A pastor campaigning to become president of the Southern Baptist Convention has called for the interim leader of an SBC ethics agency to be fired because he signed onto a letter urging compassion for women who have abortions.
Tom Ascol, a Florida pastor who also leads a group of Southern Baptist Calvinists called Founders Ministries, used Twitter May 13 to blast Brent Leatherwood, interim president of the SBC’s Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission. The previous ERLC president, Russell Moore, was run off by far-right critics in the SBC who hounded him for supporting legal immigration, supporting greater accountability in cases of sexual abuse, and for not supporting Donald Trump’s reelection bid.
“The SBC has a rogue entity in the @ERLC. The messengers spoke loudly & clearly about our commitment to abolish abortion & see equal protection under the law for preborn children. The ERLC has defied the will of the churches who own it,” Ascol tweeted.
The resolution he referenced was promoted by his brother, Bill Ascol, at last year’s SBC annual meeting, where despite not being passed out of the Resolutions Committee was adopted by messengers in a procedural maneuver. That resolution, the most strident language ever adopted by the SBC on abortion, called for an “immediate abolition of abortion without exception or compromise.”
Tom Ascol now believes the ERLC and its interim leader didn’t get the “no compromise” message.
“I urge Southern Baptists to call on their trustees to immediately remove @LeatherwoodTN as acting President of the @ERLC,” he tweeted. “By signing this open letter he has used SBC resources to smear our name & defy our clear resolve to protect the unborn.”
The open letter that has enraged Ascol comes from the National Right to Life Committee, one of the preeminent pro-life advocacy groups in America.
The open letter that has enraged Ascol comes from the National Right to Life Committee, one of the preeminent pro-life advocacy groups in America. The May 12 letter is titled “An Open Letter to State Lawmakers from America’s Leading Pro-Life Organizations.”
While affirming the likely outcome of the leaked draft of a U.S. Supreme Court ruling that would eviscerate Roe v. Wade, the NRLC urges state legislatures not to victimize women in their zeal to criminalize abortion.
“Women are victims of abortion and require our compassion and support as well as ready access to counseling and social services in the days, weeks, months, and years following an abortion,” the letter states. “As national and state pro-life organizations, representing tens of millions of pro-life men, women, and children across the country, let us be clear: We state unequivocally that any measure seeking to criminalize or punish women is not pro-life and we stand firmly opposed to such efforts.”
The letter is signed by 76 pro-life leaders from across the nation. But according to Ascol, Leatherwood and the SBC should not have been among that group.
Ascol followed up his first Twitter thread with an addendum an hour later: “’Criminalization of mothers’ is newspeak. Don’t be misled. Only actions can be crimes, not people. And the act of murder is a crime regardless of how old the murdered is or how sympathetic the murderer is.”
Ascol’s position drew an immediate and sharp rebuke from Dwight McKissic, a conservative SBC pastor in Arlington, Texas, who also has challenged Ascol’s harsh language against Critical Race Theory.
McKissic tweeted: “This thread represents extremism, misrepresentation, & false allegations against the ERLC, by Tom Ascol, SBC presidential candidate. ERLC strongly opposes abortion. Ascol wants to criminalize mothers. ERLC wants to criminalize abortionists. I agree with the ERLC.”
Bob Smietana, a veteran journalist who writes for Religion News Service, asked Ascol a follow-up question via Twitter: “So is it your position that women who chose abortion should be charged with murder? Would you then support the death penalty for women who have abortions?”
To which Tom Ascol’s brother, Bill, replied: “So @bobsmietana, is it your position that if your wife hired a hit man to murder you she should NOT be treated as a criminal?!”
This abortion exchange came two days after one of Tom Ascol’s staunchest defenders, pastor Tom Buck of Lindale, Texas, tweeted a message that any Southern Baptist who votes for a Democrat should be subject to church discipline, meaning removal from membership.
“In light of today’s vote by Democrats to legalize abortion until moment of birth, we are rapidly reaching the point that voting for a Democrat should be a matter of church discipline,” Buck said.
Tom Ascol is one of three announced candidates for the SBC presidency, a decision that will be made when about 10,000 messengers from across the nation meet in Anaheim, Calif., June 14-15. His challengers are Texas pastor Bart Barber and California missiologist Robin Hadaway.
Assessing the damage Twitter has done to American Christianity | Opinion by Mark Wingfield