NASHVILLE, Tenn. (RNS) — In the middle of 2010, not long after his term as Southern Baptist Convention president ended, Johnny Hunt took time off for his annual vacation.
He planned to return to the pulpit at First Baptist Church in Woodstock, Georgia, in early August. But just before his first Sunday back, Hunt announced he was taking a leave of absence, citing his health and a sense of exhaustion.
What no one knew at the time was that Hunt had another reason for his leave.
On July 25, 2010, while vacationing in Florida, Hunt had kissed and fondled another pastor’s wife in what his attorneys would later call a “brief, consensual extramarital encounter.”
Then Hunt spent more than a decade covering the incident up.
Without telling his congregation — or the millions of Southern Baptists he had represented as their president — Hunt went through a secret restoration process that included counseling sessions with the woman he had fondled and her husband. He then returned to the pulpit.
For a dozen years, no one was the wiser. Hunt retired from First Baptist in 2019 and took on a new role as a senior vice president for the SBC’s North American Mission Board and continued his busy and often lucrative career as a preacher and public speaker.
Then, in 2022, an investigation into how SBC leaders dealt with the issue of abuse was released, and his name was included in the report.
Over the course of their inquiry, investigators from Guidepost Solutions, the firm hired by the SBC, had heard about Hunt’s misconduct and learned that the woman involved in the incident — who has not been named publicly — described it as a sexual assault and as non-consensual.
“We include this sexual assault allegation in the report because our investigators found the pastor and his wife to be credible; their report was corroborated in part by a counseling minister and three other credible witnesses; and our investigators did not find Dr. Hunt’s statements related to the sexual assault allegation to be credible,” investigators from Guidepost concluded.
When the report became public, Hunt first denied it and claimed the incident was consensual. He resigned from NAMB, went through another restoration process, then made a defiant return to the pulpit earlier this year.
This past spring Hunt filed suit against the Southern Baptist Convention’s Executive Committee and Guidepost, claiming they had ruined his life by revealing his misconduct and including him in an abuse report.