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Johnny Hunt, Disgraced Former SBC Pastor, Sues Denomination He Once Led

Por Bob Smietana
johnny hunt
Pastor Johnny Hunt speaks at Hiland Park Baptist Church on Sunday, Jan. 15, 2023, in Panama City, Florida. (Video screengrab)

A disgraced former Southern Baptist president is suing the denomination he once led, saying he was defamed by allegations he assaulted another pastor’s wife.

In a complaint archivado in the federal court for the Middle District of Tennessee, lawyers for the Rev. Johnny Hunt, a long-time Georgia megachurch pastor, admit Hunt “had a brief, inappropriate, extramarital encounter with a married woman” in 2010, but claims the incident was consensual and that it was a private matter that should not have been made public in a major 2022 report.

“Some of the precise details are disputed, but at most, the encounter lasted only a few minutes, and it involved only kissing and some awkward fondling,” according to the complaint.

The complaint said Hunt sought counseling and forgiveness for the incident, which the complaint said was “a sin.” However, Hunt never disclosed the incident to the First Baptist Church of Woodstock, Georgia, where he was the pastor for three decades, or to the SBC’s North American Mission Board, where he was a vice president until resigning in 2022.

But the incident became public in May 2022, after it was discovered by investigators at Guidepost Solutions, a consulting firm that had been hired to investigate how SBC leaders had dealt with the issue of abuse.

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Guidepost’s investigators included the incident as part of their report and described it as a sexual assault. Those investigators said they found the allegations against Hunt credible. The former SBC president at first denied the allegations, then claimed the incident was consensual.

The complaint alleges the SBC and Guidepost engaged in defamation and libel, that they invaded Hunt’s privacy and intentionally caused emotional harm.

“The decision to smear Pastor Johnny’s reputation with these accusations has led him to suffer substantial economic and other damages,” according to the complaint. “He has lost (his) job and income; he has lost current and future book deals; and he has lost the opportunity to generate income through speaking engagements.”

Hunt also claims he was made a scapegoat to pay for the SBC’s past sins. He said current SBC leaders and Guidepost were engaged in damage control to repair the 13-million-member denomination’s reputation.

“By focusing on the allegation against Pastor Johnny — an allegation by an adult woman that involved noncriminal conduct — and by then taking aggressive action against Pastor Johnny, the Defendants sought to create the appearance that the SBC has learned from its previous mistakes and is now working to protect victims of sex crimes,” the complaint claims.

The complaint accused current SBC leaders and Guidepost of intentionally causing him “personal anguish and harm.”

“Defendants’ decision to feature the allegation against Pastor Johnny in their public 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,” the complaint claims.

A spokesperson for the SBC’s Nashville-based Executive Committee said SBC leaders are aware of the suit.

“We are reviewing the complaint and will not be commenting on active litigation at this time,” the spokesman said in a statement.

Guidepost Solutions se negó a comentar.

Hunt made a regreso desafiante to the public in January at a Florida megachurch, after a group of pastors Anunciado that Hunt had been through a restoration process and was fit to return to ministry after a brief hiatus.

During that sermon, Hunt said “false allegations” had ruined his life. But he told the congregation that if God calls someone to do something, that calling can’t be undone — and God called that person, knowing the person might sin and fail.

“Anybody can quit,” he said. “That’s why so many do. It’s easy. I mean, it hardly takes any energy whatsoever.”

Hiland Park Baptist Church in Panama City, Florida, which hosted Hunt and whose pastor oversaw Hunt’s restoration, could face consequences at the upcoming SBC annual meeting in June. The church has been reported to the SBC’s Credentials Committee for hosting “an individual who has been credibly accused of sexual abuse, according to the standards adopted by the Convention.”

This article has been corrected to accurately state the year of the incident in question. 

Lawsuit: Johnny Hunt v. SBC and Guidepost Solutions – filed Mar. 17, 2023

 

Bob SmietanaBob Smietana es reportero nacional de Religion News Service.

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18 Respuestas

  1. Some “awkward” fondling, eh? Sounds interesting. That’s worth a book all by itself. I would buy one.

    And so the “restored” brother is now suing the SBC in violation of I Corinthians 6? What kind of restoration is that? Did our Lord not instruct us to celebrate when people lie about us (Matthew 5:12-13)? This is worth a book also. I would buy one.

    And “consensual”? Whew, that mitigates a lot.

  2. Same song, second verse; a little bit louder and a little bit worse.

    The predator fancies himself a victim of intentional malice, emotional harm, and invasion of privacy. No concern for the woman who suffered much worse during this man’s unwanted and uninvited advances. Describing the incident (see item #4) as “a private failing between [plaintiff] and the woman involved” implies that she was equally at fault. “His losses are substantial” declares item #13. How about her losses? Or her husband’s? Another case of reversing victim and offender.

    And the damages are largely economic — job, income, book deals, and speaking engagements. I pity him for not valuing eternal rewards more than this world’s compensation. He is now seventy years of age; did he not save and invest for retirement?

  3. I saw a video of a meeting with 4 well known pastors saying that Hunt was repentant and restored, this lawsuit makes those guys look like they were hoodwinked by ole Johnny IMHO.

