Three days after a bombshell report from independent investigators made possible by the Southern Baptist Convention Executive Committee waiving attorney-client privilege, one of three candidates for SBC president said he still believes waiving privilege was “not wise.”
Florida pastor Tom Ascol appeared in an informal Q&A via Twitter Space on Wednesday morning, May 25, with Southern Baptist blogger Benjamin Cole, otherwise known as “The Baptist Blogger.”
When asked what he made of the Executive Committee’s October decision to waive attorney-client privilege in the Guidepost Solutions independent probe into the Executive Committee’s mishandling of sexual abuse, Ascol said that after talking with lawyers, he believed the decision was “not wise” and “not a best practice.”
Ascol’s opposition to the Executive Committee’s waiving of attorney-client privilege is controversial given that the messengers to last year’s convention in Nashville overwhelmingly approved the motion for the investigation, which included a request to the Executive Committee to waive attorney-client privilege “in order to ensure full access to information and accuracy in the review.”
Still, it took three months and three votes for the Executive Committee to do so because of opposition from key Executive Committee staff and some Executive Committee trustees — mainly those affiliated with the most conservative and Calvinistic wing of the convention along with Ascol.
Ascol is running for president this year under the mantra of bringing sweeping theological and doctrinal change into the SBC against what he believes are rising tides of “liberalism” and “wokeness.” He has been backed by the Conservative Baptist Network, a contingency of Southern Baptist pastors and laypeople who, like Ascol, are concerned about the dangers of social justice, women pastors, Critical Race Theory, and other expressions of “wokeness.”
Ascol also leads a group of Southern Baptist Calvinists known as Founders Ministries, which has been vocal in criticism of current SBC President Ed Litton.
In a statement published on the Founders Ministries website, 11 prominent SBC figures, including Mike Stone, the losing candidate in last year’s presidential election who also was endorsed by the Conservative Baptist Network, asserted the SBC “badly needs a change of direction” and bemoaned that “a small group of leaders steers our institutions ever closer to the culture, from radical feminism masked as ‘soft complementarianism’ to the false gospel of Critical [Race] Theory and Intersectionality.”
In the conversation with Cole, Ascol said he believes egalitarians fall outside the parameters of cooperation in the SBC. Moreover, he said egalitarianism is a byproduct of a “feminist age” that is “driven less by exegesis and more by cultural whims.” He also stated that he believed the rise of “critical social justice” was attributable to the “Young, Restless, and Reformed” movement.
He said egalitarianism is a byproduct of a “feminist age” that is “driven less by exegesis and more by cultural whims.”
Ascol and his allies are staunch complementarians who believe God created male and female differently and for different roles in the church and home. They do not believe women may serve as pastors or deacons or in other roles of authority in the church. Some complementarians recently publicly criticized an SBC seminary for awarding a bachelor’s degree in pastoral theology to a woman.
Egalitarians, on the other hand, believe to varying degrees that women and men are created equally by God and may be called by God to serve the church in the same ways as men.
Ascol and his associates have labeled his campaign of bringing doctrinal change to the SBC with the hashtag #ChangeTheDirection.
On Monday, Cole hosted a similar Twitter conversation with SBC presidential candidate Bart Barber of First Baptist Church of Farmersville, Texas. That conversation was seemingly straightforward and included Barber’s reaction of lament to the findings of the Guidepost report on sexual abuse in the SBC.
Barber is running as an SBC traditionalist and institutionalist. He has emphasized the need for civil discussion in the convention. On Monday, he stated he had informally adopted a sort of campaign slogan he and others have shared on social media: #ArmyOfPeacemakers.
The third presidential candidate, Robin Hadaway, declined to participate in a Twitterspace dialogue with Cole.
David Bumgardner is a writer and minister in New Orleans. He is a pastoral intern at Canal Street Church, a parish in the Anglican Mission. David formerly wrote as a Clemons Fellow for Baptist News Global. He is a graduate of Texas Baptist College, where he earned a bachelor of arts degree in Christian Studies. He is a student at Talbot School of Theology, where he is currently pursuing a master of arts degree in theology.