Of the more than two dozen legal cases currently pending in courts against the Southern Baptist Convention or its entities, one takes particular aim at the work of Guidepost Solutions, the independent researcher that produced the scathing report of mishandled sexual abuse cases in the SBC.
That case, Hunt v. Southern Baptist Convention et al, was brought by former SBC President Johnny Hunt, who was named repeatedly in the 2022 Guidepost report and who was forced from his job as executive vice president of the SBC North American Mission Board by accusations he had sexually assaulted a woman at a beach condo. Hunt, a prominent pastor and conference speaker, has admitted the encounter but has disputed the way it was described in the Guidepost report and denies it was abusive.
In March, Hunt filed a defamation suit against the SBC, the SBC Executive Committee and Guidepost Solutions. Although out of the public eye, that case has been silently proceeding in the Middle Tennessee office of the U.S. District Court — the same court handling other cases against the SBC. In the past eight months, the court docket for this case has accumulated 80 entries.
The latest of those involves a judge ruling that Guidepost must produce records of its interviews with Hunt’s alleged victim and that some currently redacted records may not be shielded from public view.
Guidepost had asked the court to seal portions of the record involving the alleged victim and her husband.
Court documents describe the materials in question as:
- “Audio recordings that the husband of the alleged sexual abuse survivor made of his counseling sessions with his wife and a purported marriage counselor.”
- “The husband’s private journal.”
- “A summary document that contained information provided by the alleged survivor and her husband to Guidepost’s investigators.”
- “Text messages exchanged between the alleged sexual abuse survivor and a Guidepost investigator who interviewed her for the report prepared by Guidepost.”
- “Guidepost’s notes of its interviews with the alleged survivor and her husband.”
- “Blackline drafts of Guidepost’s interview notes.”
Judge Jeffery Frensley said he has reviewed the material and noted names have been redacted from it. Therefore, he wrote, “the privacy interests of the alleged victim and her husband are tenuous. Neither of them is identified by name, either in the redacted portions or elsewhere in the filings, so no information, private or otherwise, can be linked to them.”
“The privacy interests of the alleged victim and her husband are tenuous.”
He ruled four previously sealed documents must be unsealed.
Guidepost had argued unsealing even the redacted documents would violate its contractual relationship with the SBC to produce the report and could “further victimize” an alleged sexual assault victim.
Guidepost’s own brief arguing against disclosure describes the accusations against Hunt more succinctly and graphically than the report itself, saying the survivor and her husband “alleged that Hunt had systematically developed a relationship of trust with the survivor over a number of years (i.e., groomed her), including during Hunt’s tenure as president of the SBC, and ultimately sexually assaulted her in a Florida condo on July 25, 2010. During the period of the alleged grooming, which took place during his term as president, Johnny Hunt was a member of the Executive Committee; thus, Hunt’s misconduct was the proper subject of investigation and inclusion in the report.”
The unsealed documents also recount how Hunt allegedly sought to “gaslight” the woman and her husband and initiated counseling for them with Roy Blankenship, the unlicensed staff counselor at Hunt’s church, Woodstock Baptist in Georgia.
What has not been unsealed is the more detailed contents of all Guidepost unearthed about those counseling sessions and the extemporaneous notes and recordings made from them.
In his reply to Guidepost’s efforts to keep the redacted materials under seal, Hunt claims Guidepost “redacted information relating to Hunt that directly conflicts with the allegations made against him by Guidepost, which is likely the true reason Guidepost seeks to prevent the public from seeing them. In particular, Guidepost has redacted from its public filing the fact that the contemporaneous audio recordings and written journal entries provided by the couple to Guidepost and referenced in Guidepost’s report do not mention any alleged sexual assault by Hunt. Indeed, Guidepost admits in its redacted filings that Hunt’s name is not mentioned at all in the audio recordings and the ‘isolated references’ to Hunt in the husband’s journal do not reference the supposed assault or ‘grooming.’”
The Guidepost document alleges Blankenship instructed the couple not to mention Hunt’s name and said they could “never talk about what had happened.”
The Guidepost document alleges Blankenship instructed the couple not to mention Hunt’s name and said they could “never talk about what had happened, and that if they did, it would negatively impact the over 40,000 churches Hunt had represented as president of the SBC.”
Guidepost claims the journal prepared by the husband at Blankenship’s direction was “only to focus upon marital issues, not to address Hunt’s grooming and assault upon the survivor — which Hunt and Blankenship had commanded the couple never to discuss.”
One unsealed Hunt document accuses Guidepost of shoddy work, delays and obfuscation — themes Hunt and his allies previously have expressed publicly to rebut the Guidepost investigation.
Also of note from the unsealed documents: The woman who alleges to have been assaulted by Hunt is represented by attorney Boz Tchividjian, founder and former executive director of GRACE, an acronym for Godly Response to Abuse in the Christian Environment. Tchividjian, a grandson of evangelist Billy Graham, is one of the best-known attorneys addressing sexual abuse in religious settings.