Woodstock pastor addresses allegations against Johnny Hunt

Hunt denied the assault allegation but admitted to“a brief, but improper encounter”

Members of First Baptist Church Woodstock were asked Sunday to pray for survivors as well as the megachurch’s former pastor Johnny Hunt, who was named in a recent independent investigation into how sexual abuse and assault cases were mishandled by the leadership at the Southern Baptist Convention.

“My need, your need, the needs of Southern Baptists all over the world, the needs of women and children and, yes, the need of pastor Johnny Hunt is for a restored soul,” the Rev. Jeremy Morton said to a packed sanctuary.

The report by Guidepost Solutions found “credible” allegations that the prominent evangelical leader sexually abused the wife of a fellow pastor in 2010.

He has denied he assaulted the woman but admitted on social media to a “personal sin” and called it “a brief, but improper encounter.”

The 288-page report is being met with anger as well as grief and sadness.

“One incident of abuse in any place or any church is a tragedy and it cannot be ignored,” Morton said.

It’s also deeply personal for First Baptist because it involves Hunt, “a man we have known and loved and followed for years.” He served for three decades as senior pastor of the megachurch as well as being the former president of the SBC,

Despite a spate of blockbuster news last week about the SBC scandal First Baptist was the only church that mentioned the report during Sunday sermons , according to reporters for The Atlanta Journal-Constitution who monitored services for a few churches.

Morton said in Sunday’s message there had been rumblings for years from multiple sources that the denomination’s Executive Committee had ignored reports of sexual misconduct in SBC-affiliated churches around the nation.

In 2021, the SBC messengers, the convention’s voting members who can elect officers, approve trustees and vote on the direction of the convention approved a third-party investigation.

Morton said as a messenger, he voted for the investigation to proactively get the SBC house in order. The investigation was not forced upon Southern Baptists.

“This was not a witch hunt, this was not a group of liberals trying to take down the convention. If you say this you are misinformed. We the people, we the people allowed and called for this investigation to occur. No one, anywhere, can honestly say with integrity ‘Southern Baptists are woke liberals’.”

He said churches must do more to make themselves accountable, not less.

Morton said Hunt has indicated that he is willing to start healing and restoration.

At Oakhurst Baptist Church in Decatur, the ministers and lay members prayed and preached about the school shooting in Uvalde, Texas, that claimed the lives of 21 people, including 19 children.

Ashley Robinson, interim pastor of Christian education and community engagement, talked about finding unity and hope during a time of horrific acts and seemingly hopeless divisions by examining Jesus’ prayer to God that his followers “all may be one ... One? It doesn’t take a mathematician to figure out that we are really missing the mark when it comes to unity.”

Robinson referenced the deaths in Texas, but also the lives lost and the wounded in Buffalo, New York, where a young white man killed 10 and injured three more in an apparent racially motivated attack on a grocery store in a predominantly Black neighborhood.

She urged congregants, however to “see our own belovedness instead of what is eating us up inside.”

At Oakhurst’s Worship and Pastoral Care Melanie Vaughn-West, in her sermon to the church’s children, talked about finding comfort in difficult times by wrapping herself and the children in blankets.

”One of my favorite things Jesus says in the Bible is ‘I will not leave you comfortless,’” she said. “Jesus is always with us, in our hearts, surrounding us all the time.”

Staff writers Tia Mitchell and Jozsef Papp contributed to this article.