This story has been updated.
Southern Baptist leader Paige Patterson says he has voluntarily stepped down from delivering the keynote sermon at the convention's annual meeting in Dallas after being ousted from a Fort Worth seminary over his handling of sexual abuse allegations.
"I have now respectfully requested to be released from this high privilege because I do not want my role as a preacher to detract in any way from the important business of our convention," Patterson said in a statement released Friday.
Patterson was fired from Fort Worth’s Southwestern Baptist Theological seminary on May 30 after being moved from his position as president to president emeritus the week before. The chairman of the board of trustees released a statement after the May 30 meeting condemning Patterson's handling of sexual assault.
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Patterson, however, objected to accusations that he mishandled any reports of rape or sexual assault.
"I take exception to accusations that I ever knowingly ignored or failed to follow appropriate protocols in cases of reported abuse of women, students, or staff at any institution where I have served," he said in a statement, released through his chief of staff when he was at Southwestern, Scott Colter. "I have never sought to inflict hurt upon a woman or man."
In the statement, Patterson acknowledged that he had made a "poor choice of words" at times, but said that his words and "sentiments" had been "twisted to suggest the very antithesis to who I am."
In a letter sent to Steve Gaines, president of the Southern Baptist Convention, Patterson also withdrew from his position of chairman of the Evangelism Task Force. Per the letter, Patterson's withdrawal came at the request of Gaines and others in the Southern Baptist leadership.
By voluntarily withdrawing, Patterson removes some of the chaos from what still promises to be a controversial annual meeting in Dallas next week. Several messengers — authorized representatives from participating churches — had threatened to propose motions at the convention to force Patterson to withdraw.
Many are thanking Patterson for choosing to withdraw.
"I am a product of the Conservative Resurgence and I’m here because men like you stood faithful on the issue," tweeted Stephen Woodard, a New Hampshire pastor. He referenced the movement Patterson led in the 1970s and '80s that brought the conservative movement to lead the Southern Baptists and shaped what the convention is today. "But I would have chosen not to be present if you chose to preach this week."
Patterson's lawyer, Shelby Sharpe, had also released a statement and spoken out against accusations that Patterson mishandled sexual abuse claims. In an interview with the Star-Telegram, Sharpe said he had "not found one credible” accusation against Patterson.
"At age 75, while my occupation has changed, my calling and passion have not been disturbed," Patterson wrote. "Soon Southwestern will have a new president. I am riding off into the setting sun — but with a Bible in my hand and a witness from my heart until He comes for me individually or for us all in the air."