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Exfideicomisario de Southwestern Seminary pide auditoría forense de escuela en problemas

Por Bob Smietana
SWBTS southwestern
The BH Carroll Memorial Building Rotunda at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary in Fort Worth, Texas. (Photo by Michael-David Bradford/Creative Commons)

Aaron Sligar, the former pastor of Living River Chapel, a Baptist church in tiny Sutton, West Virginia, believes in the mission of the Southern Baptist Convention and encouraged his congregation for years to give generously to the denomination, the United States’ largest Protestant body.

“The whole thing about Southern Baptists is we are better together,” he said. “We can get more done working together.”

But Sligar has had a harder time in recent weeks making his case. In June, the board of trustees at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary, one of the SBC’s flagship schools, announced that its leaders had run up a $140 million deficit over 20 years, a pattern of financial mismanagement that has left the school’s future in jeopardy. The school’s accreditor has issued a warning, giving the seminary two years to make improvements.

Sligar, a former trustee of the seminary, said that Southwestern’s financial crisis puts the SBC’s relationships with individual churches at risk. Working together is built on trust, especially when it comes to money, said Sligar. Baptists trust that the money their pastors ask for will go to God’s work and won’t be wasted.

When things go wrong, the grandmother in the pew is going to want answers.

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adam greenway southwestern
Adam Greenway addresses the annual meeting of the Southern Baptist Convention at the Birmingham-Jefferson Convention Complex on June 12, 2019, in Birmingham, Alabama. (RNS photo by Butch Dill)

Right now, there are no good answers for what’s gone wrong at Southwestern. Much of the blame for the school’s trouble was laid at the feet of former President Adam Greenway, who renunciar in the fall of 2022 after a task force appointed by the board of trustees criticized his spending, according to a report, “without deference to financial controls and seminary financial policies.”

The report cited $1.5 million spent on renovations and decorations for the president’s official residence on campus, including an espresso machine costing more than $11,000, some $60,000 for Christmas decorations and more than $25,000 for artwork.

Sligar, who quit the board in June, said that Greenway deserves some blame, but not all of it. A former investigator for the Federal Bureau of Prisons, the pastor said that in allowing Greenway to resign the trustees shirked their own accountability. If Greenway was solely to blame, he asked, “Why didn’t we fire him?”

As he learned more about the school’s finances, Sligar asked for a forensic audit, a common practice during his time at the federal prison bureau. “It’s hard to reset and go forward financially if you don’t know where the money has been spent,” he said.

Sligar said his call for a forensic audit was rejected.

The task force that examined Greenway’s renovations to the president’s house initially got a proposal from an outside firm, according to the board report, but decided in 2020 “that it was unwise to expend additional resources to conduct an audit until there was reason to do so.”

Sligar, who served on the task force, said he got “volumes” of receipts for Greenway’s spending but was shut down when he asked for the details of the spending of other leaders. Without that context, Sligar argues, the board could not get the full picture of what happened.

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

He said that the budget line item for the president’s home was often used as a catch-all for renovations to other school facilities — which inflated the total amount of money used for the residence project.

aaron sligar
Aaron Sligar (Courtesy Photo)

Sligar was allowed to make a report about some of his findings during a trustee meeting in April. Following that meeting, he learned of additional concerns and said he tried to raise them but was again blocked from doing so.

The pastor claimed that the board’s Executive Committee tried to prevent him from raising his additional concerns with the full board — a violation, he said, of the school’s bylaws. He also claimed that the board took on powers similar to the elders of a congregation, making decisions without consulting the whole board and expecting board members to go along.

“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.”

In its warning letter, the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges, which accredited Southwestern, said that Southwestern had failed to comply with its board governance rules. Those rules require, among other things, making sure a board is not governed by a minority of members. 

Sligar and another trustee would eventually ask for a special meeting of the board to discuss their concerns, after which the trustees issued a declaración rejecting any allegation that the executive committee had withheld information from the full board. The statement also accused Sligar of slanting his report to favor Greenway.  

“Sligar has accused the Executive Committee of a lack of transparency and withholding information from trustees, although he removed from his report substantiated facts about the former president’s spending, which was within the scope of the report,” the board said in its statement.

SWBTS southwestern
Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary in Fort Worth, Texas. (Photo via Facebook)

Then board chairman Danny Roberts also accused Sligar of violating board confidentiality and called Sligar’s email to the board asking for the special meeting reckless, saying it was leaked.

“I condemn in the strongest possible manner the actions of any individual who has participated in spreading these baseless allegations,” he said in a statement earlier this summer. “Such behavior is ungodly and is contrary to the spirit of Southwestern Seminary.”

After the May special meeting, the board’s officers began an investigation into possible misconduct on the part of Sligar and another trustee. However, after both men resigned, that investigation was deemed unnecessary. 

The forensic audit he advocated for would give a clearer picture of financial mismanagement. He was disappointed that no questions were asked about the school’s finances during the SBC’s annual meeting in June and that school officials offered no apologies or explanations for the state of the school at that meeting.

The trustees that run SBC entities such as Southwestern are elected by the convention, he said, and the convention should hold them accountable.

“I think every effort should be made to save Southwestern,” he said. “And I think it’s time that the messengers of the Southern Baptist Convention take an interest in what’s going on in our entities as a whole, not just Southwestern.” 

Bob SmietanaBob Smietana es reportero nacional de Religion News Service.



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4 Respuestas

  1. It is my opinion that the financial mismanagement for which Greenway is being blamed started with his predecessor, Paige Patterson. Patterson’s pattern of deficit spending and financial recklessness dates back to his days as president of Criswell College in Dallas and continued at Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary in North Carolina. After Patterson assumed the presidency of SWBTS, a decamillion-dollar endowment fund for the seminary’s operating and capital needs that had been initiated in 1979 by the trustees who hired President Russell Dilday, was drawn down and eventually depleted.
    The trustees today are a different sort. By and large, I don’t think that current governing body will ever initiate any audit that might expose Patterson’s mismanagement. But they’ll happily pile Patterson’s financial flippancy on the back of Greenway, even though Greenway is not altogether blameless either. Woe to any trustee, such as Aaron Sligar, who might in good faith and with the very best Christian intent, desire to bring this institution to repentance and reform.
    As a graduate of the place, it’s my opinion that it is too late for SWBTS. I think Patterson crippled it, Greenway let it bleed, and the trustees as a whole over the past 20+ years have been too cowed, cowardly, and craven to do the hard work necessary to take responsibility for it. So I think they are going to get what they deserve: Founded in 1908 when JB Gambrell, DI Smyth, and AJ Barton, on behalf of 25 visionary trustees, filed the school’s charter with the Texas secretary of state, I believe SWBTS, which under trustees in the 1970s and 1980s became the largest evangelical seminary in the world, will cease to exist before its quasquicentennial (125th) anniversary. Its just a matter of time.

  2. “reckless….ungodly….”–Danny Roberts

    seems to me christian leaders resort to manipulating people with scare tactics, spiritualizing, & demonizing those who pose a threat when they don’t have much else.

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