This is apparently the third post in a series, which I did not expect to write. About six months ago, I wrote two pieces on the travails of the Southern Baptist Convention, the “sexual abuse” scandal, and the Guidepost Solutions Report which investigated those issues. Links to those posts are below:
- The SBC Sexual Abuse Problem and the “Secret List” of Abusers Explained
- Explaining the Very Strange Problems of the Guidepost Report on Sexual Abuse in the SBC
In the second one of those posts, I noted the extremely strange issues involving the situation of Jennifer Lyell, who claimed to be the survivor of sexual abuse at the hands of David Sills. The details were a little fishy, but the issue (at the time) seemed to be that though there was a sexual relationship between David Sills and Jennifer Lyell, it seemed (at least to me) to be an obviously consensual sexual relationship between the two of them. As such, the allegation of Jennifer Lyell didn’t seem to add up. I noted that fact and thought it would all die.
However, now we have the lawsuit of David Sills and his wife against quite literally (and this is not an exaggeration) against almost everyone in the Southern Baptist Convention World. The full document, which I requested from the local Alabama courthouse and paid the fee to receive, is available below, and OH MY GOODNESS is it explosive.
Things I thought were “totally true” in the David Sills and Jennifer Lyell story no longer have that status. As it now stands, we don’t know what is going on, but the allegations made by David and Mary Sills are extremely serious and need to be considered, even though they are still only “allegations.”
David Sills and His Wife Claim There Was Never Any Sexual Intercourse At All, Ever, At Any Time Between David Sills and Jennifer Lyell
The Complaint does not hid and it does not disappoint. Though 30 pages in length, the key facts allged are right on the first page. In fact, the key facts alleged are right in the first few paragraphs:
1. Plaintiffs David Sills and Mary Sills file this complaint against Defendants, alleging
defamation, conspiracy, intentional infliction of emotional distress, negligence, and wantonness
concerning untrue claims of sexual abuse initiated by Defendant, Jennifer Lyell, and thereafter
repeated and published by the Defendants, and each of them, as well as untrue claims that Mrs.
Mary Sills aided, abetted, facilitated, or otherwise enabled the said sexual abuse.
2. Dr. Sills did not, at any time, sexually abuse Defendant Lyell.
3. Dr. Sills did not ever force himself upon Defendant Lyell.
4. Dr. Sills never used violence against Defendant Lyell, and never threatened to use
violence against Defendant Lyell, or anyone else.
5. Dr. Sills did not engage in sexual intercourse with Defendant Lyell, at any time
I assumed that David Sills would say paragraphs 1, 2, 3, and 4. But then I saw paragraph 5 and thought WHAT!? You mean that David Sills did not engage in sexual intercourse with Jennifer Lyell AT ANY TIME WHATSOEVER? Yep. And not only is David Sills saying that, but HIS WIFE IS SAYING THAT, TOO.
That is EXPLOSIVE. If true, this makes Amber Heard look downright saintly in comparison to Jennifer Lyell. Is it true? I don’t know, but that’s what’s being alleged. I would also note that if David Sills claimed this and it was false, he is committing legal suicide. There are 1,000 other legal directions to go to have a defamation claim, but this one is the most extreme. As such, I’d be equally shocked as I am now if it was NOT true (though stranger things have happened in this world).
In contrast to David and Mary Sills’ allegations that no sexual intercourse ever happened, here is part of what Jennifer Lyell said (and still continues to say on her personal website) about David Sills:
Just over nine months ago I heard the story of Megan Lively, the former Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary student who had reported her 2003 sexual assault to Dr. Paige Patterson and SEBTS. Megan attests that Dr. Patterson did not take proper steps reporting the sexual assault or caring for Megan in its aftermath. Records regarding her allegation show that in 2003 she very clearly reported a nonconsensual sexual act performed against her person.
When I heard this story, something broke in me. Something that had been held tightly for years. I walked into the office of my boss at LifeWay and told him what I’d just heard about Megan’s story. I don’t remember what he said in reply, but it was something along the lines of how shocking it was. Except I wasn’t shocked; if anything, I was shocked that he was. I remember thinking, “God is purifying His church. God be glorified” and then I spoke. I don’t remember exactly what I said, but it was something along the lines of, “I was sexually abused by one of my seminary professors.”
