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Reporting the Truth.
Restoring the Church.

Pastors Say Johnny Hunt, Former SBC President Accused of Abuse, Can Return to Ministry

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

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.

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johnny hunt restoration SBC
Pastors Mark Hoover, from left, Mike Whitson, Steven Kyle and Benny Tate in a video about their restoration work with Johnny Hunt. (Video screen grab)

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 media in May, after the allegations were 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 Baptist 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 the former SBC president, 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.”

johnny hunt
Pastor Johnny Hunt and his wife, Janet, in a video about restoration work they completed with other pastors. (Video screen grab)

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, said current pastor Jeremy Morton.

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 the former SBC president 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.”

Bob SmietanaBob Smietana is a national reporter for Religion News Service.



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17 Responses

  1. And on it goes. “We are all broken people,” he said. “We all need Jesus.” When this is what comes out of your mouth as a defense of yourself, people need to give you a very wide berth. Instead the SBC solemnly nods and all is well. Yeesh.

    1. No wonder the world justifiably condemns us for hypocrisy and pervasion rather than for speaking and living the Truth. Too many of us are going to hear Him say He never knew us.

  2. I don’t understand why there is such a concern to restore pastors guilty of such sinful behavior to ministry. Restore them to fellowship in the Church, yes, but high profile ministry leadership no! I am fed up and sick of all of these stories. Until the Church takes sexual sin and abuse by Christian leaders seriously we will be a hypocritical organization that the world mocks and laughs at instead of being viewed as The Church of the living God known for its love for each other and the beautiful message of the Gospel.

  3. This reminds me of the chart on Sarah McDugal’s website: Fruits of Repentance vs Fruits of a Wolf. Even in marriage counseling, they tell you a wolf can fake repentance for up to two years. A truly repentance Hunt would step down FOR YEARS. At the very least for the sake of his wife who is also a victim.

  4. And the brood of vipers keep twisting scriptures in order to keep one of their own vampires ready to go back to feeding on the flock. All of these guys should be avoided as much as possible. They do not follow the scriptures. When you lose your reputation, according to the scriptures, you are done. You are never requalified. You have to have it in the first place. If you lose it you are out and done. Time to go do a real job. These guys do not know Jesus Christ. They are malignant narcissists manipulating for their own evil purposes.

  5. Yes, we should extend forgiveness to sinners in the church. This is because membership in the body of Christ is not based on merit, but upon Grace.

    No, we should not let leaders who are guilty of gross sin back into positions of leadership. This is because leadership is determined by merit, of which clear Biblical guidelines exist (1 Tim 3, Titus 1, 1 Peter 5), including sexual purity.

    If Johnny Hunt has repented, then he should be welcomed back into church membership. He should then spend the rest of his life as a church member, and not someone in an position of teaching or leadership.

    If Hunt has broken the law, he should submit to the worldly authorities for judgement, and accept it.

    If there are any victims of Hunt’s actions, that person / those people should be upheld and supported by the body of Christ first and foremost.

    1. Good I am very pleased that this man has repented and loves Jesus however he is no longer above reproach which is a Scriptual essential for those in ministry and twisting and weaponising Scripture won’t make any difference either

  6. Another example of the church using Scripture as a weapon against the abused. If the best days are ahead of this violator, that is a recipe for disaster. His “best days” are not good enough for the sheep or anyone in society. Sprinkling scripture into lies of half-truth and half-baked confessions (being generous here) is not apology, let alone repentance. Being restored starts with repentance, not with getting your ministry job back through tears and time and a process. If this person was truly repentant he would not be placing himself in the same situation where he used/uses the sheep for food. This all-too-familiar scenario perpetuates the cycle of abuse. I’d rather see an authentic Christian who does not abuse standing behind a pulpit. One who cares about the sheep and the safety of all humanity.

  7. talk about the four-horseman of the apocalypse. yikes. One and done folks. All these malignant narcissists err I mean men of God have but one mission. keep the bucks rolling in no matter who you are or what you’ve done. I never blame these ilk’s of society. I blame the people for showing up to pay for the show and stick around thinking they are actually being filled with the spirit of God. Matt 7:21-23

  8. It would have been more convincing if Brother Hunt had been called to prison ministry. But apparently he got a pass on the sexual assault complaint, too.

    1. I wonder what the body of Christ would look like to the world if these ‘restoration pastors’ helped restore the victim of the abuse(the sheep) instead of working so hard to ‘restore’ the perpetrator (the wolf). Wolves operate in packs and devour and this story is yet another example of Christ not being reflected to the world or within the Body of Christ…I’m grateful that my Heavenly Father is not fooled and will not be hidden behind as these ‘restoration pastors’ minimize abuse.

      1. True enough. On the other hand, we can hope, as the George Clooney character observed in “O Brother, Where Art Thou”, “Even if that did put you square with the Lord, the State of Mississippi’s a little more hard-nosed.”

  9. The article mentions a 2021 resolution that pastors guilty of abuse should be banned from ministry. Does it have any enforcement mechanism, or do these four pastors have authority to reinstate a fellow minister? Perhaps individual congregations may opt to accept or reject a pastor because the SBC cites its decentralized organizational structure when convenient to avoid disciplinary action.

    Comparison to the Good Samaritan is a revolting reversal of victim and offender. Those who “want to help him” (quoting Benny Tate) should remind Hunt that he is credibly accused of sexual assault. That’s far worse than what Hunt describes as “cross[ing] a line”; it’s a criminal offense punishable by law.

    1. Subsequent story on The Roys Report answers the question from my previous post. Sadly, it appears that neither the SBC’s governing bodies nor this group of four pastors has authority to execute discipline. Only the church that employs a minister can expel him from the pulpit or restore him to ministry. The resolution therefore has no provision for implementation.

  10. I was a member of Johnny’s church during the period of time that the original incident took place in 2010. We were told he had to take an extended leave after June because he was exhausted due to the demands of his ministry and service to the Southern Baptist Convention. We were all concerned and prayed for Johnny. According to the Guidepost report and in my opinion this was not true or it certainly was not the whole truth. I believe he allowed his closest friends and brothers in Christ go before the church and tell lies to cover for him. And I have not seen one of those men come forward to defend him now. As far as I’m concerned Mr. Hunt has no credibility. He surrendered that a long time ago.

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