By Henry Anderson
Robert Lopez, a professor of humanities at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary, received a termination notice the day after Thanksgiving. He had already published an essay in American Greatness reflecting on the sadness over having been eliminated from the list of instructors for the spring of 2020 (usually a sign of impending termination). We knew that on December 3, 2019, he had put out a statement through a publicist, expressing his claims about what led to his termination. Lopez appeared on Bryan Fischer’s Focal Point on December 4, 2019, discussing how he had been fired. The stakes rose quite obviously for the Seminary. A statement followed swiftly from the Seminary calling Lopez’s statement “demonstrably false.” Contrary to Lopez’s statement, the Seminary claimed that Lopez’s sudden dismissal a month before Christmas had nothing to do with the institution’s feelings about Lopez’s stance on homosexuality but was the result of a program change in the undergraduate college and because of other complaints about Lopez. The provost, Randy Stinson, issued a public declaration that essentially accused Lopez of lying about the entire episode, ostensibly to get attention or to create unnecessary trouble for the Seminary. In interviews with Mr. Lopez, Enemies within the Church convinced him to share the records he had of his dealings with the Seminary and the events that led to his November 29 termination. He had records to show that the Seminary had not only treated him abhorrently, but that they were also lying about it. As the Southwestern provost’s false dismissal of Lopez’s claims escalated, he had no choice. The purpose of the present essay is to set the record straight and demonstrate that Randy Stinson’s statement against Lopez is defamatory. First let us examine the statement that Stinson claimed was false. Below is the statement Lopez released on December 3, 2019, with new footnotes to reference the sources he can cite to prove his version true.
- Lopez was terminated under unusually damaging circumstances: as a surprise the day after Thanksgiving, with his last pay date falling shortly after Christmas. The severity of this dismissal shows a certain level of antagonism; it does not constitute an ordinary termination resulting from curriculum modifications. It is unusual that a long-term restructuring would not have led to Lopez’s receiving greater advance notice about his job loss. As one traces Lopez’s correspondence one finds that the only thread of conflict between him and the administration hinged on disagreements over how he was to discuss LGBT issues and sex abuse in the public square.
- Stinson’s own statement referred to disciplinary problems with Lopez’s failure to follow policies and his refusal to attend meetings with administrators. Stinson stated that this “undergirded” the decision to terminate him as part of program changes. If Stinson speaks truthfully, then we must ask what policies Lopez did not want to follow and what meetings were called that he did not attend. Emails, recordings, and correspondence show that Lopez attended seven meetings with administrators between May 1 and September 19, 2019. On November 8, he sent a letter copied to President Adam Greenway alerting him to the problems with the provost’s calling of meetings that did not pertain to his work as a professor, did not produce any written guidelines, and seemed to involve vague instructions that kept changing. In the November 8 letter, Lopez asked for written clarification about his employment status, but President Greenway did not respond. (Since the provost’s supervisor is President Greenway, this would appear to follow basic professional protocol). Earlier meetings involved a lot of discussion about rules and policies but Lopez had repeatedly sought to get things in writing to no avail, so he started recording meetings with administrators so they would not be able to claim they said things they didn’t.
- In the tense meetings that took place between May 1 and September 19, the conflict between Lopez and the provost (Stinson) and dean (Wilkinson) was entirely about the Seminary’s expectation that non-academic officials would hold control over Lopez’s speaking to journalists, publishing of essays, or making of public statements. All the statements, interviews and publications that generated conflict regarded LGBT issues and sex abuse issues. There is literally no record Lopez can find of sustained conflict with the administration of any other kind.
- Lopez’s email records indicate that Lopez had indeed met with provost Stinson on May 1, 2019; on June 25, 2019; and on September 19, 2019. Lopez no longer has access to his Southwestern emails but has enough records to show that he met with the dean, Dr. Wilkinson, once for a yearly review in June, twice in August, and once on September 13, 2019. The September 19, 2019, meeting with the provost was recorded and has been transcribed into a 31-page transcript. The September 13, 2019, meeting with the dean was also recorded and transcribed into an 11-page transcript. Lopez’s reason for recording meetings can be gleaned from a section of the November 8, 2019 letter that he sent to the president, provost, and dean who supervised him. It was addressed directly to the provost.