My boss was shocked and appalled. That one sentence I uttered began a rapid sequence of events that modeled the best of what advocates of sexual abuse response reform are calling for in the Southern Baptist Convention. I was asked many questions to get clarity around what I was alleging as well as who was responsible. I shared how Dr. David Sills, then a tenured professor at The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, first sexually acted against me on a mission trip in 2004, a pattern that continued and escalated for more than a decade following that trip.
By the time I shared about my abuse, I had been in counseling for more than two years, which had given me the tools and support I needed to extract myself from the situation. I had told my counselor, closest friends, as well as my pastor and his wife. I had not disclosed this to SBTS or the missions agency Dr. Sills led (on which I had previously served on the board) because of the very complicated, messy nature of the relationship and my fear of the collateral damage that telling would cause for those around him. That collateral damage was the reason that the abuse had continued for so long. The reason that a professor was able to continue grooming and taking advantage of his student was because I became like part of his family. This wasn’t by accident; I believe it was by design. Having known that I experienced sexual abuse growing up, Dr. Sills assured me that the first incidents that happened on that mission trip weren’t really my fault as I naturally felt—even though I had not initiated them and was shocked as the actions took place. He explained they were because of what happened to me when I was a child. He said that he could fix it by me becoming part of his family and then once I was part of his family, that sort of thing would never happen again. I now wonder if the only reason that a family relationship was ever presented as an option was to ensure I wouldn’t tell what had happened in those first instances.
But a family relationship did develop. Over the years I spent weekends with them, my holidays with them, became an “aunt” to their grandchildren, and their grown children became like siblings to me. It looked idyllic on the surface. Except the pattern of inappropriate sexual activity continued throughout the relationship.
So that day when I shared what had happened to me with my boss at LifeWay and then later with SBTS President, Dr. R. Albert Mohler, I was quick to also share the responsibility I bore for being compliant at times, for not telling immediately, and for so idolizing the idea of a whole family that I protected it despite what was happening within it. I am not a sinless victim. But I am a victim nonetheless.
Because the “inappropriate sexual relationship” continued “for more than a decade,” I originally expected that this would be explained by figuring out that it was a consensual sexual relationship, rather than an abusive relationship. That is why I wrote that previous piece assuming that there was a sexual relationship. But rather than go on as expected, David Sills AND HIS WIFE are claiming that no such sexual relationship EVER existed.
In other words, according to this complaint, Jennifer Lyell and several other co-conspirators MADE IT ALL UP to deflect bad press away from the SBC. That is… SHOCKING.
***UPDATE*** The Continuing Potentially Defamatory Coverage of this Story
I learned about this story from a small 11/22/22 article from Baptist News Global (see here) that mentioned the filing of the Complaint. I got the complaint because the photo they posted said “In the Circuit Court of Mobile County, Georgia.” I called the Court and got the complaint after requesting it in the old-fashioned mail. (And yes, it did cost almost 10 whole dollars. Go to my donations page if you want to fund more good journalism like this.) That story accurately reported, “The lawsuit challenges what has been accepted as fact in one of the highest-profile cases in the web of allegations regarding mishandling of sexual abuse within the SBC.”
However, after this, initial story, the coverage has…. changed. For example, the Religious New Service posted a story on November 28, 2022 that had the following headline and byline:
“David Sills, former seminary prof accused of abuse, sues SBC and Guidepost – Sills, who lost his job after admitting misconduct, claims SBC leaders used him as a scapegoat to bolster their public image.”
Notice the very unclear “accused of abuse” and “admitting misconduct” right after each other. Was the conduct he admitted “abuse”? Good question. The answer seems to come in the first sentence of the story:
(RNS) — A former seminary professor and missionary who admitted sexual misconduct has sued a group of Southern Baptist Convention leaders and entities, claiming they conspired with an abuse survivor to ruin his reputation.
But did he? That’s unclear. We have ZERO statements on record from David Sills on this matter. All we know is from the complaint is that he admitted he had a “morally inappropriate consensual intimate relationship,” even though this involved no “sexual intercourse” (“sexual intercourse” is defined in the law as sexual contact with penetration of the mouth, vagina, or anus, no matter how slight). That’s the only statement of Sills on record. Everything else is second or third-hand from people like Al Mohler.
