Alleged Assault By Former SBC President May Be Most Damaging Part of Explosive Report

By Yonat Shimron
johnny hunt SBC president
Pastor Johnny Hunt speaks in Oct. 2021 at Fairview Knox Church in Corryton, Tennessee. (Video screen grab)

The details in the report are nothing if not shocking.

A former Southern Baptist Convention leader stepped inside the Florida beachside condo of a pastor’s wife, 24 years younger, pulled down her shorts, pinned her to the couch, got on top of her and pulled up her shirt.

The assault on July 25, 2010, is one of the more graphic descriptions of sex abuse in a blockbuster report, conducted by third-party investigation firm Guidepost Solutions, and made public by the Southern Baptist Convention on Sunday.

But the details pale in comparison with the identity of the alleged perpetrator: Johnny Hunt, former president of the Southern Baptist Convention (SBC), longtime Georgia megachurch pastor and until last week, senior vice president of evangelism and leadership at the denomination’s North American Mission Board. Hunt has denied the allegations.

The report, which shows how leaders of the denomination treated sexual abuse survivors as enemies and downplayed the number of sexual abuse cases in SBC churches, concludes with another blunt assessment: “The investigators did not find Dr. Hunt to be credible in their interviews with him.”

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“I’m heartbroken and grieving,” said Daniel Akin, president of Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary in Wake Forest, North Carolina, and a personal friend of Hunt’s for more than 30 years. “I accept that something inappropriate happened, yes. The report comes across as very credible.”

The allegations against Hunt, who was widely admired and respected in the SBC for mentoring other pastors, shook many pastors to the core.

One pastor, who served on Hunt’s staff years ago and had invited Hunt to speak at his own church many times, said he was “stunned, devastated and in disbelief.” The pastor said he needed time to process the allegations before agreeing to use his name.

The alleged assault may be one of the most damaging revelations in the 288-page report. Hunt was not just a beloved pastor and SBC president, he was a leading figure in the conservative resurgence, or takeover, within the SBC beginning in the early 1980s — a battle that posited biblical inerrancy and infallibility, but in a larger sense was aimed at saving the denomination from liberalism.

Hunt, 69, spearheaded what was to be Part 2 of the resurgence, a recommitment to evangelism and disciple-making, what’s often called the Great Commission, after Jesus’ exhortation to “go and make disciples of all nations.”

Shortly after assuming the presidency of the convention in 2008, Hunt formed a task force to find ways for Southern Baptists to “work more faithfully and effectively together in serving Christ through the Great Commission.”

The need was urgent. The denomination, the nation’s largest Protestant group, was facing declining membership and revenue and differing ministry philosophies. In 2010, when the Great Commission Resurgence Report was adopted, the SBC had 16 million members. Today it has little more than 13.6 million members — its lowest tally in more than 40 years.

sbc president johnny hunt
Pastor Johnny Hunt speaks at a church in Nov. 2020. (Video screen grab)

Hunt in a tweet Sunday denied the accusations against him but said he had resigned his position at the North American Missions Board, where he has worked since 2018.

“To put it bluntly: I vigorously deny the circumstances and characterizations set forth in the Guidepost report. I have never abused anybody,” he wrote.

Investigators nevertheless found several witnesses who corroborated the allegations and said former SBC president Hunt had admitted to the sexual encounter. He also took a leave of absence from First Baptist Church Woodstock shortly after the alleged assault in 2010. At the time, it was attributed to “physical and emotional exhaustion.”

The charismatic pastor was born in Lumberton, one of the poorest cities in North Carolina, about 80 miles northwest of coastal Wilmington.

Like many residents of Lumberton, Hunt is a member of the Lumbee Native American Indian tribe. After dropping out of school at 16 and developing drinking and gambling addictions, he converted to Christianity, sobered up, and went on to graduate from Gardner-Webb College, now university, in the western part of the state. He then earned a master of divinity from Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary and served some churches in eastern North Carolina.

Hunt became pastor of First Baptist Church of Woodstock, Georgia, in 1986 and grew it to a bustling megachurch with 16,000 members at its height and about 6,000 people attending each weekend.

In 1994, Hunt founded Timothy+Barnabas, a conference retreat designed to give pastors some time off for encouragement, instruction and networking. Pastors typically gather at an upscale hotel or retreat center for three days. This year’s Sept. 13-15 event at Chateau on the Lake in Branson, Missouri, is sold out.

Hunt said in his tweet Sunday that he intended to continue to dedicate his life to “encouraging and instructing pastors.”

Given the seriousness of the allegations, his friend Akin said he didn’t think that was a good idea.

