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Paul Pressler, Disgraced Christian Conservative Leader, Dies at 94

Paul Pressler, Disgraced Christian Conservative Leader, Dies at 94


Paul Pressler, a former Houston appeals courtroom judge who spent many years serving to conservatives achieve management of the Southern Baptist Convention, the nation’s largest Protestant denomination, solely to change into a humiliation to its leaders after as many as seven males accused him of sexual abuse, died on June 7. He was 94.

His demise was not introduced publicly. It was first reported on Saturday by the Christian information outlet Baptist News Global. It was confirmed by Dignity Memorial, a funeral residence chain, which didn’t say the place he died.

Judge Pressler died 4 days earlier than the Southern Baptist Convention held its annual assembly in Indianapolis, the place nothing was stated in regards to the demise, Baptist News Global reported.

Judge Pressler was instrumental in constructing an inner grass-roots motion that in current many years moved the denomination towards adopting theological and social positions that had been strikingly extra conservative than these held within the Fifties, ’60s and ’70s. They embody opposing abortion and same-sex marriage, forbidding girls to function head pastors and deciphering the Bible actually.

Startled by the liberal theology he present in church buildings whereas attending boarding faculty at Phillips Exeter Academy in New Hampshire and later at Princeton University, Judge Pressler, as he wrote in his autobiography, spent the remainder of his life attempting to root out Christian educating that he thought of biblically unsupported. He used the phrase liberal to explain a perception that the Bible might comprise errors, whereas he believed a conservative was somebody who believed that the Bible was written by God, freed from error.

In 1967, he was launched to Paige Patterson, a like-minded Southern Baptist, and so they later met over scorching chocolate and beignets at a New Orleans cafe, the place they continued to speak previous midnight. They went on to work collectively for years in constructing a conservative Baptist coalition. Judge Pressler acted as a political operative whereas Mr. Patterson, a seminarian, was seen as its theologian.

Starting in 1979 and for a few years afterward, the coalition succeeded in getting its most popular candidates elected to the presidency of the conference. Those presidents would then appoint different key leaders, who in flip would nominate trustees, all with the goal of overhauling seminaries and different Southern Baptist organizations.

“I’ve described Paul Pressler because the Steve Bannon of the Southern Baptist Convention,” Mark Wingfield, writer of Baptist News Global, stated in an interview. “The ways he used within the S.B.C. had been political ways that labored, and had been used at a nationwide stage. It turned a playbook for the Republican Party.”

From the Seventies to the ’90s, Southern Baptists tended to separate into two factions: “conservatives” and “moderates.” Conservatives described their work because the “conservative resurgence,” whereas moderates noticed it as a fundamentalist takeover.

Newly empowered conservatives had been recognized to bus individuals to conventions to get their candidates elected. Where annual conferences of the trustworthy used to draw 15,000 to twenty,000 “messengers,” or delegates, the one in 1985, in Dallas, attracted greater than 40,000. Many moderates left the conference in 1990 to type the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship.

Known for his convening energy even outdoors the Southern Baptist Convention, Judge Pressler was a founding member of the secretive Council for National Policy, a networking group for political conservatives. The group attracted evangelical leaders and donors and would typically meet with Republican presidential hopefuls, together with George W. Bush.

In 1989, Judge Pressler was President George H.W. Bush’s selection to move the Office of Government Ethics. But he was faraway from consideration after the Federal Bureau of Investigation, conducting a routine background verify, discovered what it described solely as “ethics issues.” (Officials didn’t elaborate on the F.B.I. findings besides to say that they didn’t contain accusations of crimes or monetary malfeasance.) Mr. Pressler went on to serve on Mr. Bush’s Drug Advisory Committee.

The abuse allegations first emerged publicly in 2004, when a person named Duane Rollins accused Judge Pressler of sexual assault in a Dallas lodge room in 2003. Mr. Rollins stated Judge Pressler had threatened him if he got here ahead, in line with The Texas Tribune. Judge Pressler quietly settled the go well with for $450,000 in a mediation that additionally included a confidentiality settlement.

