Southern Baptist Convention President Bart Barber has rejected the claim of four pastors that disgraced former church leader Johnny Hunt has been restored to ministry after being suspended earlier this year over a credible allegation of sexual misconduct.
In a video posted last week, pastors Mark Hoover of NewSpring Church in Wichita, Kansas; Mike Whitson of First Baptist Church in Indian Trail, North Carolina; Steven Kyle of Hiland Park Baptist Church in Panama City, Florida; and Benny Tate of Rock Springs Church in Milner, Georgia, claim that Hunt is eligible to return to professional ministry following the completion of a restoration program.
Hunt served as pastor emeritus at First Baptist Church Woodstock, Georgia, and was a vice president of the SBC's North American Mission Board. From 2008 to 2010, Hunt served as president of the largest Protestant denomination in the United States.
He was suspended by the church in June after allegations he sexually assaulted a younger pastor's wife in 2010 were deemed credible by an investigation. He is now a member of Kyle's Hiland Park Baptist Church in Panama City.
In a blog entry posted Wednesday morning, Barber, elected SBC president this June, disputed the claim that Hunt can return to ministry and said the four pastors "do not speak for the Southern Baptist Convention."
"Indeed, it is not clear that they even speak for their own churches," wrote Barber. "For those Southern Baptist churches who practice ordination to ministry, the authority to ordain is generally considered to arise from the congregation, but no indication has been given that any of these four congregations have consented to or given their authority to this process."
Barber noted that First Baptist Church Woodstock "had nothing to do with" the restoration program that allegedly restored Hunt to ministry.
"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," Barber continued.
"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."
Last year, SBC messengers adopted a resolution encouraging churches to permanently disqualify anyone who commits sexual abuse from the office of pastor. Barber contributed to the content of the resolution.
"This is the sentiment of the Southern Baptist Convention," Barber, who made significant contributions to the resolution, stated in his post.
Hunt was formally suspended in June, with Woodstock Pastor Jeremy Morton and other church leaders announcing the decision in a letter to the congregation.
"We have recommended to our former pastor, Johnny Hunt, a clear process of counseling, accountability, and restoration," they stated. "We also believe it is in the best interest of FBCW to suspend his role as Pastor Emeritus."
"While we are forever grateful for the supernatural work of God over the last 30+ years at FBCW, we believe this decision aligns with our biblical theology as a church regarding spiritual leaders being above reproach (1 Tim. 3:2)."
The Christian Post previously reported that the encounter occurred at a condominium in Panama City Beach. It was first revealed in a May 22 report compiled by the investigation firm Guidepost Solutions. The report was released as part of an independent investigation into allegations SBC leaders intimidated whistleblowers and exonerated churches with credible claims of negligence in handling claims of sexual abuse.
According to the report, an unidentified victim, who is the wife of a fellow SBC pastor mentored by Hunt, claims Hunt sexually assaulted her with his hands and mouth against her wishes while he stayed in an adjacent condominium. Hunt, who was on a sabbatical at the time, is alleged to have told the woman he wanted to have sex with her three times a day and also accused of pulling her pants down and pulling up her shirt.
While Hunt initially denied the allegations, he later claimed the incident was consensual.
Before the suspension, Hunt posted a statement to social media admitting that he had a "brief, but improper, encounter" with the woman but denied assaulting her.
"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."
In addition to the church suspension, Hunt's employment with NAMB also ended after the Guidepost report's release.
In their video, the four pastors said they worked with the Hunts on an "intentional and an intense season of transparency, reflection and restoration," claiming to have seen his "genuine brokenness and humility before God."
The pastors also claimed that Hunt completed a similar counseling process in 2010 after the incident.
In his blog post, Barber said that he would "permanently 'defrock'" Hunt if he had the authority to do so.
"In a fellowship of autonomous churches, I do not have the authority to do so," he wrote. "Yet it must be said that neither do these four pastors have the authority to declare Johnny Hunt to be restored."