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going home to find drunk. Two weeks later, Winky pulled the boy aside and told him about Jesus. Cole went home, closeted himself in the bathroom, and knelt by the toilet to pray. He believes he was saved by Jesus. “I was awakening to this issue, to this realization, that I wasn’t perfect,” he says, “and also if I go very far down this path that I think is before me I knew, even at 9, I was going to end up like my dad.” He cared for his father until he died of cirrhosis of the liver. The 13-year-old moved to Sherman, Texas, to live with his mother and stepfather, drifting from church but tasting the power of words to move opinion in an eighth-grade history class’s mock trial. In 1988, he worked for former Gov. Ann Richards’ campaign and later supported Ross Perot; he and a friend stole Clinton and Bush signs from front yards. He also began drinking. The morning after one brutal, bloody party at Lake Texoma, he collapsed and began praying. Soon he was attending the First Baptist Church in Sherman, where he learned how to use parliamentary procedure. He graduated from high school early, at 16, spent a year at Baylor University, then switched to Criswell College, a smaller, more conservative Christian school in Dallas. At 18, the promising young Baptist was introduced to Paul Pressler, a Houston judge who had helped a group of conserva The morning after one brutal, bloody party at Lake Texoma, he collapsed and began praying. Paige Patterson addresses the Southern Baptist Convention in San Antonio. photo by Matt Miller, courtesy of Baptist Press/ tive Baptists take over the SBC from moderates in the 1980s, a revolution now called the “conservative resurgence:’ Pressler often invited young people to accompany his disabled son to meetings, and he remembers Cole as “very bright, very resourceful, hardworking?’ Pressler also took Cole to meetings of the Council for National Policy, which the Web site Sourcewatch calls “a secretive forum that was formed in 1981 by Tim LaHaye as a networking tool for leading U.S. conservative political leaders, financiers, and religious right activist leaders:’ In 1996, Pressler brought Cole to the SBC annual meeting in New Orleans, where he met Paige Patterson, another conservative resurgence leader who would be elected SBC president in 1998. Patterson became a father figure, Cole recalls, offering counsel, calling him in his dorm room, bringing him to functions, telling him secrets. Admitted to the inner circle, Cole began to learn political tactics: reserving blocks of rooms in conference hotels to enfranchise sympathizers, building communication networks, enlisting the media in disinformation campaigns, and spying on enemies. After a year at Criswell, he transferred to Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary in North Carolina, where Patterson was president. Cole graduated in 1997 with a bachelor’s in biblical studies. Two years later he moved back to Texas and took his first pastor’s job, at 21, in the tiny town of Luella, southeast of Sherman. In 1999, a Jewish documentary filmmaker from New York, Steve Manin, discovered Cole when he came to Texas to take the SBC up on its challenge to evangelize Jews. Hoping to land Patterson as a spiritual adviser, he instead met Cole, a geeky, earnest true believer who prescribed a daily chapter of the Gospel of John and taught the skeptical Manin how to pray. 8 THE TEXAS OBSERVER JULY 13, 2007