And we should also note that it does not seem to be clear whether Sills admitted to a “morally inappropriate consensual intimate relationship” with a student, or with Lyell after she had moved on from the seminary and was no longer a student. That’s kind of an important detail.
Similarly, Christianity Today, posted an article saying the same:
HEADLINE: Former Southern Seminary Prof Sues SBC Leaders for Labeling Him an Abuser
BYLINE: David Sills admitted to misconduct but claims he has been “falsely attacked” by Southern Baptists and their investigative firm.
A former seminary professor and missionary who admitted sexual misconduct has sued a group of Southern Baptist Convention leaders and entities, claiming they conspired with an abuse survivor to ruin his reputation.
Here’s the problem with that, people: “sexual misconduct” is a crime; “sexual abuse” is a crime. It’s a crime in Kentucky where the event allegedly happened and in Alabama where the trial will happen. These news outlets EVEN TODAY are reporting that David Sills “admitted” committing A SEXUAL CRIME.
If that’s false…. ….THAT’S DEFAMATION.
The only thing that you can report without the danger of defamation is to report that David Sills admitted to a “morally inappropriate consensual intimate relationship.” Otherwise, better have the receipts (which it appears nobody has).
I should also note that on November 28, 2022, Mark Wingfield of Baptist News Global wrote a blistering take-down (charitably-speaking) of Megan Basham, Tom Ascol, and Tom Buck because:
three high-profile Southern Baptists took to Twitter to highlight one specific section of the 31-page legal document.
BNG has obtained documentation showing this section of the legal filing misrepresents the context of a quotation attributed to sexual abuse survivor Jennifer Lyell — a fact available to the three tweeters because they apparently had access to the original email from which it was drawn.
[YAWN] So….. …..some people took something OUT OF CONTEXT on Twitter? STOP THE PRESSES! OH MY GOODNESS! The article goes on to defend the SBC and their response to the Guidepost Report, and mention the “full-force assault” of Megan Basham:
In June, Basham launched a full-force assault against Lyell’s credibility with an article titled “Southern Baptists’ #MeToo Moment” published on the first day of the SBC annual meeting. Basham says whatever number of actual abuse cases may be found in the SBC, they represent such a small percentage as to be anything but a “crisis.”
Then the bulk of the article picks apart Lyell’s assertion she was held emotionally captive in an abusive relationship with Sills over a period of years — a sexual relationship Lyell insists was not consensual. Basham questions Lyell’s description of events, her claims to have reported the abuse to police, and her ability to enlist others to corroborate her story. Then Basham quotes three male friends of Lyell’s alleged abuser who all say they can’t imagine him behaving the way Lyell has described.
Geez, these people really don’t like Megan Basham.
I will admit upon further reflection, the real reason I am mad at Mark Wingfield’s article is that he didn’t cite ME as the august, authoritative, charismatic, suave, and most admired source of an attack on Jennifer Lyell’s credibility. Does he even KNOW how long it takes to make these Microsoft Paint Graphics? That’s gotta count for some sort of defamation, right? Right?
Okay, maybe not. But regardless, this just shows the level of “sniping” playing out before our eyes in the SBC press that is going on in this SBC drama.
Serious Questions Regarding the Competence of the Guidepost Solutions Report
As I noted in my previous post, Jennifer Lyell and her story is a HUGE part of the Guidepost Solutions Report. I noted in June: “Jennifer Lyell is mentioned a total of 125 times in the report, heavily occupying around 90 pages” out of the 288 page report. Her interactions with David Sills were obviously a central issue. For this reason, it is obvious why David Sills would not want to sit for an interview designed to crucify him, but look at the following incredible allegation in the Complaint:
49. SPI or Guidepost never sought statements from or interviews with Dr. Sills and Mrs. Sills, or their pastor. Neither of the Sills Plaintiffs were interviewed by Defendants SPI or Guidepost. The Sills Plaintiffs were never contacted by any police department or investigator. The Report (as it related to Dr. Sills) primarily relied on statements from Defendants Mohler and Lyell, as well as purported SBC documents.
WHAT!? You mean Guidepost NEVER SOUGHT statements or interviews with Dr. Sills, a KEY FIGURE in this whole debacle? How much did the SBC pay for this report again?
