Two prominent Southern Baptist pastors, Matt Chandler and Johnny Hunt, were recently cleared for ministry by their accountability teams within a few days of each other, following separate controversies that surfaced earlier this year. Both leaders reportedly went through a restoration process that allows them to continue forward in ministry.
Hunt’s return to ministry was announced in late November through a video posted on Vimeo.
Four pastors described as Hunt’s accountability team shared why they believe the longtime Georgia pastor, recent executive vice president for the North American Mission Board and former SBC president is ready for ministry.
“We believe the greatest days of ministry for Johnny Hunt are the days ahead,” Steven Kyle, pastor of Hiland Park Baptist Church in Panama City, Florida, said in the video. Kyle noted Hunt displayed “genuine brokenness and humility before God.”
The news of Hunt’s return to ministry was met with criticism on social media, which included Southern Baptist Convention President Bart Barber. Hunt had been accused of sexually assaulting a woman in 2010, and the information was released publicly in May 2022. While Hunt admitted to having a consensual encounter with the woman, he denies any accusations of abuse. Barber said these accusations and Hunt admitting to inappropriate behavior make him unfit for ministry.
“[The four pastors] do not speak for the Southern Baptist Convention,” Barber said of the released video on Hunt’s return. “… It is best for people just to regard this pronouncement as the individual opinions of four of Johnny Hunt’s loyal friends.”
Within days of the announcement of Hunt’s return to ministry (which didn’t outline exactly what type of ministry), Hunt’s name was pulled from the lineup of a conference where he was scheduled to speak in February 2023.
Meanwhile, Chandler was greeted with a standing ovation when he returned to the pulpit Dec. 4 following a three-month absence.
Chandler, who recently celebrated 20 years as pastor of The Village Church in Flower Mound, Texas, was put on temporary leave from his role after it was revealed he had violated the church’s social media use policy, which involved an inappropriate texting relationship with a woman who is not his wife.
“It is my understanding that I have fallen short of the glory of God, and He has met me with grace,” Chandler told the congregation.
Barber also responded via Twitter to Chandler’s return to the pulpit, but his response was criticized by some for being less harsh. Barber said the cases were different because Chandler wasn’t accused of “anything criminal” and it was noted as basically crossing a boundary while “reportedly neither romantic nor sexual.”
Barber added, “Is the situation with Chandler uncomfortably reminiscent of some other troublesome situations? Yes. We’ve had so many scandals, it’s hard not to be cynical … to be waiting for the other shoe to drop. But based upon the available evidence, [Hunt and Chandler’s situations] are quite different.”
As of press time, neither woman involved in the two situations has responded to the announcements publicly.