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Second SBC pastor implicated in ‘conspiracy’ to destroy evidence in federal abuse investigation

A Florida pastor, during his tenure as an administrator at a prominent Southern Baptist seminary, instructed another seminary employee to prepare an abuse report document, according to court records.

The documents, filed by federal prosecutors and unsealed last week, came to light during an ongoing U.S. Department of Justice investigation into aspects of the Southern Baptist Convention and the way the SBC and its affiliated entities handled reports of abuse.

The documents on the Florida pastor, who prosecutors have not identified, are part of the case against the Rev. Matt Queen of North Carolina, also a former administrator at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary in Fort Worth, Texas, who is accused of falsifying documents in an attempt to cover up an abuse report. In a press release last week, FBI Assistant Director James Smith said Queen was part of a “conspiracy to destroy evidence related to the ongoing sexual misconduct investigation.”

The Florida pastor who was the seminary’s chief of staff at the time is Heath Woolman, currently the lead pastor of Fruit Cove Baptist Church in St. Johns, Florida, according to two people familiar with the events outlined by federal prosecutors and a analysis of data from Woolman’s tenure at Southwestern.

The JW "Jac" MacGorman Chapel and Performing Arts Center of Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary in Fort Worth, Texas, a prominent seminary affiliated with the Southern Baptist Convention.

The JW “Jack” MacGorman Chapel and Performing Arts Center at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary in Fort Worth, Texas, a prominent seminary affiliated with the Southern Baptist Convention.

Federal prosecutors did not respond to a request for comment on the status of any investigation into Woolman. Woolman did not respond to a request for comment. Woolman has not been charged as part of the federal investigation. Also, Friendly Avenue Baptist Church in Greensboro, North Carolina announced Sunday that it has placed Queen on leave for the duration of the federal investigation.

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The ongoing federal investigation into the Southwestern administration is the result of a broader investigation by the U.S. Department of Justice into the Southern Baptist Convention, following a third-party report of abuse and cover-ups by leaders of the Nashville-based denomination. The federal investigation into the convention’s administrative arm, the SBC Executive Committee, was concluded in February, according to the executive committee.

But the case against Queen and possibly other former Southwestern employees appears to have a long way to go. Last week’s press release said the investigation is ongoing, and Queen issued a statement last week indicating he will fight the charges at trial.

Southwestern President David Dockery confirmed the identities of Woolman and another previously unknown employee, Terri Stovall, in a statement Tuesday in response to a request for comment.

“I deeply regret this event. However, I am grateful that several employees in whom I placed great trust have acted responsibly, especially Terri Stovall. I commend the service and integrity of these employees,” Dockery said in the statement. . “We remain committed to continuing to cooperate fully with the Department of Justice on all aspects of this investigation.”

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Southern Baptist Convention at the Ernest N Morial Convention Center in New Orleans.  Tuesday June 13, 2023.Southern Baptist Convention at the Ernest N Morial Convention Center in New Orleans.  Tuesday June 13, 2023.

Southern Baptist Convention at the Ernest N Morial Convention Center in New Orleans. Tuesday June 13, 2023.

The event at the center of the case involving Queen and Woolman is a January 26, 2023, meeting in which Woolman ordered Stovall to destroy a document detailing a previous report of alleged abuse by student Christian Flores.

The document outlines how Stovall, a professor and dean of women at Southwestern, notified the head of the seminary police in November 2022 of an impending arrest warrant for Flores. Flores’ alleged attack was “against an individual not associated with the seminary,” Dockery said in a statement Tuesday. Dockery said in his statement that the head of campus police “took no further action in November.” That head of seminary police is no longer employed at Southwestern.

Following Flores’ arrest by municipal police on January 24, 2023, Stovall Woolman provided the document detailing the previous report to Seminary Police. Woolman instructed Stovall at that Jan. 26 meeting to destroy the document, according to federal court records, although Stovall ultimately retained a copy.

Dockery said in his statement Tuesday that Woolman, who served under Dockery as chief of staff, lied to the president at one point and said he had not ordered Stovall to destroy the document. “For nearly five months, we worked under the stress of knowing that employees we trusted had disagreements over the January conversation,” Dockery said in his statement.

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Ultimately, Queen revealed that he had heard Woolman instruct Stovall to destroy the document, which formed the basis of the federal charges against Queen last week. Queen had resigned from his position as interim provost and the seminary had placed Queen on administrative leave.

In the spring of 2023, both Queen and Woolman left Southwestern to become pastors of the churches they currently lead. Woolman’s candidacy for senior pastor of Fruit Cove Baptist received support from Queen and Dockery, according to an archive of the Fruit Cove Baptist website. Dockery said in his statement Tuesday about that approval, “If I were asked to make the same recommendation today, and based on information received after that time, I would not be able to make the same recommendation.”

In a May 14, 2023, speech to the Fruit Cove congregation, Woolman praised how thorough the church’s hiring process was.

“They looked for every skeleton in every closet,” Woolman told the council. “I don’t have any skeletons in closets, and I was still afraid that they would find skeletons in closets.”

More: Former SBC seminary administrator accused of falsifying data in DOJ investigation

Liam Adams covers religion for The Tennessean, part of the USA TODAY Network. Reach him at ladams@tennessean.com or on social media @liamsadams.

This article originally appeared on Nashville Tennessean: Second SBC pastor involved in abuse cover-up during DOJ investigation

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