Johnny Hunt returns to preaching despite sexual abuse allegation

Credit: Screengrab

Credit: Screengrab

A former president of the Southern Baptist Convention, Hunt has denied the allegations of assault or abuse

Disgraced evangelical leader Johnny Hunt is continuing to preach at churches and faith-based events despite calls from sexual abuse victims and their supporters that he should not be allowed to do so.

Hunt, a former president of the Southern Baptist Convention, has spoken to at least two churches, including New Season Church in Hiram and another in Panama City, Florida, and is planning a men’s conference at the Hiram church in March.

Hunt, a former president of the Southern Baptist Convention, was “credibly” accused of sexually assaulting the unidentified wife of a fellow pastor in Florida in 2010, in a landmark third-party investigation into sexual abuse in the influential denomination released last year. He has not been charged with a crime.

A member of the SBC Abuse Reform Implementation Task Force, the Rev. Todd Benkert, lead pastor of Oak Creek Community Church in Mishawaka, Indiana asked the denomination’s credentials committee to look into the support the two churches have given Hunt by letting him speak.

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“Survivors should not have the burden of making these reports and holding churches accountable,” Benkert said in an interview. “We can’t stop Johnny Hunt or any churches from doing anything. What we can do is determine the bounds of our cooperation.”

The Hiram and Panama City churches are “under inquiry” by the SBC’s Credentials Committee. If a church is not found to be in cooperation, the SBC can cut ties and the churches will not be allowed to send messengers to the annual convention.

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Hunt denied the allegations of assault or abuse and apologized for what he calls “a brief, but improper encounter” with the woman. Instead, he said it was consensual.

After the allegations came to light, First Baptist Woodstock, where he had served as senior pastor for more than three decades, stripped Hunt of his pastor emeritus status.

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

The committee is looking into whether New Season and Hiland Park Baptist Church in Panama City, Fla. are considered in “friendly cooperation” with the SBC, specifically whether the churches are acting in a way that is “inconsistent with the convention’s beliefs regarding sexual abuse.”

Christa Brown, a retired attorney who lives in Colorado, said she was sexually assaulted by her church’s youth and education minister, beginning when she was 16 and thinks the denomination didn’t do enough for her and other victims.

“It just speaks to how utterly incapable the Southern Baptist Convention is to do anything to hold sexually abusive pastors accountable,” said Brown. “If they won’t stop Johnny Hunt, I don’t think they will stop anyone.”

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The pastor at both the Hiram and Panama City churches did not respond to several phone calls.

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.

Among the four was Pastor Benny Tate, pastor of Rock Springs Church in Milner. Efforts to reach Tate through the church’s website and phone were unsuccessful.

Months later, Hunt’s schedule of appearances is growing.

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Hunt recently announced the 31st Annual Johnny Hunt Men’s Conference, entitled “Rebound Missed Opportunities and Second Chances,” at New Season Church in Hiram March 17-16.

He is also listed as a keynote speaker at the faith-based Spring Jubilee conference in April, which is being held in Branson, Mo. and is billed as an event with “singing, laughing and preaching.”