Discover more from Friendly Atheist
Former Southern Baptist leader: My sexual misconduct is "nobody else's business"
Johnny Hunt, who condemned same-sex marriage, says his own infidelity is a private matter
This newsletter is free, but it’s only able to sustain itself due to the support I receive from a small percentage of regular readers. Would you please consider becoming one of those supporters? You can use the button below to subscribe to Substack or use my usual Patreon page!
The religious hypocrisy of a former Southern Baptist Convention leader is center stage in an ongoing lawsuit, arguing that one man’s private sins shouldn’t be fodder for public allegations.
It all stems back to revelations from 2022 about the SBC, in which we learned that, over the previous decade, more than 250 SBC staffers or volunteers had been “charged with sex crimes” against more than 700 victims. We also learned in the SBC’s own investigation that a private list of alleged predators (that wasn’t shared with member churches) included “703 abusers, with 409 believed to be SBC-affiliated.” The situation was so bad that the Department of Justice announced it was investigating “multiple SBC entities,” though not specific individuals, about their mishandling of sexual abuse cases. That investigation is ongoing.
But the relevant part of that document for today’s story was the allegation about former SBC president Johnny Hunt.
According to page 149, another pastor and his wife reported that Hunt, who ran the SBC from 2008-2010, “had sexually assaulted the wife on July 25, 2010.” (That would have been shortly after Hunt completed his second one-year term.)
Hunt, the report said, “groomed the couple with flattery and promises of help in ministry.” At the SBC’s annual meeting that year, Hunt invited the couple to spend time with his family at a beach where he was spending his planned sabbatical. They grew closer and, at a later date, the woman stayed alone at a condo that Hunt recommended. Unbeknownst to her, he was right next door.
One night, when both of them were alone, he came into her place. It took a dark turn from there:
Dr. Hunt then moved towards Survivor and proceeded to pull her shorts down, turn her over and stare at her bare backside. He made sexual remarks about her body and things he had imagined about her. During this time, Survivor felt frozen. Survivor said these were some of the longest moments of her life. She mustered the courage to ask him could she turn back over, and Dr. Hunt said yes. When she turned back over, she began to pull up her shorts. Dr. Hunt then pinned her to the couch, got on top of her, and pulled up her shirt. He sexually assaulted her with his hands and mouth. Suddenly, Dr. Hunt stopped and then stood up. Survivor pulled down her shirt. Survivor said she did not want him to ruin his ministry, at which he responded he did not want to ruin hers. But he then forced himself on her again by groping her, trying to pull her shirt down, and violently kissing her. Survivor did not reciprocate, but rather stood eyes open and very stiff, hoping he would just stop and leave. He finally stopped and left.
The victim said that Hunt spoke to her shortly after that and told her “he would like to have sex with her three times a day.”
It was only the next morning that he apologized, begged for forgiveness, and asked for her to keep this a secret.
Hunt was scheduled to return to preach at his home church in Georgia following his sabbatical, but he soon announced he would be extending his break “citing physical and emotional exhaustion”
Bob Smietana of Religion News Service explains what happened after that:
Without telling his congregation — or the millions of Southern Baptists he had represented as their president — Hunt went through a secret restoration process that included counseling sessions with the woman he had fondled and her husband. He then returned to the pulpit.
For a dozen years, no one was the wiser. Hunt retired from First Baptist in 2019 and took on a new role as a senior vice president for the SBC’s North American Mission Board and continued his busy and often lucrative career as a preacher and public speaker.
Life is good when you’re an alleged sexual abuser who belongs to a religious denomination with a history of ignoring sexual abuse.
Again, all that occurred in 2010. The details of the alleged assault weren’t publicized until that report came out in 2022. Until that report was made public, it was all but impossible to connect the dots to understand the real reason for Hunt’s extended leave.
Hunt initially denied those allegations. He then claimed everything was consensual. But by the end of 2022, after going through another “restoration” program, Hunt was declared “eligible to return to professional ministry.” He returned to the pulpit earlier this year.
There were never any criminal charges filed against him. His professional career didn’t suffer any real hits. It was like the SBC didn’t really care. (Surprise.)
