The slow-turning wheels of justice

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A federal judge based in Plano, Tex. has issued a scheduling order in the case of Roe v. Patterson, a civil lawsuit that alleges former Southwestern Seminary President Leighton Paige Patterson abused his office and exercised gross negligence in dealing with a serial rapist whom he employed on campus.

The Trump-appointed district court judge, Sean Jordan, was confirmed by the U.S. Senate on July 31, 2019. He is a summa cum laude graduate of the University of Texas at Austin, and an honors graduate of the University of Texas School of Law.  He also served as an army infantryman and a paratrooper in the 82nd Airborne Division.

Put another way, Jane Roe is fortunate to have a conservative jurist working the case who knows something about protecting innocent people and stopping evildoers.

Click here to read the scheduling order, which was signed Oct. 24, 2019. Jury selection is schedule to begin in March 2021. Mediation must occur by July 31, 2020.

But I will send to you an Advocate…


Mr. James P. Guenther, Esq.
Jordan, Guenther, & Price, PC
2100 West End Avenue
Suite 1150
Nashville, TN 37203

Dear Mr. Guenther:

“It is our law firm that defends the Southern Baptist Convention. Are we going to recommend to you [actions] which make our task more difficult?”

You spoke these words to messengers of the 2005 annual meeting of the Southern Baptist Convention gathered in Nashville, Tenn.[1] Indeed, the trust that Southern Baptists have had in your legal counsel and representation in the face of lawsuits in many jurisdictions and across many tortious claims is rooted in a longstanding confidence that you are both an immensely competent officer of the court and a principled advocate for our convention. I am grieved to learn of anecdotal accounts and to read of events that now threaten this longstanding trust.

On October 15, 2019, Baptist Press issued a statement disclosing that material previously published on March 8, 2019, “did not accurately communicate the allegations” of a survivor of sexual abuse. The statement further revealed that the story “in its original draft form . . . clearly communicated the emotional and sexual abuse” that was perpetrated against a young female student by a professor at The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary.

However, Baptist Press admitted that persons involved with the editing and final publication of the story “failed” to convey the truth about “sexual abuse by a trusted minister in a position of power.” The original story “made concessions to legal and policy concerns,” without accurately reflecting the allegations made by the female victim. This failure – which may result in a libel lawsuit against an entity of the Southern Baptist Convention – caused the “reputation” of the female victim to be “besmirched” as well as “pain and sorrow.” For this, Baptist Press has expressed a sense of “deep sorrow” and offered a “sincere apology”[2]

Mr. Guenther, you have long represented the Southern Baptist Convention. Your counsel to the nation’s largest Protestant denomination has helped the nearly 15 million-member body and its 47,000 churches defend itself against numerous lawuits, many of which have involved allegations of sex abuse and sexual misconduct.

As you know, the Southern Baptist Convention is a Georgia corporation, while the Executive Committee of the Southern Baptist Convention is a corporation in Tennessee, where you have been licensed to practice law since 1958.[3]That professional licensure, as you may know, is contingent on an officer of the court’s strict adherence to the Tennessee Rules of Professional Conduct.[4]

Among these rules are:

  • “As a representative of clients, a lawyer performs various functions. As an advisor, a lawyer provides a client with an informed understanding of the client’s legal rights and obligations and explains their practical implications;”
  • “As a negotiator, a lawyer seeks a result advantageous to the client but consistent with requirements of honest dealings with others;”
  • “As an evaluator, a lawyer acts by examining a client’s legal affairs and reporting about them to the client or to others.”