The 2004 settlement turned public in 2017, when Mr. Rollins filed one other lawsuit, this one accusing Judge Pressler of many years of rape, starting when Mr. Rollins was a 14-year-old member of the judge’s church youth group in Houston.

The allegations had been investigated by denomination officers as half of a bigger investigation into how the Southern Baptist Convention had mishandled sex-abuse circumstances previously. The conference, which was additionally named within the 2017 lawsuit, settled with Mr. Rollins out of courtroom for an undisclosed sum in 2023.

By 2024, Judge Pressler had been accused by not less than seven males of sexual abuse or sexual misconduct, in line with The Texas Tribune. He was by no means criminally charged and denied any wrongdoing, however the allegations prompted the conference’s lawyer Gene Besen to specific outrage, writing on the social media web site X this 12 months that Judge Pressler was a “harmful predator who exploited boys based mostly on his energy and his false piety.” He added, “The man’s actions are of the satan.”

As the allegations emerged, Southern Baptist leaders distanced themselves from Judge Pressler however few denounced him publicly. That muted response mirrored a problem they confronted: How to indicate their revulsion over the allegations whereas discovering a technique to have fun what Judge Pressler had championed via the conservative resurgence, stated Nathan Finn, a Southern Baptist historian who cataloged Judge Pressler’s papers at Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary in North Carolina.

“I’m unsure there’s a conservative resurgence if he wasn’t there to channel it right into a motion,” stated Mr. Finn, the provost at North Greenville University in South Carolina. “It wanted not less than one particular person within the room who was a strategic thinker who understands grass-roots actions.”

But Mr. Finn stated questions stay about whether or not the conference’s management understood Judge Pressler’s darker facet.

“Were there rumors? Were there purple flags?” he stated. “When did individuals know? I ponder that.”

Herman Paul Pressler III was born in Houston on June 4, 1930, to Herman P. Pressler Jr., who was a vp of Exxon Mobil, and Elsie Pressler, who was energetic in group organizations and helped discovered their household’s Baptist church.

He went to Phillips Exeter when he was 16 and earned an undergraduate diploma in authorities at Princeton in 1952. As a freshman, he met the dean of Princeton’s chapel, who invited him to have cocktails. He wrote in his 1999 autobiography, “A Hill on Which to Die,” that he was shocked {that a} preacher would devour alcohol.

After his Princeton commencement, the Navy ROTC commissioned him as an ensign on the Navy Supply Corps School at Bayonne, N.J. In 1957, he obtained a regulation diploma from the University of Texas, the place Townes Hall, the regulation faculty constructing, is called for his great-grandfather Judge John C. Townes. Judge Pressler served as a Democrat within the Texas House of Representatives from 1957 to 1959.

In 1959, he married Nancy Avery, who had simply graduated from Smith College in Massachusetts and who shared his concern about liberalism within the church buildings she had attended.

In Houston, he was a district judge from 1970 to 1978 and served on the Texas 14th Court of Appeals from 1979 to 1992, when he retired and returned to non-public follow. He switched his party affiliation to Republican in 1982.

Judge Pressler’s survivors embody his spouse; their two daughters, Jean Pressler Visy and Anne Pressler Csorba; a son, Herman Paul Pressler IV; his brother, Townes Garrett Pressler; seven grandchildren; and 12 great-grandchildren.

During a twenty fifth anniversary celebration of the conservative resurgence at Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in 2004, Judge Pressler spoke of the motion’s success when it comes to the Civil War. “It was like Gettysburg however this time, the fitting facet received,” he stated to laughter.

His views had been distressing to some, together with Dwight McKissic, a Black Baptist pastor in Arlington, Texas.

“I assumed he had philosophical beliefs in regards to the inerrancy of scripture,” Mr. McKissic stated. “In hindsight, was it a cloak to regulate girls, a cloak to regulate racial inclusion, a cloak to conflate political conservatism with theological conservatism? We had an issue on the root.”

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