Paige Patterson, president of Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary, speaking Wednesday at closing sessions of the Southern Baptist Convention in Baltimore, apologized for the hurt he has caused some Baptists across the nation by admitting a Muslim student to the Fort Worth seminary.
Patterson has been both praised and criticized by fellow Baptists for making an exception to seminary policies in admitting Ghassan Nagagreh, a Palestinian Muslim, to the seminary’s Ph.D program in archeology.
In an emotional reply to a question from a Georgia Baptist, Patterson explained in detail why he made an exception, which he said earlier was partly done to allow the Muslim student to be exposed to the truths of the Christian message.
“I owe the convention an apology, particularly to all those of you that I have caused sorrow, heartache, disillusionment or any other kind of sorrow,” he said. “There is sufficient sorrow in this world. And when I added to your sorrow in some cases … in any way, I deeply and profoundly apologize.
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“I also apologize to my family for what this has put them through. I apologize to my faculty and to my board of trustees, neither of which are guilty in this for a single moment. It was my decision and mine alone.”
Patterson said the Muslim student asked about becoming a special student in the seminary’s doctoral program while working in the seminary’s Tel Gezer archeological dig in Israel. He was admitted in 2012.
“I met with the young man,” Patterson said. “I fell in love with him because he is a remarkable young man, very open at this point to the Gospel of Jesus Christ. I made an exception to a rule that I assumed, probably wrongly, that the president has a right to make if he feels it is that important.”
While saying his apology for causing controversy in the convention was heartfelt, Patterson said it is a different question on how he will be judged by God in reaching out to the Muslim student.
Patterson quoted biblical passages from Ezekiel which state that believers who fail to tell others about what they see as true faith will have “blood on their hands.”
“I believe that when I stand before God, I will say, dear God, I violated a policy but I didn’t stand before you with blood on my hands,” Patterson said.
He received a long ovation from many of the convention messengers.
The Rev. Steven B. James of Lake Charles, La., chairman of the seminary’s board, spoke at the end of Patterson’s report and said Baptist concerns about the Muslim student would be taken seriously.
“Your concerns are our concerns,” he said, noting that the seminary’s executive board will meet in September and the full board in October to discuss with Patterson the admission of the Muslim student.
“The concerns you have expressed personally, on the phone, through personal conversations here at the convention, will all weigh in those discussions we have as a board and with our president, who I believe in,” James said.
“So what I ask of you is not so much talk among yourselves, but talk to the Lord. Intercede for this president and not just for this president but for presidents of every seminary.”