As the #MeToo wave continues its procession, bringing to light allegations of sexual harassment and assault, victims inch closer to justice that is long overdue. Some of the accusations prove more shocking than others, for various reasons. Perhaps most surprising is the allegation against Judge Paul Pressler. While the allegation is yet unproven, Pressler is accused of molesting a man between 1979 and 2014, from the time the victim was 14 years old. Pressler denies the allegations.
The surprise comes from Pressler’s reputation in Southern Baptist Convention circles. He was one of the chief architects of the conservative resurgence in the SBC. The entire premise of the conservative resurgence was a course correction to counteract the erosion of core moral values in an increasingly liberal and secular America. The implication was that Southern Baptists on the left had lost their moral compass. They had abandoned biblical values and gone adrift in the world. The conservative resurgence’s goal was to renew connection to true biblical values and restore America’s moral integrity. But how has that worked out?
Pressler stands accused of molestation stretching across decades. He was a champion of Southern Baptists and the Religious Right who stood for years as an example of Christian values, and the man who led the charge against the godless liberal forces who hijacked the Southern Baptist seminary system and polluted the minds of a generation of Southern Baptist ministers.
And then you have Roy Moore, also facing accusations which overshadowed his run for the U.S. Senate in Alabama. Claims against him supported by others from a growing list of accusers did little to lessen support from some Christians. In fact, Moore continued to hold rallies in churches where pastors prayed for strength for Moore in the face of his trials and prayed for the accusers to see the error in their ways. Even Franklin Graham offered his prayers for Moore on Election Day.
The movement to restore Southern Baptists’ moral compass has lost its own moral compass, if it ever had one. For quite some time, it has been clear that commitment to values has mattered less than power: Power to shape the future and doctrines of the SBC, power to shape the policy and character of a nation. The backhanded manner in which the conservative resurgence was undertaken, described as “going for the Convention’s jugular” by Pressler himself, mattered less than winning. Accusations of dating teenagers and sexual harassment matter less than the opportunity to have another Republican vote to possibly appoint a Supreme Court justice someday.
With this defense of Moore in mind, it seems to be a fair assumption that Pressler can expect similar support. I hope I’ll be proven wrong, but I don’t expect to be. He will be yet another in the list of flawed, fallen human beings whose moral failings only point to the need for Christ in all of us, because nobody’s perfect. Pressler has performed the role of biblically grounded conservative Christian for too long, and won too much for the cause. Despite years of rhetoric about America as a Christian nation and a return to biblical values, it all comes to nothing in the face of political reality. There is no accountability.
When these allegations emerge against conservative figures such as Moore or Pressler, the response is typically to deflect and point to Bill Clinton or Al Franken or John Conyers. “See, everybody does it!” But, that’s no defense; it just proves my point. Both sides possess a blindness for those we valorize, whether it’s Matt Lauer or Charlie Rose, or Roy Moore or Paul Pressler. We come to believe these people can do no wrong, and in the process we ignore the deep moral failings endemic to American society.
We, as a nation, are in need of not only repentance, but also a renewed commitment to actual change. There is a problem with masculinity in this country and the privileges men have come to assume are their birthright. Christianity isn’t immune; we’re part of the problem. Rather than presuming to possess the moral high ground, and constantly pointing the finger at those from the other side who are just as bad, or offering forgiveness before taking the time to condemn acts of sexual abuse, it’s past time to actually accept the breadth of this problem and do something about it.