Statements from Southeastern on Matters Surrounding the Buck Essay
SEBTS Staff | June 08, 2022
Danny Akin, President of Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary (SEBTS), and the Board of Trustees at SEBTS released the following statements concerning matters surrounding the Buck Essay.
Statement from Dr. Danny Akin on Matters Surrounding the Jennifer Buck Essay
Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary has concluded a careful investigation into the involvement of any SEBTS faculty and staff in the sharing of an essay written by Jennifer Buck, and with the intention of blackmailing her husband, Tom Buck.
Questions arose regarding the involvement of two faculty members, Karen Prior and Keith Whitfield. The Board of Trustees and the administration took those allegations seriously. Multiple video, text, and email conversations have taken place between the Bucks and SEBTS leadership. The last video call consisted of representatives from the SEBTS Board of Trustees, representatives from the Elders of FBC Lindale, Dr. Akin, Dr. Whitfield, Dr. Buck, and his wife, Jennifer. The call was moderated, as were previous conversations, by Rachael Denhollander. During that call, Dr. Buck asked if SEBTS would be open to a third-party investigation and to waive any attorney/client privilege on the matters at hand. Dr. Akin whole-heartedly agreed to the plan, and so did the Bucks. The goal of the call was to specify the scope of the investigation and identify a firm to conduct the investigation. Discussions around the scope of the proposed investigation and the firm to conduct the investigation did not reach an agreed upon conclusion.
Since initial allegations were raised, SEBTS has continued its investigation. It has searched electronic records (emails and cell phone records) and has had extensive conversations with those involved. Nothing was discovered to indicate that any staff at SEBTS were involved in the sharing of the essay or in any attempt to blackmail Dr. Buck. We did confirm that Dr. Prior had in 2018 sent the article to one outlet for publication, with permission from the Bucks. We did not find any emails or evidence to suggest it had been sent to any other individual or entity since Dr. Prior’s employment began at SEBTS in July 2020. In addition, SEBTS received a signed and notarized affidavit from Todd Benkert saying that he has “no information that would implicate anyone from Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary” as being a part of any effort to disparage or blackmail Dr. Buck.
On June 8, 2022, SEBTS was informed that an anonymous couple had reached out to Rachael Denhollander to take responsibility for the attempted use of the Buck’s article draft as retaliation for Pastor Buck’s raising concerns related to an individual at Willy Rice’s church. This couple provided corroborating information to validate that they were the original actors and that they acted alone. They affirmed that the individual they contacted at Southeastern, Keith Whitfield, informed them that Dr. Prior would not corroborate the article, and that they both urged them not to publish it. Further, the couple confirmed that no one else was aware of or assisted them in these efforts. They have expressed deep grief at the harm they have caused. Based on this information and the efforts that SEBTS has undergone in reviewing and attempting to retrieve any helpful information related to this matter, we believe it is no longer necessary to participate in an independent inquiry.
During one of the video calls, SEBTS representatives did take the opportunity to apologize to the Bucks for not letting them know when an anonymous text message was received attempting to verify the authenticity of Jennifer Buck’s original essay. Dr. Whitfield also apologized for not disclosing earlier that he was the individual who was asked to verify the draft article with Dr. Prior. This has been reiterated by Dr. Akin via email and phone conversations, and SEBTS offers that apology publicly. While this part of the series of events could have been handled better, SEBTS believes and supports Drs. Prior and Whitfield based on their testimony, evidence obtained and searched for, and outside corroborating information noted above that neither were involved in the effort to disparage or blackmail Dr. Buck. While some may still have “but what about” questions, we believe the investigation and new evidence is sufficient to bring this matter to a close regarding SEBTS’ involvement. Any remaining questions should be directed to those directly involved. Our ultimate concern has been to honor the Lord Jesus by honoring the truth. We have tried our best to do this.
We are disturbed and grieved that the political environment within the Southern Baptist Convention has taken the direction it has in recent years, and that it would lead to an action like this where individuals would seek to disparage and blackmail Dr. Buck. We are especially disheartened by the hurt that this has brought to Jennifer Buck through this entire ordeal. We pray that the couple and the Bucks would be able to come together and seek forgiveness and reconciliation so that closure can be achieved in this matter, especially for the Bucks.
To all Southern Baptists, King Jesus has called us to a higher standard that is worthy of the calling he has placed on our lives. We pray that all of us might rise above our petty arguments, sniping at one another, fighting over words, misrepresenting one another, hurting one another, and all other actions that dishonor our Savior. Let us all strive to live under and by God’s inspired, inerrant, infallible, and sufficient Word, so that we might shine forth the Gospel to a lost and dying world.
- Danny Akin, President
Statement from the SEBTS Board of Trustees on Matters Surrounding the Buck Essay
The Board of Trustees of Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary unanimously expresses our support for Drs. Danny Akin, Keith Whitfield, and Karen Swallow Prior. We stand behind the administration and the internal investigation that found no evidence of involvement from SEBTS personnel in the distribution of the Jennifer Buck essay for the purpose of disparagement and blackmail of Dr. Tom Buck. We denounce the actions undertaken against the Bucks and pray that those involved will come forward and seek forgiveness.
- Art Werry, Board Chairman