Baptist Press recently released an interview that Jonathan Howe and Brandon Porter conducted with me in my study in Cape Coral, Florida, on April 5. Both they and I recorded the interview. They did so indicating that they would edit out the “ums,” “uhs,” and “wells,” etc. from the transcript in order to make the article flow well without losing the contextually understood meaning of my words.
In the interview that they posted, however, there appears to have been some difficulties in making those edits. In fact, my responses were largely left unedited except for the exclusion of certain things I said. Baptist Press did, thankfully, correct a misattribution of a vile word to me, after I sent a screenshot of the error to Brandon with the correction, “The word is prig.” There are other misquotes throughout the article, but I quickly decided it would be too tedious and time consuming to send the authors all of them.
Despite these editorial issues, feedback I have received indicates that many people seem to have gained some insight into my meaning. For this I am grateful. Others, however, have jumped on the poorly edited section regarding women serving on SBC committees to erroneously conclude that I am against such. I regret that. Though I did answer the question I was asked directly, that does not come out in what was printed. Here is a word-for-word transcript of that exchange:
Tom: I don’t think I would be asking any women to be chairmen of a board…
BP: …but could serve as on the board?
Tom:…board members? Yeah. I mean, yeah. Again there might be a situation I can’t envision…
There was some talking over at that point as Jonathan Howe interrupted me. But to his direct question, “But could [women] serve as [members] on the board?” I answered, “Yeah.” I went on to use the example of women serving in combat, which I believe is contrary to God’s design in distinguishing men from women. My point was that the God-designed distinctions between men and women do not end at the doors of the church. To hear that exact part of the interview, click here. You can listen to the complete exchange in the audio below (found at 00:46:26).
I do not know how the interview arrived in print with the unfortunate editorial issues it contains, but in the interest of openness and transparency, I am making available the full audio below. In it you can hear a more complete and accurate version of the how the questions were phrased as well as my exact answers.
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By Tom Ascol — 7 months ago
The Southern Baptist Convention (SBC) has a new scandal to add to its tragically growing list. Let’s call this one “bindergate,” because a black notebook binder with a red and white identification page is at the center of it. The following information is printed on that page:
2021 Resolutions Committee
That binder evidently contains private emails that I exchanged with James Merritt (who chaired the Resolutions Committee that recommended resolutions to the 2021 SBC annual meeting that met in Nashville, June 15-16). I wrote those emails in response to Dr. Merritt reaching out to me with specific questions before the 2021 annual meeting. In an April 20 email he asked me two questions:
1) What are your specific concerns concerning Critical Race Theory and how the Southern Baptist Convention has handled this issue? 2) What specific things would you want our committee to hear from you?
I answered him as directly and helpfully as I could the very next day. We exchanged a couple of more brief emails before the annual meeting.
I had not given much thought to those email exchanges until a reporter for the Tennessean newspaper notified me a few weeks ago that he had obtained copies of them and intended to use them in a story he was writing on the SBC. Liam Adams asked to speak with me several times for the story. For a variety of reasons I never responded to his request (I was beyond cell service part of the time; I don’t trust mainstream media; and I find it somewhat distasteful that a reporter would make private emails public without at least asking permission to do so).
Let me quickly note that I am not concerned that Adams quoted my private correspondence. I long ago decided that I would operate as if every word I say in any context is being recorded and that anything I write anywhere will be made public. After all, a day is coming when I will give an account for all my words to a much higher court than that of mere human opinion. My Lord said, “On the day of judgment people will give account for every careless word they speak” (Matthew 12:36).
So, I am not worried about my private words being made public in this way. I just think it is a slimy thing to do. Evidently it fits within the journalistic standards of the Tennessean, but I would like to think that Christians would have higher standards of ethics than that. Of course, while I might like to, I know better than to actually think that when it comes to certain SBC elitists. After all, this ain’t my first rodeo.
After Adams informed me in his third email to me (on November 18) that he intended to quote from my private emails to James Merritt, I contacted Dr. Merritt and asked him if he knew he had given my emails to Adams or if he knew how Adams had obtained them. Dr. Merritt called me the next day, while I was in Tennessee (which, as former ERLC ethicist, Philip Bethancourt reminded Southern Baptists is a “one-party consent” state when it comes to capturing audio secretly). He assured me that he had not given those emails to the reporter and that he had “no idea” how Adams obtained them. That conversation was the first time that I heard the word “binder” in connection with all of these shenanigans. Dr. Merritt said that Adams kept bringing up “some kind of binder” during an interview that he gave to Adams. Dr. Merritt assured me that he didn’t know what Adams’ meant by that.
In the story that Adams wrote for the Tennessean (which can be accessed here without a paywall) he states, “The documents, included in a binder that once belonged to James Merritt, the chair of the 2021 resolutions committee, include resolutions submitted on the subject of race and emails between top Southern Baptist leaders, including Greear.” I have since learned that a staff member from the ERLC is usually assigned to help the Resolutions Committee and that Executive Committee staff members would have access to their work room. Perhaps one of them could provide more information about this fiasco. I have also learned that it is not uncommon for each member of the SBC Resolutions Committee to have a binder with information related to their work at the annual meeting. That is understandable. What I do not yet understand is why the binder with James Merritt’s name on it and my private emails in it was given to the press.
