A Florida church that recently platformed Johnny Hunt — and whose pastor chaired Hunt’s self-appointed “restoration” committee — has told the Southern Baptist Convention Credentials Committee it has no authority over them and has no evidence Hunt is guilty of sexual abuse.
“There is no proof whatsoever that our recent guest speaker has ‘committed sexual abuse,’” says the Feb. 15 letter from Hiland Park Baptist Church in Panana City, Fla. The letter is posted on the church’s Facebook page.
“We are not aware of any evidence, any proof or any legal charges against our guest speaker,” the letter continues. “This remains an anonymous allegation regardless of the conclusion of one investigatory body. It falls far short of a legal accusation.”
While the name of Hunt’s alleged victim has not been published, she is not anonymous.
While the name of Hunt’s alleged victim has not been published, she is not anonymous. She is a pastor’s wife and former friend known to Hunt and his wife and to others who are aware of her story.
The final report of an independent investigation into mishandling of sexual abuse by SBC leaders produced by Guidepost Solutions states: “During our investigation, an SBC pastor and his wife came forward to report that SBC President Johnny Hunt (2008-2010) had sexually assaulted the wife on July 25, 2010. We include this sexual assault allegation in the report because our investigators 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.”
Hunt, in fact, at first denied the allegations entirely, then later came back to say he had acted inappropriately with the woman but had not assaulted her.
In one of the most explicit sections of the Guidepost report, the woman’s allegations against Hunt are detailed: “Hunt then moved toward 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.”
“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 leadership of Hiland Baptist Church insists this never happened, that Hunt did not assault the woman and that Guidepost Solutions is not reliable. They also insist that because Guidepost’s corporate office published one tweet affirming its LGBTQ employees on Pride Week the firm cannot accurately report on heterosexual sexual abuse from a religious viewpoint.
“We as a church believe the credibility of Guidepost, as an investigatory body to render moral verdicts that are consistent with biblical categories and definitions regarding sexual behavior, to be highly questionable. Guidepost, as an organization, advocates for and celebrates sexual sin directly in violation of the biblical ethic our church firmly holds to,” the letter states.
Then it adds: “We believe the standard of ‘credible accusation’ to be troublingly ambiguous, far below biblical standards of considering evidence against a spiritual leader, and exceedingly dangerous.”
Ever since the SBC Executive Committee — under direct mandate from messengers to the 2021 SBC annual meeting — hired Guidepost to conduct a thorough investigation, one segment of ultra-conservatives within the SBC has sought to cast doubt upon the investigation. Several of the points in the Hiland Park Baptist Church letter echo those themes.
In light of the Guidepost report, the 70-year-old Hunt was forced to resign his post as executive vice president of the SBC’s North American Mission Board and was disavowed by the church where he previously served as pastor for three decades.
BNG has learned that Hunt rejected an offer by his successor at First Baptist Church of Woodstock, Ga., to create an accountability group for Hunt. Instead, Hunt created his own advisory group that in short order declared him fit to return to ministry.
Hunt’s first public preaching appearance was in the pulpit of Hiland Park Baptist Church, where he was warmly welcomed by pastor Steven Kyle. Hunt then led a weekend men’s retreat for a mission congregation sponsored by Hiland Park Baptist through a partnership with NAMB.
All this prompted Indiana pastor Todd Benkert, a member of the SBC Abuse Reform Implementation Task Force, to report Hiland Park Baptist to the SBC Credentials Committee based on the SBC messengers in 2021 passing a resolution declaring any pastor who commits sexual abuse permanently disqualified from ministry.
SBC resolutions are considered non-binding but carry tremendous weight in setting denominational policy.
SBC resolutions are considered non-binding but carry tremendous weight in setting denominational policy. For example, the SBC’s staunch anti-abortion stance has been explained in multiple resolutions that are often cited as the basis for the SBC’s advocacy against abortion.
The letter from Hiland Park leaders stakes a claim that the 2021 resolution against sexual abuse is not enforceable as a basis for membership in the SBC: “Without debating the merits of that resolution, it is worth reminding the committee that resolutions, by their form, are not governing documents. By their very content, resolutions do not speak for the Southern Baptist Convention on the whole. … Thus, using a resolution as an enforcement mechanism on a local church violates every historic norm of our understanding of SBC resolutions and local church autonomy. We reject an insinuation that we are bound by a resolution passed by a body of messengers gathering at a given meeting.”
Near the beginning of the letter, the Hiland Park leaders state: “Our church policies and procedures reflect our commitment to provide a safe environment for children and vulnerable populations.”
In an earlier letter to the church, the Credentials Committee asked for an explanation of how having Hunt preach there “can be considered to be consistent with the convention’s beliefs regarding sexual abuse.”
The reply states: “We reject wholesale the unbiblical standard suggested here, that we are being asked to give evidence of our innocence of violating the parameters of cooperation with the SBC.”
It adds: “’Guilty until proven innocent’ is an ungodly and unbiblical standard. This flawed standard has been rejected by our Lord, should be rejected by biblically minded Southern Baptists, and is firmly rejected by Hiland Park Baptist Church.”