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Karen Swallow Prior

Karengate Update: Anonymous Patsy Takes Responsibility. The Bucks Call BS!

With the Annual Southern Baptist Convention less than a week away, there is some late drama unfolding as some have already commenced their travels to Anaheim. With the Sex Abuse Task Force Report dominating conversation, Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary wrapped up its “investigation” into the leaked draft used to blackmail and defame Tom Buck. Evangelical Dark Web explained Karengate back in April.

In a statement released on Wednesday evening, SEBTS announced it had uncovered the party responsible for leaking the rough draft. The statement concludes with a portion from the board of trustees which is being shown first as it is a summation of conclusion and process SEBTS underwent.

The Board of Trustees of Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary unanimously expresses our support for Drs. Danny Akin, Keith Whitfield, and Karen Swallow Prior. We stand behind the administration and the internal investigation that found no evidence of involvement from SEBTS personnel in the distribution of the Jennifer Buck essay for the purpose of disparagement and blackmail of Dr. Tom Buck. We denounce the actions undertaken against the Bucks and pray that those involved will come forward and seek forgiveness.

In essence, SEBTS investigated itself and found no evidence of wrongdoing.

Tom Buck claimed that SEBTS had promised an independent investigation into the matter which evidently will not come to fruition. The SEBTS statement has this explanation for the events:

The call was moderated, as were previous conversations, by Rachael Denhollander. During that call, Dr. Buck asked if SEBTS would be open to a third-party investigation and to waive any attorney/client privilege on the matters at hand. Dr. Akin whole-heartedly agreed to the plan, and so did the Bucks. The goal of the call was to specify the scope of the investigation and identify a firm to conduct the investigation. Discussions around the scope of the proposed investigation and the firm to conduct the investigation did not reach an agreed upon conclusion.

Enter the Patsy

SEBTS then claims an anonymous couple took responsibility for the blackmail attempt.

We did confirm that Dr. Prior had in 2018 sent the article to one outlet for publication, with permission from the Bucks. We did not find any emails or evidence to suggest it had been sent to any other individual or entity since Dr. Prior’s employment began at SEBTS in July 2020. In addition, SEBTS received a signed and notarized affidavit from Todd Benkert saying that he has “no information that would implicate anyone from Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary” as being a part of any effort to disparage or blackmail Dr. Buck.

On June 8, 2022, SEBTS was informed that an anonymous couple had reached out to Rachael Denhollander to take responsibility for the attempted use of the Buck’s article draft as retaliation for Pastor Buck’s raising concerns related to an individual at Willy Rice’s church. This couple provided corroborating information to validate that they were the original actors and that they acted alone. They affirmed that the individual they contacted at Southeastern, Keith Whitfield, informed them that Dr. Prior would not corroborate the article, and that they both urged them not to publish it. Further, the couple confirmed that no one else was aware of or assisted them in these efforts. They have expressed deep grief at the harm they have caused. Based on this information and the efforts that SEBTS has undergone in reviewing and attempting to retrieve any helpful information related to this matter, we believe it is no longer necessary to participate in an independent inquiry.
[Emphasis Added]

An anonymous patsy coming forward to take responsibility leading to a very fast conclusion to an investigation and subsequent statement. This is the perfect alibi to exonerate Karen Swallow Prior and other SEBTS staff for their involvement in the conspiracy.

While some may still have “but what about” questions, we believe the investigation and new evidence is sufficient to bring this matter to a close regarding SEBTS’ involvement. Any remaining questions should be directed to those directly involved.

In George Costanza fashion, SEBTS takes the moment to exit stage right.

The Bucks Respond

Unconvinced by the narrative that anonymous patsies carried out a blackmail conspiracy alone, the Bucks turned to Janet Mefferd while they travel to Anaheim. SEBTS claims that Karen Swallow Prior sent the rough draft with permission to one news source. The Bucks share their itemized response to this claim

RESPONSE: Dr. Prior has confirmed, and the Bucks have acknowledged, that she sent a copy of Jennifer’s rough draft to Christianity Today editor Andrea Palpant Dilley. However, in a statement included in Dr. Akin’s April 19 letter to the FBC Lindale elders, Dr. Prior states, without equivocation, “I shared the essay with prospective publications.” In the May 6 Zoom call, she stated that she only sent the draft to one person: Ms. Palpant Dilley. But when pressed on the Zoom call about the disparity between those two claims, Dr. Prior stated that she doesn’t remember sending the draft to anyone besides Ms. Palpant Dilley, and that she doesn’t know for sure if she sent the draft to any other publications. When Dr. Akin more specifically asked her whether or not she sent the rough draft to anyone within the last year, she said, “Not that I recall.”

