A longtime champion of family values once nominated as chairman of the Southern Baptist Convention’s moral-concerns agency surprised citizens of North Carolina with his arrest last week on multiple charges of aiding and abetting prostitution.
“Hell has just frozen over,” a state Democratic leader told a Raleigh newspaper editor after hearing news of the Thursday arrest of Coy Privette, 74, a retired Baptist pastor and four-term Republican legislator long associated with North Carolina’s Christian Action League.
Privette was arrested the same day as suspected prostitute Tiffany Denise Summers, 32, who drew police attention after cashing suspicious checks from his checkbook. Investigators believe Privette paid Summers six times during the last two months for sex in hotel rooms he rented in Salisbury, N.C.
Privette is a past president of the Baptist State Convention of North Carolina, which last year voted to ban membership to churches that accept gay people as members. He stepped down as a current member of the state convention’s board of directors and executive committee following his arrest.
He also resigned after six years as president of the Christian Action League, a group formed to “discourage the promotion and use of beverage alcohol and other drugs, pornography, sexual immorality and other sinful practices that not only undermine the spiritual lives of those who participate in them, but also undermine the strength of our state and national character.”
Privette previously served 15 years as the league’s executive director, earning him the reputation as one of North Carolina’s leading opponents of gambling and alcohol sales and making him a household name in the state’s Baptist community.
“Because of the nature of the allegations, I believe it is in the best interest for me to resign so that the charges will not distract from the important work of the Christian Action League,” Privette said in an e-mail posted on the league’s Web site.
Privette is pastor emeritus of North Kannapolis Baptist Church. He was pastor from 1962 until 1976 and is still an active member of the church, along with his wife of 47 years.
He is a former trustee of Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary and was a member of the Southern Baptist Convention Christian Life Commission in the 1980s.
During transition between the commission’s longtime moderate leader, the late Foy Valentine, and ultimate successor, Richard Land, Privette was nominated chairman by a fundamentalist faction of the board. He lost narrowly to moderate Baptist editor Lynn Clayton, during Larry Baker’s brief but intense tenure as the CLC’s executive director.
Now called the Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission, the agency represents the nation’s second-largest religious body on issues of morality, ethics and the separation of church and state.
Privette has been listed as a member of the National Consultation on Pornography and of the Council for National Policy–an exclusive conservative lobbying group that includes fellow Southern Baptist Paul Pressler.
In 1984 Privette created controversy in Baptist circles when he gave a mailing list of church leaders to the re-election campaign of Sen. Jesse Helms.
It is unclear if the scandal will cost Privette his seat as a current CabarrusCounty commissioner. No law requires public officials accused of a crime to resign, and fellow commissioners have no legal right to remove him. He was not expected to attend a regular meeting of the commission scheduled Monday night.
Privette has not yet spoken to media, but his four adult daughters issued a statement through his lawyer. “The allegations against our father are incredibly painful, but they do not alter our love, affection and admiration for our father and his life’s work,” they said. “We support our father unconditionally.”
If convicted, Privette would likely be sentenced at most to probation for his misdemeanor charges. The woman accused with consorting with him could receive stiffer penalties.
Charged with six misdemeanor counts of prostitution, Summers has previous convictions, including drug charges. A member of her family said she was disappointed that she was arrested despite cooperating with authorities.
“She felt by her help, cooperating with them, that she would not be implicated in this,” the family member told TV station WCNC.
“She’s not a bad person,” the family member said. “She’s a real good person. She just had some flaws in her life.”
Bob Allen is managing editor of EthicsDaily.com.