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Southern Baptist leader told alleged victim it was 'good' she was raped, lawyer says

Paige Patterson poses in the rotunda of the B.H. Carroll Memorial Complex on Tuesday, Oct. 12, 2010. According to a Washington Post story, a woman claims Patterson previously encouraged her not to report a rape to police and told her to forgive the man who allegedly raped her after she invited him into her apartment.
Paige Patterson poses in the rotunda of the B.H. Carroll Memorial Complex on Tuesday, Oct. 12, 2010. According to a Washington Post story, a woman claims Patterson previously encouraged her not to report a rape to police and told her to forgive the man who allegedly raped her after she invited him into her apartment. Fort Worth Star-Telegram/TNS

The fired Southern Baptist seminary leader who wanted to get an alleged rape victim alone to “break her down” also said it was a “good thing” she had been raped and that her future husband wouldn’t care if she was a virgin or not, according to the woman’s attorney.

Paige Patterson, a giant in the Southern Baptist world, was fired from the Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary in Fort Worth on May 30 in response to his handling of sexual assault allegations. He had been pushed to president emeritus May 23.

The alleged assaults took place in October 2014 and April 2015 and were reported in August 2015. The alleged assailant, according to the victim’s attorney, Stuart Cochran of Dallas, was a Southwestern student and employee.

“I am told he said it was a ‘good thing’ my client had been raped and that her future husband wouldn't care if she was a virgin or not,” Cochran said of Paige in a statement to the Star-Telegram. “He threatened to sic lawyers on her [mother] for questioning his leadership at the school when she asked why the assailant was allowed on campus.”

Cochran said that Patterson sent around an email calling the woman’s mother “nuts.”

A request sent to Patterson for comment through his then-chief of staff at Southwestern, Scott Colter, has not been returned. Colter is no longer at Southwestern.

After the alleged assaults and Patterson’s behavior, Cochran said, the woman withdrew voluntarily from the seminary.

A June 1 statement by the chairman of the seminary’s board of trustees, Kevin Ueckert, condemned Patterson’s behavior toward the woman, calling it “antithetical to the core values of our faith.”

Ueckert’s statement, the first to share that Patterson sent an email asking for a meeting with the alleged victim without officials present to “break her down,” came after a 15-page memo ricocheted across the internet defending Patterson.

The memo, authored by Sharayah Colter, the wife of Patterson’s then-chief of staff at Southwestern, contains confidential documents from the files of a woman who accused Patterson of telling her not to report her rape back in 2003, when Patterson was president of the Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary in North Carolina.

"I did not steal anything," Colter wrote in an emailed statement in response to the Star-Telegram's list of 15 questions. She also shared the full statement on her Twitter account. "I was given photocopies of personal property which legal counsel deemed ready for publication in my article. I have never seen or touched anyone's student files, and I positively did not alter any records."

In a publicly released statement, Ueckert said Colter released the documents shortly after they were provided to the trustees by Patterson’s lawyer. He added that her actions were “inappropriate and unethical” and that nothing in the memo would have altered the unanimous decision of the executive board to fire Patterson.

Ueckert told the Star-Telegram that Colter does not speak for the seminary or the board.

“I want to be clear that I have compiled this account of the truth completely of my own volition,” Colter wrote in her memo. “Paige and Dorothy Patterson have not asked me to write on behalf of or in defense of them.”

Colter enumerated five specific accusations against Patterson:

Southwestern student sexual assault

In the memo, Colter claims Patterson immediately called the police when the 2015 sexual assault came to his attention and that the male student involved said the encounter was consensual. When police were called, Colter wrote, evidence of the allegedly consensual nature of the encounter was provided. She wrote that the male student was expelled.

Colter quotes Candi Finch, an assistant professor of women's studies at Southwestern, who said she was in a meeting with the student. By Finch's account, Patterson encouraged the woman to press criminal charges but that the woman wanted to think and pray about it more. Finch told the Star-Telegram Colter’s retelling of the incident is correct.

Cochran, the woman's lawyer, disputes nearly all of Colter’s claims. The encounters were nonconsensual and the assailant had weapons at each, he told the Star-Telegram. The police were called, he said, but there was no evidence presented that the encounter was consensual because it was not.

Cochran agreed that the man was expelled, but said it was for the weapon possession, not the alleged rape. He added that Finch was not supposed to know about the assaults at all and was told without the woman’s permission.

In the meeting with the woman and her family members, Cochran said, Patterson “required my client and her family to raise their hands if they wished to speak” and “belittled” the woman’s mother for being divorced.

The woman has not yet pressed charges because, Cochran said, she fears for her life.

The 2003 rape

Megan Lively spoke to the Washington Post — then anonymous — about how she was raped as a student at Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary in 2003, when Patterson was the president, and how Patterson discouraged her from calling the police and put her on probation.

