“People who have never sued anyone or been sued have missed a narcissistic pleasure that is not quite like any other.”―
David Sills can continue discovery of SBC parties.
You may remember that Sills lost his job at Southern Baptist Seminary after admitting to a long-term sexual relationship with a former student, Jennifer Lyell which he claims was consensual. Christianity Today wrote:
In a complaint filed November 21 in the Circuit Court of Mobile, Alabama, David Sills, a former professor of missions and cultural anthropology at Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, admits he lost his job in 2018 due to what he called “morally inappropriate consensual intimate” conduct with a student.
Sills claims the situation was consensual and alleges that SBC leaders, including Southern’s president, Albert Mohler, turned his confession against him, labeling him as an abuser.
They did so, according to the complaint, as a public relations stunt, aimed at improving the SBC’s reputation during a national sexual abuse scandal. That public relations effort, according to the suit, included an investigation by Guidepost Solutions into SBC leaders’ handling of alleged abuse cases, which was made public earlier this year.
He is suing a number of people and the SBC, along with other institutions.
The complaint names Southern seminary and Mohler, as well as the SBC’s Executive Committee, SBC President Bart Barber, and his predecessor Ed Litton as defendants, along with several other leaders. Also named as a defendant is Lifeway Christian Resources, a research and publishing arm of the SBC, and Guidepost Solutions.
What is the legal definition of discovery?
According to the American Bar Association:
To begin preparing for trial, both sides engage in discovery . This is the formal process of exchanging information between the parties about the witnesses and evidence they ll present at trial. Discovery enables the parties to know before the trial begins what evidence may be presented.
…One of the most common methods of discovery is to take depositions. A deposition is an out-of-court statement given under oath by any person involved in the case. It is to be used at trial or in preparation for trial. It may be in the form of a written transcript, a videotape, or both. In most states, either of the parties may take the deposition of the other party, or of any other witness. Both sides have the right to be present during oral depositions.
So why would the involved parties being sued want to avoid discovery?
Again, from the ABA:
Usually depositions consist of an oral examination, followed by cross-examination by the opposing side. In addition to taking depositions, either party may submit written questions, called interrogatories , to the other party and require that they be answered in writing under oath. If one party chooses to use an interrogatory, written questions are sent to the lawyer representing the other side, and that party has a period of time in which to answer.
Other methods of discovery include
- subpoenaing or requiring the other side to produce books, records or other documents for inspection (a subpoena is a written order issued by a court compelling a person to testify or produce certain physical evidence such as records);
- having the other side submit to a physical examination; or
- asking that a document be submitted for examination to determine if it is genuine.
So why would the parties being sued want to avoid discovery? It’s against the law to lie or withhold evidence during this time. In other words, Sills gets to see a lot of stuff that the SBC and others do not want him or others to see.
The Baptist Press posted Judge rules discovery may continue in Sillses’ lawsuit against SBC parties.
Some of those defendants had asked the Tennessee court to stay all legal discovery on the case pending resolution of a separate motion to dismiss the case entirely.
Why are they in a dither? It’s simple. They don’t want anyone to see all the stuff that Sills’ lawyer is asking for in discovery. Being a cynic, I wonder what juicy stuff they don’t want everyone, including you, to see.
They argued: “Even if this case never makes it to trial, permitting discovery will expose the denomination’s internal investigation to secular scrutiny and conflicts with the separation of church and state principles at the core of the ecclesiastical abstention doctrine. Moreover, a stay is also appropriate due to the woefully deficient nature of plaintiffs’ complaint.”
What is the ecclesial abstention doctrine?
The ecclesial abstention doctrine is a key legal concept that says secular courts may not interfere in the internal disputes of religious bodies. Applying — or not applying — that doctrine is key to several other cases currently pending against the SBC or its entities.
The Sillses contend the case at hand does not involve religious doctrine and therefore should not be subject to the ecclesial abstention doctrine.
The judge agreed and also said that the claims of the Sills were not “frivolous” as was contended by the other side.
