Following criticism of Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary's decision to admit a Muslim Palestinian student to its archeology doctoral program in 2012, President Paige Patterson offered a teary-eyed apology on Wednesday.
I owe the convention an apology, particularly to those of you to whom I have caused sorrow, heartache, disillusionment or any other kind of sorrow," said Patterson, as reported by The Associated Press.
After apologizing, the president suggested that the student, Ghassan Nagagreh, was a "cultural Muslim," and could potentially convert to Christianity in the future as the student was "very open to the Gospel of Jesus Christ."
An emotional Patterson added that God would hold him accountable for his actions.
"When I stand before God I will say, 'God, I violated a policy, but I didn't want to stand before you with blood on my hands.'"
He also sarcastically noted that "Southwestern will make an exception and accept a practicing Muslim 'lest we be legalistic,'" but will rescind a job offer to a music student and professor whose wife was discovered to have been divorced from her first marriage."
Pastor Wade Burleson, a Southern Baptist pastor in Oklahoma, had been one of Patterson's harshest critics, suggesting on his blog that admitting Nagagreh could cause the seminary to slide into "evangelical irrelevancy."
"Ironic, is it not, that Southwestern will make an exception and accept a practicing Muslim 'lest we be legalistic,' but will release an extraordinary female professor because she's a woman," he continued. "Ironic, is it not, that Southwestern will make an exception and admit a practicing Muslim, but will release a Southern Baptist educated and trained African American as head of their Cultural Engagement Center for his Facebook posts."
He continued, "I could go on, but you get the picture. Where is our grace for our brothers and sisters in Christ? I'm all for grace for Muslims, I suggest we be even more gracious to those who express a common faith in the Anointed One."
Steve. A Smith, a spokesperson for SWBTS, told The Christian Post last month that the school had accepted Nagagreh after they had built a relationship with him after meeting him at a dig site.
"The student was a part of a dig site ... and had a great relationship with our folks and wanted to study archeology. The best place to do that, of course, are the top archeology schools, which are in Israel, but he doesn't speak Hebrew," Smith told The Christian Post.
Smith said that SWBTS's acceptance of Nagargreh should not be perceived as an alteration in policy, but as a one-time exception.
"He was interested in studying [at] our site, and so we took a great chance in allowing him in," said Smith. "Again, it's certainly an exception."
"Really, to look at it from a broader perspective, this looks at the whole question of whether you have an archeology program. This is the broader issue. Once you have an archeology program, you're doing something a little different than training pastors explicitly. You're training people who would come in for a degree who, if they want a Ph.D. in archeology, put themselves in a small minority who can be credentialed to teach archeology. So, it makes sense that you would attract students who would be non-traditional," Smith added.
This is not the first time under Patterson's leadership that a non-Christian student has been welcomed to a Christian institution. In his estimation, four or five students enrolled at Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary, and Criswell College.
"This man's progress has been good," Patterson said, "and we are especially grateful for the close relations that have been forged with peaceful Muslims and the opportunities that we have had to share biblical truths with them. In all of this there is not even a hint of compromise of our historic position."
SWBTS has over 3,000 students and, according to its website, is one of the largest seminaries in the world.