Baptist seminary president gets everything wrong about the SBC’s crisis

Jason Allen is the president of the Midwestern Baptist Theological Seminary. As Judd Saul and I reported in the last edition of SBC INSIDER, Allen was subject to an article that ran in Capstone Report, which Capstone Report had to retract because it appears unlikely it was truthful. Capstone Report apologized and posted a correction. But Allen went on to write this article: “Denominational Discourse & The Future of the SBC.”

This statement by Jason Allen strikes me as rather disingenuous. Allen begins by decrying falsehoods spread on the internet, then spreads a falsehood about the Capstone Report, which is not, as Allen alleges, an “anonymous” site. It is run by Alan Atchison, which everyone has known for years. Capstone Report posted a retraction, apology, and correction within a day or so of receiving an uncorroborated tip that turned out not to be proven.

I’d like to point out that Allen has yet to speak out against the dissemination of false and damaging statements about me by the administration of his sister institution, Southwestern Baptist.

Who broke the story revealing that Adam Greenway’s administration had engaged in sketchy firings and had attempted to gag whistle-blowers from revealing misconduct under his watch? The Capstone Report.

Here’s why Allen’s statement is misleading. He situates the Capstone error within the larger structure of Southern Baptist denominational affairs. He faults alternative media for the sour relations we have noticed within the SBC. In his post, Allen goes on to say that the best way to express concerns about the direction of the SBC is to write a letter to people in power and engage in a civil, off-the-record conversation. Allen claims he is accountable to the Southern Baptist people.

Nothing could be more removed from the reality of Southern Baptist life. Alternative media such as Capstone and Conversations that Matter have arisen because of the abuse of power by office-holders within the Southern Baptist Convention and the old boys’ network that has used the denominational structure to cover up their misdeeds.

While Alan Atchison made a mistake by running a story based on a tip that looked highly questionable, here is the reality. Context matters. Given the state of affairs in the SBC, Atchison had some reason for taking the tip about Allen seriously. An anonymous tip would not have had any traction if Southern Baptist leaders operated with transparency. They don’t; they operate in secrecy. One reason that I had to start tape-recording meetings with administrators at Southwestern stemmed from the widespread practice of Southern Baptist leaders of wheeling and dealing in off-the-record meetings and not putting anything in writing.

I do not want to justify publishing hasty stories without backup evidence. But I want to know when the SBC will look at the disease rather than the symptoms. When will we address the lack of honesty and transparency in the denominational leadership?

Virtually the entire conflagration between me and the Greenway administration hinged on the Southern Baptist leadership’s tyrannical desire to keep underlings from speaking to the press. Greenway’s people were open about what they expected of Southwestern employees: we were to clear any communication and public expression through them before we contacted any outside journalists or editors. This is Soviet-level control. Why have people not sounded the alarms about what a problem this is? Instead what I hear is that “this is the way the SBC does things.” Yes, that is how the SBC does things. And it’s why the SBC is such a cesspool right now.

Their high-pressure and threatening tactics worked for years, with the result that the Houston Chronicle, Wall Street Journal, and Washington Post have all run stories about Southwestern based on carefully vetted sources selected by Southern Baptist leaders. When I submitted a resolution to the SBC seeking to roll back this intimidation of whistle-blowers, I was called in and told this was not a good idea on my part. As I gradually increased my resistance to the Southwestern administration’s control over my communiqués with press outlets, the administration tried to build a case against me in order to force me to resign. When I wouldn’t resign, they fired me.

Jason Allen’s statement comes at a time when few Southern Baptist leaders even have any credibility left.

Southern president Al Mohler had to apologize for his involvement with Sovereign Grace Ministries and its coverup of sex abuse, less than a year after Mohler virtue-signaled against Paige Patterson and called his ouster “the wrath of God” pouring out. Southeastern president Danny Akin has insisted for a long time that his administration is not imposing leftist curriculum on the seminary, but by now substantial information has surfaced showing a clear turn to the left on his campus, in case his hiring of Karen Swallow Prior left any question about his political priorities. Southwestern president Adam Greenway has been exposed for cloaking his bloodbath of firings in claims of budgetary shortfalls that cannot explain why he hired so many white men to replace those fired, and why so many of those white men came with obvious ties to Southern. And I for one cannot forget the way Greenway handled my firing.

