Yet again, Southern Baptist Convention (SBC) leaders have revealed that with their sex abuse crisis, the rot goes all the way down to the roots and all way up the ladder of power. Recently, federal prosecutors discovered that several SBC seminary leaders deliberately concealed information about one of their students sexually assaulting someone on their campus earlier this year. One of the leaders involved has been charged already, and more charges are likely to follow.

This happened well after the SBC’s sex abuse scandal became public news. So it tells us some important things about the SBC as a whole. But it remains to be seen if SBC members themselves will figure out the truth.

Situation Report: The timeline of Matt Queen and Heath Woolman’s cover-up scandal, in context

The story I’m about to share with you has earned only a brief, misleading, context-free mention on the SBC’s official site. But this is a rabbithole that goes very deep.

  • January 2019, at the latest: Journalists in Texas ask SBC leaders send J.D. Greear, then the president of the SBC, information about the absolutely massive sex abuse cover-up occurring up and down the ranks of their denomination. Afterward, Greear gets chatty about all kinds of culture-war topics, but he does absolutely nothing public with this abuse information. (Evidence of contact; image archive.)
  • February 2019: Those journalists publish their report on the SBC’s sex abuse cover-up. They name the mega-scandal “Abuse of Faith.” Immediately and disingenuously, Greear claims he is absolutely “broken” to learn this info.
  • For the next three years, nothing much happens except for the SBC’s two main factions slapfighting over how to handle the scandal.
  • May 15, 2022: The SBC’s hired third-party investigators release their full report of the extent of sex abuse and cover-ups in the denomination. Shortly afterward, SBC leaders reveal their super-secret private database of sex abusers and rapists.
  • August 2022: Word gets out that federal investigators are examining SBC leaders. They already know those leaders egregiously, likely even criminally mishandled and covered up sex abuse allegations. That fact has never been in question. No, they just want to know if their antics had risen to the level of federal charges rather than just a slew of state-level ones. Employees and leaders of various SBC entities including SWBTS get ordered to hang onto their emails and meeting notes.
  • September 2022: David Dockery, an elderly Calvinist theologian, becomes SWBTS’ interim president. Hardliners in the SBC’s traditionalist faction are not happy about this.
  • November 2022: At Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary (SWBTS), a popular, well-known undergrad student and SBC megachurch member, Christian Flores, allegedly sexually assaults someone. The Dean of Women, Terri Stovall, documents the incident when the victim reports it. Stovall then notifies the chief of campus police, who does nothing with the report. Sometime after this, the chief of campus police parts ways with SWBTS.
  • January 2023: Disturbed by how SWBTS handled the assault report, Stovall discusses her report with the seminary’s chief of staff, Heath Woolman, and the school’s interim provost, Matthew Queen. Various sources characterize this meeting as a “confrontation.” According to sources that include Dockery, Woolman orders her to “make the document ‘go away.'” Around this same time, city police arrest Flores.
  • April 2023: The board at SWBTS raises David Dockery from interim president to actual president.
  • May 5, 2023: Woolman resigns his position to be a pastor in Florida. On May 14, 2023, he praises the church’s hiring committee: “They have looked for every skeleton in every closet. I don’t have any skeletons in any closets, and I was still scared they would find skeletons in closets.” (Suuuure.)
  • May 2023: Queen lies to the feds by claiming he never heard Woolman order Stovall to destroy her report. He also lies to another employee of SWBTS by saying he totally took notes at that meeting. This utter Brainiac writes up some fake notes that he claims are about that meeting and provides them to the feds.
  • June 2023: It’s a miracle! According to Dockery, Queen now admits to the probably-frosted FBI investigators that yes, he totally remembers that “make it go away” thing and that the notes are fake. The school puts Queen on administrative leave, and he quits.
  • February 2024: Queen accepts a position as a pastor in North Carolina.
  • March 6, 2024: Hooray Team Jesus! The SBC’s official site, Baptist Press, reports that the DOJ have closed their case with no charges. The Interim Executive Committee (EC) president, Jonathan Howe, makes this official announcement. Sex abuse survivors and advocates immediately contact the DOJ to ask about this strange announcement. Their contact there assures them that the investigation is still ongoing. They have no idea why Howe might have said something like that. As far as I can tell, Howe’s never explained, either.
  • May 21, 2024: The DOJ indicts Matt Queen. They formally charge him with falsifying records regarding that 2022 sexual assault. The same day, seminary leaders claim they “facilitated the arrest of the accused student,” meaning Christian Flores, and suspended him.
  • May 29, 2024: David Dockery writes a statement about this whole mess on SWBTS’ official site. In it, he complains that it was very hard to work around people with such “differences of recollection” of that January 2023 meeting.
  • On the same day, Baptist Press briefly mentions the indictment. It focuses mainly on Stovall’s correct actions and Dockery’s statements. The story ignores major facts in the situation and asserts that Flores attended Texas Baptist College, not SWBTS itself. SWBTS operates this affiliated college as its undergraduate school.
  • May 31, 2024: Matthew Queen blusters in an official church statement about being “vindicated by God and man” in court. He also announces a leave of absence from his job. Notably, his careful-sounding statement does not include assertions about his innocence.
  • Sir NotAppearingInThisTimelineYet: Heath Woolman, that onetime interim provost. As far as I can find, the feds haven’t charged him with anything—yet.

The widespread scandal of assault and abuse cover-ups at evangelical colleges continues

Way back in the mid-2010s, it came out that a bunch of evangelical colleges were covering up sex assaults and abuse occurring within or around their campus. Their reasons were very simple and very self-interested: These crimes, if made public, would make their schools seem less safe. They’d also tarnish the schools’ carefully-cultivated Jesus Aura. Both of these effects would lower enrollment.

