From the Richmond Times Dispatch — Religion Section
February 16, 1991
Headline: FUNDAMENTALIST LEADER SEEKS LOWER PROFILE
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.