Johnny Hunt, who last summer was forced from his role as executive vice president of the Southern Baptist Convention’s North American Mission Board over sexual abuse allegations, was back in the pulpit last Sunday.
Not only did Hunt preach at Hiland Park Baptist Church in Panama City, Fla., he will be the keynote speaker at a men’s retreat Feb. 4 at a mission congregation sponsored by Hiland Park Baptist.
That church plant, Church at WindMark Beach, is promoting its “first annual WBC men’s retreat” with an image of Hunt, who is listed as “guest speaker.”
Prior to his fall from grace due to being named in the SBC’s massive investigation of mishandled sexual abuse cases, Hunt regularly spoke at and hosted men’s retreats as part of his personal ministry. Hunt had been the longtime pastor at First Baptist Church of Woodstock, Ga., served as president of the SBC, and then took on the executive vice president role at NAMB.
Hunt, who is 70, admitted to an improper relationship with a pastor’s wife at a beachfront condo the summer after he concluded service as SBC president, but he denied he had been abusive. The investigation by Guidepost Solutions and the testimony of others with knowledge of the case indicated otherwise.
Hunt was forced out of his job at NAMB, his name was removed from programs and buildings at Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary, the Woodstock church he helped build has broken ties with him, and current SBC President Bart Barber has said if it were up to him, he would permanently defrock Hunt.
But in November, a group of four pastors organized by Hunt to oversee his “restoration” announced they had now deemed him repentant and fit to return to public ministry.
The chair of that oversight group was Steven Kyle, pastor at Hiland Park Church where Hunt preached last Sunday, Jan. 15.
In introducing Hunt to his congregation, Kyle called Hunt “one of the greatest pulpiteers in our generation.”
Kyle did not address the allegations against Hunt, and neither did Hunt in his sermon. Hunt did say in his sermon that God’s calling is “irrevocable” despite “bad choices” someone might make.
“When God calls you to do something, and you begin to think you’re no longer qualified to do it, hold on just a moment—you don’t think he knew your past, your present, and your future when he called you? He already knew that, and yet he still placed his hand and his calling on you,” Hunt said.
“We unashamedly stand with Pastor Johnny along with every other fallen recipient of God’s manifold grace to the glory of King Jesus!”
In addition to the upcoming men’s conference in Florida, Hunt is scheduled to preach next month at HomE Church, a nondenominational church plant near Knoxville, Tenn., and at Springtime Jubilee conferences in Branson, Mo., and Myrtle Beach, S.C.
In a statement issued to The Roys Report — which broke the story of Hunt’s return to the pulpit — Jason Rogers, lead pastor of HomE Church, said: “We are thrilled to host Pastor Johnny Hunt at HomE Church. No one has been more greatly used of God to influence my ministry or as a greater, God-honoring influence on my family. Like myself, everyone in our church family, and everyone in the world, Pastor Johnny has not lived in sinless perfection as a believer. However, contrary to the ‘woke’ ideology that has sadly consumed the SBC and many believers, the Bible is clear that all sin is alike before the holiness of God. Sexual sin is not a greater sin in the sight of God. This is why we all need grace, mercy, repentance, and forgiveness.
“We are convinced of Pastor Johnny’s repentance leading to God’s forgiveness,” the pastor said. “According to Galatians 6:1, restoration must also follow. Without restoration, a process which Pastor Johnny has submitted to twice now, it’s not actually forgiveness. We unashamedly stand with Pastor Johnny along with every other fallen recipient of God’s manifold grace to the glory of King Jesus!”
Others charged with addressing the SBC’s history of mishandling sexual abuse claims were not as enthusiastic.
“It grieves me deeply that Johnny Hunt would not have the spiritual and emotional intelligence to realize the deep trauma that he is causing,” Mike Keahbone, vice chair of the SBC’s Abuse Reform Implementation Task Force told The Roys Report. “Not only to the victim of his abuse, but also to all survivors who are watching and re-living their pain as they watch him return to the very platform that he caused harm from. True repentance is not found in the opinions of four men, but in a broken heart and changed behavior.”
Keahbone said the convention’s stance is that “sexual misconduct calls for disqualification from ministry.”
Christa Brown, an abuse survivor and advocate who is an occasional columnist for BNG, called Hunt’s return emblematic of the SBC’s root problem.
“The fact that Johnny Hunt can still preach from the pulpit serves to illustrate the gross inability of the Southern Baptist Convention to responsibly reckon with clergy sex abuse,” Brown told The Roys Report. “It shows that, whatever SBC leaders may say about accountability for sexual abuse, the reality is that their words are toothless. This is a faith group that is marinated in impunity for its pastors.”