That’s right. The SBC paid two MILLION dollars to produce this report, and despite that insane amount of payment, apparently no interviews were even SOUGHT from a KEY FACTUAL WITNESS on the KEY FACTUAL CLAIM in the Guidepost Solutions Report.
If the allegations in the David and Mary Sills complaint are true, that’s not just overpayment for and “incompetent” report. That’s getting to the level of “bribery” and “kickback” levels of overpayment for an incompetent report.
Serious Questions Regarding SBC Actions Regarding David Sills.
And even apart from the Guidepost Report, we also note that if these allegations are true, there were serious problems in the SBC Executive Leadership throwing money out the window to appease one potentially wronged party, WITHOUT EVEN BOTHERING TO TALK to David Sills, the other potentially wronged party.
49. On February 22, 2022, in anticipation of the Report, Defendants SBC, Executive Committee, McLaurin, and Slade published a public statement that offered an apology to Defendant Lyell. At that time, Defendants SBC, Executive Committee, McLaurin, and Slade paid Lyell an undisclosed amount, purportedly in lieu of Lyell filing a defamation and libel suit.
50. In that statement issued by Executive Committee, McLaurin and Slade, Defendants characterized Baptist Press’ reporting as “inaccurate,” meaning, the reportedly consensual affair was now not consensual, and the relationship between the SBC Senior Executive Jennifer Lyell and the SBC minister, Dr. Sills, was deemed abusive and forced. Defendants Executive Committee, McLaurin, and Slade stated that Lyell’s allegations of “nonconsensual sexual abuse were investigated and unequivocally corroborated by the SBC entities with authority over (Lyell) and her abuser.” The Sills were deliberately omitted from the Defendants’ investigatory process.
What is going on there? Who is advising these SBC higher-ups? Oh, that’s right. There were three lawyers who were advising that the SBC do LITERALLY THE OPPOSITE of what they ended up doing. As I wrote in the previous post:
Instead, the “problem” of the SBC regarding Jennifer Lyell is that after he was already fired, she decided to “tell her story” by reporting things to the Baptist Press, and (according to the Guidepost Report at page 84), three lawyers with at least two brain-cells to spare noticed that, according to Jennifer Lyell herself, Jennifer Lyell was driving across the state of Indiana to meet David Sills in an “abusive” relationship.
Aaaaaaand, they thought that insinuating that David Sills was an “abuser” in this situation would lead to defamation.
YEAH, YA THINK?Source: J. Caleb Jones’s downright prophetic legal analysis from June 21, 2022, which was the product of at least two brain cells that weren’t fighting.
I Have Personal Experience With Some of the Allegations
The Complaint notes that there was a problem with the publicly-released Guidepost Solutions Report that put “footnotes” for various facts, but did not provide any way for those underlying sources to be viewed. The Complaint states the following:
55. On May 22, 2022, Defendants SPI and Guidepost published their report (“the Report”), stating:
[Lyell] told Dr. Mohler and her boss at Lifeway that any sexual contact she had with Professor Sills had been nonconsensual and involved violence, threats of violence against her and others, and coercion. Dr. Mohler clearly understood not only the nature of Ms. Lyell’s disclosure but expressly stated that he believed Ms. Lyell and stated that that it was his opinion that she had been abused by Professor Sills.
The passage included footnotes (210, 211) to make it appear legitimately supported by evidence, however, the footnotes did not send a reader to any source of evidence. Instead, the cited authority merely sent a reader to the Guidepost’s website, where only credentialed employees could log in.
Sure enough, I ran into this problem when I was writing my previous post. That is why when I was researching the post I read, I wanted to see the background information. When I couldn’t get to that background information, I wrote a nice email asking the following:
I’m an independent journalist (which is a nice way to say I have a blog) trying to do a basic break-down of what is in the Guidepost Solutions Report on the SBC and give some more info. I noticed that there are hundreds of footnotes that cite to certain info in a “sharepoint” drive. Is there any way to access these documents that are cited?
In a phone call, I was told that, no, there was no way for me to get those documents on the “sharepoint” drive. Instead, those documents were in the possession of either the SBC Executive Committee or the Task Force, and therefore they were not public documents. I noted that conversation in the post:
However, if you have a question for Guidepost about the report, at least they will direct you to a very nice man in New York City that is very prompt in giving responses. So, at least there’s that. I have no complaints on that end.
