Pastors guilty of sexual abuse never should be restored to ministry, Baylor University professor and author Beth Allison Barr wrote for a news service in the United Kingdom Dec. 9.
The opinion piece published by Premier Christianity addresses the case of Johnny Hunt, the former Georgia pastor and former executive vice president of the Southern Baptist Convention’s North American Mission Board. Six months after Hunt was named as a perpetrator in a public investigation of sexual abuse in the SBC, a group of four male pastors issued a video declaring him “restored” to ministry under their unlicensed care.
That drew a sharp retort from current SBC President Bart Barber, who said if it were up to him he would permanently defrock Hunt, a previous SBC president.
Barr, professor of history at Baylor and author of the bestselling The Making of Biblical Womanhood, noted messengers to the SBC annual meeting last year adopted a resolution to “permanently” disqualify perpetrators of sexual abuse from holding the office of pastor.
She quoted Nathan Finn, vice chair of the 2021 SBC Resolutions Committee: “We believe that sexual abuse is a disqualifying factor for anyone who would serve in church leadership.”
Barr wonders: What happened with Hunt, then? Does this resolution not apply to him?
Save the resolutions, she suggests: “Actions speak louder than words.”
Due to the autonomous nature of Baptist churches and denominational networks, SBC resolutions are nonbinding. And there is no denominational council to approve who is fit for ministry. These are decisions handled solely by the local church in SBC life.
The problem, Barr writes, is that “male pastors are more interested in protecting their friends than protecting women in their congregations.”
For Hunt, this has been the case all along, she says.
“Hunt is accused of using his position of power to manipulate and attack a woman 24 years younger than him. He also lied, telling Guidepost investigators in May that he had ‘no contact whatsoever’ with the woman. Yet two and a half weeks later, he was backtracking, admitting in a letter to his congregation the ‘awful sin’ of infidelity, but still justifying it as entirely ‘consensual.’
“Despite some fellow leaders knowing what Hunt had done 12 years ago, he was subsequently promoted to a prominent role within the SBC and continued to speak and lead. It was not until the release of the Guidepost report that he was eventually forced to step down from ministry.”
Kudos to Barber, she writes, but still, his words mean little if other powerful men in the SBC pay no heed to him or the SBC resolution.
She notes after Barber’s strong comments, Timothy Pigg, pastor of Fellowship Church in Immokalee, Fla., rescinded an invitation for Hunt to speak at a February conference at his church, saying: “I did not in wisdom allow enough time to pass before inviting Dr. Johnny Hunt.”
That’s still wrong, Barr argues. “Although the invitation may have been retracted for now, the language of Pigg’s statement makes it clear that he doesn’t agree with Barber that Hunt should be ‘permanently disqualified.’”
She summarizes: “I don’t think Timothy Pigg really heard Bart Barber’s words. I don’t think women can hear them either.”
Instead, what women hear is that male leaders of the SBC are more concerned about preventing women from serving as pastors than protecting women from predatory pastors, she says. “What women hear are male pastors more interested in protecting their friends than protecting women in their congregations from men like Johnny Hunt. What women hear is the cacophony of churches that care more about supporting male pastors and male headship than helping female victims. What women hear is that men like Johnny Hunt matter more than we do.”
She concludes: “While I appreciate Bart Barber’s words, I hope he — and all the male pastors like him — hear me when I say that their words are not enough.”
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