Furthermore, the Bucks never gave Dr. Prior permission to send anyone an unedited version of the rough draft. Until Dr. Prior released their original email exchanges to Jennifer, Jennifer did not recall that she had given Dr. Prior permission to forward the rough draft to any publications. That misunderstanding later was cleared up, but Tom had conveyed in writing to Dr. Prior back in 2018 that any rough draft she sent to a publication first had to be edited. Even with that directive, Dr. Prior forwarded the unedited rough draft to Ms. Palpant Dilley.

SEBTS states that it hasn’t uncovered any emails or evidence to suggest that Dr. Prior sent the rough draft to anyone since July 2020, but that date is irrelevant. Dr. Prior stated on the Zoom call that even she has heard that the rough draft has been circulating “for years,” so the leaker had to have released the draft prior to July 2020. Also, SBC Voices’ Todd Benkert’s affidavit claim that says he has no information implicating any SEBTS employee “as being a part of any effort to disparage or blackmail Dr. Buck” is irrelevant, due to the fact that the Bucks have never accused any person at SEBTS of trying to “disparage or blackmail” them. SEBTS also has not released any affidavit from Dr. Prior.

There are several additional, previously undisclosed, reasons why a thorough, independent investigation of the Buck scandal must take place.

  • Ms. Palpant Dilley stated in a June 6 email to Jennifer that she never sent the rough draft to anyone after receiving it from Dr. Prior. In response to Jennifer’s queries, Ms. Palpant Dilley confirmed that she never shared or sent the rough draft to anyone inside or outside of Christianity Today. She also confirmed that no one contacted her between March 26 and April 11 to verify or authenticate the rough draft. If true, this means that Ms. Palpant Dilley can be ruled out as the leaker. The only person remaining who possessed the rough draft with Jennifer’s permission is the person who admittedly furnished it to Christianity Today: Dr. Prior.
  • In addition, Baptist News Global writer David Bumgardner — who wrote a much-maligned April 11 article about the Bucks, in which he alluded to the rough draft — recently revealed to Tom the name of an SEBTS graduate whom he claims not only has a copy of the rough draft, but also served as one of his major sources on the controversial story.
  • On the Zoom calls, the testimonies of provost Whitfield and Dr. Prior regarding the Buck scandal also conflicted in several areas. For example, when asked in the May 6 Zoom call why she didn’t contact Jennifer to inform her that someone was seeking to publish her rough draft, Dr. Prior said that it was because she was scared of Tom and considered him a “bully.” But in the May 11 Zoom call, Whitfield said Dr. Prior gave a different reason to him, saying she stated that she was under no obligation to contact Jennifer about the leaked rough draft.

Multiple publications quickly turned into only Christianity Today. But the David Bumgardner bullet point shows there was more SEBTS involvement than Daniel Akin cares to admit. In response to the patsy claims, the Bucks state:

RESPONSE: Tom and Jennifer have read the “anonymous couple’s” email, as have I. First of all, it simply beggars belief that Dr. Akin is now coupling his insufficient investigatory efforts with the unsubstantiated claims of an unidentified person — sent via an anonymous email address, through a contact page on Ms. Denhollander’s website — to justify cancelling an independent investigation into this scandal. The sender’s identity is a mystery, and none of the claims in the email can possibly be substantiated or corroborated to validate anything. Instead of an “anonymous couple’s” unverified claims serving as grounds for cancelling an independent inquiry, they should instead serve as further rationale for proceeding with it.

Reaction

Some high profile figures have celebrated SEBTS’s handling of the situation. Beth Moore praised Karen Swallow Prior’s integrity while others simped for Danny Akin.

The conservatives in the denomination seem to reject the anonymous patsy narrative, as the Bucks have.

Analysis

This will certainly give conservatives something to rally around at the upcoming convention, but that does not mean it will bolster their turnout. Additionally, the main purpose of the SEBTS statements seem to be protecting Karen Swallow Prior, the central figure in Karengate.

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