Moreover, the Rules of Conduct state the following:

  • “Failure to comply with an obligation or prohibition imposed by a Rule is basis for invoking the disciplinary process.”
  • “These Rules are not intended to govern or affect judicial application of either the attorney-client or work product privilege. Those privileges were developed to promote compliance with the law and fairness in litigation. In reliance on the attorney-client privilege, clients are entitled to expect that communications within the scope of the privilege will be protected against compelled disclosure. The attorney-client privilege is that of the client and not of the lawyer.” (emphasis added)

Elsewhere, the Rules state:

  • “When the client is an organization or group, it is often impossible or inappropriate to inform every one of its members about its legal affairs; ordinarily, the lawyer should address communications to the appropriate officials of the organization.”
  • “A lawyer may not withhold information to serve the lawyer’s own interest or convenience or the interests or conveniences of another person.”

I could continue with numerous citations from the Tennessee Bar Association’s Rules of Professional Conduct, though I am confident you are sufficiently aware of the rules and their ethical application in your decades-long representation of the Southern Baptist Convention and the Executive Committee.

Given that Baptist Press has now publicly admitted that past editorial decisions resulted in potentially libelous misrepresentation of an abuse survivor, and given that these decisions have caused the female victim to suffer damage to her reputation, “trauma,” “tremendous pain,” and “sorrow,” I am concerned that these decisions were guided by “concessions to legal and policy concerns.”

As the lawyer who represents both the Southern Baptist Convention and its Executive Committee, you were surely consulted regarding these “legal and policy concerns.” If not, then the circumstances that give rise to my concern are even more troubling.

Therefore, I would like to know the following:

  1. Did you provide legal counsel to officers of the Southern Baptist Convention regarding pre-publication editorial decisions made concerning the March 8 story?
  2. To which officer(s) of the Convention did you provide this counsel?
  3. Did you provide legal counsel to officers or employees of the Executive Committee regarding pre-publication editorial decisions made concerning the March 8 story?
  4. To which officer(s) or employees of the Executive Committee did you provide this counsel?
  5. Were you aware of editorial decisions made by employees of the Executive Committee and Baptist Press that did “not accurately communicate” a victim’s allegations, “omitted references to abuse,” and “failed to convey” the truth of the allegations in deference to “legal and policy concerns?”
  6. When did you become aware of these decisions, and what counsel did you provide to convention officers and committee employees as a result?
  7. Did you advise Baptist Press to issue a “sincere apology” for actions which may have “contributed to a perception that the Southern Baptist Convention is not a safe place for sexual abuse survivors to disclose.”?

Thank you for your careful consideration of my questions, and your willingness to represent both the Southern Baptist Convention and the Executive Committee with the highest commitment to professional ethical standards. I anticipate receiving answers to my questions in writing before the annual meeting of the 2020 Southern Baptist Convention in Orlando, Fla.  Otherwise, I anticipate these questions – and potentially others – concerning your actions in this matter will be brought to the floor of the convention.


The Baptist Blogger





The smoking gun…

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New evidence has emerged that Paige and Dorothy Patterson — far from being content to have nearly destroyed Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary during their sixteen year tenure — are yet determined to siphon off institutional resources to feather their own proverbial nest.

With a strong assist, of course, from the Colter-Candi Cabal.

Yesterday, SWBTS President Adam Greenway disclosed to seminary trustees certain electronic correspondence that was inadvertently sent by a Patterson operative to an old seminary email address for the Behatted One.

As it turns out, as recently as May 2019, Dorothy Patterson has been actively coaching seminary donors how to demand the return of large contributions for the seminary’s endowment, ostensibly to re-direct those gifts to the Pattersons’ preferred non-profit organizations.

We could say more about the email, but suffice it to say that Mr. Colter seems to have accidentally sent an email to that included draft language to share with SWBTS donor and longtime Patterson ally, James Merritt of South Carolina. Copies of the email and other relevant materials have been distributed to seminary trustees this week.

The Pattersons have apparently denied any effort to poach seminary donors or disparage seminary faculty. We’ll let our readers decide.

The Baptist Blogger obtained a copy of the email that was shared among all seminary trustees, and we gladly post it here.

