Baptist News Global [Jacksonville FL]
December 1, 2022
By Mark Wingfield
In a highly unusual move, the current president of the Southern Baptist Convention has denounced the “restoration” of a former SBC president to ministry six months after public allegations of sexual abuse.
“The idea that a council of pastors, assembled with the consent of the abusive pastor, possesses some authority to declare a pastor fit for resumed ministry is a conceit that is altogether absent from Baptist polity and from the witness of the New Testament. Indeed, it is repugnant to all that those sources extol and represent,” according to Bart Barber.
As previously reported by BNG, Georgia pastor and denominational leader Johnny Hunt was declared fit to return the ministry by a panel of four male pastor friends who have been counseling him since June. Those four pastors released a video this week explaining the process and outcomes of their unlicensed therapy with the former executive vice president of the SBC North American Mission Board.
“We believe the greatest days of ministry for Johnny Hunt are the days ahead,” said Stephen Kyle, one of the four pastors.
And indeed, Hunt already was scheduled to appear on an evangelism conference program at Fellowship Church of Immokalee, Fla., in February. Others on that program include high-profile conservative SBC luminaries Ronnie Floyd, David Allen, Jerry Vines and Mike Stone.
Floyd last year resigned as president of the SBC Executive Committee in protest of the unfettered independent investigation into alleged mishandling of sexual abuse cases in the SBC. Stone is a former chairman of the Executive Committee who also was accused of mishandling knowledge of sexual abuse cases.
Within hours of Barber’s post, the sponsoring pastor of the Great Commission Weekend said he had asked Hunt not to participate this year. However, the original publicity including Hunt’s name and photo remained on the church website and on the pastor’s Twitter feed the next day.
“In a stroke of naivete, I did not in wisdom allow enough time to pass before inviting Dr. Johnny Hunt,” said Timothy Pigg. “Therefore, in light of this oversight of wisdom, I have asked Dr. Johnny Hunt to step aside from being with us at our 2023 Great Commission Weekend.”
Barber, the current SBC president, was emphatic in his Nov. 30 statement that the so-called “restoration” of Hunt by a hand-picked group of pastors is a sham.
“In 2021, the messengers of the Southern Baptist Convention annual meeting adopted a resolution ‘On Abuse and Pastoral Qualifications.’ I was a member of that committee. I contributed significantly to the content of this resolution. It reads, in part, ‘any person who has committed sexual abuse is permanently disqualified from holding the office of pastor.’ This is the sentiment of the Southern Baptist Convention.”
Then Barber recounted the findings of the Guidepost Solutions investigation related to Hunt: “That report disclosed the details of a pastor’s wife’s account of an incident in which Johnny Hunt aggressively approached her for a sexual encounter, including his pulling down her pants, pinning her down, pulling up her shirt, and sexually assaulting her with his hands and his mouth.”
Barber added that Guidepost “found the pastor and his wife to be credible; their report was corroborated in part by a counseling minister and three other credible witnesses; and our investigators did not find Dr. Hunt’s statements related to the sexual assault allegation to be credible. Guidepost identified and interviewed multiple witnesses who had first-hand knowledge of Hunt’s involvement in events that ensued after the assault.”
In short, Barber implied, Hunt not only is a sexual abuser but a liar.
“In response to the investigation and report, Hunt told a succession of contradicting accounts. Guidepost Solutions reported that Hunt denied ever being in the location where the assault took place and denied ever having had any contact with her. After the report was published, Hunt at first ‘vigorously den(ied)’ that he ‘had abused anyone,’ and then later admitted, ‘I chose to enter her condo’ and he had a ‘brief but improper’ relationship with her.”
Hunt lost his job at NAMB, and the North Georgia church he had grown to megachurch status broke ties with him. That church, First Baptist of Woodstock, Ga., apparently has not been involved in the restoration process.
“I would permanently ‘defrock’ Johnny Hunt if I had the authority to do so.”
Barber, who leads a Baptist church in a rural part of suburban Dallas, said: “I would permanently ‘defrock’ Johnny Hunt if I had the authority to do so. In a fellowship of autonomous churches, I do not have the authority to do so. Yet it must be said that neither do these four pastors have the authority to declare Johnny Hunt to be ‘restored.’ They do not speak for the Southern Baptist Convention. Indeed, it is not clear that they even speak for their own churches.
“For those Southern Baptist churches who practice ordination to ministry, the authority to ordain is generally considered to arise from the congregation, but no indication has been given that any of these four congregations have consented to or given their authority to this process,” Barber added. “Also, (Pastor) Jeremy Morton and FBC Woodstock have explicitly stated that they had nothing to do with this process.”
Barber explained that Hunt now appears to be a member of Kyle’s church, Hiland Park Baptist Church in Panama City, Fla.
“It is best for people just to regard this pronouncement as the individual opinions of four of Johnny Hunt’s loyal friends. These four pastors do not speak for the Southern Baptist Convention. The voice of the Southern Baptist Convention is best found in the text of the resolutions adopted by the messengers.”