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Johnny Hunt, Disgraced Former SBC President, Back in Pulpit, Top-Billed for Upcoming Conference

By Sarah Einselen
johnny hunt legal action
On January 15, 2023, Johnny Hunt preaches at Hiland Park Baptist Church in Panama City, Florida. (Video screengrab)

Former Southern Baptist Convention president Johnny Hunt was hailed Sunday as “one of the greatest pulpiteers in our generation” despite accusations he sexually assaulted another pastor’s wife.

Embarking on a return to ministry, Hunt delivered the sermon Sunday at Hiland Park Baptist Church, a Southern Baptist Convention (SBC) megachurch in Panama City, Florida. He is also getting top billing for an upcoming Gospel conference series.

Hiland Park’s senior pastor, the Rev. Steven Kyle, was one of four who declared in November that Hunt was fit to return to ministry. On Sunday, Kyle introduced Hunt as “my good friend” just before Hunt began preaching.

“Johnny has preached here several times since I have been your pastor,” Kyle added. “He is one of the greatest pulpiteers in our generation.”

Kyle did not mention the allegations that caused Hunt’s former church—First Baptist Church Woodstock in the Atlanta area—to remove Hunt as its pastor emeritus. Nor did he mention that current SBC President Bart Barber has said he would “permanently ‘defrock’” Hunt if he had the “authority to do so.”

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The Roys Report (TRR) reached out to Hiland Park for comment for this story but did not immediately hear back. 

The allegations against Hunt came out in a blockbuster report last May exposing sexual abuse and cover-up within the Southern Baptist Convention. The report, by Guidepost Solutions, found the woman’s claims against Hunt were “credible.”

Hunt resigned as president of the SBC’s North American Mission Board days before the release of the Guidepost report.

johnny hunt steven kyle
On January 15, 2023, Steven Kyle introduces Johnny Hunt at Hiland Park Baptist Church in Panama City, Florida. (Video screengrab)

About six months later, Kyle and three other pastors announced Hunt had completed a restoration process and was deemed fit for ministry again.

Hunt initially denied the accusations. He has since admitted inappropriate behavior, but claimed it was consensual.

In his sermon Sunday, Hunt did not mention the allegations against him either. But as he introduced the text, Hunt briefly said God’s callings are “irrevocable” despite “bad choices” someone might make in life.

“God is omniscient,” Hunt preached. “When God calls you to do something, and you begin to think you’re no longer qualified to do it, hold on just a moment—you don’t think he knew your past, your present, and your future when he called you? He already knew that, and yet he still placed his hand and his calling on you.”

Hunt is scheduled to preach again next month at HomE Church, a nondenominational church plant near Knoxville, Tennessee. Then in April, he’s to be the top-billed speaker for Springtime Jubilee conferences in Branson, Missouri, and Myrtle Beach, South Carolina. He’s spoken in past years at the Jubilee multi-day Gospel conferences geared for older adults.

Other speakers at the conference include Kevin Hamm, pastor of an SBC church in Alabama; Benny Tate, president of the Congregational Methodist denomination; Nashville comedian Rik Roberts; and Texas comedian Dennis Swanberg. The Gaither Vocal Band and its longtime lead singer Guy Penrod are the top-billed musical artists, along with Lynda Randle, Sandi Patti, the Hoppers, Ernie Haase/Signature Sound, Legacy 5, Karen Peck, the Nelons, and Michael Combs.

Neither the church nor Jubilee Conferences immediately responded when TRR reached out for comment.

Proponents of abuse reform within the Southern Baptist Convention decried Hunt’s return to the pulpit.

“It grieves me deeply that Johnny Hunt would not have the spiritual and emotional intelligence to realize the deep trauma that he is causing,” said Mike Keahbone, vice chair of the SBC’s Abuse Reform Implementation Task Force. “Not only to the victim of his abuse, but also to all survivors who are watching and re-living their pain as they watch him return to the very platform that he caused harm from.

Keahbone added that “True repentance is not found in the opinions of four men, but in a broken heart and changed behavior.” He also reiterated the convention’s stance that “sexual misconduct calls for disqualification from ministry.”

Christa Brown, an abuse survivor and advocate for more than 15 years, called Hunt’s return a symptom of systemic problems in the convention.

“The fact that Johnny Hunt can still preach from the pulpit serves to illustrate the gross inability of the Southern Baptist Convention to responsibly reckon with clergy sex abuse,” Brown told TRR. “It shows that, whatever SBC leaders may say about accountability for sexual abuse, the reality is that their words are toothless. This is a faith group that is marinated in impunity for its pastors.”

