(RNS) — A state appeals court in Texas ruled last week that a sexual abuse lawsuit could go forward against Paul Pressler, a former judge and influential Southern Baptist who helped lead a rightward shift in the denomination in the 1980s and 1990s.
Gareld Duane Rollins, Jr., who met Pressler in a Bible study when he was 14, sued Pressler in 2017, accusing the Southern Baptist legend of sexually abusing him for years, including an alleged rape in 1980. The alleged abuse continued until Rollins was in his 30s, according to the lawsuit. Rollins, who also served as an assistant to Pressler, has alleged that the abuse led to a lifetime of struggles with addictions and troubles with the law.
Pressler, 90, has denied any wrongdoing.
A lower court dismissed the sexual assault claims in Rollins’s suit three years ago, citing the statute of limitations, but Rollins’s lawyers argued that the trauma from abuse prevented him from realizing that the alleged sexual relationship had been non-consensual, according to the appeals court ruling.
The appeals court ruled on Thursday (Feb. 25) that Pressler and other defendants in the case “did not conclusively negate” the argument made by Rollins’s lawyers and sent the lawsuit back to a lower court.
In 2003, Rollins and Pressler had “an altercation in a Dallas hotel room,” according to court documents, leading Rollins to sue the Baptist leader for assault. That lawsuit was settled, with Pressler agreeing to pay Rollins $1,500 a month for 25 years while Rollins agreed to keep the settlement and the 2003 altercation confidential. Rollins credited the counseling he received in prison for helping him realize that he had been a victim of abuse.
Pressler and Paige Patterson, a conservative leader who was fired as president from Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary in 2018 for mishandling abuse claims, were key leaders in what is remembered by Southern Baptists as the Conservative Resurgence, which wrested power in the nation’s largest denomination from more moderate Baptists.
The two were once among SBC leaders commemorated in a series of stained glass windows at Southwestern seminary. Those windows were removed after Paige’s firing, with some sent to Liberty University.