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.