Morris Chapman’s Motion

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During the Tuesday morning session of the SBC annual meeting in Birmingham, Ala., the former president of the Executive Committee, Dr. Morris H. Chapman, made a motion concerning the transparency and accountability of the various entities of the Southern Baptist Convention.  His motion was:

“I move that this convention, as the sole member of each entity corporation, request the Executive Committee to amend the Business and Financial Plan of the Southern Baptist Convention and other appropriate legal authorities where necessary to strengthen the fiscal accountability of SBC entities to the convention and to promote greater transparency regarding the use of Cooperative Program dollars.”

The genius of Dr. Chapman’s motion is that he did not prescribe an outcome, but rather he opened a pathway. The Constitution of the convention and its Bylaws establish and govern the convention itself. And the Baptist Faith & Message 2000 sets the parameters of confessional fidelity.

But the Business and Financial Plan — perhaps the least known and yet most important governing authority for the convention entities — is the rulebook for the day-to-day operation of the convention entities. It is prescriptive and binding for effective and accountable administration of the convention’s assets.

What Dr. Chapman did was brilliant. Without saying what we all know to be true — namely, that most of the crises faced by the convention in its history can be traced to lax oversight and fiscal irresponsibility — Dr. Chapman has called for Southern Baptists to open the windows of our convention entities and allow a little more sunlight, which is the best disinfectant, into the house.

Dr. Chapman could have proposed a motion that laid out specifics. Surely, few people in Southern Baptist life understand the complexities, difficulties, and enforcement mechanisms that keep SBC entities fiscally accountable. He could have made a motion that listed article and paragraph, proposing line-by-line changes that are informed by nearly two decades at the helm of the Executive Committee.

But such a motion would have (1) been cumbersome for the messengers to comprehend and consider efficiently; (2) been potentially interpreted as an end-run around the very governing board he used to serve; (3) hamstring his successor, Dr. Ronnie Floyd, into a pre-determined outcome without adequate reflection or legal and administrative analysis; and (4) run the risk of opening for a floor debate any number of poorly conceived “solutions” for supposed “problems” that a handful of irritable messengers perennially identify.

Later Tuesday afternoon, Dr. Chapman was recognized by SBC President J.D. Greear to speak to his motion before its referral under SBC Bylaw 26B. In his remarks, Dr. Chapman — without mentioning the scandal of mishandling sexual abuse or the failure of some SBC trustees to hold certain entity leaders accountable — recognized that Southern Baptists are in a “moment of self examination” that affords the convention an opportunity to implement needed reforms.

The brilliance of his timing was his sense that the convention was at this moment of reflection and that the messengers were already prepared to consider structural changes to ensure our gospel witness is undimmed by further compromises of biblical integrity.

For us personally, it was good to see Dr. Chapman back at a microphone, engaged as an elder statesman of the convention and doing what he has always done best: harmonize a commitment to biblical authority with a standard of administrative efficiency that any confessional organization boasting the size and influence of the Southern Baptist Convention must diligently maintain.

The simple fact is this: since his retirement in 2010, the Executive Committee went on auto-pilot, providing an opening for the aggrandized and oft-times weasel influence of a lawyer’s brain left unchecked by the prophetic vision and sensitivity of a pastor’s heart. When the Executive Committee has been at its finest, it has been led by a strong pastor statesman supported — but not supplanted — by accountants and businessmen and yes, even attorneys.

When last Southern Baptists heard from Dr. Chapman in a public way, he was warning us that the implementation of certain provisions of the Great Commission Task Force report would prove shortsighted. Reducing the Cooperative Program allocation for the Executive Committee would handicap its essential work.

He was attacked, even vilified, by some who now see more clearly in retrospect what Dr. Chapman foresaw nearly a decade ago.

And so this year, Dr. Chapman returned to the convention microphone not from the platform as an elected entity leader, but rather as a patriarch of unparalleled experience and administrative savvy who — apart from Charles Stanley in 1985 — received more votes than any other man to ever be elected convention president before or since.