In recent days we have heard a great deal about the need for transparency in the SBC. Calls for such have come from various sectors of the convention, including from the current SBC President. I generally agree with such calls. There was a time when Southern Baptist leaders tried to live by the old adage, “trust the Lord and tell the people.” Today that principle has morphed into “forget the Lord, just trust us, people.” But no association of churches can survive where the leaders call for trust from but eschew genuine accountability to the people they are supposed to lead. Much less can it survive when there is little or no fear of God demonstrated by leadership.
So, in the interest of transparency, and with full confidence in the power of the gospel to forgive any sin that may be involved and to strengthen any forgiveness that may need to be granted, I am asking for those who know how this binder made its way into the hands of the press to step forward and tell the truth. Southern Baptists have a right to know how something like this could happen. I have been informed that there are some whose salaries are paid by Southern Baptist churches who are in positions to know or at least to find out.
Perhaps the Lord would bless such a simple step of honesty and integrity to begin a deeply needed work of renewal among the people known as Southern Baptists.
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By Allen S Nelson IV — 6 months ago
In Part 1, we considered 2 Chronicles 34 and King Josiah. We saw how Josiah responded humbly and obediently to God’s Word. It reminds us that the great hope for the Southern Baptist Convention is that we will respond to the Lord in a similar way as King Josiah.
If we hope to retain Biblically conservative institutions, be a faithful missionary enterprise, and continue to see Christ made known among the nations, we, comparable to Josiah, must:
Rediscover the Book – that is, let the Bible again take its place as our highest authority and trust it as wholly sufficient.
Understand Whose Book it Is – this is God’s And since we live in God’s World, we must live and worship according to God’s rules. God defines sin, not us. God defines justice and reconciliation, not us. This is God’s Book.
Be Humble – We must reject the pridefulness of the world and go about our lives in God’s Way.
Repent – Josiah tore his clothes in repentance. As God’s Word confronts us with sin we must be willing to turn from it knowing there is forgiveness in Jesus.
Believe what the Book says – We must be willing to put our hope and trust in God’s Word. We must believe that what God’s Book says is best, even if the culture scorns it.
Teach what the Book says – as Josiah taught the people, so we must teach this Book without apology.
Do What the Book says – it is not enough to “believe” and “teach” the Book. We must build all that we are and all that we do upon the unbreakable Bible (cf. John 10:35). God’s standards must be followed, and it is to our great blessing when we do what the Book says (cf. Psalm 1).
Yet, there is another path Southern Baptists can choose. We could, to our great detriment, reject the pattern of Josiah and decide instead to walk in the ways of his son, Jehoiakim.
2 Chronicles 36 teaches us that Josiah’s son, Jehoiakim, was 25 years old when he began to reign in Judah, having been appointed to the position by Neco, king of Egypt. Jehoiakim did what was evil in the sight of Yahweh. This reminds us that ultimately what we want to do is what is right in God’s sight, regardless of what the world might say. What God says is right is right and what God says is evil is evil.
Undoubtedly, one of the major reasons Jehoiakim’s life was evil was because he rejected God’s Word. Jeremiah 36 teaches us that when he was just 29, Jehoiakim had a similar encounter to God’s Word that his father Josiah did, yet with a woefully different outcome.
Deep Cuts the Knife
God worked through the prophet Jeremiah to prepare a scroll to be read before King Jehoiakim. The stage was set again, just like it had been in the time of Josiah. And although the people had been unfaithful once again, the Lord graciously pursued them by persistently sending them His prophets. This is just like God to do. Holy and righteous, but also ready and willing to forgive.
Over 100 years prior, the prophet Jonah saw this first hand as God’s grace poured over the wicked Assyrians leading them to repentance in Nineveh. But that time had long since passed. Jehoiakim’s reign was a new day.
God had not sent the prophet Jeremiah to a foreign land but right to the heart of His people. The Lord, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness, was willing to forgive. How would the earthly king of God’s people respond?
Sadly, not like his father. Instead of tearing his clothes, Jehoiakim tore God’s Word. The king took his knife and plunged it time and again into God’s scroll. It was a crime of passion, tearing God’s Word apart piece by piece and casting it into the fire.
John Gill comments that this was “a full evidence of an ungodly mind; a clear proof of the enmity of the heart against God, and of its indignation against his word and servants; and yet a vain attempt to frustrate the divine predictions in it, or avert the judgments threatened; but the ready way to bring them on.”
The Way Before Us
Thus, as we approach a new year, Southern Baptists have a choice before us. When it comes to God’s Word, will we go the way of Josiah or Jehoiakim? When we reject God’s standard, when we fail to submit to His authority as mediated through His Word, when we live as though His Book is not sufficient for all matters of a godly life before Him, we are really revealing a heart at enmity with God Himself.
To reject God’s Word is not merely foolish but also wicked. For to reject the Word of God is to ultimately cast aside the God of the Word. And for those who do that, retribution will come. Ignoring God’s Word will not get anyone out of His coming judgment.