- Lopez never received a reply to the above letter, though its appearance in his digital email records shows that Lopez had demonstrated significant concern about the lack of written follow-up (among other problems) with the way Stinson conducted meetings. This seems to explain his reasons for tape-recording the September 13 and September 19 meetings.
- In Lopez’s records, all conflict involved how Lopez dealt with the LGBT issue or sex abuse. It appears (see documents included below) that in June Stinson and Wilkinson told Lopez to back away from “LGBT” issues, based on a June 27, 2019, email that Lopez sent as “follow-up” to a meeting. Between June 27, 2019, and September 19, 2019, Lopez’s record show that he was told he did not clear two media actions properly with the administration; both dealt with LGBT issues. One was a request for comment on LGBT teen suicides by Christian Union author Catherine Elvey, with a screen shot below:
- The other was an essay Lopez wrote for American Thinker, “To Affirm LGBT Ideology Is To Support Abuse.” This came out on September 13, 2019, about his experience as a sex abuse survivor in the gay community. Lopez’s records show that his choice to publish this article under a pseudonym, Alex Aradanas, was related to directives from his dean and provost about the need to back away from LGBT and abuse issues. In the September 19 meeting with the provost, Stinson discussed the problems he had with how Lopez handled the Elvy media request and the American Thinker article:
- Lopez’s email records indicate that the meetings with Stinson involved escalating conflict about Lopez’s public engagement of sexuality issues. At Lopez’s May lunch with him, Stinson expressed objections to Lopez’s resolution on sex abuse. This is verified in the transcript of Lopez’s meeting with Stinson on September 19, at which Stinson acknowledges that he had had expressed some kind of dissatisfaction over Lopez’s resolution on sex abuse whistleblowers.
- On September 19, Stinson said he had discussed Lopez’s alleged flaws with the Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission.
- Lopez’s prior conflicts with the ERLC dealt with homosexuality and sex abuse issues—his criticism of Russell Moore’s having met with the pro-gay Human Rights Campaign, his objections to Moore’s rejection of reparative therapy, and his criticisms of ERLC fellow Karen Swallow Prior’s endorsement of Revoice.
- The records show that in the week of June 27, some discussion took place that involved Lopez being encouraged or pressured to stop discussing sexuality and sex abuse, which prompted him to send an email on June 27, 2019, explaining why he could not back down from it. The transcript of the 9/19 meeting shows that Lopez directly raised the issue of his June 27 email to the provost amid concerns that the provost’s guidance was troublingly vague and still unwritten.
From: Lopez, Robert
Sent: Thursday, June 27, 2019 5:25 PM
To: Randy L. Stinson; Wilkinson, Michael; James, Steven
Subject: Follow-up to Tuesday meeting
Thank you for taking the time to meet with me Monday. As follow-up I have made sure that I am not on social media. My blog, English Manif, is currently offline and archived. I will go through posts that seem appropriate as things move forward, but I will take time to do that prayerfully and advisedly. I admit freely that Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram are not media in which I thrive so I have no problem staying off them.
After much prayer and after speaking with people I trust, I suggest a the following course in regards to what was discussed Tuesday. As I discussed at lunch with Dr. Stinson, I am consciously refraining from speaking on these issues in a way that would entangle my witness with various competing camps in the SBC. That is why, for instance, since February, I declined many speaking requests in order to steer clear of people who had longstanding issues with famous Baptist leaders unrelated to the issues I wanted to address.
I cannot abandon the many families and ministries that continue to ask me for help dealing with the LGBT issue and legislation that limits freedom of conscience. I will apprise my dean of opportunities that arise and will notify Colby Adams when I receive media requests. But these issues are too urgent for me to stand down entirely.