In the time since his motion in Birmingham, some have speculated openly and publicly that his concern was narrowly focused on the disclosure of executive salaries. Any student of history would realize that Dr. Chapman’s concern would not be so narrow. There was a time that we, like so many others, were frustrated by the unpublished salaries of convention leaders. Even Dr. Chapman’s salary was printed publicly only upon his election and not thereafter.

(Side note: we believe that salaries should be disclosed upon election and not thereafter)

But in the intervening years we have come to a conclusion about executive salaries in the SBC: No entity leader is overpaid, but some are potentially underworked.

That said, Dr. Chapman’s motion calls for a much more sweeping examination of the Business and Financial Plan, and potentially the adoption of certain enforcement mechanisms to ensure that all convention entities — whether they receive a Cooperative Program allocation or not — would raise the bar for disclosure, accountability, and transparency first to the trustees who govern the respective entities, but also to the convention messengers in annual session.

Which makes us wonder why Baptist Press has not done an interview with Dr. Chapman about his motion to ascertain what informed his decision to bring the motion, what observations he might have that would better streamline our cooperative efforts, and what reporting requirements needed reexamination in light of emerging technologies and accounting standards.

It is simply too hard to find raw data about SBC entity finances. Not even trustees feel they have the reliable and timely information they need — in understandable formats — to execute their sacred responsibilities as charged by the convention messengers who elect them.

So we await greater clarification from Dr. Chapman regarding his motion, and we hope that Baptist Press, which has had a rough few weeks of revelations about its past editorial decisions, will help Southern Baptists better understand the motion they voted to refer to the Executive Committee for action.


Wade Burleson’s Motion


The handling of Wade Burleson’s motion by the convention lawyers indicates at least one potential reality: either they struggle to understand plain English or they willingly deceive the convention messengers.

Wade’s motion was very simple. He wanted the convention to amend the report of the International Mission Board to include already public information that the IMB had previously published on the organization’s website. In May 2019, the IMB released a preliminary report by the law firm retained to investigate the mission board’s handling of past abuse cases. Wade was concerned, as were we, that the IMB report contained not a single mention of the board’s actions related to dozens of abuse cases. The firm had identified several instances in which IMB officials had not exercised due diligence or demonstrated adequate concern for the criminal behavior of some mission personnel.

What Wade wanted, and what we hoped his motion might have prompted, was a new expectation of convention entities that they tell us the truth, even when it hurts.

The Book of Reports is an important and critical tool for Southern Baptists in the effort to keep their entities accountable and transparent. Too often reports are padded, inconvenient truths are omitted, and fiscal realities are obfuscated and glossed over.

That needs to change.

Wades motion was perfectly in order. The convention’s book of reports is the product of the convention, and the entities do not have final say on what the content of those reports are. The messengers may receive reports, amend them, adopt them, refer them, and even reject them.

The rationale provided by the convention lawyers for the ruling that Wade’s motion was out of order is specious and contemptible. They alleged Wade was trying to force non-public information into the IMB report. But the IMB itself had already made the information public on its own website. In fact, Wade wouldn’t have even known of the lawyer’s report had the IMB not made it public the previous month.

The ruling was nothing more than a parliamentary slight of hand — incompetent at best and deceitful at worst — designed to protect an SBC-owned entity from the very people who own it.

We will wait to see what goes into the various entity reports in 2020. And we are hopeful that it won’t only be the ERLC speaking the unpleasant truth about our various entities’ past handling of abuse.


Birmingham Wrap-Up: Resolutions

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The only resolution anybody will ever remember from the convention in Birmingham is Resolution No. 9On Critical Race Theory and Intersectionality. 

This resolution — both its content and the parliamentary train wreck that accompanied its passage — was a disaster. For starters the committee, despite the collective brilliance and academic sophistication of its members, seemed to misread the messengers and overestimate the degree to which those messengers would perceive the committee as they perceived themselves.

