Paul Pressler

Preparing for real #SBC2018 debates -- It's not 'moderates' vs. 'fundies,' these days

Preparing for real #SBC2018 debates -- It's not 'moderates' vs. 'fundies,' these days

If you look at a timeline of events in American culture, there is no question that the great revolt by Southern Baptist conservatives was linked -- in part -- to Roe v. Wade and the rise of Ronald Reagan and his mid-1970s campaign against the GOP country-club establishment. 

But if journalists want to understand the priorities of the current leadership of the Southern Baptist Convention, they need to back up and look at some other events as well. It's important to understand what young SBC conservatives (male and female) want to change and what they don't want to change.

OK, let's start back in the 1940s, '50s and '60s, when SBC conservatives became worried that theological trends in liberal Protestant denominations were seeping into their own seminaries. Truth be told: There were not many truly liberal Southern Baptists out there -- on issues such as the virgin birth and resurrection of Jesus -- but they did exist.

Southern Baptists who were worried about all of that, and SBC agencies backing abortion rights, kept running into institutional walls. They were called paranoid "fundies" (short for "fundamentalists") and hicks who lived in the sticks and they had little input into national SBC committees and agencies.

In reality, there was a small SBC left and a larger SBC hard right, framing a vast, ordinary evangelical SBC middle. But the "moderates" were hanging onto control.

Then the Rev. Jimmy Allen organized an establishment machine that pulled his own loyal "messengers" into the 1977 Southern Baptist Convention, insuring his election and control over the committee on committees that shaped SBC institutions. He won again in 1978.

Leaders on the right -- like the (now all but exiled) Rev. Paige Patterson, Judge Paul Pressler and others -- took careful notes and decided they could play that game before the fateful 1979 Houston convention. They built a church-bus machine that beat the old "moderates," then they did that again year after year.

Now, what does that have to do the big issues in the current crisis? Let's walk our way through a passage in a pre-SBC 2018 background piece at The Washington Post, a story that also details recent events linked to the fall of Patterson from power.

... Patterson knew how to make things happen in the late 1970s and ’80s when he and others on the far right grew increasingly worried about the convention becoming more moderate on the key question of the Bible’s inerrancy, including on the place of women and the family.

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Beyond Dallas, onrushing #ChurchToo furor may spell trouble for biblical 'complementarians'

Beyond Dallas, onrushing #ChurchToo furor may spell trouble for biblical 'complementarians'

At this writing we don’t know whether Paige Patterson will turn up for his star appearance to preach the keynote sermon at the June 12-13 Dallas meeting of the Southern Baptist Convention (SBC).

Whatever, thanks to Patterson, reporters will flock to this gathering of the biggest U.S. Protestant denomination.

That’s due to the mop-up after Patterson’s sudden sacking as president of Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary (per this GetReligion item). It’s a dramatic turn in the onrushing #ChurchToo furor hitting U.S. Protestants after decades of Catholic ignominy over sexual misconduct.

The ouster involved his callous attitudes on spousal abuse, rape and reporting, plus sexist remarks, as protested by thousands of Baptist women. Patterson and Southwestern are also cover-up defendants in a sexual molesting case against retired Texas state Judge Paul Pressler. The storied Patterson-and- Pressler duo achieved what supporters call the SBC’s “conservative resurgence” and opponents the “fundamentalist takeover.”     

 The prime figure among their younger successors is R. Albert Mohler, Jr., president of Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville. He has denounced the current scandal as “a foretaste of the wrath of God,” and predicts ongoing woe for Southern Baptists and other  evangelicals. Doubtless he’s also upset over the downfall of SBC headquarters honcho Frank Page.

Mohler especially fears damage to the “complementarian” movement in which he and Patterson have been allied. It believes the Bible restricts women’s authority in church and home. Their evangelical foes charge that this theology disrespects women and their policy input, ignores victims’ voices and fosters abuse and cover-ups.

The Religion Guy has depicted the debate between “egalitarian” evangelicals and complementarians here. For other background, note this narrative from a female ex-professor at Southwestern.

Complementarians gained momentum with the 1987 launch of the Council on Biblical Manhood and Womanhood, backed by conservatives including Patterson’s wife Dorothy, Mohler, Daniel Akin who succeeded Patterson’s as president of Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary, and many non-Baptists. 


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Next act in Southern Baptist drama? Judge Paul Pressler still fighting 'closet' accusations

Next act in Southern Baptist drama? Judge Paul Pressler still fighting 'closet' accusations

The telephone calls began in the early 1980s, including one from a liberal Baptist with a five-star track record in American politics and media. I was the religion-beat reporter at The Charlotte News at the time, the long-gone afternoon paper that operated alongside The Charlotte Observer.

The big news in American religion back then was the conservative revolt in the giant Southern Baptist Convention, which began in the late 1970s and took six-plus years to run its course, in terms of changes in national SBC boards and agencies. The leaders of this revolt were Texas Judge Paul Pressler and the Rev. Paige Patterson.

Readers may have heard of Patterson, since he has made a bit of news in recent weeks. You think? To catch up, see this post from yesterday: "Watching Southern Baptist dominoes: Whither the Paige Patterson files on 2003 rape report?"

The calls in the early 1980s, however, were about Pressler. They focused on rumors -- not public documents and events that could lead to coverage -- that Pressler had been accused of sexual abuse by a young man in the Presbyterian church where the future judge was a youth leader, before he became a Southern Baptist.

The rumors continued, leading to fierce debates about the importance of out-of-court settlements and other complications linked to Pressler's past. Now, the Pressler story is one elite-media headline away from competing with the Patterson drama, as Southern Baptists wrestle with sins in the past and their leadership going into the future.

Yes, that's was the topic of this week's "Crossroads" podcast. Click here to tune that in.

To see the larger context, consider this passage from a Ross Douthat column -- "The Baptist Apocalypse" -- in The New York Times. Yes, there is a hint of a Donald Trump angle here, but this story is actually much bigger than that.

Late last year I wrote an essay speculating about the possibility of an “evangelical crisis” in this era, driven by the gap between the older and strongly pro-Trump constituency in evangelical churches and those evangelicals, often younger, who either voted for the president reluctantly or rejected his brand of politics outright. But I didn’t anticipate that the crisis would take a specific sex-and-power form -- that the Trump presidency and the #MeToo era between them would make the treatment of women the place where evangelical divisions were laid bare.

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