(RNS) — Disgraced former Southern Baptist Convention President Johnny Hunt plans a return to ministry after completing a restoration process overseen by four pastors, according to a video released last week.
Hunt, a longtime megachurch pastor in Georgia, was named earlier this year in the Guidepost Solutions report on sexual abuse in the SBC, which alleged that Hunt had sexually assaulted another pastor’s wife in 2010. Guidepost, a third-party investigation firm, found the claims credible.
“We believe the greatest days of ministry for Johnny Hunt are the days ahead,” said Rev. Steven Kyle, pastor of Hiland Park Baptist Church in Panama City, Florida, in the video.
Kyle, along with pastors Mark Hoover of NewSpring Church in Wichita, Kansas; Benny Tate of Rock Springs Church in Milner, Georgia; and Mike Whitson of First Baptist Church in Indian Trail, North Carolina, said they had worked with Hunt and his wife on an “intentional and an intense season of transparency, reflection and restoration” in recent months.
In that process, Kyle said he and other pastors had observed Hunt’s “genuine brokenness and humility before God” and deemed him fit for ministry in the future.
The allegations against Hunt caught his many admirers by surprise. At the time of the Guidepost report, Hunt was a popular speaker and a vice president at the SBC’s North American Mission Board and was beloved by many SBC leaders.
“I’m heartbroken and grieving,” Daniel Akin, president of Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary in Wake Forest, North Carolina, told Religion News Service in May, after news of the allegations against Hunt was made public.
Hunt denied the allegations at first, then claimed the incident, which was said to have taken place at a vacation condo, was a consensual encounter.
“I confess that I sinned,” Hunt said in a letter in May to First Baptist Church in Woodstock, Georgia, where he was the pastor for three decades. “I crossed a line.”
Neither Hunt nor Kyle responded to a request for comment.
As part of a series of actions meant to deal with sexual abuse, Southern Baptists passed a resolution in 2021 saying that any pastors guilty of abuse should be banned from the ministry.
In the recent video, the pastors paid tribute to Hunt, saying he had done more to help pastors than anyone they knew. Serving on his spiritual care team, they said, was a way of repaying Hunt for all he had done in the past, noting that for years Hunt had run a program that restored more than 400 fallen pastors to ministry.
Tate cited the well-known New Testament parable of the good Samaritan, in which a man traveling from Jerusalem to Jericho is beset by robbers and left injured by the side of the road. In the parable, religious leaders pass the man by, but a good Samaritan rescues him.
“When I heard about this situation with Johnny Hunt, what rolled in my mind is, I want to be a good Samaritan,” he said. “I sure don’t want to run away from him. I want to run to him. I want to help him.”
The video made no mention of the victim of Hunt’s assault or any efforts he had made to make amends for his actions. The pastors did mention that Hunt had gone through a similar process of counseling in 2010 after the alleged assault occurred, which involved “confession to those involved.”
After serving as SBC president from 2008 to 2010, Hunt took a leave of absence due to health concerns. The alleged assault and his initial counseling process are said to have happened during that leave but no details were made public.
First Baptist Church in Woodstock, where Hunt is no longer a member, had no involvement in the restoration process, current pastor Jeremy Morton told RNS.
In the past, First Baptist had hosted an annual men’s conference led by Hunt, but the church will not host that conference in 2023.
Hunt, who now attends Hiland Baptist, was recently featured on the church’s “Unchangeable Truth” podcast, where Hunt, Kyle and another pastor talked about the lessons Hunt had learned.
In the video, Hunt mentioned his work in restoring pastors who had made “terrible mistakes” and thanked other Kyle and the other pastors for being kind to his family.
“We are all broken people,” he said. “We all need Jesus.”
Hunt also said he would remain accountable to Kyle and other pastors in the future but did not specifically address the alleged assault or make any apologies. Hunt did say that there were “many things I would have done differently.”
“I can’t change the past,” he said. “If I could, believe me, I would. But I can only learn from it and move into the future better for it, thanks to the hope of the gospel.”