Had I had access to those documents, it’s possible that my little exposé that assumed that David Sills and Jennifer Lyell had a sexual relationship would have been different. Who knows? Maybe I’m a witness in this case?
So What Actually Happened? We don’t Know. But Here are the Possibilities Based on What is Admitted
People who are not in the SBC or Christian world may wonder how someone can have “an affair” if there is “no sexual intercourse” at any time. Well, it’s possible, but it deserves some explanation. All we know right now is that there was “no sexual intercourse.” That still leaves a bunch open as to what could have actually happened between these two, including things that may be “unseemly” but acceptable in the ordinary world, that are absolutely SHOCKING in the Southern Baptist world. Kissing, hugging, flirtatious texts, groping, and even getting to “third base” might still be up for grabs (no pun intended) as a thing that actually happened between Sills and Lyell. However, this is the only stuff that Sills admits to:
9. Dr. Sills never denied that an inappropriate relationship took place and, as a consequence, rightly resigned from positions within the SBC. On May 28, 2018, Dr. Sills was asked by Defendants if he had a morally inappropriate relationship and he confirmed that he had. Nevertheless, Defendant Lyell did not accept the reproach from SBC members when the relationship was revealed as consensual, despite its truth. Instead, Ms. Lyell, relying on her expertise as an accomplished writer and executive in the fields of advertising and publishing within the SBC, a lucrative and powerful position, constructed a false narrative against Dr. Sills and Mrs. Sills, at the height of awareness of SBC scandals.
. . .
13. Plaintiff, Dr. Michael David Sills (hereinafter “David Sills” or “Dr. Sills”), was a Southern Baptist missiologist, professor, and author in the Southern Baptist Convention before resigning his professional positions as a consequence of having a morally inappropriate consensual intimate relationship with Defendant, Jennifer Lyell. Dr. Sills is a citizen of the state of Mississippi.
. . .
Defendants SBC, LifeWay, Lyell, Geiger, Executive Committee, Litton, McLaurin, Slade, Seminary, and Mohler, and each of them, understood the value of making an example out of SBC member and employee David Sills who, without controversy, had admitted to an affair with Lyell and willingly accepted the SBC requirement that he depart from his position at the Seminary.
The key question is “what does this mean?” At the end of the day, that’s question that will only be answered in depositions and court documents and at trial. We know it was “morally inappropriate.” We know that it was “intimate.” We know that it was “an affair.” David Sills acknowledges that it was right for him to resign from the seminary. That is admitted.
But words that are not admitted by Sills include “abusive,” “threatening,” “sexual,” “criminal,” or “illegal.” Therefore, at the low end of the spectrum, we could have an “emotional affair,” which you can see defined and described here. At the high end of the spectrum, that would be something like kissing or sexting or something of that nature. We simply don’t know.
However, no matter what “actually happened” (unless David Sills and his wife are completely lying) all of this is FAR beneath the “ick” factor of what David Sills alleges was falsely stated about him as a criminal predator and sexual abuser. As such, his reputation truly has been tarnished.
As such, assuming he and his wife are not completely lying, that’s clearly “defamatory” if I’ve ever seen it.
How Al Mohler is Seriously Under the Gun
We also seem to have the allegation that the person who was most responsible for this entire situation to crucify David Sills was Al Mohler, current President of the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary. According to the allegations in the Complaint, Mohler did not get “caught up” in a moral panic. Instead, he threw Sills to the wolves to protect himself from the moral panic. He is alleged to be almost as guilty as Jennifer Lyell herself:
33. In Spring 2018, Ms. Lyell confessed to Defendants Geiger, Lifeway, SBC, Executive Committee, Seminary, and Mohler, about her affair with Dr. Sills. Lyell had not anticipated the significant amount of negative reaction she would receive within the SBC community. The negative opinions threatened her powerful vice president position at LifeWay, a subsidiary of SBC.
34. Shortly after initiating the disclosure and reporting by Lyell, Defendant Geiger was promoted to the position of Senior Pastor at an SBC megachurch in Orange County, California.
