Local church leaders respond to SBC report

Local Baptist church leaders are responding to a recently published report by Southern Baptist Convention (SBC) leaders that listed alleged sexual abuses by ministers within SBC-affiliated churches, as well as what have been called efforts to keep those alleged incidents secret.

“For almost two decades, survivors of abuse and other concerned Southern Baptists have been contacting the Southern Baptist Convention (SBC) Executive Committee (EC) to report child molesters and other abusers who were in the pulpit or employed as church staff,” states the report’s executive summary. “They made phone calls, mailed letters, sent emails, appeared at SBC and EC meetings, held rallies, and contacted the press…only to be met, time and time again, with resistance, stonewalling, and even outright hostility from some within the EC.”

“Our investigation revealed that, for many years, a few senior EC leaders, along with outside counsel, largely controlled the EC’s response to these reports of abuse. They closely guarded information about abuse allegations and lawsuits, which were not shared with EC Trustees, and were singularly focused on avoiding liability for the SBC to the exclusion of other considerations,” the report continued. “In service of this goal, survivors and others who reported abuse were ignored, disbelieved, or met with the constant refrain that the SBC could take no action due to its polity regarding church autonomy – even if it meant that convicted molesters continued in ministry with no notice or warning to their current church or congregation.”

The 288-page document was compiled by independent investigation firm Guidepost Solutions at the request of SBC pastors following last year’s annual convention in Nashville, Tennessee after which the firm said “calls for reform reached a crescendo” and SBC messengers overwhelmingly voted to approve a task force to supervise an independent investigation into the SBC Executive Committee’s handling of sexual abuse allegations. The motion called for inquiry into the actions and decisions of executive committee staff and members from January 1, 2000 to June 14, 2021, with respect to allegations of abuse, mishandling of abuse, mistreatment of victims, patterns of intimidation of victims or advocates, and resistance to sexual abuse reform initiatives.

“It was the pastors who wanted this investigation performed,” said Pastor Johnathan Taylor, who leads SBC-affiliated Eastside Baptist Church in Vernon. “My prayer is that whatever was done in the darkness will be brought to light, both for the survivors and the accused.”

Kent Lampp, a missionary with Holmes Baptist Association, agrees, adding that he hopes any victims find justice, but also that anyone falsely accused is exonerated.

“I know of issues over the past 40 years that fell in that realm [of sexual abuse], and it certainly needed to be addressed for the sake of the victims,” said Lampp. “Anyone who is guilty should definitely be dealt with. Anyone can be guilty. We walk in the flesh; however, we want to be sure all the facts are out there. So much of the mainstream media jumps out there and makes a decision, rather than giving the courts a chance to act, and some people are being declared guilty in public opinion. I know things have happened and things weren’t brought to light, but we want to be sure the right ones are held accountable.”

Among the more than 700 individuals accused is pastor Johnny Hunt, who has led numerous men’s ministry conferences for Holmes and Washington county churches and served as SBC President from 2008-2010. Hunt, who stepped down May 13 from his post as senior vice president of evangelism and leadership with the organization’s North American Mission Board, has not been charged with a crime; however, he is named in the report for his alleged 2010 assault of another pastor’s wife in Panama City Beach.

“During our investigation, an SBC pastor and his wife came forward to report that SBC President Johnny Hunt had sexually assaulted the wife on July 25, 2010,” reads the report. “We include this sexual assault allegation in the report because our investigators found the pastor and his wife to be credible; their report was corroborated in part by a counseling minister and three other credible witnesses; and our investigators did not find Dr. Hunt’s statements related to the sexual assault allegation to be credible.”

Hunt, who is currently not charged with a crime, released a public statement Sunday, May 22 in response to the investigation, stating he “vigorously” denies the incident occurred. Hunt made another statement Friday, May 27, acknowledging an “encounter” took place, but it was consensual and did not go any further because of “overwhelming conviction.”

 “All of us, in different ways, were shocked by the contents of that report,” wrote Hunt in a letter to his church family at First Baptist Woodstock in Woodstock, Georgia. “I owe you the opportunity to hear the truth from me directly.” Hunt went on to say that during the time of the alleged incident, he had “entered into a season of deep despair and probably clinical depression” in the aftermath of a battle with cancer and he allowed himself to “get too close to a compromising situation” with a woman who was not his wife. “It happened when she invited me into her vacation condo for conversation,” he wrote. “Against my better judgement, I chose to go. Our brief but improper encounter ended when – in response to an overwhelming feeling of conviction ¬– I stopped it and I fled the situation.”

“It was an awful sin,” he added, “but it was a consensual encounter. It was not abuse or assault.” Hunt went on to say he immediately “began a process of taking personal responsibility,” a process he says included confessing the incident to his wife and seeking “professional help.” “I’m not seeking your sympathy,” he said. “I am not a victim. I have to bear the responsibility for my sin, which has basically cost me everything, except my faith and my family over the last seven days … The most absurd allegation is that this brief, consensual encounter constituted assault. It did not. This is the reason why I denied the accuracy of the report, why I deny it now.”

First Baptist Church Chipley Pastor Mike Orr released a statement that same day, also addressing the report.

“On Sunday, May 22nd, a report was made public that is the result of an investigation into the Executive Committee of the SBC’s handling of sexual abuse allegations for the past 20 years,” wrote Pastor Orr. “The investigation was overwhelmingly approved by our messengers at last year’s annual meeting. The contents of the report are shocking, saddening, sickening, and downright devastating. We pray for the survivors and their families.”

“I am still processing the content of this report,” he added. “I am committing this to the Lord and praying for the Lord’s guidance as our churches and convention deal with and act on what has been discovered. As many of you know, Pastor Johnny Hunt was named in the report and an accusation has been made against him. I’m heartsick for many reasons. I had no knowledge of these accusations prior to the release of this report on Sunday, May 22. The church leadership team and I are still trying to process the information and are praying for all involved.”

A hotline has been set up through a cooperative effort between the SBC and Guidepost Solutions. Survivors seeking support or those wishing to make a report of abuse may call 202-864-5578 or email [email protected]