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." - RNS

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T Howard's picture

So, now we'll see how the SBC handles cases when the alleged abuser turns the tables on the SBC and his alleged victim. Will the SBC settle instead or go to court? I think the SBC has backed itself into a corner on this one, and it would be hard to settle with someone whom it has labeled as an abuser.

Given what I've read, I do believe Sills and Lyell engaged in a consensual sexual relationship. Sills should have been fired, but he should not have been labeled as an abuser.

Bert Perry's picture

What's worth noting is that Sills' sin  was first of all a professor with a student--always especially problematic because of course a professor is an authority figure who has the power to grade the student.  Sills was also a mission trip leader--imagine "do this or you're out of luck in a foreign land without resources"--so Sills' argument that it was "consensual" really falls flat.

It's also worth noting that when it came out, SBC sources wrote about Lyell as if it were consensual, more or less costing her her job.  So Sills is, if he continues, not only going to join the ranks of "men who have tangled with Rachael Denhollander and gotten beaten badly" (yes, she's involved), but also risks having his picture placed beneath the definition of chutzpah.

Aspiring to be a stick in the mud.

T Howard's picture

Bert Perry wrote:

What's worth noting is that Sills' sin  was first of all a professor with a student--always especially problematic because of course a professor is an authority figure who has the power to grade the student.  Sills was also a mission trip leader--imagine "do this or you're out of luck in a foreign land without resources"--so Sills' argument that it was "consensual" really falls flat.

It's also worth noting that when it came out, SBC sources wrote about Lyell as if it were consensual, more or less costing her her job.  So Sills is, if he continues, not only going to join the ranks of "men who have tangled with Rachael Denhollander and gotten beaten badly" (yes, she's involved), but also risks having his picture placed beneath the definition of chutzpah.

Bert, we'll see how it plays out. Personally, I don't buy the professor / student or mission trip leader power dynamic argument. They were both consenting adults that had a relationship that lasted for many years after these contexts. I know you and I went round and round about this, so I have no desire to rehash.

 

Bert Perry's picture

Was Sills in a position to give Lyell grades?  Yes.

Was Sills in a position of authority on that mission trip, with power to make things easy or very difficult for Lyell?  Yes.

Was Sills in a position where he would likely be called upon for things like recommendations?  Yes.

Sorry, Tom, this is not that difficult.  I've been a TA at the college level, and there are certain lines instructors simply should not cross.  My company specifically prohibits managers from dating subordinates for the same reason.  The lines of consent are simply blurred when one person is under the authority of another.  This is at the core of a lot of scandals, including the Nassar scandal.  People simply deferred too much to the authority of the doctor--at MSU, but also at Michigan with Robert Anderson (who may have mentored Nassar to a degree), at Ohio State, at USC, UCLA, at USA Gymnastics, and more.

We sometimes don't clue in because it's nowhere near as visibly obvious as the classic example of forcible stranger rape or even date rape, but it's a huge issue nonetheless.

Aspiring to be a stick in the mud.

Mark_Smith's picture

Over the years I've been witness to several incidents of teachers and students having a "relationship". In fact, my high school history and government teacher, who was also the women's basketball coach and later the high school principal, married a former student!

Even older than that I know of two couples that dated while teacher/student and then married (this was 60+ years ago). Neither of these cases would be acceptable in 2022 though they were in 1992 and 1962.

More recently a professor at my school had sexual relations with everyone of his female advisees in one year... one reported it when she found out about the others. They called it "abuse" but all the women were mad the other women were involved...

Another professor had a 4 year relationship with a student that later went bad and she turned him in.

I cannot believe these are all cases of "abuse" where the "victim" had no role to play.

Likewise, in cases like the one in the article I cannot in good conscience see that as a pure power/abuse relationship. I believe at some point the women "loved" the guy. I believe they were both twisted up in sin. Now the case is all twisted up in other abuse cases and distorts the water.

To be clear what I mean, I suspect there are types of "abuse" cases:

1-pure rape and/or abuse. The man forces the women for example. Here the "sin" is all on the perpetrator.

2-ones where there is a relationship between the man and woman that is inappropriate but "consensual" in the sense that both "want" the relationship.  That doesn't make it legal or legitimate, but it does change the dynamic from a "sin"perspective.

Bert Perry's picture

It's not that the women don't have any moral agency, but rather that their freedom of decision is limited by the authority of the perpetrator.  Again, if you're a professor, you've got the power to grade, the power to grant recommendations, and the like.  If you're a ministry leader, you've got the power to make ministry very easy or very difficult.  Hence the question of consent is obscured.

And if you think about it; if you're the pastor or professor who does fall for a parishioner or student, don't you want that special young lady to be totally confident she's going into things of her own free will and not pressured?  It's not like "don't date people where you assign grades" and the like ought to be controversial when you think about it, no?

It is also important here that we differentiate between sexual assault and sexual abuse.  Sexual assault is a category that is criminal, really various levels of what we'd colloquially call rape.  Sexual abuse is a broader category, not necessarily criminal, where the behavior is seen as unfair and (generally) sinful, but not necessarily criminal.  

Aspiring to be a stick in the mud.