Yonat ShimronYonat Shimron is a national reporter and senior editor for Religion News Service.

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12 thoughts on “Alleged Assault By Former SBC President May Be Most Damaging Part of Explosive Report”

  1. “To put it bluntly: I vigorously deny the circumstances and characterizations set forth in the Guidepost report. I have never abused anybody,” he wrote. What does that mean? That statement is wide open for interpretation, why not just say “it never happened” if you are innocent. Just sickening. “For nothing is hidden that will not be made manifest, nor is anything secret that will not be known and come to light”. Luke 8:17

    1. Brent Thompson

      It probably means he thought the encounter was somehow either consensual or was brought on by his victim’s “encouragement.”.

  2. Jacob Benjamin

    I respectfully submit the boundless mixing of sexes in after service “fellowship” banter, youth groups and home groups is a recipe for disaster.
    Men apart from Jesus Christ are just a step away from assaulting female church members both young and old. This happened because the gentleman did not exercise personal holiness and walk with the Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. He entertained himself with the popular culture and saw his sister in Christ as just some piece of meat.

    Today we are forced to attend services to add to the count, bring people to services to add to the count, give money, and like the social media posts of the church celebrities. More importance is given to physical appearances and aesthetic settings. The Spirit of God has left the church. We are running on empty. We are mistaken if we think that the encouraging Bible verses shared in church groups are a sign of God’s presence.

    Fall on our faces and repent! He is still merciful and does not want to destroy us.

    1. What? So men can’t ever occupy the same general vicinity as women. The Billy Graham rule on steroids. Jesus really messed up giving water to that lady at the well. He should have had Mary come talk to her.

      Here is another option – Christian men stop being weirdos. My non-Christian guy friends are way more normal around women then dudes that regularly go to church,

      1. Jacob Benjamin

        Thanks for your comments. I live in a majority non Christian country. My heart breaks when I read the regular gang rapes of both older and minor girls in our country. Rape videos are available for sale. Single women speak often of the advances, stares, inappropriate comments and songs that they get when they go shopping. Single women are urged to get married as soon as possible for protection. My own wife and sister were targeted.

        So Sir, I know the other side really well. But the Lord Jesus confronts, convicts, and breaks our sin patterns. The church is a beautiful vessel of His grace.

        We can converse in detail elsewhere if you wish. My concern is to help the church back to its proper place under the Lordship of Christ. I do not have much opinions on cultural mores.

    2. Jacob Benjamin, you said, “Men apart from Jesus Christ are just a step away from assaulting female church members both young and old. ”

      I could introduce you to many, many atheist and agnostic men and men of other faiths whose own sense of right and wrong and whose personal integrity standards don’t permit them to treat women in any way other than dignified human being, with respect, kindness, and selflessness.

      Christian men behave as if they are extremely insecure. They need hierarchy reverse engineered into doctrine to protect their insecurity.

      Christian church culture needs power and money to protect the institution so careers can be funded.

      It simply costs too much for both groups to do the right thing.

      (barring some exceptions)

      Men outside of christian culture generally do not have these hang-ups.

      1. Jacob Benjamin

        Scottie Day, thanks for your comments. Please see my reply to Dan. Thanks. Praying that the church will remain faithful.

  3. Johnny Hunt is going down. If it was consensual, as these guys seem to try and characterize many times, she would not have needed counseling. Anyways, it just amazes me when a man gets rejected that he has to forcibly push himself on a woman. That just never made sense to me.

  4. Cathie Boucher

    When the Roman Catholic pedophilia scandal broke I wondered how any Catholic could remain in that “church”. Now I’m faced with the same question. How can I or anyone else stay in any church associated with the SBC when it’s run by very creepy men who cover and in some cases protect abusers. And, how is it that in some churches abusers are actually given standing ovations when their crimes are exposed? What has happened to us? Where do we go as to not “ forsake the gathering together”? Come, Lord Jesus. Please.

    1. Cathie, man will always let you down as he isn’t perfect, only Jesus was perfect. Place your trust in Him only.

      One thing I don’t understand is why wasn’t the police made aware of all these different cases, not just trying to get the SBC to try to handle it. I agree that an investigation should have been done immediately upon the accusation by the church and law enforcement.

      I too am concerned about Hunt’s comment. He didn’t say he didn’t touch the survivor. It sounded like he thought she should have felt privileged for his actions. If that is the case, she isn’t the only person he has assaulted.

      Praying that all victims will notify authorities and the leaders in the respective churches, and that justice be exacted, and that the survivers are healed with a touch from God.

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