The Rev. Bart Barber, president of the Southern Baptist Convention, on Wednesday said no group of pastors can declare another minister accused of sexual abuse as being “restored” to ministry and that efforts to return the cleric to public ministry are “repugnant.”
Mr. Barber spoke up amid news that the Rev. Johnny Hunt, a former president of the 13.7 million-member denomination, was declared fit to return to public ministry months after admitting to a “consensual” adulterous affair the victim called sexual abuse.
In May, a report from the investigation firm Guidepost Solutions that detailed decades of sexual abuse within the SBC said it found the allegations of abuse against Mr. Hunt “credible” and that Mr. Hunt’s defense wasn’t.
Mr. Hunt eventually confessed to a “brief but improper” relationship with the woman who accused him of abuse in which he pinned her down, pulled up the woman’s shirt and assaulted her with his hands and mouth. The SBC’s North American Mission Board fired him as a vice president when the Guidepost report came out.
This week, Religion News Service reported, pastors Mark Hoover of the nondenominational NewSpring Church in Wichita, Kansas; Mike Whitson of First Baptist Church, Indian Trail, North Carolina; Steven Kyle of Hiland Park Baptist Church in Panama City, Florida; and Benny Tate of Rock Springs Church, a Congregational Methodist Church in Milner, Georgia, came out with a video in which they declared Mr. Hunt ready to return to ministry.
According to the news account, the four said Mr. Hunt and his wife participated in an “intentional and an intense season of transparency, reflection and restoration” in which he had “genuine brokenness and humility before God.”
In a Wednesday blog post he shared on Twitter, Mr. Barber, elected as SBC president in June, wrote, “I would permanently ‘defrock’ Johnny Hunt if I had the authority to do so. In a fellowship of autonomous churches, I do not have the authority to do so. Yet it must be said that neither do these four pastors have the authority to declare Johnny Hunt to be ‘restored.’ They do not speak for the Southern Baptist Convention.”
Mr. Barber added, “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.”
Noting that the four pastors described Mr. Hunt as a “wounded person on the side of the road,” an illustration from Jesus’ Parable of the Good Samaritan found in the gospel of Luke 10:25-37, Mr. Barber rejected that analogy.
“The wounded person on the side of the road is the abuse survivor, not Johnny Hunt, and she received no mention at all by this panel — she was passed by, in a way, by this quintet,” the SBC president wrote. “I do not know her, but I don’t want to be guilty of leaving her on the side of the road. I am praying for her, I have heard her, and I believe her.”
Christa Brown, a survivor of sexual abuse by another SBC pastor, wrote on Twitter that while she “appreciate[s] the sentiment” of Mr. Barber’s statement, she is “weary to the bone of words, words, words.”
Correction: An earlier version of this story said the four pastors involved in the Rev. Johnny Hunt’s “restoration” were all affiliated with the Southern Baptist Convention. Only two of the churches mentioned are.