Ted Cruz Criticizes Baptist Pastor for Defense of Executing Gays - Word&Way

Ted Cruz Criticizes Baptist Pastor for Defense of Executing Gays

Tom Ascol

U.S. Senator Ted Cruz, a Republican from Texas, publicly criticized a fellow Southern Baptist for defending legislation that imposes the death penalty for “aggravated homosexuality.” The Twitter war of words intensified Monday (June 5) as Cruz cited several biblical passages to criticize Tom Ascol, pastor of Grace Baptist Church in Cape Coral, Florida.

Ascol, who last year lost his bid to become president of the Southern Baptist Convention, is president of Founders Ministries, a group that has long pushed Calvinism in Southern Baptist life and has also taken the lead in fighting against critical race theory. He also offered an official prayer during the inaugural ceremony for Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis in January (and previously gave the invocation at a DeSantis reelection campaign event).

Tom Ascol

Pastor Tom Ascol leads Grace Baptist Church in Cape Coral, Florida. (RNS)

The recent flap between Ascol and Cruz, who is a member of First Baptist Church in Houston, came after Uganda’s president last month signed a law to punish LGBTQ people. Same-sex relationships were already illegal in the country due to colonial-era laws, but the new bill created harsher penalties — including allowing for capital punishment in some cases.

The death penalty aspect sparked criticism even from opponents of same-sex marriage, including Russell Moore of Christianity Today (who used to be a key target of Ascol when Moore led the SBC’s Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission). And Cruz, known for his opposition to LGBTQ rights, also blasted the new law.

“This Uganda law is horrific & wrong,” Cruz tweeted on May 29. “Any law criminalizing homosexuality or imposing the death penalty for ‘aggravated homosexuality’ is grotesque & an abomination. ALL civilized nations should join together in condemning this human rights abuse.”

Ascol responded the next day to criticize Cruz.

“Tell it to God, Ted,” Ascol tweeted. “‘If a man lies with a male as with a woman, both of them have committed an abomination; they shall surely be put to death; their blood is upon them.’ —Leviticus 20:13. Was this law God gave to His old covenant people ‘horrific and wrong’?”

Ascol’s tweet sparked headlines, with many noting his connections to DeSantis along with his apparent defense of a law executing LGBTQ persons.

On Monday, Cruz responded with two long messages criticizing Ascol.

“Your biblical analysis is in error,” the 2016 presidential candidate wrote. “Jesus told us to ‘render to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s, and to God the things that are God’s.’ We are talking the laws of man, not the Old Testament laws of God. Do you really believe that the US govt should execute every person who is gay??”

Cruz then added more biblical passages into the conversation.

“Leviticus also tells us: ‘For anyone who curses his father or his mother shall surely be put to death.’ Should the govt execute every child who’s disrespectful to his parents? That ignores Grace & the New Testament. As our Savior taught us, ‘Let he that is without sin among you, let him first cast a stone at her.’”

Ascol quickly responded by doubling down on his assertion that Cruz was accusing God of giving a wrong and grotesque law. Yet, the pastor also clarified that he also didn’t believe the U.S. should execute LGBTQ persons. He added, “I do not believe the govt should execute every child who’s disrespectful to his parents.” And he said to Cruz that “the principles by which you make your argument lead to great confusion & harm if followed consistently.”

Ascol also insisted he isn’t calling for the execution of LGBTQ persons. Earlier on his podcast, Ascol complained he was being attacked for quoting the Bible. He said he didn’t think the U.S. should use the death penalty in that way since “we’re not under the old covenant, America’s not a covenant nation.” Thus, Ascol seems to be saying the U.S. shouldn’t execute LGBTQ persons but Cruz was wrong for saying it was always wrong.

Among other previous controversies Ascol has sparked, in 2021 he declared that Vice President Kamala Harris and journalists Anne Branigan and Jake Tapper were “unbelievers” and “going to hell.” After Word&Way reported on the controversy, Ascol called us “a liberal ragsheet.” The following year, we documented in our newsletter A Public Witness how Ascol was campaigning for SBC president with appearances on far-right Trumpian programs. That coverage won a top award in April from the Associated Church Press.