Update: After this story was published, The Roys Report received the following statement on Wednesday morning from Jason Rogers, lead pastor of HomE Church near Knoxville, Tennessee:

“We are thrilled to host Pastor Johnny Hunt at HomE Church. No one has been more greatly used of God to influence my ministry or as a greater, God-honoring influence on my family. Like myself, everyone in our church family, and everyone in the world, Pastor Johnny has not lived in sinless perfection as a believer. However, contrary to the “woke” ideology that has sadly consumed the SBC and many believers, the Bible is clear that all sin is alike before the holiness of God. Sexual sin is not a greater sin in the sight of God. This is why we all need grace, mercy, repentance, and forgiveness. We are convinced of Pastor Johnny’s repentance leading to God’s forgiveness. According to Galatians 6:1, restoration must also follow. Without restoration, a process which Pastor Johnny has submitted to twice now, it’s not actually forgiveness. We unashamedly stand with Pastor Johnny along with every other fallen recipient of God’s manifold grace to the glory of King Jesus!”

This article has been updated with a statement from Pastor Rogers and additional details of the Springtime Jubilee conference.

Sarah Einselen is an award-winning writer and editor based in Texas.



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32 Responses

  1. I can’t understand Johnny Hunts belief that a calling is irrevocable. God called Saul and not only did eliminate Saul but his family lineage from being king over Israel. There are plenty of other cases too where God removed his hand from individuals.

    1. I would imagine he gets that belief from Romans 11:29–in which Paul states that both “the gifts and calling of God are irrevocable.”

    2. During our lifetime we make mistakes that are hurtful to other people. Moses was called by God to lead his children into the promise land but because of sin he did not get to go. Dollar signs confuse sin with God’s will and direction. Returning him to the pulpit is a slap in the face for those who have been abused. I would not want to sit and listen to Johnny Hunt.

  2. I just learned a new word, “pulpiteers”. Is this derived from puppeteers, someone who manipulates and speaks for a figure who can’t speak for themselves? Perhaps the victim in this case? I know of men who use their trusted counseling/pastor positions to lure vulnerable women into their trap. It is so damaging to everyone. Families usually never recover and the children won’t touch the church later in their lives.
    These notable singers/people should refuse to go to this event.

    1. Good points, Sondra!

      Too bad that the SBC doesn’t have a defrocking ability like the Roman Catholic Church. I’m glad that the article:

      was pointed out in this article

      The term pulpiteer has been around for a long time. They are one-man-acts who are great entertainers but not much good for anything else. Ever see the movie, “Elmer Gantry” ? He was an example of a pulpiteer. It was taken from the book of the same name by the Nobel prize winner Sinclair Lewis.

      1. Thank you ..Elmer Gantry is a good way to define these people. They are frauds and wolves among the sheep. No one should come near them, let alone all the groups who will be singing and sharing the pulpit with him. He should be disinvited if they have any integrity.

      2. Did you read the book? I think the book is much better than the film.

        Elmer Gantry was a truly awful character. Sinclair Lewis did a lot of research before he did each of his novels. What sort of book about the American Protestant world would he write today? What sort of minister would be his model?

        1. I haven’t read the book, “Elmer Gantry.” I see some Canadians have put it up on the Internet.

          According to them it isn’t protected by copyright law in Canada anymore and I would think the same would be true for the United States, but I suppose one would have to check on that.

          The paragraph or two I have read shows that Sinclair Lewis was an excellent writer. I have hesitated to recommend book over the movie, Because movies in the 60’s show some restraint in making their products tolerable for a general audience. Not being familiar with Sinclair Lewis’s printed works, I have to be cautious to recommend it. Now, Tolstoy’s printed works I have no problem with recommending them, but perhaps I’ll give you Sinclair Lewis’s a deeper look.

          1. Babbitt is also a good book. Babbitt’s speech is especially amusing. As I said, Lewis did a lot of research into the professional background of his main characters before he wrote.

            The movie Elmer Gantry made Gantry a much more sympathetic character. In the book he was a scoundrel.

            Have you seen the article about that crooked New York City minister (the one that got robbed) and his friend the mayor in the current New Yorker? He and Gantry would be good friends. This issue has the ski tracks on the cover.

    2. My guess is, they occupy a pulpit, but they’re not actually preaching (at least not a Biblically-recognizable version of the Gospel). So strictly speaking they’re not “preachers”, but they have to be called something.

  3. “This is a faith group that is marinated in impunity for its pastors.”
    Pretty much sums it up.

    ‘Hunt briefly said God’s callings are “irrevocable” despite “bad choices” someone might make in life.’
    I guess Johnny Hunt knows what God wants better than his victims.

    I always appreciate Upton Sinclair’s dictum: “It’s difficult to get a man to understand something when his salary depends on not understanding it.”

  4. “When God calls you to do something . . .” Is it possible that he was not called by God to be a minister but that he was able to perform well, sort of like an opera singer or a football player is able to perform well? St Paul noted the characteristics needed for bishops, priests and deacons. How serious a violation is needed before someone no longer should have one of these roles? Is being a “good preacher” all that is needed to be a headliner at some event?

      1. I believe Jubilee Conferences is owned by members of Johnny’s relatives and/or friends. In my opinion Johnny does very little that does not benefit himself or his family financially.

  5. I am always entertained by these malignant narcissists that bellow out “gods calling” but for some strange reason they are the only one’s hearing the voices. once again, it’s the lemmings in the cheap seats I blame not the grifters.

