Longtime pastor Johnny Hunt files defamation suit against Southern Baptists

Complaint also names third-party investigator of allegations of sexual misconduct in the denomination
Johnny Hunt, who was named in a report looking into allegations of sexual abuse and assault in the Southern Baptist Convention, is suing the denomination and others.

Credit: Image by Screengrab

Credit: Image by Screengrab

Johnny Hunt, who was named in a report looking into allegations of sexual abuse and assault in the Southern Baptist Convention, is suing the denomination and others.

Johnny Hunt, a former president of the Southern Baptist Convention, has filed a lawsuit against the nation’s largest Protestant denomination, alleging defamation and invasion of privacy.

The lawsuit — which also names the SBC’s Executive Committee and Guidepost Solutions, which was hired to conduct a lengthy investigation into allegations of sexual misconduct and mishandling of complaints in the denomination — was filed Friday in U.S. District Court for the Middle District of Tennessee in Nashville.

Hunt’s suit seeks a jury trial.

An SBC spokesman said the Executive Committee was aware of the complaint against the convention.

“We are reviewing the complaint and will not be commenting on active litigation at this time,” according to the statement.

Hunt, who led First Baptist Church Woodstock for more than three decades and is a prominent author and speaker, was named in the landmark report, which was released in May 2022.

Hunt allegedly assaulted the wife of a fellow pastor in a Florida condo in 2010, according to the report, which called the allegations “credible.” Hunt was never charged with a crime.

The lawsuit contends Hunt had a “brief, inappropriate, extramarital encounter with a married woman.”

The complaint states that “at most, the encounter lasted only a few minutes, and it involved only kissing and some awkward fondling.” Hunt and the woman later sought counseling, according to the lawsuit.

Hunt’s attorneys at the Tennessee-based law firm Cole Law Group could not be reached for comment. He is also represented by MacGill Law, based in Indiana.

“This was a private failing by Pastor Johnny and the woman involved, and the story should have ended there. But it didn’t,” according to the lawsuit, which alleges Hunt was made a scapegoat for the denomination.

Hunt, the first Native American to serve as president of the SBC, spoke at New Season Church in Hiram on Sunday at two services and recently wrapped up a men’s conference at the Hiram church.

Several people formed a line after the 9 a.m. service to greet Hunt.

He told a reporter that on the advice of his attorney he could not make any comments beyond the lawsuit, but added that “I would not be preaching this morning if the assault and abuse charge was true.”

The lawsuit claims naming Hunt in the report was a “strategic decision to deflect attention from the SBC’s historical failure to take aggressive steps to respond to reports of child sex abuse and other sex crimes in its past.”

As a result, according to the complaint, Hunt lost income from speaking engagements and publishing opportunities.

He also resigned as executive vice president of the SBC’s North American Mission Board in Alpharetta before the report was released.

Nearly 40 people in Georgia were cited in the report, including pastors, youth ministers, deacons, Sunday school teachers, a former choir director and a volunteer. Most were named, but for a handful their information was redacted.

In Georgia, there are more than 3,370 Southern Baptist churches.

Earlier this year, Hunt began speaking publicly again after four pastors who spent months counseling Hunt declared the evangelical leader is restored and ready to return to ministry.