35. In this same period, Defendant Mohler was presented an opportunity. Mohler was reeling from public scorn for having publicly supported his friend, C.J. Mahaney, the former leader of Sovereign Grace Ministries, after Mahaney allegedly covered up incidents of child sex abuse. Mohler was looking for, and found in Lyell’s story, an opportunity to restore his own reputation in the SBC, particularly on the subject of concealed sex abuse. Notably, in a subsequent statement made in February 2019, in an effort to distance himself from Mahaney, Mohler said that when he signed a statement in 2013 supporting Mahaney, he thought an independent investigation of the allegations of sexual and domestic abuse had been initiated. He said at the time that he didn’t learn until the prior year that Mahaney and other Sovereign Grace Ministry leaders had not participated in that investigation.
36. The SBC had also not anticipated the public reaction and sought to control it. Unable to withstand the backlash, in March 2019 Ms. Lyell rebranded what she had first reported about the affair. In furtherance of that effort, and directly reporting to Defendants Geiger, Lifeway, SBC, Executive Committee, Seminary, and Mohler, Defendant Lyell offered to write about the affair. Specifically, Ms. Lyell, the highest-ranking woman in the SBC at the time, offered to write for the public relations arm of Defendant Executive Committee, namely, Baptist Press. Defendants Mohler and Seminary urged Lyell to write the public relations piece.
37. This offer was meaningful for the SBC and Executive Committee, as Defendants SBC and Executive Committee were experiencing extensive criticism for their alleged mishandling of significant sexual abuse cases. Upon information and belief, the proposed article by Ms. Lyell was expected to demonstrate the SBC’s reformative efforts in addressing sexual abuse cases, including against many tender-aged victims. At that time, Ms. Lyell allegedly promoted the piece as a way to document online Dr. Sills’ purported record of abuse, so as to prevent him from obtaining employment.
How much of that is true? I don’t know. But if any of it is true, that is some extremely significant stuff, in addition to the things the definitely make Sills sound like a criminal sexual abuser. For example, in a communication cited in the Complaint, the following text appears:
The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary
July 8, 2022
In 2018, Jennifer Lyell came to me with an accusation of sexual abuse by David Sills. We followed appropriate processes and the accusation of abuse was confirmed, as we indicated publicly and have subsequently confirmed. Statements directly made by Sills in the course of our confrontation clearly confirmed the allegation of abuse.
Keep in mind, at this time in July of 2022, the allegation from Jennifer Lyell was not an “inappropriate relationship,” but a CRIMINAL SEXUAL relationship. That’s dangerously close to per-se defamation. If the allegations in the Sills Complaint are true (namely, that there was NEVER any sexual intercourse), then that is a damning statement.
How The Crazy Just Got Crazier
Not only do we have the complete reversal of what we all previously thought – which is that there was a SEXUAL relationship between Sills and Lyell – which may or may not have been abusive, we have something else in this complaint:
6. At all relevant times, Ms. Lyell was well above the age of consent (i.e., 26 years of age) when she met Dr. Sills and did initiate and affirmatively cultivate and maintain a personal and emotionally intimate relationship with Plaintiff Dr. Sills.
7. As an acquisitions editor for Moody Publishers, and then as senior publishing executive for LifeWay, Ms. Lyell lived several hundred miles and many hours away from Dr. Sills, in the states of Illinois and Tennessee, and she would drive several hundred miles to see him.
8. Plaintiff Sills ended the relationship with Defendant Lyell who nevertheless persisted her pursuit of Sills and undertook efforts to reach Dr. Sills through his family.
In other words, the allegations from the Sills are not only that the relation ship was not sexual and not abusive, but also that it was LYELL who was the initiator here.
Why The SBC Higher Ups Better Call a Lawyer, Pronto
Back when it was assumed that there was definitely some sexual relationship between David Sills and Jennifer Lyell, it seemed like the concentration on this relationship was overkill. Now, however, if these allegations are true, there is a serious, SERIOUS legal liability for the SBC higher ups. This is what we read in some of the most dangerous paragraphs for the defendants:
60. Defendants SPI and Guidepost perpetuated a false narrative in a Report, in exchange for payment and in concert with Defendants SBC, LifeWay, Lyell, Geiger, Executive Committee, Litton, Barber, McLaurin, Slade, Seminary, and Mohler. The Report, published in May 2022, redirected its several hundred thousand readers to prior false statements and reported conclusions that were not true.