With the presidents of Southern, Southeastern, and Southwestern all standing upon very weak credibility, Jason Allen is one of the few entity leaders who can grandstand about honesty in the media and pass the public’s smell test. So perhaps it’s understandable that he’s the one publishing essays and stirring buzz now.

Let’s assume for argument’s sake that Jason Allen is not like Greenway, Mohler, or Akin, and he will not run a reign of terror over people to control what gets reported in the press. Even if he is a man of such integrity, he would have to be blind not to see the bad faith that plagues the rest of the Convention.

Much has been said about the demise of the SBC in political terms. Traditionalists blame the liberalization, while liberals blame the close evangelical ties to Trump. In truth it is far more basic than that.

We cannot trust the people running the SBC. They have engaged in too many lies and secrecy. They have rested for too long on the assumption that their control of the press will protect them indefinitely. They have been caught in too many contradictions between their public professions and the impact of the decisions they make.

And they have been mean. Even struggling under the tyranny of the left at California State University I did not encounter the sheer villainy of the Southern Baptist leadership. It was not liberals in Los Angeles who fired me three weeks before Christmas, cut off my pay, and then forced me to grade my students’ work as free unpaid labor.

If we see leaders not telling us the full truth and we notice that their behavior is ill-motivated, we are not left with any reason to trust them. We have no reason to engage in the kind of private discussions that Jason Allen recommends in lieu of just going public and talking in open forums about the problems in the Convention. Many of us tried for years to air grievances privately and we received a blow-off or retaliation. I lost my job for trying to talk about things they didn’t want to talk about.

In the firing of Paige Patterson, Karen Swallow Prior and her fellow petitioners shifted the burden of proof. People in the SBC were no longer innocent until proven guilty; they were guilty until proven innocent. If Jason Allen believed this was not a healthy direction for the Convention, he should have stood up and called for better discussion and healthier processes then. Under the standards applied to Patterson, we still cannot say Allen didn’t talk about refugee resettlement with the Missouri governor, because we don’t have solid proof that he didn’t. Do you see why the Bill of Rights was so important to our founders?

The post-Patterson rules of engagement mean that at any time leaders will be judged by the “credibility” of an accusation rather than the truth in it. Therefore, if Jason Allen sits on the Evangelical Immigration Table and that group is lobbying governors to admit more refugees, it sounds credible to assume that when Allen met with the governor of Missouri he expressed the same message being expressed by the EIT to which Allen belongs. SBC leaders are notorious for holding meetings, keeping no written records, threatening anybody who goes to the press about what happened, and then enjoying plausible deniability when questioned. Southern Baptists can no longer assume that if someone like Allen says, “no, that didn’t happen,” we must believe him.

While I agree that Atchison made a mistake and am glad that he retracted what he wrote, the fact of the matter is, the anonymous tip was credible because of the full range of misconduct that’s been on display by Southern Baptist leaders.

So Jason Allen misdiagnoses the problem entirely. He is part of a leadership structure that contains too much corruption and holds little credibility anymore. Gone are the days when back-slapping among the good old boys and a few phone calls will make “problems” like me and Alan Atchison vanish. We have a voice.

In all likelihood Allen has raised the stature of Capstone Report. I hope so, because the Capstone Report has broken countless stories that we were never going to hear from the Baptist Press, Christian Post, Wall Street Journal, Washington Post, or Houston Chronicle. And that’s not a reason to keep harping on Alan Atchison’s mistake. It’s a reason for Allen and men like him to think long and hard about what a mess they have created. The dragons they want to slay are not going to die any time soon. Southern Baptist leaders should know, because they hatched those dragons.