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Barber criticizes announcement of Hunt ‘restoration’ as ‘repugnant’

NASHVILLE (BP) – In a statement issued Wednesday (Nov. 30) morning, Southern Baptist Convention President Bart Barber decried a recent announcement by four pastors that former SBC President Johnny Hunt had completed a four-month “restoration” process and was fit to return to ministry.

“I would permanently ‘defrock’ Johnny Hunt if I had the authority to do so,” said Barber, pastor of First Baptist Church in Farmersville, Texas. “In a fellowship of autonomous churches, I do not have the authority to do so. Yet it must be said that neither do these four pastors have the authority to declare Johnny Hunt to be ‘restored.’”

Those pastors appearing in the video are Mark Hoover, of NewSpring Church in Wichita, Kan., Mike Whitson, of First Baptist in Indian Trail, N.C., Steven Kyle of Hiland Park Baptist Church in Panama City, Fla., and Benny Tate of Rock Springs Church in Milner, Ga.

Rock Springs identifies itself as Congregational Methodist while NewSpring, First Baptist and Hiland Park are all affiliated with the Southern Baptist Convention.

Mike Keahbone, pastor of First Baptist Church in Lawton, Okla., SBC Executive Committee member and co-chair of the SBC’s Abuse Response Implementation Task Force, responded on Twitter.

“I am very disappointed and disheartened by the news of Johnny Hunt’s decision to resume ministry,” he said. “I am for repentance & restoration, but I am not for returning a man back to the position he used to violate & abuse someone.”

Pastor Jeremy Morton of First Baptist Woodstock, where Johnny Hunt was pastor from 1986-2018, told Religion News Service he had no involvement in the restoration process of his predecessor.

“First Baptist wants to be focused on making disciples around the world,” Morton, an Executive Committee member, told Baptist Press in further comments. “We want one name to be associated with our church, and that’s the Lord Jesus Christ.”

Hunt resigned from his vice president position with the North American Mission Board shortly before the release of the Guidepost Solutions report May 22. The report contained testimony from an unidentified pastor’s wife that in 2010 Hunt sexually assaulted her in a Panama City hotel room shortly after he completed a second term as SBC president.

Less than two weeks after the Guidepost Report became public, First Woodstock suspended Hunt from his role as pastor emeritus. Hunt and his wife, Janet, have since moved their membership to Hiland Park Baptist Church.

At the 2021 SBC Annual Meeting in Nashville, messengers approved a resolution On Abuse And Pastoral Qualifications that “any person who has committed sexual abuse is permanently disqualified from holding the office of pastor.” The resolution further urged “our affiliated churches apply this standard to all positions of church leadership.”

“I was a member of that committee. I contributed significantly to the content of this resolution,” Barber said. “This is the sentiment of the Southern Baptist Convention.”

At the 2022 SBC Annual Meeting in Anaheim, messengers adopted a resolution On Lament and Repentance for Sexual Abuse. It includes “RESOLVED, That we give of our time and resources to bind the wounds of the broken, hold accountable perpetrators of sexual abuse and those who seek to defend them, and care well for survivors of sexual abuse.”

Barber noted that there was no mention of the victim in the restoration video.

“The idea that a council of pastors, assembled with the consent of the abusive pastor, possesses some authority to declare a pastor fit for resumed ministry is a conceit that is altogether absent from Baptist polity and from the witness of the New Testament,” he said.

“It is best for people just to regard this pronouncement as the individual opinions of four of Johnny Hunt’s loyal friends. These four pastors do not speak for the Southern Baptist Convention. The voice of the Southern Baptist Convention is best found in the text of the resolutions adopted by the messengers.”