Editor’s note: This story was updated to include a statement regarding Credentials Committee confidentiality.
NASHVILLE (BP) – Two Southern Baptist churches have been reported to the SBC Credentials Committee on the grounds that the churches are out of step with the convention’s stances on sexual abuse.
The reports stem from speaking invitations extended to former SBC president Johnny Hunt. Hunt was named in a 2022 report from Guidepost Solutions on the firm’s investigation into the alleged mishandling of sexual abuse claims by the SBC Executive Committee.
Hunt has admitted to “a brief, but improper, encounter” in 2010 with a woman who wasn’t his wife, but has denied that it was abuse.
In an email shared with The Tennessean by Todd Benkert, the SBC Credentials Committee acknowledged placing two churches under inquiry. A spokesperson told Baptist Press the Credentials Committee is committed to keeping in confidence the names of churches submitted to it for consideration as well as the names of those submitting concerns. As part of the Committee’s process, updates to submitters are often provided regarding the status of their submission.
The churches are Hiland Park Baptist Church in Panama City, Fla., and New Season Church in Hiram, Ga., according to The Tennessean.
Hunt preached at Hiland Park on Jan. 15, and is scheduled to preach March 17 and 18 at a men’s conference at New Season Church. Hunt and his wife, Janet, are members of Hiland Park, according to a statement made by Hiland Park Senior Pastor Steven Kyle in a Jan. 15 church service.
Benkert is lead pastor of Oak Creek Community Church in Mishawaka, Ind., and a member of the SBC Abuse Reform Implementation Task Force (ARITF). Benkert also spoke at a trauma-informed ministry training event at the 2022 SBC Annual Meeting in Anaheim.
“The SBC messengers made clear statements about how we expect churches to respond to abuse,” Benkert told The Tennessean.
Messengers voted in 2019 to amend the SBC constitution to specifically state that mishandling sexual abuse is grounds for a church to be deemed “not in friendly cooperation” with the convention. In 2021, messengers adopted a resolution stating: “Any person who has committed sexual abuse is permanently disqualified from holding the office of pastor … [W]e recommend that all of our affiliated churches apply this standard to all positions of church leadership.”
In a video released in November 2022, 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., announced the restoration of Johnny Hunt to public ministry.
Rock Springs identifies itself as Congregational Methodist while NewSpring, First Baptist and Hiland Park are all affiliated with the Southern Baptist Convention.
SBC President Bart Barber objected to the “restoration,” saying: “I would permanently ‘defrock’ Johnny Hunt if I had the authority to do so.”
ARITF Chairman Marshall Blalock joined Barber’s sentiments.
“I fully support your (Barber’s) statement. This kind of ‘restoration’ works against abuse prevention efforts and harms those who have suffered abuse,” Blalock said.
Hunt was also scheduled to preach at a Great Commission Weekend later this month hosted by Fellowship Church in Immokalee, Fla., but was later disinvited.
According to the SBC’s website, the Credentials Committee “… will not release comments or updates regarding submissions through the media or by other means unless or until a recommendation is submitted to the Executive Committee for withdrawal of fellowship from a church.”