While worshipers at the Southern Baptist Convention are still reeling from revelations of sexual abuse committed by hundreds of congregational pastors, staff and volunteers, four ministers of worship are throwing their support behind a return of Johnny Hunt, the former President of the Convention, accused of having sexually assaulted the wife of one of his colleagues. Support which in particular arouses the indignation of the current president of the organization.
In May of this year, Guidepost Solutions published a 288-page report listing allegations of sexual abuse and recommendations for action to prevent similar incidents from being silenced within the church.
The investigative firm had been commissioned by the leadership of the Southern Baptist Convention (CBS) to investigate the true extent of the scandal after revelations made jointly by the Houston Chronicle and the San Antonio Express-News, as to the sexual abuse committed by nearly 380 church workers.
In its February 10, 2019 edition, the Chronicle headlined: “Abuse of faith. 20 years, 700 victims: Sexual abuse among Southern Baptists expands as leaders resist reform ». A title inscribed on a compilation of dozens of photos of pastors and other collaborators of the condemned congregations. This was the first long article in a series of six published until the following June 6.
During its investigations, Guidepost Solutions met a couple who had chosen to testify. The company states almost immediately, on page 4 of its report: "During our investigation, a CBS pastor and his wife came forward to report that CBS President Johnny Hunt (2008-2010) assaulted sexually the wife on July 25, 2010". The report further devotes pages 149 to 161 to testimony concerning the case.
Sexual assault and spiritual manipulation
According to his testimony, in July 2010, when he had just left the presidency of the Convention, the pastor Johnny Hunt, leader of a church of 19 members in Georgia, the First Baptist Church of Woodstock, had gone alone in a condominium next to his in Panama City Beach, Florida, owned by a couple whose husband, a pastor, considered him a mentor.
He then allegedly pressed the woman, who was 20 years younger than him, with inappropriate questions, asking her if she was "wild growing up", before pressing her to the ground, touching her and trying to undress her. The victim, the report said, had tried to reason with him, telling him that he did not want this to destroy his ministry and had remained stiff, his eyes open so that he could pull himself together. Which led him to leave.
After leaving the accommodation, however, Hunt sent several text messages saying he wanted to have sex with her. To avoid a scandal, the pastor then summoned the young woman and her husband and said he had consensual erotic contact with the wife, before adding: “Thank God, I did not consummate the relationship! ". Hunt then advised the young couple to meet with a pastor counselor and asked the alleged victim and her husband to shut up.
Guidepost Solutions discovered that the advisor in question, Roy Blankenship, was operating without a licence. The latter says he really wanted to help the couple and accuses Hunt of pushing for nothing to get out, according to the report: “Mr. Blankenship said he remembered Mr. Hunt saying that if this ( story) was broadcast, it could negatively affect 40 churches.”
Days before the report's release, Hunt resigned from the North American Mission Board, the major national evangelism arm of CBS. However, he still denies the charges, and now publicly claims the relationship was consensual. Cornered, he also said to take a period to repent, before we learn at the end of November that he was ready to resume the ministry, a choice supported by the four pastors who supervised his "restoration process".
The support of four pastors denounced by the president of the Convention
In a video posted three weeks ago, the four leaders describe around a table that Hunt has shown real repentance and is fit to return to the pastorate. Pastor Mark Hoover declares in particular that Hunt put all his energy into this work of restoration as he always knew how to show total commitment and real humility.
Hoover assures that, his experience as well as that of his colleagues, allows them to discern that the repentant pastor is authentic in his approach:
“The four of us have about 150 years of ministry experience, I think we can recognize whether someone is sincerely repentant or not […] I am so grateful for the spirit and attitude with which Johnny approached our probing questions and dealt with them. »
A statement that provoked the ire of Bart Barber, the current president of the Convention. He released a statement questioning the competence of his four colleagues, saying they speak as friends of Hunt and do not represent CBS.
Barber recalls that the Convention adopted in 2021 a resolution "on abuse and pastoral qualifications", which he himself helped to draft, and underlines that according to this text, "any person who commits sexual abuse is definitively disqualified to hold the position of pastor", adding that this is the feeling of the Convention. He denounces the contradictions of Hunt and recalls that he had first denied having had the slightest physical contact with the young woman before admitting it while denying having attacked him.
"If I had the authority to do that, I would definitely 'defrock' Johnny Hunt," Barber said, noting bitterly that "in a self-governing church community, [he doesn't have] the authority to do that. ". He adds that “these four pastors do not have the authority to declare that Johnny Hunt is 'restored' either. They do not speak on behalf of the Southern Baptist Convention, and it is uncertain whether they even speak on behalf of their own churches […] There is no indication that any of the four congregations consented or validated this process.
The alleged victim and her husband told Guidepost Solutions that it took them years to realize the mental and spiritual abuse used to stop them speaking. They faced the financial cost of having to leave Georgia. As CBS asked the company to investigate, Hunt reportedly reached out to the couple to offer the husband help finding a new job, presumably hoping for silence from the spouses.