Home Christian News Former SBC Leader and Accused Sexual Abuser, Paul Pressler, Dead at 94

Former SBC Leader and Accused Sexual Abuser, Paul Pressler, Dead at 94

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Paul Pressler, a key figure behind the Southern Baptist Convention’s conservative resurgence as well as a symbol of its sexual abuse crisis, died June 7 at age 94.

Baptist News Global first reported Pressler’s death, confirming it via a printed funeral program. A service for Pressler was held June 15 at a Houston funeral home, with about 70 attendees. Since then, major news outlets—including the New York Times—have published obituaries about the controversial figure.

When the denomination held its annual meeting in Indianapolis last week, the recent death of the influential evangelical wasn’t publicly acknowledged. In response to a request for comment, an SBC spokesperson said, “The SBC Executive Committee was unaware of Judge Pressler’s passing until it was reported by media on Saturday, June 15.”

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No cause of death has been reported. Pressler is survived by his wife, Nancy, three children, and their families.

Paul Pressler Was Co-Architect of SBC’s Conservative Resurgence

Paul Pressler, born in Houston in 1930, earned degrees from Princeton and the University of Texas law school. After serving as a Democrat in the Texas House of Representatives in the late 1950s, he was a district judge and then served on the Texas 14th Court of Appeals.

Pressler, who became a Republican in 1982, was selected seven years later by President George H. W. Bush to lead the Office of Government Ethics. But after an FBI background check found “ethics problems,” Pressler’s name was removed from consideration. Instead, he served on the Drug Advisory Committee during the elder Bush’s administration. Pressler also was a founder of the Council for National Policy, a networking group for conservative politicians.

In his 1999 autobiography “A Hill on Which to Die,” Pressler expressed concern about liberalism creeping into churches. Three decades earlier, he had met Paige Patterson, who shared similar views. For years, the two men worked to build a conservative coalition within the Southern Baptist Convention (SBC).

As the New York Times explained, “Pressler acted as a political operative while Patterson, a seminarian, was seen as [the movement’s] theologian.” They worked to move the denomination to the right, aligning it with the GOP.

Baptist News Global publisher Mark Wingfield described Pressler as “the Steve Bannon” of the SBC. “The tactics he used in the SBC were political tactics that worked, and were used at a political level,” Wingfield said. “It became a playbook for the Republican Party.”

Throughout his career, Pressler decried the “perversion” rampant in Washington, D.C. In 2015, he said he had dedicated his life to “the conservative principles on which our country was founded.”

Paul Pressler Was Also Embroiled in Sexual Abuse Scandal

In 2004, Gareld Duane Rollins Jr., a former assistant to Pressler, accused his boss of sexually assaulting him in a hotel room the previous year. According to the Texas Tribune, Pressler settled that suit for $450,000, plus a confidentiality agreement.

That settlement became public in 2017, after Rollins sued Pressler, alleging 24 years of rape, beginning when Rollins was 14. The SBC was also named in that lawsuit; Rollins accused the denomination of covering up Pressler’s behavior. Although the statute of limitations had expired, a Texas Supreme Court ruling allowed the case to continue.