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A Southern Baptist Leader Hid Decades of Abuse. Will His Fall Doom SBC Abuse Reforms?

Brown tracks the problem back to the conservative takeover of the SBC Pressler set in motion, to which all of the current leaders owe their rise. It explains why few have criticized him publicly, she said, even after details of his abuse became known, and why few have empathized with Pressler’s victims, including Rollins. “None of them seem to have an ounce of respect for Duane, who brought truth to the table,” she said.

Attorney and abuse advocate Rachael Denhollander, an abuse survivor whose testimony helped convict former USA Gymnastics doctor and serial abuser Larry Nasser, said that documents from Pressler’s trial show that the SBC’s lawyers knew all along the abuse allegations were true and that SBC leaders should have known as well.

“Scripture tells us that when a leader falls, you are to rebuke him in the face of all so that he will become a warning,” she said. “The principle behind that is, as far as his reach has gone, that’s as far as the rebuke goes. If you have helped spread his platform, you have a responsibility to undo what you did.”

After the Rollins lawsuit was settled in December, Danny Akin, the longtime president of Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary, told RNS, “We can’t deny the reality of the accusations. You’ve got too many people stacked up that were ready to testify.”

But Akin said he still believes in the ideals of the resurgence. He said that Southern Baptists will need to acknowledge their sins and abuse when teaching about the conservative resurgence.

Some younger Southern Baptist leaders have also denounced Pressler, including Wyatt, who said Southern Baptists can appreciate the accomplishments of the conservative resurgence and still repudiate the wrongdoing of its leaders.

Wyatt, who declined to comment on the committee’s settlement in the Rollins lawsuit, said he has been more concerned about what SBC leaders knew about Pressler’s past misconduct. “How could you know and not say something?” he said.

He hopes that Southern Baptists will be more concerned about the character of their leaders than they have been in the past. “I just hope that we’ve learned enough to know that we don’t need to platform people we don’t trust. It seems like a no-brainer to me.”

One Southern Baptist voice that has been notably silent about Pressler is Albert Mohler, the longtime president of Southern Baptist Theological Seminary and perhaps the most prominent theologian in SBC circles. A spokesman for Mohler did not respond to requests for comment.

Karen Swallow Prior, a professor of English (and RNS columnist) who has taught in evangelical Christian schools for decades, said the SBC can’t escape the failings of the conservative resurgence. She said she became a Southern Baptist because she believed the resurgence was about the Bible. Now she suspects that it was about power.

“It’s the convenient myth that the SBC has told us for the past several decades,” she said.

Prior said that those who raised questions about abusive leaders in the SBC were eventually told they were not welcome — while figures like Patterson and Pressler were allowed to remain.

She worries the abuse reforms will fail, and that that failure will break the SBC.

“My best guess is that this is the hill they will die on. And how long that will take, only God knows.”

This article originally appeared here.