WASHINGTON (RNS)—Several board members have resigned from a neo-Calvinist evangelical group that released a trailer of a planned film linking prominent Southern Baptists with a conspiracy to promote social justice advocacy in evangelical churches.
The resignations, announced August 1 by Founders Ministries President Tom Ascol, come as some Southern Baptist leaders interviewed for the film have distanced themselves from it.
The trailer for By What Standard? highlights remarks in support of women, such as Southern Baptist Bible teacher Beth Moore, who have spoken in pulpits on Sundays. The Southern Baptist Convention’s 2000 Baptist Faith & Message statement says only men can serve as pastors.
Sex abuse ‘different from social justice issues’
The four-minute trailer also shows panel discussions on racial reconciliation at the 2019 annual SBC meeting and on sexual abuse on the eve of that meeting. The abuse-related panel, hosted by the SBC’s Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission, featured Moore and Rachael Denhollander, both sex abuse survivors and advocates for churches addressing the issue.
According to statements from two of the three resigning board members—which Ascol said were published at their request and with their permission on his organization’s website—the inclusion of Denhollander in the trailer released July 23 appeared to have been a particular sore point.
“Her presence in the trailer, along with other sexual abuse survivors, seemed to conflate sexual abuse with other problematic views of social justice,” wrote now-former board member Tom Hicks. “All the board members agreed that sexual abuse is very different from social justice issues, but we disagreed about how to go forward in light of the trailer.”
Fred Malone, a board member who said he was resigning after working with the group for almost 36 years, acknowledged in his statement that he was chagrined by the initial inclusion of Denhollander.
Although he said the board had agreed to remove the “confusing image” of Denhollander from the trailer, he resigned because the board did not agree on what he saw as the sinfulness of its use.
“By associating her image closely with a confusing statement about powers of darkness, it appeared to many that we were somehow disapproving of her work against sexual abuse,” said Malone, who described himself as “an advocate against sexual abuse, a counselor of numerous victims for almost 35 years in my pastoral work, and a reporter of several cases.”
Denhollander tweeted that the use of her image “was not an accident.”
‘A painful separation’
Ascol, in his announcement, called the resignations “a painful separation” but vowed to keep going with the film, which is featured on a fundraising website with a bit more than a third of its $75,000 goal raised as of Friday.
“Founders Ministries is continuing with the film project unabated, convinced that the issues we are confronting are of vital importance,” he said.
In an earlier “About That Trailer” posting on his ministry’s website, Ascol said the “1-2 second clip” of Denhollander “was not our wisest editing moment” and had been removed.
“We are grateful for so many of Mrs. Denhollander’s efforts to serve victims of abuse,” he added.
Southern Baptist Theological Seminary President Al Mohler is shown in the trailer being interviewed by Ascol about complementarianism, a doctrine about women having different roles in church and family from men. Mohler is one of several Southern Baptist leaders involved in the filming who has now questioned the project’s worth.
“I do not believe that the documentary from Founders Ministries can serve a healthy purpose at this time,” he said in a statement published in Baptist Press, the SBC’s official news service. “I stand entirely by my own interview, but do not want it presented in this context.”