What we had was a group of smart people determined to propose a smart resolution full of nuance and complicated scholarly themes and terms. What they forgot is that the Southern Baptist Convention, on its best day, is a body with incredible common sense but restricted bandwidth to engage in scholarly debate.

Every time in Southern Baptist history when the “smart people” start telling the “regular people” something, all hell breaks loose.  Take the debate over the BFM2K in Orlando, for instance. You had some very smart people on the floor trying to make scholarly arguments about biblical authority and the complexities of the inerrancy argument.

On the platform was Al Mohler and Dick Land, both of whom know a thing or two about optics and convention dynamics. These men did not attempt a scholarly defense of the BFM2K, but rather appealed to the messengers with succinct one-liners that drew thunders of applause and shut down debate.

Contrast that with this year’s resolutions committee fumble — aided and abetted by a parliamentarian and Order of Business Committee that were determined not to let J.D. Greear’s resolutions committee suffer a losing vote on the floor. So they made up rules as they went, attempted to roll the controversial resolutions into a block with non-controversial ones, and fostered greater confusion rather than clarity.

Never mind the fact that the resolutions were saved for the very last moment of convention business at the end of two long days of difficult, painstaking conversation about some of the most heart wrenching themes ever to make their way into the convention’s order of business. This was foolish scheduling, if for no other reason than the sad reality that the only people who stay till the bitter end of any event — football games, baseball, etc. — are the fanatics.

Thus was the convention hall left with a very smart group of men and women on the platform trying to defeat a very organized and determined group of opponents to Resolution No. 9. What happened was chaos.

Neither the parliamentarians nor the committee served J.D. Greear well at this point. They should have — sensing the reality on the floor — pulled the resolution altogether. There is never a mistake in a tactical delay.

*Note: Since 1986, Convention parliamentarian Barry McCarty has never facilitated nor advised the use of motions to “postpone indefinitely,” “table,” or “reconsider” despite the perfectly appropriate purpose of these motions when a deliberative body is not ready to consider or close a matter. If he’s the chief parliamentarian in Orlando and similar nonsense starts to take shape, we intend to force him to dust off these forgotten chapters of his own book.

One other point that we can’t escape mentioning.

Images matter, which is something propagandists have always understood. Subliminally, in ways we don’t even perceive ourselves, what we see affects how we perceive what we hear and read.

Suppose for a moment what would have happened if when the Southern Baptist Convention was considering the Confederate Flag resolution in 2016 the committee chairman, Steven Rummage, was wearing a seersucker suit and a gentleman’s Panama straw hat.  And what if, in that moment, when James Merritt stood to ask that the convention amend the resolution to remove all reference to the “emblem” of “honor” and  “valor,” Rummage — dressed in clothing reminiscent of a plantation owner — called for the messengers to oppose Merritt’s amendment.

Now let us be clear about what we are NOT saying.  We are NOT saying that Steven Rummage is an unreconstructed white supremacist. We are NOT saying he has sympathies with the Old South or the Ku Klux Klan.

What we ARE saying is that Rummage would have been most foolish — whatever his sartorial preference — not to consider how the optics would inform the messengers, even subliminally.

Jump forward to 2019 and Chairman Curtis Woods, a most capable scholar and by every measure a truly kind and generous Christian servant.

Yet there he stood, in a tan suit with a bow tie and horned rimmed glasses. Few people might have thought about it at all, but that is the way that optics and images work.

Our point: If you want the convention messengers to consider a resolution that recognizes heterodox ideologies as “set of analytical tools,” you might want to avoid wearing an outfit that could have come straight out of Louis Farrakhan’s wardrobe.

Images matter. Optics are important.

And Southern Baptists are not immune to their effects, even when subliminal and unintentional.

Bottom line: Resolution No. 9 was a dud and a distraction the consequences of which we are still fighting back. It should never have been brought to the floor, and when it became clear that it was both confusing and controversial, the committee should have withdrawn it.

That they were not advised of this option by the parliamentarians has not escaped our notice.