Colter’s statement claims Patterson does not recall meeting with Lively, and provides letters she claims are from Lively thanking Patterson for making a difference in her life and apologizing for her “sin.”

Lively told the Post that the documents are altered and taken out of context. The original documents referenced three meetings with Patterson.

The lawyer for Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary told the Biblical Recorder that these documents are protected by federal privacy laws and that he hadn’t seen the documents at Southeastern.

Laura Palumbo, communications director for the National Sexual Violence Resource Center, said that if the documents are accurate and Lively did write that she sinned, it doesn’t mean the events as she told them to the Post didn’t happen.

“It’s so difficult to come to terms with your experience of violation, the violation of trust, the violation of the body and your boundaries, and the most common way victims deal with it is self-blame and shame,” Palumbo said. “And our society is constantly reinforcing that message of: ‘Why didn’t you do something differently?’”

Lively told the Biblical Recorder, her hometown paper, that eight women had contacted her since she came forward and relayed their own similar experiences with Patterson.

Abuse and divorce

Colter claims the now-famous 2000 tape of Patterson discussing abuse and divorce goes like this: A woman came to Patterson because she was feeling spiritually abused by a man who wouldn’t let her go to church. She assured Patterson her husband wasn’t violent. Patterson sent the woman home to pray and was surprised when the husband became violent toward her.

That is not how the recording plays.

The example Patterson gives (listen to it here, the anecdote begins at the 3-minute mark) goes like this: A woman at a church he served in was being subject to “some abuse.” (He does not specify what type). He advised her to, every night, “get down by the bed, when you think he’s just about asleep you pray and ask God to intervene.”

“Get ready, because he may get a little more violent,” Patterson said on the tape. “Sure enough he did, she came to church with both eyes black.” The woman was angry. But the husband came to church, Patterson said, and got saved, and became a good husband from there on out.

Earlier in the tape, Patterson says he has never counseled for divorce but there has been an occasion or two where he recommended temporary separation in a few very serious cases.

Objectification

Colter wrote of a 2014 sermon that critics say shows Patterson used to objectify a 16-year-old girl, claiming he said a “young-coed” who passed him was “nice” and that the teenage boys who called her “built” were just being Biblical.

She leaves out Patterson's full description of the teenage girl, which are below:

“She wasn’t more than 16, but let me just say, she was nice,” Patterson said. He also called her a “very attractive young co-ed.”

As Colter wrote, Patterson did issue an apology for his words and to anyone who may have been hurt by them.

Firing a student employee

After Southwestern student and employee Nathan Montgomery tweeted an article criticizing Patterson for his 2000 abuse comments, he was fired. Colter claimed Patterson instructed his director of communications, Charles Patrick, not to fire him.

She included an email from Finch, the women's studies professor, to Patrick saying that Patterson suggested to her that Patrick not fire Montgomery, but "schedule a meeting" with him and Patterson.

Per the document, Patrick replied, "Too late, I already did." The email from Patrick had an in-line redaction.

Neither Patrick nor Montgomery have responded to queries.

In an interview with the Washington Post after Montgomery was fired, Patterson did not express regret for firing Montgomery. Instead, he said: “If you are going to be problematic and you’re indiscreet, you’ll be fired."

Other

Colter gives details of how the trustees’ meetings played out — both the full board meeting on May 22-23, when Patterson was pushed to president emeritus, and the executive committee May 30 meeting, when he was fired entirely. No trustees have given on-the-record details about either meeting.

Colter addresses another claim circulating the Southern Baptist world: That Patterson improperly took boxes dealing with his rise to power in the late 1970s and early 1980s and beyond, as well as his presidential papers, from Southeastern Seminary, where he presided for 11 years.

She included a 2004 letter from Patterson (then at Southwestern) to the Southeastern librarian that indicates “he believes all was properly handled.”

The librarian in question, Shawn Madden, said the letter Colter shared was accurate. However, he said she left out the rest of the story: Patterson removed the boxes, numbering nearly 50, improperly and without permission of anyone at Southeastern. He provided the Star-Telegram with a letter he wrote to Patterson in January 2005.

“Because individuals gained access to the archives of Southeastern’s library without the knowledge, consent, or assistance of those charged with the responsibility of securing those materials housed therein, material other than your personal papers was inadvertently removed,” Madden wrote in his letter to Patterson.

“If I had been told that he was taking papers with him by someone of authority at SEBTS I would have helped load them up,” Madden said to the Star-Telegram. “As it was, we were repeatedly told that nothing was going and we came to work on Monday with them gone without even a note.”

Anyone with more information should contact reporter Sarah Smith at ssmith@star-telegram.com.

The women say an older church member touched them inappropriately when they were teens, and that church leaders kept it quiet. Now, years later, the man has been convicted on charges of child porn and online solicitation of a minor.

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