On the resignation of Southern Baptist Theological Seminary (SBTS) professor David Sills

New details of former SBTS prof’s resignation alleged

 

Baptist Press reported Sills’ resignation in June 2018 based on reporting by North Carolina’s Biblical Recorder news journal, which cited a statement from the seminary affirming that Mohler “received the resignation of Dr. David Sills from the Southern Seminary faculty on May 23, 2018.”
 
It further stated, “Southern Seminary is committed to the highest standards of both principle and policy. Our policies and procedures are clear and are consistently applied. Because this is a personnel matter, we cannot comment further.”
 
Sills, former professor of missions and cultural anthropology at Southern, did not respond to request for comment.
 
Part of Lyell’s reason for being "compliant at times" and remaining silent for as long as she did, she stated, was because she “became like part of [Sills’] family” and feared “the collateral damage that telling would cause for those around him.” In her statement, Lyell accused Sills of “grooming and taking advantage of his student.”
 
Lyell first disclosed the situation to a therapist in March 2016, she said. Just over two years later, she stated the allegations to then-LifeWay Senior Vice President Eric Geiger and Mohler.
 
“When I shared what had happened to me with my boss at LifeWay [Geiger] 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,” Lyell said. “I am not a sinless victim. But I am a victim nonetheless.”
 
Geiger, senior pastor of Mariners Church in Irvine, Calif., confirmed to BP that Lyell shared her allegations with him. Geiger told Lyell he was “responsible to share” the allegations with Southern and invited her to participate in the process, Geiger recounted to Baptist Press. The same day, Geiger and Lyell contacted Mohler, he said.
 

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Dave White's picture

https://www.lyellstatementonabuse.com/

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.

TylerR's picture

Editor

Sounds like an affair, not sexual abuse. The cultural "moment" may be leading people to frame rather straightforward events as rather more sinister then they actually are. In short:

  • Two adults + consensual sex + one is married = good ole fashioned affair. 

Lyell wrote:

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.

There is, of course, another possibility. Maybe he thought she was really attractive and just wanted to keep having sex with her? 

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.

You're an adult who chose to continue an extra-marital sexual affair with a married man, while developing attachments to his grandchildren. I see ... 

It is my hope that my story, one in which a SBC entity and its leaders acted swiftly and justly to remove an abuser, but in which that same individual was also in a ministry position only months later, will also help to illustrate the need for some form of a reporting tool that can ensure that those who have victimized others from a ministry position are unable to ever do so again. The only way I know to do that is to come forward myself. So, this is my way of doing just that. May God be glorified.

One way to glorify God would be to for you, an adult female in grad school, to not knowingly engage in extra-marital sexual relationships with men. 

Tyler is a pastor in Olympia, WA and an Investigations Manager with a Washington State agency. He's the author of the book What's It Mean to Be a Baptist?

Dave White's picture

Wasn't there a Counselor-Counselee relationship?

If so that would be abuse:

https://ct.counseling.org/2006/01/ct-online-ethics-update-10/

The 2005 ACA Code of Ethics continues to recognize the harm that can be impacted upon clients when they are sexually intimate with their counselor. The counseling relationship is one based on trust, so we must respect the power differential inherent in any counseling relationship regardless of the counselor’s theoretical orientation or perspective. Engaging in any type of sexual or intimate relationship with a current client is abuse of power. Clients come into counseling emotionally and psychologically vulnerable and in need of assistance, so a counselor trying to engage in such relationships would be trying to take advantage of that client and their vulnerabilities to meet their own needs. Relational/cultural theory frames this as striving for a “power with” instead of a “power over” relationship.

 

Jay's picture

It's not an affair if Sills was her Seminary professor when they first started their relationship.  It's sexual and spiritual abuse, because Sills had the power to affect her life / schooling if she refused his advances.

This is what she said:

"...but it was something along the lines of, “I was sexually abused by one of my seminary professors."

She does bear moral culpability for continuing the relationship, but this is textbook grooming and abuse.

"Our task today is to tell people — who no longer know what sin is...no longer see themselves as sinners, and no longer have room for these categories — that Christ died for sins of which they do not think they’re guilty." - David Wells

TylerR's picture

Editor

If by "grooming" you mean that the facts suggest a married, adult seminary professor succeeded in convincing an adult female to have an extended, consensual, knowingly extra-marital sexual relationship with him for a period of 12 years (from her 26th to 38th year of age), then I'm willing to accept that definition of "grooming." In this specific context, another phrase would have routinely used to describe this conduct just two years ago - an affair.

To segue to pop fiction, I suppose Darby Shaw (from John Grisham' s novel "The Pelican Brief") was likewise "groomed" and "abused" by her law school prof? 

I'm worried about lumping in a consensual adult sexual relationship, like Lyell's, with Larry Nasser. They're not the same. 

Tyler is a pastor in Olympia, WA and an Investigations Manager with a Washington State agency. He's the author of the book What's It Mean to Be a Baptist?

josh p's picture

I think most here would agree that Clinton and Monica were having an affair. She was not being abused. I believe she was also younger than the woman we are discussing here. 12 years is way past the time it took Lyell to graduate so the relationship changed at some point. It sounds like she is taking some responsibility for her actions which is good but I also don’t see how this is anything but an affair.

Joeb's picture

Tyler is right.  Nothing to see here and it’s nothing that doesn’t go on in other Educational Settings Christian or Secular.  I have heard about instances  in the Christian College setting when neither Prof or the Student are married and the relationship ends in marriage.  Question is are there any rules in Christian Colleges about single students and profs dating.  Many businesses ban dating coworkers these days due to the problems it creates if the two employees relationship sours.  

Jay's picture

Question is are there any rules in Christian Colleges about single students and profs dating?

If I remember correctly, BJU had rules about dating between staff and students, but I don't recall the specifics now - it's been almost 15 years.  NIU did as well, but that was generally extremely rare.

If by "grooming" you mean that the facts suggest a married, adult seminary professor succeeded in convincing an adult female to have an extended, consensual, knowingly extra-marital sexual relationship with him for a period of 12 years (from her 26th to 38th year of age), then I'm willing to accept that definition of "grooming." In this specific context, another phrase would have routinely used to describe this conduct just two years ago - an affair.

I'm not really interested in getting into this at length, but she admits that it began as abuse, when she was a student, and then transitioned into a consensual affair later on, after she graduated and didn't end the relationship. She also admits that she bears guilt for her part and that she was afraid to end the relationship because she knew the consequences would be painful and ugly and messy.

As the OP details:

Part of Lyell’s reason for being "compliant at times" and remaining silent for as long as she did, she stated, was because she “became like part of [Sills’] family” and feared “the collateral damage that telling would cause for those around him.” In her statement, Lyell accused Sills of “grooming and taking advantage of his student.”
 
Lyell first disclosed the situation to a therapist in March 2016, she said. Just over two years later, she stated the allegations to then-LifeWay Senior Vice President Eric Geiger and Mohler.
 
“When I shared what had happened to me with my boss at LifeWay [Geiger] 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,” Lyell said. “I am not a sinless victim. But I am a victim nonetheless.”

Most abuse victims in this situation know the relationship is wrong but the act of coming forward and ending it seems like too high of a price to pay.  Surely you're familiar with Stockholm Syndrome, Tyler?  It's a similar warping of the person's mindset, and that's before getting into the chemical bonding that occurs during any intimate activity.

"Our task today is to tell people — who no longer know what sin is...no longer see themselves as sinners, and no longer have room for these categories — that Christ died for sins of which they do not think they’re guilty." - David Wells