Statement from Chairman Jonathan Richard
On August 4, Religion News Service (RNS) published a story largely based on claims by former Southwestern Seminary trustee Aaron Sligar that require a response from the board to set the record straight. RNS gave the seminary an opportunity to offer comments for the story. My comments were limited in nature to be as gracious as possible and in the hope that our institution can look to the future, rather than dwell in the past. However, Sligar’s irresponsible and false claims must be answered forthrightly. While it would be our preference to focus our energies on the mission of Southwestern Seminary, we are keenly aware of the confusion caused by allowing misinformation to go unanswered.
During its May 30 special meeting, the board directed the officers to investigate Sligar and Andrew Bunnell to determine if they engaged in misconduct as trustees. Subsequently and separately, both trustees resigned. Unlike Bunnell, Sligar continued his pattern of making reckless and false claims about the board, especially its leadership. Our mandate as trustees is to hold the institution in trust on behalf of churches of the Southern Baptist Convention, guided by truth and facts. Sligar failed to uphold this mandate, noticeably changing some of his conclusions about the former president—in coordination with at least one former seminary employee close to the former president—and trafficking in baseless allegations. This behavior was unanimously repudiated by the full board of trustees in the May 30 meeting—including a vote by Sligar himself to repudiate his own actions. Sligar’s August 4 regurgitation of his past complaints must, therefore, be viewed with appropriate skepticism.
The board officers believe that Sligar acted in a manner that qualifies as trustee misconduct and/or breach of fiduciary duty. It is my opinion that Sligar’s actions as a trustee—and especially now as a former trustee—disqualify him from holding any position of leadership in Southern Baptist life, and I hope that he will remember the pledge that he made in the May 30 meeting that he will apologize and fully retract his erroneous statements.
Several claims made by Sligar as quoted by RNS demand a response.
Concerning his claim that a forensic audit is necessary, some background information about this matter is important. As noted in board’s June 2 statement concerning allegations made by Sligar and Bunnell, during the October 2022 trustee meeting, Sligar and another trustee, Jordan Rogers, asked for a forensic audit into the expenditures of the former president. John Rayburn, chairman of the Business Administration Committee, agreed to pursue that investigation, with the board authorizing the scope to be expenditures at the President’s House and his offices.
With that authority, Rayburn assembled a task force to pursue that specific scope, with the intent of hiring an outside firm to give balance to the report. When Rayburn reported to the trustee Executive Committee (EC) that he believed an internal review of the former president’s spending at the house and offices would suffice, the EC asked if he would prefer to move forward with that review in lieu of hiring an outside auditing firm. Rayburn said he would only pursue the internal review with the blessing of Sligar and Rogers since they had called for the forensic audit. Having reviewed information provided by Rayburn, Sligar and Rogers agreed to forego the forensic audit. Sligar even volunteered to serve on the task force, which Rayburn accepted.
On April 17 during the spring trustee meeting, the EC met to discuss various matters including the presidential spending review. Sligar was invited to join the EC meeting, although he was not an EC member. Quickly, it became clear that Sligar had engaged in his own investigation beyond the scope approved by the board, and during his report targeted several other employees of the seminary in an effort to deflect attention from the former president. Nevertheless, members of the EC were interested in hearing more about the allegations. As EC members pressed Sligar for information and evidence, it became clear that Sligar had no evidence to validate his allegations, only hearsay. Considering that, the EC asked him not to report his baseless allegations to the full board as it would be slanderous to the individuals named.
Following the April board meeting, Sligar and Bunnell requested a special meeting of the board, repeating some of the allegations in the email requesting the meeting, which was leaked to the press. Although few trustees affirmed the call for a special meeting, in consultation with President David S. Dockery, then-Chairman Danny Roberts called the May 30 special meeting. Following a further and deeper investigation into the allegations by Rayburn’s task force, the findings, presented during the May 30 meeting, demonstrated no evidence of wrongdoing by the individuals wrongfully accused. On June 2, the board published a response to the allegations, summarizing the findings.
Second, concerning the use of the $11,000 espresso machine purchased by the former president and used in the kitchen of the President’s Home, there is little evidence that the purpose of the purchase was for donor events, contrary to Sligar’s claim. However, during his tenure, Greenway did regularly share on social media photos of his personal use of the machine. Unlike his predecessor, Greenway did not regularly host donors or outside guests at the President’s Home. Indeed, from 2019-2022, only two donor events were hosted at the President’s Home, both Christmas receptions. Outside of those two events, we are not aware of donors being entertained at the President’s Home. Clearly, the purchase was an example of excessive spending by the former president.
Third, Sligar claims that spending on the President’s Home identified by the trustees included spending on other projects on the campus, including other senior staff. This claim is demonstrably false, as the records make clear. Every expense included in the amount the board officers reported in its June 7 summary of findings about the former president’s spending was confirmed to be directly related to the President’s Home. In fact, the task force found that the opposite was often true as many expenses for the President’s Home were found hidden in other accounts.
Finally, Sligar claims information has been withheld from trustees. The entire trustee board grieves the financial mismanagement of the past two decades at Southwestern Seminary. For as long as I have been on the board, trustees experienced a pattern of stonewalling by previous presidents when we have sought financial information. In contrast, no trustees have ever tried to cover up or stonewall any information to fellow board members. Our desire for openness is evidenced by our release of 20 years of audited financials following the May 30 meeting. We continue to research and implement financial guardrails to ensure that SWBTS has many more financially stable years.
I’m hopeful about the future of Southwestern as the board works very closely with President Dockery to ensure the seminary fulfills its mission. Southern Baptists can have complete confidence that the trustees they have elected to govern Southwestern Seminary are fulfilling diligently their duty. We request the prayer of our fellow Southern Baptists as we do so.
Jonathan Richard, pastor of First Baptist Church in Estancia, New Mexico, is chairman of the board of trustees of Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary.