paying attention to the news lately, you’ve noticed a steady stream of reports about questionable expenditures from several administrative officials, including the head of the Environmental Protection Agency, the Secretary of the Interior, the Secretary of Housing and Urban Development, the Secretary of the Treasury, the former Secretary of Health and Human Services, and the list goes on.  There are also stories swirling that administration officials may have retaliated against whistleblowers who shined the spotlight on their lavish spending.

What you may not know is that whistleblowers — and the protection of them — is a critical tool in the quest for integrity, transparency, and accountability for any public or private institution.

Amid some of the early stories about excessive spending by Trump Administration officials, I was contacted last September by a student worker at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary who offered information about the school’s financial disarray. I listened carefully, took notes, and asked the student to begin taking pictures of invoices, purchase orders, and copying other internal accounting documents and correspondence.

And then, I asked the student to send it all to me. The student worker was hesitant, fearing retaliation from the seminary administration in general and from Dorothy and Paige Patterson in particular. Indeed, I know all too well how a decision to expose fraud can exact an emotional and financial toll, as well as cause ostracism among peers who were once considered friends. Nevertheless, the student worker was convinced that truth and integrity are more important than invitations to afternoon tea at Pecan Manor.

Thus I began receiving documentation that sounds alarms about dishonest accounting and a pattern of frivolous expenditures at Southwestern, much like emerged at Southeastern in the final days of the Patterson administration.

Several years ago I had a leading role in writing two major reports of the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform. One dealt with the Countrywide Financial scandal in which high profile congressional leaders received preferential mortgage terms in exchange for political favors. The other report unraveled the ACORN organization, ultimately ending lucrative government contracts for ACORN, enacting an outright ban on future taxpayer funding, and ultimately leading to Chapter 7 liquidation and dissolution.

Through that process — and dating back to my own experience uncovering waste, fraud, and abuse in entities of the Southern Baptist Convention — I learned the value of cultivating whistleblowers. Men and women of conscience who quietly do their work until one day, something snaps.

They can no longer sit and watch the glaring hypocrisy and the greed. But they don’t know where to turn. Everyone, it seems, has been compromised. They go through four of the five stages of grief: denial, anger, bargaining, and depression. But they never allow themselves to accept what they have witnessed. They know it shouldn’t be this way, and they resolve to do something about it. They face the ordinary fears, and they take extraordinary action. They stare deceit and complicity in the face, and they refuse to flinch. They find courage — or it finds them — and they initiate the kind of reckoning many have anticipated but few could stomach.

In recent weeks, a number of current and former faculty, staff, students and trustees of Southwestern Seminary have contacted me, offering to provide additional information. Some of it is about new buildings on campus. Some of it is longstanding rumors yet unsubstantiated. Some of the information points to misleading and potentially falsified government and accreditation filings. In the meantime, a handful of denominational leaders have emailed or called to tell me what they know (or have heard) about Southwestern’s decline, the root causes of the decline, and the singular responsibility of its president and “First Lady” for that decline.

Thus have Southern Baptists arrived at a moment that could have been avoided. The convention could have been spared. The Pattersons could have written the closing chapters of their shared ministry without further scandal.

But some dogs love their own vomit too much.

The growing sense of their own irrelevance — dare we call it impotence — amid the decline has maddened them. Their eccentricities — both personal and theological — have metastasized. The once idiosyncratic programme for Anabaptist revitalization has taken the seminary to the lowest enrollment in more than four decades. Faculty are demoralized due to heavier work loads, fewer students, and sweeping cuts to their own retirement benefits while the president constructs yet another multi-million dollar home for himself on campus. And everyone watches while the tragedy plays out. Some are bitter. Most are just sad.

The image is powerful: Paige and Dorothy Patterson, increasingly isolated from reality, stand in the smoke and haze of the many battles fought and all the blood spilled demanding more sacrifices from the weakened remnants of an army in retreat.

“A horse,” they cry, “Our kingdom for a horse.”

It’s not funny anymore. Maybe it never was. But it has to stop.

Southwestern whisteblowers are already emerging, and more will surely follow.

With that in mind, I thought it might be provident to publish a partial list of items investigators find useful when attempting to sort through whistleblower claims of potentially fraudulent administrative acts:

  1. Unedited and unredacted copies of internal purchase orders, invoices, accounting reports, balance sheets, administrative memoranda or other documents concerning the expenses associated with administrative or executive housing.
  2. Unedited and unredacted emails from administrative officers or staff detailing expenses associated with the executive travel, compensation, reimbursements, office furnishings, and the use of official personnel and resources for private/personal services.
  3. Legally obtained audio and/or video recordings of private and/or administrative meetings with agency officials that include discussions about inordinate, illegal, or unauthorized expenditures. This may include but is not limited to event planning meetings, official and unofficial travel, furniture and food expenditures, maintenance, and the use of domestic staffing.
  4. Unedited and unredacted emails between officials in which concerns were raised about the costs associated with the executive’s home, travel, office or potential misuse of official property and/or funds by the same.
  5. Unedited and unredacted emails from officials concerning the potentially punitive suspension, elimination, or reduction of employment or employment benefits for current and former staff.
  6. Evidence of efforts by officials to conceal or falsify accurate reports from auditors, the appropriate oversight authority, or the public.
  7. Evidence of efforts to conceal spending authorized by agency officials or questionable accounting for the use of official funds on the organization’s executive or that person’s family and friends.
  8. Evidence of abuse of authority, mismanagement, or potentially criminal violations of state or federal laws by officials.

Whistleblowers are advised of the following:

  1. Do not use an official email account to send information either to yourself or another person.
  2. Do not tell any colleague, spouse, friend or family member of your intention to share information.
  3. Do not use agency-owned computers, cell phones, or other technology to capture screenshots or scan/print documents.
  4. Do not seek to gain unauthorized access to official property, records, or IT infrastructure.
  5. Do not seek to transmit information electronically using the official servers.
  6. Do not attempt to seek, copy or share financial or sensitive personal records directly or indirectly in any way that violates local, state, or federal laws.