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SBC President Bart Barber says predecessor Johnny Hunt is unfit to return to ministry

(RNS) — Bart Barber, a rustic pastor who additionally occurs to be the sitting president of the Southern Baptist Conference, started his Tuesday (Nov. 29) as he does most days, with prayer and feeding his cows. 

Earlier than the day was out he would take the uncommon step of denouncing considered one of his predecessors.

 “I might completely ‘defrock’ Johnny Hunt if I had the authority to take action,” Barber, who leads a church in Farmersville, Texas, stated in a press release released Tuesday. 

Hunt, who served as president of the nation’s largest Protestant denomination from 2008 to 2010, stepped except for public ministry in Could after allegations that he had sexually assaulted one other pastor’s spouse have been made public. Then, final week, a bunch of pastors introduced that Hunt has been restored to ministry, lower than six months after Southern Baptists passed a sequence of reforms designed to deal with a intercourse abuse disaster.

Along with his assertion, Barber went on social media to call Hunt’s return “a repugnant act.”

Barber was elected on the SBC’s 2022 annual assembly, the place the delegates charged him with implementing abuse reforms handed in the identical session. However Barber’s defrocking remark factors up the challenges he and the SBC face in making an attempt to deal with abuse.

As a result of the denomination’s church buildings are autonomous, no SBC official, together with its president, has the authority to self-discipline Hunt.

However Barber additionally stated the pastors who declare to have restored Hunt would not have that authority both.

Newly elected SBC President Bart Barber speaks throughout a information convention on the Southern Baptist Conference annual assembly in Anaheim, California, on June 15, 2022. RNS picture by Justin L. Stewart

“The concept that a council of pastors, assembled with the consent of the abusive pastor, possesses some authority to declare a pastor match for resumed ministry is a conceit that’s altogether absent from Baptist polity and from the witness of the New Testomony. Certainly, it’s repugnant to all that these sources extol and symbolize,” he stated.

RELATED: Pastors say Johnny Hunt, former SBC president accused of abuse, can return to ministry 

The actual fact is that the denomination’s establishments have lengthy been run by highly effective pastors and their pals, who’ve used their positions to guard their reputations and the status of the conference. 

Superstar pastors like Hunt, as a result of they fill seats and providing plates, typically act as what College of North Carolina historian Molly Worthen has referred to as “pastor-warlords,” with little oversight or accountability. 

Tiffany Thigpen, an abuse survivor and longtime advocate of abuse victims, stated Hunt’s return to ministry is an indication that the legislated reforms have but to vary Southern Baptist tradition.

“We’re all the time going to have this community of highly effective males who can do no matter they need and suppose they’ll get away with it,” she stated. “And they’re proper.”

Thigpen stated Hunt, like anybody, could be forgiven by God. However that doesn’t imply he needs to be given energy and a platform within the church. She stated pastors like those who endorsed Hunt dole out low-cost grace with a view to defend their pals.

“They don’t care,” she stated.

Pastors Mark Hoover, from left, Mike Whitson, Steven Kyle and Benny Tate in a video about their restoration work with Johnny Hunt. Video screen grab

Pastors Mark Hoover, from left, Mike Whitson, Steven Kyle and Benny Tate in a video about their restoration work with Johnny Hunt. Video display screen seize

The allegations about Hunt got here as a shock to his many admirers. The primary Native American president of the SBC, he spent three many years as a preferred speaker and pastor of First Baptist Church in Woodstock, Georgia, a outstanding megachurch.

In 2010, after his time period as president ended, Hunt took an prolonged go away of absence, citing well being causes. However a 2022 report commissioned by SBC leaders from Guidepost Options, an investigative agency, revealed that Hunt had been accused of sexually assaulting one other pastor’s spouse and had undergone a secret counseling course of. The survivor of the alleged assault and her husband have been pressured to forgive Hunt, in keeping with Guidepost.

“We embrace this sexual assault allegation within the report as a result of our investigators discovered the pastor and his spouse to be credible; their report was corroborated partly by a counseling minister and three different credible witnesses; and our investigators didn’t discover Dr. Hunt’s statements associated to the sexual assault allegation to be credible,” wrote investigators.

Hunt didn’t inform his church of the incident in 2010, nor did he inform conference leaders, together with leaders on the North American Mission Board, the place he turned a vp after leaving First Baptist.