God’s Word is sufficient for how we are to know Christ, how we are to reach the lost, how we are to worship, how we are to handle matters of sexual abuse, how we are to order the church, how we are to plant churches and send missionaries, how we are to understand the office and function of pastor, and the list goes on and on. But will we respond to God’s Word in humility like Josiah or will we idiomatically cast it aside into the flames of indifference as we continue to trust the wisdom and ways of the godless culture around us?
Josiah was not a perfect king. But his life points us toward the perfect king we do have in Christ. And at the end of days, we must find ourselves on the side of King Jesus or all hope is lost. And if we want to be found on the side of the King of Glory, we are compelled to bow to His Book. To trust His Book. To stake our very lives, and ministries and the Southern Baptist Convention itself upon all that is contained therein.
If we hope for repentance, reformation, and revival within our own hearts and the beloved SBC, then we must conform to, comply with, and concede all to the Book of God. May we rend our hearts before the King as we kneel to the authority and sufficiency of the Book.
God is holy and righteous. But He is also slow to anger and full of grace. He is most willing to forgive. But the route we will ultimately choose is not yet apparent. Choose wisely.
Trust and obey, brothers and sisters, for there’s no other way.
 John Gill, An Exposition of the Old Testament, vol. 5, The Baptist Commentary Series (London: Mathews and Leigh, 1810), 609.
By Tom Ascol — 4 months ago
One of the greatest tragedies in 21st century Christianity is the degree to which identity politics has infiltrated our churches. Hardly a day goes by that I do not communicate with believers who lament the sorrows that have come on their churches due to the godless ideologies of critical theory or intersectionality gaining a foothold in their congregations. Where once there was mutual love and unity among brothers and sisters of various backgrounds, ethnicities, educational backgrounds, or income levels, now there is suspicion, frustration, and disunity within their ranks.
Such tribalism and rivalry cannot coexist with humble, sincere devotion to Jesus Christ as Lord. To have Christ is to embrace the ways of Christ which includes living with the people of Christ in a local church in the unity of the Spirit. Christians are able to do that because “in Christ” we are made into “one new man” (Ephesians 2:15). Seeing yourself as a hyphenated-Christian before you see yourself as a blood-bought sinner inevitably tears the fabric of this precious unity.
As the Apostle Paul puts it in Ephesians 4:4-6, “There is one body and one Spirit—just as you were called to the one hope that belongs to your call—one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all.” Any idea or teaching that leads to the balkanization of a church denies this fundamental truth and comes from the pit of hell. No Christian should fall prey to such error and no pastor should allow it entry into the church he serves.
I appreciate what Alistair Begg has written on this in a devotional thought on “The Key to Unity.” His wisdom and encouragement are welcome counsel to every follower of Christ who is trying to navigate the swirling currents of contemporary Christian thought.
The Key to Unity
“In him you also are begin built together into a dwelling place for God by the Spirit.” Ephesians 2:22
When someone comes to Christ by faith, the transformation of their identity is comprehensive. In the language Paul employs in Ephesians 2, the dead sinner is now alive in Christ; the child of wrath becomes a child of God. But the new identity is not merely individual. We are not each of us alone in Christ; we are in Him with all of God’s people. This is why Paul, in Ephesians 2, moves from our individual experience of grace to the corporate work that God’s grace accomplishes. Paul tells us, “You are no longer strangers and aliens, but you are fellow citizens with the saints and members of the household of God” (v.19). The “one new man” (v. 15) that Christ is making is gloriously crowded with fellow heirs of grace. This is not to say that our individual human identity becomes irrelevant. Our background and our makeup—our sex, ethnicity, and personal history—are not obliterated in Christ. We are who we are, made in God’s image, fashioned according to His purposes. But what unifies us in Christ—our union with Christ—transcends everything else.
We must beware the temptation to forget the reason for our unity. No one is immune from turning elements of their identity into barriers—barriers of status, of color, of class, of personality type, or personal preferences. As Christians, we must be prepared to acknowledge how easy it is to get this wrong. We must be prepared, if we find ourselves guilty of such wrong, to repent from and grieve over that which displeases God.
The key to Christian unity is the gospel. Paul recognized that only God can soften hard hearts, only God can open blind eyes, and ony God can bring disparate people together and form something truly, gloriously united. God is making “one new man” and He is making that new man in His church. In Christ, God is building a “holy temple” (Ephesians 2:21) that is “being built together into a dwelling place for God by the Spirit.” Partiality based on race, class, or status has no place in the place where God dwells by His Spirit. One day you will experience the fullness of your union with Christ and His people for eternity; but that can, and should, begin now. You have the privilege of fostering that unity today in the way you use your time and in the way you think of, pray for, and speak to your brothers and sisters in your church.
We are building day by day,
As the moments glide away,
Our temple, which the world may not see;
Every victory won by grace
Will be sure to find its place
In our building for eternity.
—Fanny J. Crosby, “We are Building”
(Truth for Life, 365 Daily Devotions, February 12)