After reviewing my workflow over the last few days, my “mark” at Southwestern seems clear. I have focused on the arts, drama, creative writing, literature, and multicultural communication here. My 2011 book, “the Colorful Conservative: American Conversations with the Ancients from Wheatley to Whitman” lays out the vision for traditional witness in changing modern times and I still adhere to the framework I set up there.
I will continue the substantial research I have already done on my book about the rise and fall of universal language, a project I discussed with my dean for the first time last January. I have a bibliography of roughly 400 peer-reviewed sources that I want to digest. Since I tend to write quickly, the reading is the hardest part.
In summary, I present these suggestions so that I can play on the strengths that assist your vision for the seminary and avoid the weaknesses that might cause trouble. In return, I would like to ask a few favors from you in return.
First, I ask prayerfully that you support the drama club that we formed last February. The sixty students involved in it have done amazing things. We have already written one excellent play together, started a second one, and are drafting a third. We have done outreach to local black and Latino churches, in addition to securing a venue for performances owned by Arab Christians who are enthusiastic about letting us perform there for free. I also have arranged for a rich exchange with the Wilberforce Press in England, which will be our partners in the mission field to launch our first play in London in 2020.
I submit this letter prayerfully to you and thank you for taking the time to meet with me last Tuesday. Have a good weekend.
Robert Lopez stated that he never received a written response to this June 27 email, so he had no basis on which to conclude that the three addressees agreed with his assessment of the meeting he summarized, or with his suggestions. It does show several points that bear upon Lopez’s eventual termination.
First, three administrators met with him the week of June 27: Michael Wilkinson, a dean; Steven James, an associate vice president; and Randy Stinson, the provost.
Second, Lopez’s understanding of the meeting was that he was asked to desist from public discussions that seemed to worry the Southwestern administration, including his blog (English Manif), which was widely known as a blog dealing with sexuality issues; and public discussions about LGBT issues. The inclusion of the phrase “I cannot abandon the many families and ministries that ask me for help in dealing with LGBT issues” sounds like a response to someone who had asked him to stop talking about those issues. He said he could not “stand down entirely” on those issues but agreed to forward “media requests” to Colby Adams and to “apprise” his dean of opportunities.
When Lopez claims that he was told by administrators to avoid the LGBT issue and Stinson claims nothing of the kind was ever communicated to him, how do we interpret the June 27 letter and its reference in the September 19 transcripts? While we cannot reconstruct what Wilkinson, James, and Stinson said at this June meeting, one of these two explanations for this phrase in the email would be more plausible than the other:
1. Lopez is delusional and imagined a conversation about LGBT issues that never happened on June 27, and these three administrators simply did not reply because they found it bizarre that he sent a fantasist message casting them as people asking him to stop talking about sexual issues that the Seminary actually did not care about.
2. Wilkinson, James, and Stinson together told Lopez in this meeting that they wanted him to stand down from LGBT issues and cease from engaging in discussion about them on social media; none of the three men responded to his email because they did not want to leave a written record of having made such a request to Lopez—precisely because they wanted to maintain plausible deniability if Lopez ever made public the fact that they were trying to silence his witness about homosexuality.
If #1 were true, we would have to believe that Lopez plotted to invent a completely untrue narrative about the Seminary’s repression of sexuality discussion as early as June 27, and he sent the email so that he would later be able to cite it to cover for his being fired due to curriculum changes he could not have anticipated. In the same email, remember, Lopez mentions his academic role in the future of the college: literature, the arts, drama, and languages. As events played out later in the year, Lopez was in fact terminated and the Seminary rushed to deny ever having told him not to discuss LGBT issues. The transcripts from both September 13 and September 19 show that the administrators called Lopez in for meetings as a result of tension over things Lopez wrote about LGBT and sex abuse issues. Lopez did not seek to meet with him about his commentary on LGBT and sex abuse issues.