T Howard's picture

Bert Perry wrote:

It's not that the women don't have any moral agency, but rather that their freedom of decision is limited by the authority of the perpetrator.  Again, if you're a professor, you've got the power to grade, the power to grant recommendations, and the like.  If you're a ministry leader, you've got the power to make ministry very easy or very difficult.  Hence the question of consent is obscured.

I guess if you constantly tell women that their "freedom of decision is limited" anytime there is an authority / power difference between an adult woman and an adult man, you're going to create lots of "victims." I didn't raise my daughters to believe their freedom of decision is limited in these situations. They always have the power and freedom to say no. If they lose their job or get a lower grade in their class, that's still no reason to say yes. See Joseph.

But, apparently, you're not allowed to say this is today's #metoo culture without "victim blaming."

 

dcbii's picture

EditorModerator

T Howard wrote:

But, apparently, you're not allowed to say this is today's #metoo culture without "victim blaming."

Isn't that the truth.

Dave Barnhart

Bert Perry's picture

What would we say about, say, Potiphar's wife, then?  Would we not say that she was a sexual abuser?  Would we in any sane way call her attempted relationship with Joseph "consensual" in light of the fact that she was able to throw Joseph into jail if he refused?  In light of the fact that she could tear off Joseph's clothing without repercussions?

In the same way, although the word "force" or "rape" is not explicitly used in the story of Bathsheba, there is a reason Ahitophel commits treason and works to get David killed--and the hypothesis of "pressure" being used makes a lot more sense than "just adultery between two consenting adults".  There's also a hint of this in Exodus 22:16-17, where the man who entices or seduces a woman must pay the bride-price, whether or not he was allowed to marry her.  If the father judged that the relationship was not equitable, he was free to demand the bride-price and deny the bride.

It's worth noting that neither Joseph, Bathsheba nor the seduced girl is blamed for her part in this, and my contention is that Scripture is acknowledging here that when degrees of compulsion are used, that person is not blameworthy for that particular series of events.  This is especially the case when we consider Bathsheba; if she were a consenting adult, should she not be blamed?  You also have the examples of Leviticus 18, most of which deal with varying forms of incest--our law today recognizes that such victims are victims and not willing participants, for the most part.

I think that's instructive for cases like this.  It's commendable when a person resists and suffers to avoid sin, but I think that if you read carefully, there's Biblical examples that at least seem compatible with the notion that when a level of compulsion is used like this, the victim of that compulsion is indeed a victim, not a willing participant.

Aspiring to be a stick in the mud.

G. N. Barkman's picture

Joseph refused the advances of Potiphar's wife, even though it cost him enormously.  He did the right thing in spite of the imbalance of power between them.  Why isn't that the expected response of all Christians in a similar situation?  If the Christian caves in because of the potential cost, why are they not blameworthy?  

Of coarse it is wrong for anyone, man or woman, to use their position to pressure someone under their authority to sin with them.  But it is also wrong for the targeted person to yield to sinful pressure.  Both are guilty.  Enough of this nonsense that says, either directly, or by implication, that the targeted person must not be held responsible for their part in the sinful activity.  Both are guilty.  As Joseph demonstrates, saying No, and doing whatever is necessary to enforce No is always an option, and is the response that pleases the Lord.

G. N. Barkman

T Howard's picture

Even though Joseph's "freedom of decision was limited" because of the power imbalance in the relationship, notice that he knew giving into the wife's demands would be sin and notice that he chose the consequences of saying no to the wife instead of later playing the victim card or making excuses for his sin.

Notice also how God ultimately blessed Joseph for his obedience by using the consequences of saying no to the wife to provide Joseph an opportunity to stand before the king.

Regardless, apparently we must communicate to a seminary adult woman (and all adult Christian women) that "her freedom of decision is limited" to say no to the advances of a seminary professor / boss / mission leader / pastor. After all, she might not get an A in her seminary class. Or, she might be "out of luck" on a missions trip.

Good grief.

Where are the adult Christian women who choose to honor God and say, "I don't care what grade you give me in this class. I don't care if I lose the promotion. I don't care if you fire me. I'm not going to sleep with you. I'm going to honor God with my body."

Brothers, we are doing a disservice to our daughters, our wives, and our Christian sisters if we continue to teach them that their "freedom of decision is limited" in these situations. We are teaching them that they are helpless victims. Instead, we must do better. We must teach them to honor God and be willing to suffer the consequences for doing so, knowing that God will bless their obedience.

And, just so that I'm not misunderstood... I'm not talking about cases of sexual assault / rape. I'm not talking about an adult man initiating a sexual relationship with an underage girl. I'm talking about a relationship between two Christian adults, regardless of the power dynamics.

Jay's picture

This was all exposed in 2018, right around the time Paige Patterson was fired as President of SEBTS.

So why did Sills wait almost 5 years before he finally started saying things like "there was no intercourse" and protesting his innocence publicly?  Was he unable to put his own statement online?  Why hasn't he sued Rachael Denhollander, who has steadfastly testified that this was abuse since at least the "Caring Well" conference? How do you file a police report if there is no criminal action?

These allegations have been public for years. So David just...said nothing until all of a sudden the SBC EC is investigated and there is evidence that members of the EC directed Baptist Press to slant the article against Lyell?  After she settled a defamation suit against the EC for doing so?

And Sills is the victim of a conspiracy to defame him?

It doesn't compute.

"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