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SWBTS identifies other employees involved in DOJ inquiry

Baptist Press file photo

NASHVILLE (BP) — The former chief of staff at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary as well as the current dean of women have been identified as those involved in a January 2023 discussion over allegations to make a document outlining a case of sexual abuse to “go away.”

Heath Woolman

Early Wednesday morning (May 29) The Tennessean newspaper named Heath Woolman, lead pastor of Fruit Cove Baptist Church in St. Johns, Fla., as the executive staff member labeled “Employee-2” in the federal indictment against former interim provost Matt Queen. Current Dean of Women Terri Stovall is “Employee-1,” who alerted Woolman in that meeting of a document she had prepared over the allegation and subsequent arrest of a Texas Baptist College student.

Southwestern Seminary President David S. Dockery released a statement confirming the identities.

Upon learning of the sexual abuse allegation in early November 2022, Dockery said, Stovall “followed institutional procedure to care for victims of sexual abuse and immediately reported the allegation to the chief of Campus Police.

“At the end of January 2023, after the seminary had assisted the Burleson Police Department in arresting the student accused of sexual assault, Stovall, following a morning chapel service, discussed a document she prepared regarding the incident with Heath Woolman, then chief of staff, and in the presence of Matt Queen, then interim provost,” Dockery said. “According to Stovall, Woolman instructed her to make the document ‘go away’ during this conversation.

“Of particular note here, all employees had previously been made aware of the Department of Justice investigation in an all-employees meeting in August of 2022. Further, upon receipt of a subpoena from the Department of Justice in November 2022, employees with relevant information had been made aware of the subpoena, including the need to preserve and produce any responsive documents.”

Terri Stovall

The DOJ investigation at Southwestern stems from a broader investigation of the Southern Baptist Convention over accusations of mishandling sexual abuse allegations.

Dockery went on to say that, in a follow-up conversation, Woolman had “provided me assurance” that he did not ask Stovall to make the document “go away.” Dockery added that Queen had also “acknowledged on more than one occasion” that he, in fact, didn’t hear any such instruction from Woolman.

“For nearly five months we operated within the tension of knowing that employees in whom we had confidence had differences of recollection regarding the January conversation,” Dockery said.

Dockery concluded his statement with: “This episode is a matter of deep regret to me. I am, however, grateful that several employees in whom I placed great trust acted responsibly, especially Terri Stovall. I commend the service and integrity of these employees.”

Queen, through his attorney, said the January 2023 meeting had been scheduled to discuss a different matter and he never saw the contents of Stovall’s document nor “became aware of the general nature of [its] contents.”

The document in question was eventually provided to the Department of Justice, Dockery said.

Baptist Press’ requests for comments from the Department of Justice and Fruit Cove Baptist Church were not returned by press time.