SWBTS is no stranger at all to that scandal. Around that same time, Paige Patterson ruled the school as its Eternal God-Emperor. In 2018, he lost that cushy gig for seriously mishandling assault allegations on his campus. In his wake, he left severe money issues, a shockingly bloated payroll, and a crony network that deeply resented his successor. That successor, Adam Greenway, lasted only a few years. Not long afterward, the school’s board hired Dockery to be the interim and then later official president.

But the rot continues to fester. The fact that Baptist Press ran only one story about it and sought to mislead and distract readers could tell anyone that.

Imagine burning your life down over someone who won’t protect you back

Matthew Queen put himself into life-ruination levels of trouble here, and he wasn’t even the main person in trouble. Until he tried to deceive the feds, he was at most guilty of collusion and perpetrating a cover-up. But no, he had to lie about statements and falsify records. And he did it all to protect Heath Woolman. It’s entirely possible Queen currently faces even more legal trouble than Woolman himself does.

I wonder if Queen still thinks his attempt at deception was worth it?

It’s crystal-clear that the crony network continues to flourish at SWBTS. When we observe the charges and where they land on the Abuse of Faith/DOJ investigation timeline, we can see that an array of people at SWBTS had to collude to keep the 2022 assault a secret from the public.

As long as evangelical schools and groups pretend to be really Jesusy and lack real accountability measures, these sorts of scandals should be expected. They aren’t a glitch in the system evangelicals inhabit. They are a natural outgrowth of it.

A note about lies, integrity, accountability, and evangelicals

It is always funny to me when an evangelical tries to deceive outsiders using the same techniques used to deceive their tribemates.

These deceivers get high on their own supply. They start feeling like they are really experts at deception! But in reality, their tribe suffers from two major misapprehensions about reality:

  1. Evangelicals have been trained to accept whatever their leaders say without questions or examination or critical thinking. They also think leaders’ Jesus Aura levels rise with their power levels and that their leaders are good examples of evangelicalism—meaning they follow the rules better than the plebes warming their pews.
  2. If any evangelicals suspect deception, they often refuse to call it out due to fears of retaliation (either by the liar or their cronies). I guarantee you this: Every single powerful evangelical leader and pastor in the world has secret rulebreaking known well to their inner circle—and probably isn’t too worried about leaks.

These two facts about evangelicals make it extremely easy for bad-faith actors to get into leadership and relationship roles with them.

Evangelicals have no idea how real accountability works because their system protects them from it

If you remember that family annihilator, Chris Watts, he got really convinced of his skill at lying. By the time of committing the murders of his entire family, he’d lied to his wife and friends for years. It was second nature to him, and he clearly believed he was good at it. But when he tried to lie to the press and police, they figured it out immediately.

Some years back, we discussed a thief who did much the same thing when she was caught embezzling from the church that employed her. First, Stephanie Everett tried lying to the court about the many personal expenses she paid for with church funds. Then, she tried telling the judge she totally took “full responsibility” for her stealing. That’s one way evangelical liars get sympathy from the tribe. Normally, nobody actually holds them responsible at all! But the annoyed judge almost threw the book at her.

Watts had no crony-network protection, though. Neither did Everett. The more cronies an evangelical rulebreaker has to shield him, the bolder he can be in breaking the tribe’s rules.

One particularly flagrant example of this trope is Jerry Falwell, Jr., who operated right out in the open while ruling his dad’s legacy, Liberty University. He partied at nightclubs, drank himself shitfaced, got handsy and flirty with women-who-weren’t-his-wife everywhere including on-campus, etc. I strongly suspect that his dad’s cronies eventually got sick of his behavior and stopped protecting him from the repercussions of his own actions. Until then, he was untouchable.

(See also: The Southern-Gothic-style downfall of the Murdaugh family.)

And now, a scandal threatens them with real accountability at last

Feeling all invincible, then, evangelical deceivers trot out their technique with outsiders to their tribe. And they get destroyed.

I can only imagine Matthew Queen’s utter shock when he realized the feds weren’t playing around—and that his cronies couldn’t shield him.

It may have been his very first brush with real accountability. I wonder how it felt.

I wonder even more how it’ll feel for the others who colluded in that cover-up. And the ones colluding about still unknown scandals still. I hope they’re all sweating a little in anticipation of their own looming appointment in a small meeting room with a bunch of dead-eyed, completely mirthless federal agents.

What can I say? I’m a sunny little optimist at heart.

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Captain Cassidy

Captain Cassidy is a Gen-X ex-Christian and writer. She writes about how people engage with science, religion, art, and each other. She lives in Idaho with her husband, Mr. Captain, and their squawky orange tabby cat, Princess Bother Pretty Toes. And at any given time, she is running out of bookcase space.

1 Comment

#SBC24: The SBC's 2024 Annual Meeting kicks off with pregame warmups - Roll to Disbelieve · 06/14/2024 at 4:00 AM

[…] May 29th: The site’s handlers successfully ignored their looming scandal (archive) about Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary (SWBTS). At the end of May, the feds charged former SWBTS employee Matthew Queen for falsifying evidence to cover up an sexual assault allegedly committed by SWBTS student Christian Flores. In addition, someone identified another SWBTS employee, Heath Woolman, as part of that cover-up attempt. However, the BP article refers to SWBTS only in the post’s title and tags. In addition to this odd omission, their story presents Flores as attending Texas Baptist College. Somehow, the story’s writer forgot to inform readers is SWBTS’s own affiliated undergrad college. (We talked about this whole situation here.) […]

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