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Paul Pressler, Disgraced SBC Leader Accused of Abuse, Is Dead at 94

Por Bob Smietana
paul pressler
Paul Pressler in a video from 2015. (Video screen grab)

Paul Pressler, a retired Texas judge and one of the most influential evangelicals of the past 50 years, has died.

Pressler, 94, died June 7 but his death went largely unnoticed until Baptist Global News, an independent Baptist news site, reportado the news of his funeral on Saturday, held at the Geo. H. Lewis and Sons Funeral Home in Houston.

Pressler was one of the chief architects of the “Conservative Resurgence,” also known as the fundamentalist takeover, that changed the course of the Southern Baptist Convention in the 1980s and 1990s, turning it into a decidedly conservative theological denomination with deep ties to the Republican Party.

As a member of the Council for National Policy, a conservative think tank, he helped forge ties between the GOP and the nation’s largest Protestant denomination. Pressler was nominated to run the Office of Government Ethics under President George H. W. Bush but withdrew when a background investigation found “ethics problems,” the Washington Post reportado

But in recent years, Pressler became known mostly as a symbol of the SBC’s sexual abuse crisis. In 2017, a former Pressler assistant named Gareld Duane Rollins Jr. sued Pressler, claiming the older man abused him for decades. The suit, which named Pressler, the SBC and other Baptist entities, was finally settled in December, with all of the accused denying any wrongdoing.

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paul pressler
In 2011, Paul Pressler was memorialized in a stained glass window installed in the MacGorman Chapel of Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary in Fort Worth, Texas; it was removed in April 2019. (Photo: Don Young Glass Studio / social media)

In January of this year, a lawyer for the SBC, Gene Besen, called Pressler a “monster” who had leveraged his “power and false piety” to sexually abuse young men.

“The man’s actions are of the devil,” Besen told media at the time, clarifying that he spoke in his personal capacity and not as a representative of the denomination.

In 2004, the same year Pressler was first elected vice president of the Southern Baptist Convention, his home church warned him in a letter about his habit of naked hot tubbing with young men after a college student complained that Pressler had allegedly groped him, de acuerdo a The Texas Tribune. Months later Pressler agreed to pay $450,000 to settle Rollins’ earlier claim that Pressler had assaulted him in a hotel room. When Pressler stopped making the agreed payments, Rollins sued again, this time alleging sexual abuse.

Some years earlier, at the SBC’s 1996 annual meeting, during the Clinton-era White House scandals, Pressler gave a speech condemning what he saw as a loss of Christian values in the nation.

“Our nation sins Cuándo adulterio y fornication están no longer a bar por holding high political office y principles de biblical morality y purity están no longer promoted,” he said, according to a clip of his speech posted on X, the site formerly known as Twitter. “We sin Cuándo perversion es promovido y no penalized.

But Pressler had largely faded into the shadows before news of the lawsuits broke. In 2016, he appeared at the SBC’s annual meeting in St. Louis, where Pressler harangued then-SBC President Ronnie Floyd for not letting him speak about a resolution condemning the Confederate battle flag in an exchange that was broadcast on a massive screen at the front of the convention center.

“I was deliberately ignored,” Pressler, who opposed the resolution, told Floyd. “I told you last night I was going to speak on this.”

Pressler’s mic was eventually turned off and he was ruled out of order.

paul pressler
Former Judge and SBC leader Paul Pressler on May 30, 2004. (Photo Credit: AP Photo/Michael Stravato)

At the recently concluded 2024 SBC annual meeting in Indianapolis, no mention of Pressler’s death was made.

A native of Houston, Pressler attended Phillips Exeter Academy in New Hampshire before earning degrees from Princeton and the University of Texas Law School. He served two years in the Texas Legislature before becoming a district and later appeals court judge.

In 2012, he made national headlines for hosting a meeting of evangelical leaders at his Texas ranch, aimed at finding an alternative to Mitt Romney in that year’s presidential race.

The lawsuit against Pressler inspired a major investigation into abuse in the SBC by the Houston Chronicle and San Antonio Express-News, according to The Texas Tribune. That “Abuse of Faith” report led the SBC to hold a litany of lament for abuse in 2019 and eventually to authorize a third-party investigation by Guidepost Solutions into how SBC leaders dealt with abuse.

That investigation led to a series of reforms meant to help Southern Baptists deal with the issue of sexual abuse, but the effort has stalled over the past two years. At the SBC’s annual meeting this month, the denomination’s Executive Committee was cargado with making those reforms stick.

Bob SmietanaBob Smietana es reportero nacional de Religion News Service.



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5 Respuestas

  1. As great as his sexual sin was, even more egregious is wrapping evangelicals in the American flag and most notably, the Republican party. Our Lord’s kingdom was “not of this world”…he tried to make it so thereby disenfranchising millions who failed his political litmus test.

    1. I do not believe that political entanglements are worse than sexual abuse of young men and boys.

      I dont think we need to compare and measure and rank the sins of this man.

      But even if we were to rank his sins, I would not place political entanglement with a political party worse than sexual abuse of minor boys. I could not imagine standing before one of his victims and saying that.

  2. this is the appropriate way to eulogize this man, and the damage he has done to individuals and to collective system. the harm he caused will be felt far and wide for decades.

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Hola. Vemos que este es el tercer artículo de este mes que ha encontrado que vale la pena leer. ¡Estupendo! ¿Consideraría hacer una donación deducible de impuestos para ayudar a nuestros periodistas a continuar informando la verdad y restaurar la iglesia?

Su donación deducible de impuestos ayuda a nuestros periodistas a informar la verdad y responsabilizar a los líderes y organizaciones cristianos. Haga una donación de $30 o más a The Roys Report este mes y recibirá una copia de “¿Y si Jesús hablara en serio acerca de la Iglesia?” por Skye Jethani.