‘Pastor Johnny’ sues the SBC and Guidepost

Baptist News Global [Jacksonville FL]

March 18, 2023

By Mark Wingfield

Johnny Hunt is suing the Southern Baptist Convention, the SBC Executive Committee and Guidepost Solutions for defamation and invasion of privacy for making public the story of his “brief, inappropriate, extramarital encounter with a married woman” in 2010.

Hunt is a former SBC president and denominational executive who was named in last year’s bombshell independent investigation of mishandled sexual abuse cases by the SBC Executive Committee. At first, he denied the allegations leveled against him by first-person testimony of the woman involved, then he admitted the encounter had, in fact, occurred but insisted it was not abusive in nature.

The woman — who is unnamed — contends otherwise. Her account, as included in the Guidepost Solutions report states: “Dr. Hunt then moved towards survivor and proceeded to pull her shorts down, turn her over and stare at her bare backside. He made sexual remarks about her body and things he had imagined about her. During this time, survivor felt frozen. Survivor said these were some of the longest moments of her life. She mustered the courage to ask him could she turn back over, and Dr. Hunt said yes. When she turned back over, she began to pull up her shorts. Dr. Hunt then pinned her to the couch, got on top of her, and pulled up her shirt. He sexually assaulted her with his hands and mouth.”

The report says Hunt then “forced himself on her again by groping her, trying to pull her shirt down, and violently kissing her.”

This information never should have been made public, because it fell outside the scope of the Guidepost investigation, the lawsuit says. The encounter “had nothing to do with the types of reports that led to Guidepost’s engagement. It should not have been included in Guidepost’s report. Indeed, it should not have been published at all.”

Hunt contends the woman’s story is exaggerated and incorrect.

“The wife — not Pastor Johnny — initiated the encounter. And Pastor Johnny ended the encounter after a very brief period when he realized that his acquiescence to the encounter was a sin.”

The lawsuit states: “Pastor Johnny has never sexually assaulted anyone. … He engaged in consensual, limited contact with the wife of an SBC pastor. The wife — not Pastor Johnny — initiated the encounter. And Pastor Johnny ended the encounter after a very brief period when he realized that his acquiescence to the encounter was a sin. … There was no assault or nonconsensual activity of any kind. … He did not initiate the encounter; he did not ‘force himself’ on the wife; and he did not ‘violently’ kiss her.”

While Hunt’s lawsuit intimates the mandate given to Guidepost by the SBC involved in only “sex crimes” and mainly crimes against children, that is not what messengers to the 2021 SBC annual meeting approved.

The motion that led to the Guidepost investigation called for an “investigation into any allegations of abuse, mishandling of abuse, mistreatment of victims, a pattern of intimidation of victims or advocates, and resistance to sexual abuse reform initiatives” involving “staff and members of the Executive Committee from January 1, 2000, to June 14, 2021.”

Hunt served as SBC president during that period, although his alleged encounter with the unnamed woman occurred just weeks after his term ended.

The lawsuit repeatedly refers to Hunt as “Pastor Johnny.”

The lawsuit repeatedly refers to Hunt as “Pastor Johnny,” explaining in the first paragraph that this is what his congregation “affectionally called him.” It describes Hunt as “a dedicated servant who has worked his entire adult life to help other people” and someone who “has been extraordinarily successful, eventually becoming the first elected Native American to hold the office of president of the Southern Baptist Convention.”

Hunt has, in fact, become “extraordinarily successful,” serving three decades as pastor of a prominent SBC church in Woodstock, Ga., holding denominational offices including the role of executive vice president of the SBC’s North American Mission Board. He also is tied to multiple businesses in an interconnected web of profit-making that ranges from retreats to books, to preaching engagements, to trips and music groups.

He and his wife own three homes, including two valued at well more than $1 million — one in suburban Atlanta and one a beach property in the Florida panhandle.

The SBC and its Guidepost investigation went after him, Hunt alleges, “to deflect attention from the SBC’s historical failure to take aggressive steps to respond to reports of child sex abuse and other sex crimes in its past.”

Some of the alleged oversights in this matter occurred during Hunt’s own tenure as SBC president.

But including him in the Guidepost report was a diversion, he contends. “By focusing on the allegation against Pastor Johnny — an allegation by an adult woman that involved noncriminal conduct — and by then taking aggressive action against Pastor Johnny, the defendants sought to create the appearance that the SBC has learned from its previous mistakes and is now working to protect victims of sex crimes.”

Hunt got lumped in with “child molesters and other abusers,” creating the “false impression that Pastor Johnny is a sex criminal.”

The result, the lawsuit says, is that Hunt got lumped in with “child molesters and other abusers,” creating the “false impression that Pastor Johnny is a sex criminal.”

Others, including current SBC President Bart Barber, have contended Hunt’s alleged actions against the woman, as described by her in the Guidepost report, could fall within the parameters of sexual assault as defined by Florida law. No charges were filed against him in the matter, however.

And Hunt’s lawsuit contends, “even if one were to take the accuser’s word at face value, her allegations against Pastor Johnny would not amount to a sex crime under the laws of Florida, the site of the encounter.”

The SBC, its Executive Committee, and Guidepost Solutions should be held liable for damages, the lawsuit says, because “Pastor Johnny’s life forever changed when the defendants’ publicly released their report. He lost his job; he lost income from speaking engagements; and he lost income from publishing opportunities.”

The suit was filed Friday, March 17, in U.S. District Court for the Middle District of Tennessee, located in Nashville.

Hunt is represented by attorneys Todd Cole and Andrew Goldstein of Cole Law Group in Nashville. Ironically, that law firm last June made a public social media post celebrating LGBTQ Pride Month. An Instagram post explained the firm hopes “to promote acceptance, equality, the work of LGBTQ+ people, the history of the community and to promote awareness of the issues affecting the LGTBQ+ community.”

Conservative critics of the Guidepost investigation — including many of Hunt’s allies — have skewered Guidepost for a single similar social media post last June. Critics of the investigation have used that social media post to allege Guidepost does not have the moral compass to investigate sexual abuse.