    1. I agree with Gary. IMO “Johnny the Hunter” should be on trial for sexual assault. His only hope for acquittal would be a jury of 12 members of Hiland Park Baptist Church. The lemmings in that church are being led over the cliff by both Hunt and their so-called-pastor Steven Kyle. One need look no further than Hiland Park Baptist Church to see the deplorable state of evangelical Christianity in our country.

  6. … as “one of the greatest pulpiteers in our generation” despite accusations he sexually assaulted another pastor’s wife.”

    Being a great “pulpiteer” – a great performer in a particular performance genre – is not in consistent with sexually assaulting women. They’re completely different categories.

  7. The reason Hunt is the top-billed speaker at the Jubilee Conferences is…he owns them. He has made a fortune–no doubt millions–off of them and other conferences he has put on.

  8. If it is true that “all sin is alike before the holiness of God” and “Sexual sin is not a greater sin in the sight of God”, as Pastor Jason Rogers states, then why is there greater punishments (such as stoning to death) for some sins in the Old Testament, and lighter punishments for lessor offenses? Has God changed? It is true that all sin makes us guilty before God. But this is not the same thing as saying that all sins are the same. Some sins have much greater consequences than others. A lie (while sinful) does not do as much damage to the victim as rape. Hateful words (while sinful and very hurtful) to not do the same damage as murder.

    1. I agree, Mark.

      Jesus said, “It would be better for them to be thrown into the sea with a millstone tied around their neck than to cause one of these little ones to stumble.”

      I believe this implies that not all sins are equal.

      1. “I believe this implies that not all sins are equal.” Yep, the children reference and the one unforgivable sin:

        Matthew 12
        31 Wherefore I say unto you, All manner of sin and blasphemy shall be forgiven unto men: but the blasphemy against the Holy Ghost shall not be forgiven unto men.

        32 And whosoever speaketh a word against the Son of man, it shall be forgiven him: but whosoever speaketh against the Holy Ghost, it shall not be forgiven him, neither in this world, neither in the world to come.

        Mark 3
        28 Verily I say unto you, All sins shall be forgiven unto the sons of men, and blasphemies wherewith soever they shall blaspheme:

        29 But he that shall blaspheme against the Holy Ghost hath never forgiveness, but is in danger of eternal damnation.

    2. I found one person in the Old Testament who was stoned, and that was for gathering sticks on the Sabbath, not adultery. Numbers 15:32-36. If there was another one, please let me know. The sons of Eli weren’t stoned (1 Samuel 2:22), and neither was David, despite being guilty of at least adultery and murder (2 Samuel 12:13). Likewise, there don’t seem to be any disobedient sons who were stoned for being drunkards and/or gluttons. Deuteronomy 21:18-21.
      In the New Testament, stoning does not seem to be an authorized penalty. When the Jews told Pilate, “We have no law to put a man to death”, Pilate who would have been in a position to know otherwise, did not disagree. John 18:31. Even so, Stephen as stoned by a lynch mob for preaching the Gospel (Acts 7:59), Jesus was almost stoned (John 8:59), and Saul of Tarsus was stoned and left for dead (2 Corinthians 11:25),
      Vertically, every sin may be alike to God, but horizontally, some sins are worse than others.

      1. “If a man commits adultery with the wife of his neighbor, both the adulterer and the adulteress shall surely be put to death.” (Lev 20:10). My point is simply that in the Old Testament Law God Himself did not order the exact same punishments for all sins. God ordered the death penalty for some sins, and less severe punishments for lessor sins. For instance, a man who knocked out his neighbor’s tooth was to have his own tooth knocked out (Lev 24:19-20). So, if all sin is the same before God, why didn’t He order the exact same punishment for every sin?

        1. I’m not suggesting anything to the contrary. My only point is that stoning people to death for adultery is recorded in the Old Testament a lot less frequently than you would think from the number of people talking about it.

  9. Perhaps what is meant by “the gifts and calling of God are irrevocable” is the the responsibility for those gifts and that calling are non-negotiable. Not good news for any of us, let alone sin deniers.Reminds me of those who defend themselves with”well, God knows my heart”. That He does. That He does.

  10. Jason Rogers said “the Bible is clear that all sin is alike before the holiness of God. Sexual sin is not a greater sin in the sight of God. ” So murder is the same thing as a kid yelling at his Mom? So the sin of a pedophile who has molested countless children is the same as gluttony? There is a very fine line being walked here and I believe that Jason Rogers stepped over it.
    Thank you for this revealing post.

    1. There is something unique about sexual sin: 1Co 6:18 Flee immorality. Every other sin that a man commits is outside the body, but the immoral man sins against his own body.

      1. I wonder what Jesus would do if a child was molested or assaulted while he was giving one of his talks when he walked the earth. Would he protect the child or would he protect the molester? I don’t see Jesus promoting the wolf. Jesus had such high regard for children and the vulnerable. The church has run roughshod over the vulnerable too many times. Jesus didn’t mince words and protect the wolf. He focused on healing those who were serious about it. And he protected the flock.

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