“Reviewing the pleadings and pending dispositive motions, ‘this is simply not one of the rare cases where a complaint patently lacks merit such that staying discovery pending’ resolution of the motions to dismiss is appropriate.”
So, discovery can continue. I wonder what will be discovered?
Did you know there are now 28 lawsuits involving the SBC?
Baptist News gave a link to the site that tracks these lawsuits. It is a Twitter (X) account @SBCLitigation tracking since March 2023. Who knew??? Here is one of the tweets.
Johnny Hunt has the right to unseal Guidepost documents.
Baptist News reported ‘Pastor Johnny’ wins a bid to unseal Guidepost documents.
That case, Hunt v. Southern Baptist Convention et al, was brought by former SBC President Johnny Hunt, who was named repeatedly in the 2022 Guidepost report and who was forced from his job as executive vice president of the SBC North American Mission Board by accusations he had sexually assaulted a woman at a beach condo. Hunt, a prominent pastor and conference speaker, has admitted the encounter but has disputed the way it was described in the Guidepost report and denies it was abusive.
His case is being handled in the same court(Middle Tennessee office of the U.S. District Court ) as the above Sills lawsuit.
a judge ruling that Guidepost must produce records of its interviews with Hunt’s alleged victim and that some currently redacted records may not be shielded from public view.Guidepost had asked the court to seal portions of the record involving the alleged victim and her husband.
The judge disagreed. Here are some documents Hunt wanted and will now apparently get. See the entire list in the Baptist News article.
Court documents describe the materials in question as:
- “Audio recordings that the husband of the alleged sexual abuse survivor made of his counseling sessions with his wife and a purported marriage counselor.”
- “The husband’s private journal.”
- “A summary document that contained information provided by the alleged survivor and her husband to Guidepost’s investigators.”
- “Text messages exchanged between the alleged sexual abuse survivor and a Guidepost investigator who interviewed her for the report prepared by Guidepost.
Apparently, accusations against Hunt were more graphic than those in the report.
The unsealed documents also recount how Hunt allegedly sought to “gaslight” the woman and her husband and initiated counseling for them with Roy Blankenship, the unlicensed staff counselor at Hunt’s church, Woodstock Baptist in Georgia.
This may be what Hunt is after. Hunt is not mentioned in some of the requested items.
Guidepost has redacted from its public filing the fact that the contemporaneous audio recordings and written journal entries provided by the couple to Guidepost and referenced in Guidepost’s report do not mention any alleged sexual assault by Hunt. Indeed, Guidepost admits in its redacted filings that Hunt’s name is not mentioned at all in the audio recordings and the ‘isolated references’ to Hunt in the husband’s journal do not reference the supposed assault or ‘grooming.’”
According to Baptist News, the woman has retained the services of Boz Tchividjian, which is a good move, in my opinion.
Finally, Will McRaney continues his fight.
The SBC claims it is not a denomination with a hierarchal structure but a loose organization of autonomous churches. I believe this claim will be disproven in one or more of these lawsuits. Will McRaney continues his fight to be heard. Baptist News posted that McRaney warns dismissal of his case against NAMB raises an urgent threat to Baptist’s autonomy.
Unless challenged, one judge’s ruling could have profound implications for Baptist autonomy, according to Will McRaney, whose defamation suit against the Southern Baptist Convention’s North American Mission Board was dismissed Aug. 15.
“The judge’s ruling is built around the erroneous concept of ‘THE’ Baptist Church as a denomination like the Catholic or Methodist Church,” McRaney said in a statement to Baptist News Global late Aug. 16. “However, the First Amendment clearly declares that the government cannot create or establish a religion.
“Unless this court’s ruling is challenged, the SBC, Baptist ministers, along with Baptist autonomy, cooperation, financial health and missionaries will be under threat of loss and a form of hierarchy created,” he said.
Although the judge threw out his lawsuit, he plans to appeal. According to Baptist Message: McRaney to appeal ruling in lawsuit against NAMB.
The SBC has 28 cases, and I guess that number will rise. It looks like the money that should go to missionaries and churches will go to the lawyers. Tithers should consider diverting their funds to the intended recipients.