“Johnny Hunt is a serial liar and he lied to each ministry he labored with for years,” stated Griffin Gulledge, a Georgia pastor who has been outspoken about the necessity to deal with abuse within the SBC. “He advised everybody he was morally certified to be a pastor and he was not.”

Pastor Johnny Hunt speaks in October 2021 at Fairview Knox Church in Corryton, Tennessee. Video screen grab

Pastor Johnny Hunt speaks in October 2021 at Fairview Knox Church in Corryton, Tennessee. Video display screen seize

Gulledge stated Hunt’s current restoration was not credible, partly as a result of the method was led by pals of Hunt — reasonably than First Baptist in Woodstock.

“It’s infuriating,” Gulledge stated.

RELATED: Southern Baptist leaders mistreated abuse survivors for decades, report says

Christa Brown, an abuse survivor and one other longtime advocate for reform within the SBC, stated she appreciated Barber’s feedback. 

“However so what?” she stated. “Nothing has modified.”

Brown stated that Hunt’s return, and an absence of motion to carry former SBC leaders accountable for mistreatment of abuse survivors, exhibits “a gross incapability to take care of the difficulty.” 

Brown needs printed copies of the Guidepost report obtainable to each church and needs the denomination’s standing physique, the Government Committee, to be as vocal and diligent as she and different survivors have been in educating church members and the general public about the specter of abusive pastors. 

“Till I see that,” she stated, “I gained’t consider they’re severe.”

Christa Brown talks about her abuse at a rally outside the annual meeting of the Southern Baptist Convention at the Birmingham-Jefferson Convention Complex, June 11, 2019, in Birmingham, Alabama. RNS photo by Butch Dill

Christa Brown talks about her abuse at a rally outdoors the annual assembly of the Southern Baptist Conference on the Birmingham-Jefferson Conference Complicated, June 11, 2019, in Birmingham, Alabama. RNS picture by Butch Dill

Hunt is scheduled to look in February at a “Great Commission Weekend” hosted by a Florida church. An commercial for the occasion, posted on social media by the Rev. Timothy Pigg of Fellowship Church in Immokalee, Florida, options pictures of Hunt, together with former SBC Presidents Ronnie Floyd and Jerry Vines and SBC presidential candidate Mike Stone.

Floyd stepped down as president of the SBC’s Government Committee when his efforts to manage the scope and public launch of the Guidepost report failed.

Pigg didn’t reply to a request for remark. Neither did Hunt or Stone.

North Carolina pastor Bruce Frank, who chaired the duty drive that commissioned and launched the Guidepost report, referred to as the video about Hunt’s return “disappointing however not terribly stunning.”

That video, he stated, confirmed no “fruits of repentance” and didn’t point out the damage Hunt induced.  Frank characterised the method as “simply 4 pals spending a couple of months with him and now utilizing platitudes saying he’s match to proceed.”

He additionally referred to as the choice to provide Hunt a platform at a church convention “past unwise” and stated it despatched a horrible message to abuse survivors. Frank stated that efforts to deal with the difficulty of abuse and to take care of survivors will proceed, regardless of challenges.

Notably disturbing, in keeping with Frank and different critics, was the restoration group’s likening of the state of affairs to the Gospel parable of the nice Samaritan, through which a person is beset by robbers, crushed and left by the aspect of the highway. Spiritual leaders go him by however a Samaritan rescues him.

“The wounded individual on the aspect of the highway is (Hunt’s) abuse survivor, not Johnny Hunt,” stated Barber, “and he or she obtained no point out in any respect by this panel — she was handed by, in a approach, by this quintet,” he stated in his assertion. “I have no idea her, however I don’t wish to be responsible of leaving her on the aspect of the highway. I’m praying for her, I’ve heard her, and I consider her.”

Hunt is the second Baptist chief talked about within the Guidepost report back to make headlines not too long ago. Former Southern Baptist seminary professor and missionary David Sills, who misplaced his job in 2018 as a professor and as a missionary chief after being accused of abusing a former seminarian, not too long ago sued numerous conference leaders and companies, together with seminary president Albert “Al” Mohler, former SBC President Ed Litton and the SBC’s Government Committee, alleging they conspired with an abuse survivor to break his status.

Barber stated on social media that he anticipated his prayer assembly on Tuesday night to be interrupted in order that he might be served with the lawsuit.

RELATED: How the ‘apocalyptic’ Southern Baptist report almost didn’t happen

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