Paul Pressler, the SBC, and the Conservative Movement

Those who are regulars here know that I attended SBTS from August 1993 to May 1994. I was there when Mohler was inaugurated, and was there as the seminary became Ground Zero in the war over the direction of the Southern Baptist Convention. There was a major fight within the seminary, as–at the time–the faculty ranged from centrists to far-left on the theological spectrum. The previous President–Roy Honeycutt–had been a center-left type, and his predecessor (Duke McCall) had been even further left.

Over the years, SBTS had implicitly told the whole world: conservatives need not apply.

How liberal was it at SBTS in the fall of 1993?

(1) You couldn’t have a rational discussion about women in ministry. If you expressed any Biblically-based reservation against women pastors–and those are perfectly legit–then you were a sexist and/or a misogynist.

(2) You couldn’t have a rational discussion about the authority of Scripture. The powers that were insisted that, if you subscribed to a conservative model of Biblical reliability (i.e. inerrancy), you might as well be guilty of putting the MENTAL in fundamentalism.

(3) If you were pro-life, or supported the Biblical case against homosexuality, then you had few allies among the faculty. The most “pro-life” ethics professor had been part of Ron Sider’s Evangelicals for Social Action.

(4) Along the lines of (3), if you didn’t support some form of communismliberation theology, then you were cruel and heartless, and didn’t side with Jesus. Because, after all, everyone knows that socialism is in the Bible, even if it isn’t.

(5) If you didn’t support re-translating the Bible to remove gender-specific references to God, then you were a sexist who wanted to make women feel excluded. As a result, feminist theology was very popular among the student body, and the theology department tacitly fanned those flames.

(6) If you were a Young Earth Creationist, or even a skeptic of macro-evolution–I identify as the latter–then you were anti-science, and all legitimate debate over this was settled.

What do I mean when I say you couldn’t have a rational discussion of these matters?

It means that the professors typically stacked the deck to exclude balanced discussions of such hot-button issues, and none of them–not even the professors I otherwise liked–were on your side. They didn’t dock your grade for disssenting–thank you for that, as I was one B short of straight As–but it was a hostile classroom nonetheless.

It was slow-motion indoctrination. And to any conservative–which I am–this needed to change.

Enter R. Albert Mohler, circa September 1993. His inauguration had been the culmination of about 10 years of change on the SBTS board of trustees: as left-leaning board members dropped off, the Executive Committee of the SBC would nominate right-leaning board members. Eventually, there were a sufficient number of conservatives to really make big changes.

Honeycutt saw the handwriting on the wall, and retired, making the way for Mohler. I have my issues with Mohler, but I won’t take away from the fact that he brought a very necessary housecleaning to SBTS.

But the rise of Mohler at SBTS would not have been possible without a powerful Texas judge and lawmaker: Paul Pressler.

In fact, it was Pressler–who recruited a young firebrand, Paige Patterson–to enact a strategy for a conservative resurgence that was nothing short of brilliant.

The resurgence itself was possible in no small part because it was, if nothing else, very popular among mainstream Southern Baptists, who were–with pockets of exceptions–more conservative than what was coming from leadership.

Pressler and Patterson would use that populism to get conservative SBC Presidents–such as Adrian Rodgers and Charles Stanley–elected. Those Presidents would, over time, fill the Executive Committee with right-leaning appointments, and the Executive Committee would, over time, stack the boards of every SBC entity–from the Home Mission Board (now the North American Mission Board) to the Foreign Mission Board (now the International Mission Board) to the Sunday School Board (now LifeWay) and every one of the seminaries–SBTS, GGTS, NOBTS, SEBTS, SWBTS–with conservative board members.

Those would bring in new leaders who would fundamentally reshape the face of those entities, and the SBC itself.

For his part, Patterson would become President at two SBC seminaries: Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary (SEBTS) and Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary (SWBTS).

But it was Pressler’s strategy and Pressler’s vision that fomented that change. No modern-era SBC leader, from Patterson to Mohler to current SBC President Steve Gaines, would have had such an impact on the SBC but for the work of Pressler.

This is why the SBC powers that are have torn a page from North Korea and dedicated stained glass tributes at the SWBTS Chapel to Dear Leaders such as Pressler.

That is why the current lawsuit against Pressler and Patterson–accusing Pressler of sexual abuse and Patterson of knowing about it and doing nothing–is a big deal.

If the allegations are true, then Pressler–now 87 years old and otherwise long-retired–has much to answer for. It also would beg the question: what did other SBC leaders know about this? And if they knew anything, what did they do with that knowledge?

While a skeptic can reasonably argue that this could be a witch hunt driven by the #metoo bandwagon, it is also possible that we have a smoking gun, especially if the story is true that Pressler has settled a prior claim. The details of that are sealed, but–in a trial–those details will become unsealed, assuming it gets that far.

My take: I’m all for Due Process. Let the facts come out, let the cross-examinations begin, and, if there are family jewels, lay them out for all to see.

And if heads must roll, then off with their heads.

And if they molested children–or covered for those who did–then I say start with the smaller heads…