Judge Paul Pressler stands as a giant in the history of the Southern Baptist Convention (SBC). Beginning in 1979 and lasting all the way through the early 1990’s, he and Dr. Paige Patterson led a grassroots movement to return SBC institutions to conservative evangelical faith. He is indeed one of the heroes of the SBC conservative resurgence. You would be hard-pressed to find a grassroots conservative Southern Baptist who doesn’t have a deep admiration and love for Judge Pressler.
Robert Novak of the Washington Post has picked up on the importance of Judge Pressler to Southern Baptists and wrote about him yesterday in his weekly column. What caught Novak’s attention is the fact that Pressler has not endorsed fellow Southern Baptist Mike Huckabee for President. Here’s the reason according to Novak:
‘More than personality explains why not all his Baptist brethren have signed on the dotted line for Huckabee. He did not join the “conservative resurgence” that successfully rebelled against liberals in the Southern Baptist Convention a generation ago. . . Because no Republican candidate since Pat Robertson in 1988 has depended so much on support from evangelicals, opposition by Huckabee’s fellow Southern Baptists is significant. . . [Pressler] did not go so far as endorsing Huckabee for president, and that sends a strong message to conservative evangelicals.’
It is always interesting to read an outsider’s description of the SBC’s conservative resurgence. Novak uses the word “conservative” seven times in this article, yet I wonder if Novak realizes that when the adjective conservative is applied to a Southern Baptist it is primarily a theological description, not a political one. Judge Pressler led a theological renewal within the SBC, not a political one. I doubt that the average reader will understand this all-important distinction. Pressler himself was a Democrat when the resurgence began in 1979. It was only later that he switched his party-affiliation (which you can read about in his must-read memoir A Hill On Which To Die: One Southern Baptist’s Journey).
I know that Novak’s column is not about the history of the Southern Baptists. But it would be unfortunate, nevertheless, if people were to get the impression that the SBC’s conservative resurgence was about partisan politics. It emphatically was not. The “hill on which to die” was the inerrancy of scripture.
But don’t take my word for it. Read Judge Pressler’s memoir for yourself: A Hill On Which To Die: One Southern Baptist’s Journey. It is well worth it.