The head of Founders Ministries has responded to the backlash he received after the organization released a controversial trailer last week for its upcoming documentary that was highly critical of the social justice push within the Southern Baptist Convention and evangelical churches.
Tim Ascol, president of the Reformed Baptist organization and a Florida pastor, issued a lengthy statement this week expressing "regret" for the "pain and confusion" caused by the release of a nearly four-minute trailer for the organization's upcoming documentary “By What Standard?”
As the "cinedoc" seeks to expose a "postmodern, deconstructionist worldview" that has "given rise to godless ideologies" such as radical feminism, critical race theory, and intersectionality, the film is supposed to feature commentaries from several prominent leaders within the SBC.
Several SBC leaders interviewed for the film have since asked to no longer be associated with the project and that their interviews not be used after the trailer seemed to condemn prominent Southern Baptist figures, including Russell Moore, James Merritt, Matt Chandler, Beth Moore, and Dwight McKissic.
To some critics, the trailer came off as downplaying concerns related to sex abuse in the church.
"Some have claimed that the trailer shows a disregard for those who have suffered sexual abuse. That is not what we wished to communicate at all," Ascol wrote in his statement. "We grieve the very real oppression and abuse that occurs far too often in our day. We are thankful that this evil is being exposed. It needs to be faithfully and biblically confronted and addressed by pastors."
Ascol also said that some have accused Founders of presenting Rachel Denhollander, an abuse survivor who has frequently expressed concerns about sexual abuse cover-up in churches, as "demonic."
"Certainly, no one at Founders Ministries believes that and we did not foresee people taking it that way. That was not our intention and, admittedly, not our wisest editing moment," Ascol contended of a one-to-two-second scene in the trailer showing Denhollander. "We regret the pain and confusion we caused by this unwise alignment of image and idea. We have removed the clip and have reached out to her and to her husband, Jacob. We are grateful for so many of Mrs. Denhollander’s efforts to serve victims of abuse."
According to Ascol, the trailer was designed to encourage people to see the film when it is released. But Ascol said he received many messages and phone calls from people wanting to express their concerns about the trailer.
Ascol said he had direct conversations with Danny Akin, president of the Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary, and Al Mohler, president of the Southern Baptist Seminary.
Both Mohler and Akin had been interviewed for the film. Akin asked that his name be removed in the full cinedoc.
"I called him and we had a cordial, pointed conversation. I offered to interview him again, giving him opportunity to push back, criticize or say anything he wanted," Ascol said. "He appreciated the offer but later texted to say he still wanted to dissociate from the project."
Ascol added that he was surprised to hear Mohler's concerns, saying that Mohler's response to the trailer eight days earlier had been "a simple expression of looking forward to seeing the whole film."
Both Mohler and Akin joined other leaders interviewed for the film in voicing their concerns about the trailer on Twitter.
"The first that I heard concern expressed by Dr. Jason Allen, president of Midwestern Baptist Theological Seminary, was in a tweet," Ascol wrote. "The same is true for Dr. Adam Greenway, the new president of Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary."
Ascol said that others who have asked for their interviews not to be used in the film include Mark Dever, senior pastor at Capitol Hill Baptist Church in Washington, D.C., and Jonathan Leeman, the editorial director for 9Marks, a ministry that works with church leaders.
"Others have been pressured to withdraw. We will, of course, honor these requests," Ascol assured. "In fact, out of fairness to them, we are willing to release complete, unedited footage of their interviews apart from the cinedoc. That will allow them (and others) to consider their words with the assurance that they have not been edited in ways in which they do not approve."
The webpage promoting the cinedoc previously listed the speakers who have been interviewed for the project. But the list is no longer included on the webpage as of Tuesday afternoon.
In his statement, Ascol reiterated concerns that have led to the project.
"Founders Ministries has always been about contending for the gospel and working for healthy churches. Foundational to that work is a full commitment to the authority and sufficiency of the written Word of God," he said. "We fear that such commitment is wavering among some evangelical and, more particularly, Southern Baptist, churches and entities."
Ascol admitted that he knows many people — including some of his friends — have found the Founders' "present stand divisive." He assured that the organization is "genuinely sorrowful for that."
"But we have taken this stand to avoid, not to encourage, a far greater division that will surely be the inevitable result of the spread of what can only be called a false gospel," he stressed.
"Someone suggested, tongue-in-cheek, that the trailer created such a stir that there is no need to release the film. If 'creating a stir' were our goal, then I would agree. But the purpose of this project is not simply to make noise. It is to educate believers and alert them to serious threats coming into Christian churches today."
Left unattended, the threats could "undermine commitment to the authority and sufficiency of God’s Word," Ascol asserted.
"It is obvious that faithful brothers and sisters can and do disagree on the issues involved," Ascol said. "Some who agree on the issues disagree on the strategies for addressing them. I have friends in both categories who disagree with me. But I must respectfully disagree with those who say we are 'stirring up division' by addressing these issues."
"Southern Baptists are already discussing these issues, and have been for some time," he continued. "We do them a great disservice by pretending they are not, or that they do not deserve this discussion."