  4. From the link:

    Hunt allegedly pinned the younger woman down, got on top of her and pulled up her shirt. Investigators found several witnesses who corroborated the allegations, saying that *Hunt had admitted the assault* and had gone on leave in 2010. They also spoke with a counselor who had counseled Hunt and the survivor.

    “We include this sexual assault allegation in the report because our investigators found the pastor and his wife to be credible,” Guidepost wrote in its report, saying, “their report was corroborated in part by a counseling minister and three other credible witnesses.”

    So he mounts the wife of a subordinate, pins her down, assaults her and admits to it.

    And now he claims it was consensual.

    Some of his biggest defenders are the same people who would argue that Bathsheba wasn’t raped.

  5. He claims it didn’t happen, then claims it was consensual. So why believe him that it was consensual (which I don’t). He lied about it. So it appears his main concern is that he has lost revenue. Even if it was consensual (again which I don’t believe is true) he is still disqualified. There is no repentance here with this kind of response. What about the personal anguish and harm to the woman and her husband? “God calls a person to something knowing that they might fail can’t be undone?” What twisted thinking and also theologically bogus. Johnny Hunt has really just exposed his true condition – we need to pray that he has his eyes opened to those whom he has hurt (the woman, her husband) and would demonstrate a spirit of repentance and humility.

    1. As an attorney, I once interviewed a client, charged with rape, who told me in one breath that it didn’t happen because he was out of town that night, and then told me in the next breath that he consented. The first thing I told him was that I was not going to be putting him on the witness stand and he needed to immediately stop talking.

  6. As an attorney, I think it is extremely unlikely this lawsuit will be successful, though it is possible the SBC’s insurance company may make a business decision to settle it. But suppose he wins the suit; what then? Does he expect to be welcomed back into ministry in the denomination he just sued? Does he think a court can compel people to fellowship with him? Does he think that the publicity this lawsuit will generate will enhance his reputation? The complaint basically admits he’s in it for the money; what kind of ministry is he going to have following that? When the time comes to take his testimony, what will he say that won’t make things worse?

    When you’ve dug yourself into a hole, stop digging.

  7. Two thoughts from a sideline lawyer:
    1. I believe this lawsuit is being brought by Johnny as much to dox and embarrass his so-called accuser, the Victim, as it is to get damages from the SBC, EC, and Guidestone. Basically, Johnny wants to litigate all the facts the investigators submitted in their Report to the EC. That is obvious to me after reading the complaint AND because …
    2. As a public figure, and especially a public figure operating in the religious space, the law of defamation is not on Johnny’s side and the prospects of him winning this lawsuit are laughably low. But Johnny has really good lawyers. They know their case is weak on the law. So their strategy logically is to litigate on the facts and try to wear out the defendants. I say, the defendants should stand firm in their legal defenses because they will win, and win, and win, and get a judgment from Johnny for their attorney’s fees in the end, too. This is a hill worth dying on, from the Defendants’ perspective. I mean, that is only if they care at all about victims.

  8. This is absolutely disgraceful. I had a lot of respect and admiration for Johnny and his passionate preaching over the years. He’s not repentant or restored. At this point he should be more concerned about standing before the Lord to give account, not the devastating Discovery through which, he’s now going to put both families.
    End times madness.

  9. He’s a public figure, and affairs by public figures do regularly get reported and should be.Does he think the Clinton affair should have been covered up? People have a right to know if leaders are being good examples.

  10. Hmm. Disgraced pastor–who ADMITS he did it–files a lawsuit because his sins were shouted from the housetops. Is suiing the churches involved, helping himself to a potential settlement to be paid by the tithes of hard-working people all over the nation, just compensation for his “loss”? When was the last time “Pastor Johnny” asked himself what was best for the CHURCH? Or is he willing to abuse the Bride of Christ just as he abused the bride of a subordinate?

  11. You don’t sue Christian brothers. Paul was clear about this. It is better to suffer loss. I wasn’t there when the pastor went after this woman. I don’t know the details, but we must not sue our brothers and sisters in Christ.

  12. “Hunt never disclosed the incident to the First Baptist Church of Woodstock, Georgia, where he was the pastor for three decades, or to the SBC’s North American Mission Board, where he was a vice president until resigning in 2022.”

    That’s really all I need to know.

  13. Guidepost is not a Christian organization and in fact that has always bothered me. Why didn’t the SBC follow 1 Corinthians 6 and depend on believers? It’s all a mess.

  14. His arrogance along with his ego led him to assault the lady. The same forces are behind this lawsuit. He didnt just get up that day and decide to chase after that lady. There was a weakness in his character that possibly nobody knew but himself and God. It finally manifested itself the day He committed the act. Even though we are forgiven,.sin has consequences in this world. Ask David of the Bible. Johnny needs to quietly, just leave the room, for his sake for his family and for.the “church”.

  15. So, Johnny Hunt did a bad thing with another mans wife, and now he is suing believers in Christ in order to compensate himself for the lost income and notoriety that resulted from the very bad thing he did. And this compensation would come from the tithes and offerings of the faithful. I am not even going to comment on the legality of his case. I know right. And I know wrong. This is wrong. But I suspect Johnny does not care.

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Your tax-deductible gift helps our journalists report the truth and hold Christian leaders and organizations accountable. Give a gift of $30 or more to The Roys Report this month, and you will receive a copy of “The Atlas Factor: Shifting Leadership Onto the Shoulders of Jesus” by Lance Ford.