There is an additional email chain from September that corroborates Lopez’s memory about conflict with the administration over his statements on homosexuality and same-sex abuse. See below:
From: Wilkinson, Michael
Sent: Wednesday, September 11, 2019 2:09:43 PM
Subject: RE: essay
The last time you and I talked, I thought we had agreed that if you were asked to do something, you would notify Colby and discuss it with him (or send the request to me and let me take it to Colby). Notifying us after you’ve submitted the work will raise some concerns. Also, I’m not sure that Dr. Stinson understood you to mean that you would continue to speak on these issues. He understood you to mean taking down the social media stuff and then to focus on the Drama Club and your classes. I have to confess that this is mostly my impression as well. We had discussed that, should you want to speak to the other issues, you would inform the administration first before doing anything—this is the media policy for all of us.
Dean; Associate Professor of Theology | Scarborough College
From: Lopez, Robert
Sent: Wednesday, September 11, 2019 1:10 PM
To: Wilkinson, Michael
Subject: Re: essay
I notified you and Colby Adams that I had submitted the essay and it had been accepted, which is what I put forward as my procedure when I spoke with you and Dr. Stinson earlier this year. I took down my social media accounts and blog, and agreed to clear media requests. I also informed all involved that I would continue to speak out on issues such as the subject matter of the current essay. I never said I would ask for Colby Adams’ permission to share my testimony or comment on these issues at all.
R. Lopez, PhD
Professor | Humanities
Leader | Missions to El Salvador
Faculty Adviser | Drama Club at Southwestern
From: Wilkinson, Michael
Sent: Wednesday, September 11, 2019 12:59 PM
To: Lopez, Robert
Subject: RE: essay
Did you run this by Colby Adams before you sent this in? You should have let him know this before you submitted this essay.
Dean; Associate Professor of Theology | Scarborough College
From: Bobby Lopez
Sent: Tuesday, September 10, 2019 9:42:25 PM
To: Lopez, Robert
Subject: Fwd: SUBMISSION: Affirming LGBT is affirming abuse
The chain of emails begins with a forward, which has the subject line “SUBMISSION: Affirming LGBT is affirming abuse.” As the chain progressed Dean Wilkinson obviously communicated to Lopez that he and the provost had, in previous meetings, spoken to him about their desire that he not write the kinds of things that began this email chain. The timeline of this email chain supports Lopez’s claim that the administration did not want him to discuss sexuality and sex abuse issues. It matches both the dates of the September 13 and September 19 transcripts, in which the dean and provost refer to an “article” that caused their alarm; and the subject line “Affirming LGBT is affirming abuse” matches the appearance of an article that Lopez published under the pseudonym Alex Aradanas on September 13, 2019 in American Thinker.
Wilkinson’s statement in the email chain above shows that the administration was pressuring him not to discuss homosexuality or sex abuse, and Lopez resisted their pressure. In the transcripts from 9/13 and 9/19, we see that the conflict over these issues has escalated to the point that firing and resignation are on the table as likely outcomes. Here is a portion of the 9/13/19 transcript:
- Stinson’s own statements show that Lopez’s termination was tied to conflicts over policies about his public engagement. The specific policies were about comments and the specific comments that caused conflict were about LGBT and sex abuse.
- Not only do Lopez’s emails show that he perceived the conflict as being over LGBT and sex abuse issues; also, Wilkinson’s email speaking on behalf of himself and the provost shows that the administration was signaling to Lopez that his continued engagement on those issues would jeopardize his job.
The records indicate that the “article” at issue in this discussion on September 13 was an article called “To Affirm LGBT Ideology Is To Support Abuse.” So Lopez’s claim that he was pressured not to discuss homosexuality and abuse finds strong evidentiary support.
The exchange above alludes to the fact that other professors addressed sexual issues without the same level of resistance that Lopez encountered. A colleague invited the author of Addicted to Lust to speak to students, while another colleague, Katie McCoy, received unanimous support from the Southwestern faculty when her online comments about women’s issues drew negative attention.
Not only did the Southwestern leadership fire someone for sharing the gospel view on sexuality and sex abuse, they did so in a way to inflict maximum suffering on Lopez’s family. They then lied about him to make him seem delusional or dishonest. Christians should not treat fellow Christians this way.