61. Outrageously, Defendants published on page 169 of their “List of Abusers” a photo of Dr. Sills, styled as a “mug shot” alongside which Defendants labelled Dr. Sills as an abuser, despite no criminal investigation, no criminal charges, and no due process. Notably, very few of the individuals listed in the 200+ page listing have a photo entry. Indeed, the few “mug shot” style photos primarily accompany the listings for individuals lawfully convicted of heinous crimes. Defendants nevertheless included a photo and listing for Dr. Sills, a man who was never charged, never convicted, and never even interviewed. Defendants nevertheless published that Dr. Sills was fired for sexually abusing Lyell (whose name is redacted) for 12 years. The published information is false.
Remember when I made that somewhat outrageous suggestion that the $2,000,000 payment to Guidepost Solutions was a “bribery” or “kickback” levels of overpayment? That’s not my idea. THAT’S WHAT IS ALLEGED IN THE COMPLAINT.
In other words, the Complaint alleges that this was not defamation merely as a result of “ignorance” or getting caught up in a moral outrage. Instead, the allegation is the following:
THE GUIDEPOST SOLUTIONS REPORT ITSELF WAS A PART OF A CONSPIRACY TO USE DAVID SILLS AS A SACRIFICIAL SCAPEGOAT TO DEFLECT ATTENTION AWAY FROM OTHER PROBLEMS IN THE SBC.
Or as the Complaint says:
62. Defendants SPI and Guidepost understood their complicit role in the Defendants’ public relations plan and at all relevant times acted as agents of Defendants SBC, Executive Committee, and Lyell. Notably, Defendants included language in their agreement that Defendants SBC and Executive Committee would indemnify Guidepost under a variety of circumstances, and under no circumstance would Guidepost be liable to SBC or Executive Committee for its work in relation to the investigation. In other words, the risk to SPI and Guidepost for failing to implement the well-established principals of independent investigation was eliminated. SPI and Guidepost were not independent and were merely an extension of Defendants SBC, Executive Committee, Lyell, and Mohler.
Yeah, that’s right. The allegation is the THE SBC GUIDEPOST SOLUTIONS REPORT WAS ONE BIG FRAUD. And while you might think that we’ll never know whether that is true, what we do know is that David and Mary Sills have the ability to get court orders so that THEY can find out, regardless of whether WE find out. That’s huge.
Who is Being Sued by David Sills and Mary Sills
The title of this post is “Complaint of David and Mary Sills vs. Jennifer Lyell, Al Mohler, and Almost Everyone in the SBC World.” That’s obviously a bit of hyperbole (but not much). Here are all of the people that are being sued by David Sills and Mary Sills:
- Southern Baptist Convention
- Dr. Ed Litton
- Lifeway Christian Resources of the Southern Baptist Convention
- Jennifer Lyell
- Eric Geiger
- Executive Committee of the Southern Baptist Convention
- Willie McLaurin
- Rolland Slade
- Bart Barber
- The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary
- Dr. R. Albert Mohler, Jr.
- SolutionPoint International, Inc. d/b/a Guidepost Solutions
- Guidepost Solutions LLC
What the Claims are Against These Defendants
Importantly, this is not merely a claim for “defamation.” It includes other claims as well. Those claims are:
- Defamation and Defamation Per Se
- Intentional Infliction of Emotional Distress
In Virginia, where I practice, an “Ad Damnum” clause is required in all complaints for monetary damages, which seeks an actual number for the amount of damages sought. However, it appears there is no such requirement in Alabama. As such, we do not know how much money we are talking. However, in light of the deep pockets of many of these defendants, and the description of damages sought, it’s likely a large amount of cash:
103. Plaintiffs have suffered general and special damages, including a severe degree of mental stress and anguish which have disrupted their daily routine and caused a high degree of psychological pain.
104. Plaintiffs have also suffered damage to their reputation and image, both up to the present and into the future.
105. Plaintiffs have suffered lost income.
106. Plaintiffs have been shunned from their church and denied access to their lifelong religion.
And that’s what the Plaintiffs are claiming and what the Defendants are up against. The Complaint is below: