As the U.S. House Select Committee investigating the Jan. 6, 2021, insurrection holds hearings this week in Washington, D.C., Southern Baptists are gathering on the other side of the country in Anaheim, California. The divergence on how they treat the aftermath of the 2020 election might be as wide as the geographical split.
Last year, leaders at the Southern Baptist Convention’s annual meeting in Nashville, Tennessee, pulled a resolution that would have had messengers declare they “denounce the Capitol insurrection … as inconsistent with faithful Christian citizenship.” It also would have criticized “idolatrous expression of love for our country as inconsistent with our ultimate loyalty to Christ.”
Pulling the resolution likely prevented a debate that might have seen messengers take a different stand than that proposed by the SBC’s resolutions committee. But the failure to condemn the insurrection sparked criticism and calls that they push such a resolution this year.
The head of the resolutions committee this year, Texas pastor Bart Barber, is one of the main two candidates for SBC president. Barber was on the committee last year that drafted the resolution denouncing the insurrection. If he brings forth a resolution on Jan. 6, it could signal a dividing point between him and his main opponent, Florida pastor Tom Ascol.
Ascol has been campaigning by appearing on rightwing shows with hosts who helped amplify Donald Trump’s false claims about “fraud” in the 2020 presidential election that set the stage for the insurrection. These hosts not only interviewed Ascol but also endorsed his candidacy and urged listeners to help him win. For instance, he joined Eric Metaxas, who led a “Jericho March” event in D.C. in December 2020 to argue the election was stolen from Trump and should be overturned by Congress on Jan. 6. Ascol also appeared on other shows with hosts who amplified false claims about the 2020 election and downplayed the insurrection — like Charlie Kirk, Kara McKinney of OANN, and Steve Deace of BlazeTV.
On Monday (June 13), Ascol even went on The Jenna Ellis Show, the podcast hosted by one of Trump’s main lawyers who, along with Rudy Giuliani and Sidney Powell, unsuccessfully sought to overturn the 2020 election results in court. Ellis claimed Trump won the election and that Vice President Mike Pence could have unilaterally rejected electors on Jan. 6. The House Select Committee has subpoenaed her as they investigate the attack on the Capitol. She even criticized that investigation as she asked Ascol about the recent SBC sexual abuse report.
“What do you think of that document?” she asked. “Is that something that we should just take on face? Is that something where you believe the investigation was done in truly fact-finding, unlike maybe some of our political things like the Jan. 6 committee that’s clearly biased, that’s not looking for fact and truth?”
Ascol didn’t mention the Jan. 6 committee, but he did attack the organization that investigated how SBC leaders covered up and even committed sexual abuse. Ellis added she thinks Ascol “would make an excellent SBC president” and is “pulling for” him.
Back when Ellis and others pushed false claims about the election in the run-up to Jan. 6, Ascol amplified their claims on Twitter. In the days after 2020 election — even before Joe Biden was declared the winner — Ascol criticized the SBC’s Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission led then by Russell Moore for saying there was no evidence of fraud. He claimed this was more proof the ERLC was just part of “Big Eva” (as in some sort of evangelical deep state) and countered the ERLC with a piece from the rightwing site Newsmax. Ascol argued Christians should support an investigation into the election since there were “reported accusations of voter fraud from so many different sources.”
In other tweets, Ascol applauded people challenging elected officials to “investigate voter fraud in their areas.” Additionally, he shared multiple tweets urging his followers to consider the arguments of Ellis, Giuliani, and Powell.
On his podcast The Sword and the Trowel, Ascol and his cohost Jared Longshore suggested during the Nov. 10, 2020, episode that election fraud occurred, adding that people should believe the claims since the Bible teaches about human sin. On the Jan. 12, 2021, episode, they talked about the Jan. 6 insurrection. While he criticized the violence of the day, he and Longshore spent more time condemning the “politically-correct” people who allegedly condemned the Capitol violence but not Black Lives Matter “riots.”
A month later, Ascol attacked new Vice President Kamala Harris, saying she was “going to hell.” He also argued she was a “Jezebel,” a racist and sexist trope that has historically been used against Black women.
As Ascol seeks votes for the SBC presidential election on Tuesday, he continues to receive support from the Trump wing of conservative media and evangelicalism. Former SBC President Jack Graham, a member of Trump’s evangelical advisory council, announced his endorsement of Ascol on Sunday.
Last year’s pulled resolution on Jan. 6 spoke volumes. Ascol’s election could say even more in moving the SBC further rightward.