This interview was conducted during the 2004 SBC Convention in Indianapolis, IN.
Autobiography of Paige Patterson
Paige Patterson is a native of Texas. He was born in 1942 while his father, T.A. Patterson, was completing his Th.D. degree under the guidance of W.T. Conner at Southwestern Seminary. Dr. Patterson was ordained to the ministry at age 16 by First Baptist Church of Beaumont (Baptist Standard 2003). He became a legendary figure among Southern Baptist conservatives when his and Judge Paul Pressler’s plan to topple the liberal leadership of the Southern Baptist Convention succeeded in 1979—the beginning of the Conservative Resurgence (Sutton 2000, 74, 99). Dr. Patterson was then elected as president of the SBC for two consecutive terms in 1998 and 1999 (Baptist Standard 2003).
He is currently the eighth president of Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary. His twenty-eight years of experience include 17 years as president of The Criswell College and 11 years as president of Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary in Wake Forest, North Carolina. Dr. Patterson is intensely committed to evangelism on a global level. He is a graduate of Hardin-Simmons University, and completed Th.M. and Th.D. degrees at New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary. He was elected as president of the Southern Baptist Convention twice, serving during 1998-2000. It was during his time in office that he appointed a committee to revise the Baptist Faith and Message.
During his time at New Orleans Seminary, Dr. Patterson was a pastor of a church, but it was through the coffee-house ministry that he was able to witness to gangsters, homosexuals, prostitutes and runaway teens. Dr. Patterson served as pastor to several churches in Arkansas, Louisiana and Texas and helped to plant churches in New Hampshire and other states. He and his wife have traveled to 85 countries and have witnessed to several “heads of state,” Yasser Arafat and Menachem Begin to name a few.
Due to Dr. Patterson’s love of scuba diving and hunting exotic animals, he started a sportsman banquet ministry. Through this ministry he is able to express the importance of the father in a boy’s life, and through Dr. Patterson’s witness during these banquets, he has come to see over 2,000 men accept Christ as their personal Lord and Savior.
Dr. Patterson is married to the former Dorothy Kelley, a professor of theology in women’s studies at Southwestern. The Pattersons have two children- Armour, their son who is married to Rachel and residing in Arizona, and Carmen, their daughter who is married to Mark Howell and residing in Arkansas. Dr. and Mrs. Patterson have two grandchildren- Abigail and Rebekah Howell. They are also “parents” to a black Labrador, named Noche (SWBTS 2004).
Autobiography of Dorothy Patterson
Dorothy Kelley Patterson is the wife of Paige Patterson. She is a homemaker, mother, grandmother, author, lecturer and Bible teacher at women’s conferences. She is also the sister of Chuck Kelley, president of New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary. She is a professor of theology in women’s studies at Southwestern, but sees her most important role as that of wife, mother, and grandmother. She studied at New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary (Th.M.), Luther Rice Theological Seminary (D.Min.), and the University of South Africa (D.Theol.) (Good News & Crossway 2004). Mrs. Patterson authored several books, including Where’s Mom: The High Calling of Wife and Mother in Biblical Perspective (Crossway Books, 2003), A Handbook for Minister’s Wives (Broadman and Holman, 2002), Should Women Serve as Pastors? (Magnolia Hill, 2002), The Family: Unchanging Principles for Changing Times (Broadman, 2001), BeAttitudes for Women: Wisdom from Heaven for Life on Earth (Broadman, 2000), and A Woman Seeking God: Discover God in the Places of Your Life (Broadman, 1992). Her memberships include the Council on Biblical Manhood and Womanhood, Council for National Policy, Eagle Forum Council, Evangelical Theological Society, Society of Biblical Literature, Adjunct Panelist of Television Broadcast- American Religious Town Hall, Baptist World Aid Committee- Christian Ethics Commission Baptist World Alliance, and the Board of Directors- Middle Creek Bible Conference in Pennsylvania. Mrs. Patterson resides in Texas with her husband and their dog, Noche (SWBTS 2004).
The interview was conducted in the morning of June 14, 2004—the day prior to the Southern Baptist Convention’s annual meeting in Indianapolis, Indiana. It took place in a large vacant room adjacent to the exhibit hall, where Jason Duesing, Dr. Patterson’s personal assistant, said would provide us more privacy. The questions were initially directed solely at Dr. Paige Patterson because Mrs. Dorothy Patterson was delayed at a book-signing venue.
Q: What are your duties at the SBC during the year?
PP: Seminary presidents are required to serve in the Executive Committee and attend the meetings, serve on the board and council of presidents, the historical society, great commission council (along with entity heads of NAMB, WMU, etc.). Attend state conventions (five to six seminary presidents are to represent the SBC), and there’s also the influence factor, so we do a lot of consulting.
Q: Where do you see the SBC in the next 10 years?
PP: I have some concerns about the next ten years. We have a 45-60 year old gap of pastoral leadership training. The good leadership that we have in that age group are not biblically based because of the seminaries. If we can survive the next few years, we can get good leaders that are coming out of our seminaries. There is a price to be paid though, leaders can’t be selfish. They need to vote, serve and attend boring meetings—they just have to pinch themselves to get through it. Some of the other concerns are the question of the efficiency of the Bible, should it be the rule? There’s also the gender issue and where women should serve. Mrs. Patterson started a women’s studies MDiv at Southeastern. Other seminaries have followed the same format. Women are going to go to school so we can either curse the darkness or light a candle. We need women bible teachers who are going to teach the Bible.
Q: Do you see an Armenian/Calvinism divide in the future of the SBC and how could we avoid it?
