Former Southern Baptist Convention President Johnny Hunt has been formally suspended as pastor emeritus at First Baptist Church Woodstock in Georgia after an investigation deemed credible allegations that he sexually assaulted a younger pastor's wife several years ago.
"We have recommended to our former pastor, Johnny Hunt, a clear process of counseling, accountability, and restoration," Pastor Jeremy Morton and other members of the church's leadership noted in a letter published last Friday. "We also believe it is in the best interest of FBCW to suspend his role as Pastor Emeritus."
While praising "the supernatural work of God" over the last three decades, church leaders said they believe "this decision aligns with our biblical theology as a church regarding spiritual leaders being above reproach (1 Tim. 3:2)."
Hunt's suspension follows the May 22 report compiled by the outside firm Guidepost Solutions detailing the results of an investigation into allegations that SBC leaders intimidated whistleblowers and exonerated churches with credible claims of negligence of sexual abuse victims.
The report called the allegation against the 69-year-old Hunt, who served as SBC president from 2008 to 2010, "credible."
According to the report, the unidentified victim alleged that Hunt, who was on sabbatical from his role as senior pastor at First Baptist Church Woodstock at the time, sexually assaulted her in Panama City Beach, Florida, on July 25, 2010. The alleged victim, along with her SBC pastor husband, viewed Hunt as a mentor.
The incident occurred while she stayed in a condo adjacent to Hunt's during a brief vacation. In addition to inappropriately touching her against her wishes, Hunt is accused of telling the woman he wanted to have sex with her three times a day.
Hunt posted a statement addressed to the church to his Instagram account on May 27. He admitted that while he did have an encounter with the younger pastor's wife, the Guidepost Solutions report was "sensationalized" and the account included details that are not true.
"Our brief, but improper, encounter ended when — in response to an overwhelming feeling of conviction — I stopped it and I fled the situation. I remember saying just before leaving the condo, 'This is not right. I have no business being here. I love my wife.' I have never been in a room again privately with the woman involved," Hunt wrote.
"I thank God we did not go further than we did, but that is also no excuse for my grievous sin. I will regret that day for the rest of my life and I take responsibility for the situation because I chose to enter her condo," he said. "I am sorry. It was an awful sin but it was a consensual encounter. It was not abuse nor was it assault. Almost immediately after the incident in 2010, I began a process of taking personal responsibility for my personal sin."
The pastor emphasized that he was not seeking anyone's sympathy for his sin. But he said in the letter to the church that he had been emotionally vulnerable following a battle with cancer in 2010.
"I entered into a season of deep despair and probably clinical depression. I remember [my wife] asking me then how I felt and I said to her, 'I feel like something inside me has died,'" Hunt's letter reads.
"It was during that summer that I allowed myself to get too close to a compromising situation with a woman who was not my wife. It happened when she invited me into her vacation condo for a conversation. Against my better judgement – I chose to go."
Hunt said after the encounter with the pastor's wife, who is 24 years his junior, he apologized to his wife and the woman's husband and sought professional help.
"I was willing to resign my ministry then, forever. However, after completing that private process [of reconciliation], which involved seeking the forgiveness of God and those involved, and recovering from that dark, depressing season, I felt I could return to Woodstock in the Fall of 2010," he said. "That is what happened. I want you to know that this is the truth. It is also the whole truth."
Hunt insisted that "the account described in the Guidepost report is sensationalized." He maintained that he didn't "groom the woman involved" nor did he "intentionally arrange the encounter."
There are other details in the description that is stated as fact which did not happen," Hunt claims.
"The most absurd allegation is that this brief, consensual encounter constituted assault," he concluded. "It did not. This is the reason why I denied the accuracy of the report, and why I deny it, now."