Roughly two months after being “restored” to ministry by a team of four pastors, disgraced former pastor and SBC denominational leader Johnny Hunt appeared in the pulpit of Hiland Park Baptist Church in Panama City, Florida, on Sunday.
The church is pastored by Steven L. Kyle, one of the pastors who counseled Hunt in the wake of the revelation of credible accusations of sexual abuse against him, which came to light in the Guidepost Solutions report released in May 2022.
The report was the result of an investigation into the response of SBC leaders to allegations of sexual abuse from 2000 to 2021, and it described in detail the alleged abuse perpetrated by Hunt while he was SBC president in 2010.
Investigators found the survivor’s testimony credible. They also determined that Hunt’s recounting of the events, which changed through the course of interviewing him after he initially denied having any sexual contact with the survivor, was not credible.
Hunt now acknowledges that the sexual encounter occurred, but he maintains that it was consensual.
In the wake of these allegations, Hunt resigned as Senior Vice President of Evangelism and Leadership at the SBC’s North American Mission Board. He was also suspended from his role as pastor emeritus at First Baptist Church in Woodstock, Georgia, a church for which he served as senior pastor for three decades.
That same month, Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary announced that they would rename an academic chair and a 5-year BA/MDiv program, among other things, that had previously been named in Hunt’s honor.
Despite the credibility of the allegations against Hunt and widespread agreement within the SBC that he was permanently disqualified from pastoral leadership in accordance with a 2021 denominational resolution regarding clergy sex abuse, pastors Steven Kyle, Mark Hoover, Benny Tate, and Mike Whitson declared in Nov. 2022 that Hunt was cleared to return to ministry.
The pastors, three of whom oversee SBC affiliated churches, have not come under the governance of any denominational structures, nor did they consult the First Baptist Church in Woodstock. Rather, they independently assembled the informal group and made the determination that Hunt was fit to return to ministry of their own accord.
When the announcement of Hunt’s return was made, current SBC president Bart Barber excoriated the pastors, stating in no uncertain terms that they “do not speak for the Southern Baptist Convention” and characterizing their endorsement of Hunt’s ministry return as “repugnant.”
Nevertheless, on Sunday (Jan. 15), Hunt appeared in the pulpit at Hiland Park Baptist Church, a church of which he is now a member, a mere eight months after the sexual abuse allegations against him came to light.
Introducing Hunt as the preacher for the service, Kyle expressed that he was both “honored” and “thankful” to have Hunt speak, describing him as “one of the greatest pulpiters in our generation” and a “great student of the Word of God.”