A major development in the Southern Baptist Convention is the defamation lawsuit filed by David Sills, a former seminary professor, against the SBC and other major entities and persons. Unfortunately, it took the Christian Post to the 17th of December to report on a story that broke around Thanksgiving last month. In their reporting they undoubtedly side with the Me Too narrative framing the incident as a professor student relationship, when Jennifer Lyell, the supposed victim was also a powerful LifeWay executive.
The headline “Ex-seminary professor accused of sexual abuse by student sues SBC for defamation” frames the relationship as inappropriate for the wrong reasons, ignoring that seminary is a master’s or doctorate level academic institution. Moreover, to frame Lyell as a student in the headline implies she was far younger than she actually was, 26 at the start of the incident. Christian Post makes no mention of Lyell’s age when this relationship started. The relationship was inappropriate because Sills, and possibly Lyell, were married over the course of the on and off twelve years. But there is something sensational about a teacher student relationship story that does not exist in a regular extramarital relations story.
A former Southern Baptist Convention seminary professor accused of sexual abuse by a student has filed a defamation lawsuit against the SBC and several other entities, claiming he was an “easy target” and a “bona fide scapegoat” in the sex abuse scandal surrounding the denomination.
David Sills, a former professor of missions and cultural anthropology at Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville, Kentucky, and his wife, Mary, filed a complaint on Nov. 21 in the Circuit Court of Mobile, Alabama.
The article would never go on to give Sills side of the story, a relevant detail in a defamation lawsuit; rather it repeats the line in the complaint referenced in the first paragraph.
David Sills alleges that the relationship was consensual and not sexual, a surprising development. He has also alleged that he unilaterally broke off the relationship, an event that did not go over well with Lyell. Additionally, David Sills argued that he accepted the responsibility for his actions while Lyell did not and conspired with other Southern Baptist figures to use him as a scapegoat for a Me Too agenda, in order to improve their own reputations. It’s worth noting that these events took place during the height of the Me Too Movement. You aren’t going to find these details that are in the complaint in the Christian Post article.
Instead they move straight to reporting the SBC’s narrative to an audience that in broadly Christian.
Lyell, who served as vice president of LifeWay Christian Resources, posted a confession in 2018 claiming how Sills, who has been married for over 30 years, sexually abused her and groomed her. At the time, Lyell maintained that she faced opposition when seeking justice through the SBC.
In February, Lyell received a public apology from the SBC executive committee over its handling of the matter.
Again, no mention of Lyell’s age is in this article. Nor is their commentary on how influential a VP at LifeWay is when it comes to authors trying to get published. The article characterizes the Southern Baptist Convention as repentant for its handling of Lyell’s case while also characterizes David and Mary Sills as complaining about receiving the due consequences for their actions. But this lawsuit is far more complicated than that. This a reporting by Leah Klett was far too reliant on Baptist Press, an entity owned by one of the defendants in the lawsuit.
It’s one thing to be late to a story. It’s another to copy a propaganda outlet’s notes in order to catch up.