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Southwestern Seminary issues statement after former trustee calls for forensic audit

FORT WORTH, Texas (BP) – Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary’s trustee chairman issued remarks today in response to a former trustee’s assertion that the school should undergo a forensic audit.

Religion News Service spoke with Aaron Sligar, former pastor at Living River Chapel in Sutton, W.Va., and current president of the West Virginia Convention of Southern Baptists, on his role as a task force member assigned to look into the entity’s finances under the administration of former president Adam Greenway.

A former investigator in the Federal Bureau of Prisons, Sligar told RNS that as a result of his research he called for a forensic audit but was rejected. He ultimately resigned as a trustee in June.

A statement from Jonathan Richard, SWBTS board chairman and pastor of First Baptist Church in Estancia, N.M., called Sligar’s claims “irresponsible and false.”

“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,” Richard said.

The statement reports that at the October 2022 SWBTS board meeting Sligar and another trustee, Jordan Rogers, asked for a forensic audit into Greenway’s expenditures. A task force was assembled by John Rayburn, chairman of the Business Administration Committee, with the specific scope assigned to the President’s House and his offices. The intent, according to the statement, was to hire an outside firm as well “to give balance to the report.”

Rayburn later reported to the board’s executive committee that he believed an internal review would suffice, but would only do so with Sligar’s and Rogers’ approval since they had called for the forensic audit. The two trustees agreed to forego the forensic audit, with Sligar volunteering to serve on the internal task force.

Dispute on release of ‘pertinent information’

Sligar told RNS that he received “volumes” of receipts for Greenway’s spending during his investigation, but hit a wall when he asked for the same information on other leaders.

“To be honest, they gave me what they wanted me to have,” he said.

Southwestern’s board met May 30 in a special-called meeting after an email to fellow trustees from Sligar that was co-signed by another board member alleged that the executive committee did not disclose “pertinent information” to the full board.

“A further and deeper investigation” into those charges, said today’s statement, “demonstrated no evidence of wrongdoing by the individuals wrongfully accused.”

Four motions were passed, one unanimously, that “affirms the ongoing work to strengthen financial guardrails recommended by the task force to ensure greater accountability and oversight of the president and other senior administrators.”

In the following days Southwestern would release further statements on the matter. One came June 2 and addressed allegations of misappropriation of donor funds as well as the establishment of the private nonprofit organization Future Fort Worth. On June 7 the board released its summary of financial spending during Greenway’s presidency in addition to releasing audited financials from 2002-2022.

In the RNS article, Sligar claimed the board’s executive committee tried to prevent him from raising additional concerns he had learned with fellow trustees, which he said was a violation of the school’s bylaws. He compared those actions to that of a church’s elders making decisions and expecting the rest of the body to agree.

“Instead of having a full board of 40 people making informed decisions,” he said, “it was basically 10 people making the decisions and getting the other 30 to kind of affirm it.”

Sligar’s “baseless allegations” examined at the May 30 meeting led the board’s officers to believe that he “acted in a manner that qualifies as trustee misconduct and/or breach of fiduciary duty.” Furthermore, Richard offered his opinion in today’s statement that Sligar’s actions “disqualify him from holding any position of leadership in Southern Baptist life.”

On June 29, the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges (SACSCOC) issued a warning to Southwestern due to concerns related to governance and financial responsibility. Another assessment at SWBTS will take place in June 2024.

“The entire trustee board grieves the financial mismanagement of the past two decades at Southwestern Seminary,” Richard said. “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.”