The Southern Baptist Convention has been added as a defendant in a lawsuit alleging that former Texas state judge and lawmaker Paul Pressler sexually abused a former Bible study student he hired as a home office assistant for decades, starting when he was just 14 years old.
The 15-million member organization was added to the lawsuit on Jan. 12 after it was initially filed in a Texas court on Oct. 18, according to the Tennessean.
Gareld D. Rollins Jr., the plaintiff who is now in his 50s, accuses the SBC and seven other defendants, including Pressler and his wife, Nancy, of fraudulently misrepresenting to the public "that Pressler was a Godlike, sexually safe, moral, and great person of the earth who, as a magistrate, worked God's wisdom and thus would not be sexually dangerous to minors."
The lawsuit also names the Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary, its president, Paige Patterson, and Houston's First Baptist Church as defendants, alleging they are liable for their professional, personal or denominational connections with Pressler.
The Christian Post reached out to the SBC for comment Friday and no one was immediately available. In a statement to the Tennessean, however, spokesman for the executive committee of the SBC, Roger S. Oldham, said he believes the allegations against the organization are baseless.
"We are satisfied the allegations about the SBC in the amended complaint are without merit," Oldham said.
Rollins alleges in the lawsuit that he was molested repeatedly by Pressler over 35 years. He said he first met the former judge, who is now 87, at the First Baptist Church where Pressler worked in volunteer leadership roles. Pressler was also one of the key players involved in the conservative takeover of the Southern Baptist Convention in the late 1970s and early '80s.
Pressler, the suit alleges, enrolled Rollins in Bible study and began molesting and raping him in his master bedroom study. A psychiatrist's report cited by The Texas Monitor says Rollins suffers from post-traumatic stress disorder resulting from childhood sexual trauma.
Daniel Shea, attorney for Rollins, told The Texas Monitor that he had received calls from other individuals alleging similar abuse at the hands of Pressler. He said Pressler's alleged predatory behavior was the "worst kept secret in Houston."
"He's been very blatant and very careless over the years running after young boys and picking them up from these various church youth Bible study groups," Shea said.
Rollins is seeking $1 million in damages.
"If any victims decide they want to be added to the suit that can be done," Shea said.
Responding to the lawsuit in November, Pressler, "generally and categorically" denied "each and every allegation," according to the Baptist Press.