But Hunt seems determined to get the last word here, so this past spring, he filed a defamation lawsuit against the SBC saying they ruined his life by including him in the report. The encounter, his lawyers explained, “involved only kissing and some awkward fondling.” Infidelity, sure, but not assault. Plus, Hunt was no longer the SBC president at the time, just a civilian. Including him in the report was nothing more than a “strategic decision to deflect attention from the SBC’s historical failure to take aggressive steps to respond to reports of child sex abuse and other sex crimes in its past.”
“Pastor Johnny was not the president of the SBC or a member of the Executive Committee at the time of the incident,” they wrote in a memorandum, opposing the denomination’s attempts to have the case dismissed. “He was merely a private citizen whose marital fidelity was nobody else’s business.”
That’s the sort of sentence that will give your eyes a workout as they roll back.
First of all, citing the SBC’s “historical failure” to deal with sex abuse as an excuse for them coming after him is wild considering that Hunt was the leader of the SBC at a time when many of those failures were occurring. He’s blaming the SBC, which he led, for not doing enough to stop guys like himself.
The defamation argument is also absurd. He was a public figure. He was the immediate past president of the SBC. He was a hypocrite. He was a part of the abuse that the SBC swept under the rug. There’s no evidence that the allegations were made by people who secretly knew they were untrue (which is the whole idea of defamation).
But setting that aside, it’s ludicrous that a preacher who made everyone else’s sex life his business now demands privacy regarding his alleged assault.
As Smietana points out, Hunt was one of the signers of the 2017 Nashville Statement, which declared marriage could only be between a man and a woman, that all married couples needed to be monogamous, and that transgender people didn’t exist.
He also signed the SBC Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission’s “Statement on Marriage” written in response to the Supreme Court’s Obergefell ruling, which said the decision was the result of “marriage’s decline through divorce, cohabitation, and a worldview of almost limitless sexual freedom.”
Finally, it’s deeply ironic that in 2008, at the same convention when Hunt was elected SBC president, the SBC Executive Committee condemned sexual abuse in all forms:
"The Southern Baptist Convention is on record for having stood strongly against sexual abuse. We have long condemned those who would use our churches as a hunting ground for their own sick and selfish pleasure," Chapman said. "At the same time, sexual abuse is a growing crisis in this nation and we must continue to do everything within our power to stop this horrendous crime. Even though the number of Southern Baptist ministers who are sexual predators may seem to be relatively small, we must be on watch and take immediate action against those who prey on the most innocent among us. One sexual predator in our midst is one too many!"
We gotta stop the sex predators! Now everyone please clap for the new guy in charge, Johnny Hunt!
Notice how they acted like Southern Baptist predators were few and far between even though sexual abuse was rampant in the culture. Meanwhile they elected a man was was two years away from being credibly accused of that same behavior. They were also in the midst of covering up their own behavior, as the 2022 report would later reveal.
If Hunt wasn’t an anti-LGBTQ preacher who made sexual ethics a focal point in his personal ministry, maybe this wouldn’t have to be a public story… though I would argue it still deserved to be taken seriously because (1) if the allegations were true, it would be a serious crime and (2) he used his religious authority to gain unearned trust from another woman.
It important to remember that Hunt has always pushed the false idea that a Christian ethic means taking the moral high road. Yet he’s a living example of how Christianity can sometimes just be an excuse to cover up bad behavior. He implied that those who reject his belief system are more likely to be sinners worthy of condemnation while never taking those beliefs seriously himself. He acted like his marriage was worthy of praise while treating monogamous same-sex couples as if they were being led by the devil.
He’s not the only Christian leader who turned out to be a complete hypocrite. Ted Haggard and Jerry Falwell, Jr. had their reputations destroyed for similar reasons. (At least they were never accused of assault.) But Hunt seems intent on making sure this story stays in the public eye by making the idiotic argument that it never should have been told.
To be fair, that may be the most Southern Baptist thing about him.
If you appreciated this article, please subscribe to my newsletter for free (!) or share this post on Reddit, Facebook, or the godawful Bird app.