A former Southern Baptist seminary professor who resigned following accusations of sexual abuse has filed suit in Alabama against the Southern Baptist Convention and 11 other defendants claiming defamation of character and conspiracy.
David Sills and his wife, Mary, filed the suit Nov. 21 in Mobile County circuit court.
Sills was a professor at Southern Baptist Theological Seminary until his resignation on May 23, 2018. The following year, Jennifer Lyell, a former vice president at Lifeway Christian Resources, told Baptist Press she had been a victim of emotional and sexual abuse by Sills, who had been her professor.
The initial reporting of Lyell’s story, which was criticized as characterizing the relationship as consensual, was one of the catalysts that led to a sweeping eight-month investigation conducted by Guidepost Solutions into the SBC Executive Committee’s handling of sexual abuse claims and mistreatment of victims who had come forward with allegations.
In their suit, the Sillses say their reputations were harmed and they were subjected to “public contempt, disgrace, ridicule or attack” because of the statements made against them by the defendants.
The Sillses seek monetary damages from the named defendants: the SBC; the SBC Executive Committee; former SBC President Ed Litton; current SBC President Bart Barber; Lyell; Lifeway Christian Resources; Eric Geiger, a former executive vice president at Lifeway; Willie McLaurin, interim president of the Executive Committee; Rolland Slade, former chairman of the Executive Committee; Southern Seminary; Al Mohler, president of Southern Seminary; and Guidepost Solutions, the firm that conducted the independent investigation.
In February 2022, the SBC Executive Committee reached a financial settlement with Lyell and issued a public apology for the Baptist Press coverage. On May 22, the SBC Sexual Abuse Task Force released the results of the Guidepost investigation that affirmed widespread mishandling of known cases of sexual abuse in the SBC and its churches.
Lyell’s case was cited in the SATF report. The Sillses’ suit claims Guidepost “never sought statements from or interviews with Dr. Sills and Mrs. Sills, or their pastor,” instead relying primarily “on statements from Defendants Mohler and Lyell, as well as purported SBC documents.”
Though the Sillses are residents of Mississippi and the defendants are based in or reside in several different states, the suit asserts the Mobile Circuit Court has jurisdiction because the alleged defamation happened throughout the state; the SBC Executive Committee and Lifeway own property in the state; and defendant Ed Litton is a resident of Mobile County.