PP: The Armenian/Calvinism debate can’t be avoided. Armenianism isn’t an option for Southern Baptists. Moody was the last one in fact. There’s actually two things that feed into the SBC—Charleston (who are reformed) and Sandy Creek. What we need to do is tolerate each other to make it work. Reformed theology scares the bejabbers out of me. It frightens me very very much. Of course I believe in election, but what does it mean? Knowing the mind of God…but who knows the mind of God? There are a good number of Southern Baptists who are Sandy Creekers. Sandy Creekers terrify me too because of wanting numbers. They’ll water down the message to increase their numbers. Charleston and Sandy Creekers are a good balance and are helpful to each other.
Mrs. Patterson joined the interview.
Q: How difficult were the early days during the Resurgence on your marriage and family?
DP: It was hard for me personally during the Resurgence. People who were our friends would not speak to us in public. They’d send notes, but they’d never talk to us in public. It was hard for our children because you don’t want your children to see Christians act like the world. They would act one way in public and another in private. It left scars on them.
Q: How were you able to support your husband during that time?
DP: I encouraged my husband by giving him a scripture plaque. It was an idea I got from Mrs. Spurgeon who did the same thing for her husband—she put an encouraging scripture verse on the ceiling of their bedroom so he would see it when he first wakes up and when he goes to bed, but Dr. Patterson is so busy and doesn’t sleep much that I decided to put the plaque in the bathroom—opposite of the throne. I talked about this in my Minister’s Wives book. The children also cheered their daddy up and we talked about things.
PP: Women have more faith in situations like that. Her faith (Mrs. Patterson’s) was remarkable to me. She was an encouragement to me during those difficult times.
Q: Did you ever receive verbal or written threats and how did it affect your family?
DP: We had a telephone call after Dr. Patterson dropped the children off at school. The person described what they were wearing and warned us to keep our mouth shut. (Mrs. Patterson starts to cry).
PP: Our telephone was tapped for two years…we had no security or protection at that time. We had a threat a week for a four-year period. I was involved with the Reagan administration, especially with the Israelis and Palestinians, so it was hard to tell where the threats were coming from. Most of the threats arrived through the secretaries…the ones toward the children were bad. We still receive threats…it’s almost part of the territory. At Southwestern, we receive threats by email, but they’re nothing big. We have a big dog too.
DP: We always let security know when we have our grandchildren over.
Q: What made you decide to get a seminary degree, especially since it was uncommon for women at that time?
DP: There were two other women (students) in theology—one completed and the other did not. It was Dr. Patterson’s idea that I continue my education—he thought it would be good for our ministry. I had taken a Greek class in college and I did pretty well and he suggested I take seminary classes. We took many of the same classes, but we didn’t get the same degree. I was able to finish with a ThM with Dr. Patterson’s strong encouragement.
Q: You mentioned that it was Dr. Patterson’s idea that you pursue a seminary degree—was this something you did not intend on doing?
DP: No, I wanted to get the education, but I became ill with asthma and would have quit if it wasn’t for Dr. Patterson. He took notes for me when I was unable to attend classes—he doesn’t have to take notes for himself. I dropped out of the ThD program at New Orleans because of my asthma, but got a DMin. We work as a team. I love studying. Getting a seminary education has been good for our marriage. I’m able to talk to my husband about common interests.
The interview concluded 40 minutes later. It was an incredible testimony of faithfulness in how this couple supported each other during the most volatile time in SBC history.
Later that evening at the Resurgence Reunion in the Indianapolis Convention Center, Dr. Patterson emotionally recounted the time he received the threatening phone call aimed at his children. He told the audience, “I almost quit (the Resurgence) then.” Dr. and Mrs. Patterson relied on God and supported each other during the difficult times. They showed diligent perseverance despite the opposition they faced. This is reminiscent of a passage in Romans 8:35 that is poetically translated in the NLT Bible: “Can anything ever separate us from Christ’s love? Does it mean he no longer loves us if we have trouble or calamity, or are persecuted, or are hungry or cold or in danger or threatened with death?” If it were not for the fortitude of Dr. Patterson and Judge Pressler, Southern Baptist seminaries and the SBC would continue its downward spiral into liberal obscurity. Praise God that He was able to use these men to bring Southern Baptist institutions back into the light.
Bush, L. Russ and Tom J. Nettles. Baptists and the Bible. Nashville, TN: Broadman & Holman Publishers, 1999.
Good News & Crossway [on-line]. Accessed 9 June 2004. Available from http://www.gnpcb. org/product/1581345348/contents#extra. Internet.
Hankins, Barry. Uneasy in Babylon: Southern Baptist Conservatives and American Culture. Tuscaloosa, AL: The University of Alabama Press, 2002.
Leonard, Bill J. God’s Last & Only Hope: The Fragmentation of the Southern Baptist Convention. Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1990.
Pressler, Paul. A Hill on Which to Die: One Southern Baptist’s Journey. Nashville, TN: Broadman & Holman Publishers, 2002.
Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary, Faculty Profile [on-line]. Accessed 9 June 2004. Available from http://www.swbts.edu/faculty/dpatterson. Internet.
________, President Profile [on-line]. Accessed 9 June 2004. Available from http://www. swbts.edu/faculty/ppatterson/index.cfm. Internet.
Sutton, Jerry. The Baptist Reformation. Nashville, TN: Broadman & Holman Publishers, 2000.
The Baptist Standard [on-line]. Accessed 18 June 2004. Available from http://www. baptiststandard.com/postnuke/index.php?module=htmlpages&func=display&pid=277. Internet.
Copyright © 2008 M. Teresa Trascritti