Special Reports

Former Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary Professor Arraigned on Federal Charges of Falsifying Records in Sexual Abuse Investigation

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A former professor and interim provost of Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary, Matthew Queen, was arraigned on Tuesday on federal charges of falsification of records.

The charges come in the midst of an ongoing federal investigation into possible widespread cover-ups of sexual abuse within the Southern Baptist Convention (SBC) and its entities.

Former Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary Professor Arraigned on Federal Charges of Falsifying Records in Sexual Abuse Investigation

(Photo : WIKIMEDIA COMMONS / Michael-David Bradford)

Allegations and Investigation

Since around 2022, the U.S. Attorney's Office for the Southern District of New York (referred to as the 'U.S. Attorney's Office') and the FBI have been probing claims of sexual abuse and wrongdoing linked to the SBC and its associated organizations. These investigations have also looked into the alleged cover-up of such allegations by individuals and entities associated with the denomination.

In 2022, an independent investigations firm, Guidepost Solutions, reported that leaders within the SBC had, over many years, viewed survivors of sexual abuse as adversaries of the church. They also refused to accept responsibility for the actions of local churches and minimized the prevalence of sexual abuse cases within those churches, all in an effort to safeguard the institution. This information was reported by the Religion News Service (RNS).

While SBC leaders said in 2022 that they had been subpoenaed by the DOJ, the indictment of Queen this week is the DOJ's first official acknowledgment that it has been investigating the SBC, according to RNS.

During its investigation, the FBI requested Southwestern Seminary in Fort Worth, Texas, to provide any documents concerning abuse in October 2022, as stated by the DOJ. One month later, a seminary staff member (identified as "Employee-1" by the DOJ) was informed of an allegation of sexual abuse involving a seminary student. Although the employee reported the matter to campus police, they did not inform the FBI, and the institution did not take any additional steps.

In January 2023, "Employee-1" drafted a document detailing the sexual abuse allegations and the seminary's failure to address them. However, in a later meeting with "Employee-2" and Queen, "Employee-2" instructed "Employee-1" to discard the document.

When Queen met with the U.S. Attorney's Office and the FBI in May 2023, he allegedly falsely claimed that he was unaware of "Employee-2" instructing "Employee-1" to destroy the document, as per the DOJ.

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Legal Ramifications and Response

If found guilty, Queen may be sentenced to a maximum of 20 years in prison. According to U.S. Attorney Damian Williams of the Southern District of New York, Queen is accused of trying to obstruct a federal grand jury investigation by fabricating notes to support his falsehoods. Williams stated that the criminal obstruction charge is intended to demonstrate the gravity of attempts to influence or hinder a federal investigation.

Following the seminary's discovery of Queen's actions in June 2023, he was promptly placed on administrative leave and subsequently resigned as interim provost. The institution stated that all employees implicated in the misconduct are no longer working at the seminary.

The indictment of Queen and the broader investigation into the SBC have sparked debate and concern within the denomination and beyond. Some see it as a necessary step toward accountability and justice for survivors of sexual abuse within the church. Others worry about the potential implications for the SBC as a whole and its ability to fulfill its mission in the midst of legal challenges and public scrutiny.

Implications for the Southern Baptist Convention

The case involving Queen is just one part of a larger reckoning within the SBC regarding its handling of sexual abuse allegations. The denomination has faced criticism for its response to abuse cases in the past. Some have accused SBC leaders of prioritizing the reputation of the church over the well-being of abuse survivors.

The outcome of the federal investigation could have significant implications for the SBC and its future. Depending on the findings, the denomination may need to implement reforms to address issues related to transparency, accountability, and support for abuse survivors.

The arraignment of Matthew Queen on federal charges related to the falsification of records in a sexual abuse investigation highlights the ongoing challenges faced by the Southern Baptist Convention and its entities. It also underscores the importance of addressing issues of abuse and misconduct within religious institutions with transparency, accountability, and a commitment to justice for survivors.

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