Three Founders Ministries board members resigned this week after a controversial trailer the organization released for its upcoming cinedoc on social justice in the Southern Baptist Convention seemed to demonize sexual abuse survivors.
Tom Ascol, a Florida pastor and president of the Reformed Baptist ministry, announced the resignations of board members Fred Malone, Tom Hicks and Jon English on Thursday.
Ascol explained that the resignations came after "lengthy conversations about the release of and responses to a trailer for the planned documentary, 'By What Standard?'" He said the three men "believe we have sinned in how the trailer portrayed certain people and issues."
"Our conversations led to an impasse regarding the nature of sin, unintentional sin, unwise acts and what faithfulness to Christ requires in the wake of each," Ascol wrote in a statement. "Though each of these three men formulated his own arguments, their views led them all to conclude they could not conscientiously continue to serve Founders without agreement on these points as it relates to elements in the trailer."
Founders, which seeks to encourage the “biblical reformation of local churches," released the trailer for the documentary last week. The project aims to expose how ideas such as radical feminism, critical race theory, and intersectionality are now taking hold in the SBC.
The four-minute trailer was critical of some prominent SBC leaders, including Russell Moore, Beth Moore, James Merritt, Matt Chandler, and Dwight McKissic.
The trailer received pushback as many felt it was divisive and unfairly criticized respected SBC figures and entities, and seemed to downplay concerns about sex abuse in the church.
Critics also felt the trailer demonized Denhollander, who has voiced concerns about the cover-up of abuse in evangelical churches and was the first person to accuse former U.S. gymnastics doctor Larry Nassar of sexual assault.
As a result, a number of SBC leaders, including respected seminary leaders who were interviewed for the cinedoc, have spoken out against the trailer and asked to have their interviews and contributions pulled from the project.
Hicks, the senior pastor at First Baptist Church of Clinton, Louisiana, explained in a statement released through Founders that he resigned from the board after a long history with the organization.
Hicks said that while he believes matters of "social justice" should be addressed, he disagreed with others on the Founders Board on how to go about that.
He was particularly concerned about the trailer's inclusion of Denhollander.
"Her presence in the trailer, along with other sexual abuse survivors, seemed to conflate sexual abuse with other problematic views of social justice," Hicks said. "Jacob and Rachael communicated to me that her primary concern was not her portrayal as much as the portrayal of sexual abuse survivors and the conflation of sexual abuse with other issues."
Hicks said he watched the trailer before it was released but "did not watch it carefully enough." He added that he "neglected his duty" as a board member by approving its release.
Malone, who previously served at First Baptist Church of Clinton and has participated in the Founders Ministries for 36 years, explained in his statement that the trailer "created a growing difficulty of conscience" within him.
"Although I originally approved the trailer as a board member, I did not exert my due diligence beforehand to closely examine it and to speak clearly about the 'tone' of it," Malone said. "That is my failure as a board member."
Malone explained that after he was made aware of the use of an image of Denhollander in the video, he came to the conviction that he had "sinned unintentionally" by approving the trailer. He said this sin is "false witness against Mrs. Denhollander based upon the sixth and ninth Commandments."
"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," Malone said. "No one on the board intended this to be the message, yet it was confusing to many and especially to several sexual abuse victims with whom I have spoken."
Malone stressed that the association brought into question the ministry's motives.
"I have been an advocate against sexual abuse, a counselor of numerous victims for almost 35 years in my pastoral work, and a reporter of several cases," Malone assured.
"Further, I know that each board member hates this great sin as much as I do, having seen the devastating damage done to its victims. However, since the board could not agree that this 1-2 second image was sinful, and publicly ask forgiveness as a board, my conscience about the matter led to my sad resignation."
In a statement earlier this week, Ascol addressed Denhollander's inclusion in the trailer, and expressed "regret" for that decision as some believe the organization tried to present Denhollander 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 said. "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."