The Sex Abuse Task Force Report produced by Guidepost Solutions was an “independent” investigation that promised to uncover sex abuse and sex abuse coverups within the Southern Baptist Convention and the SBC Executive Committee. But no allegations of sex abuse or coverups were uncovered in the investigation that rehashed Paige Patterson and promoted Jennifer Lyell as an abuse victim despite her being an adult woman in a twelve year long relationship. Johnny Hunt was the biggest revelation of the investigation, in that he was accused of sexual assault. He has now filed lawsuit against the Southern Baptist Convention and Guidepost Solutions for two counts of defamation, a count of invasion of privacy, intentional and negligent infliction of emotional distress, and public disclosure of embarrassing events.
The lawsuit summarizes Johnny Hunt’s actions as follows.
But Pastor Johnny has also made mistakes in his life. In particular, in 2010 – after his term as SBC President had ended – Pastor Johnny had a brief, inappropriate, extramarital encounter with a married woman. Some of the precise details are disputed, but at most, the encounter lasted only a few minutes, and it involved only kissing and some awkward fondling. It is undisputed that Pastor Johnny abruptly ended the encounter, both Pastor Johnny and the woman disclosed the encounter to their spouses, and they jointly sought counseling and forgiveness.
Hunt contends that this incident was consensual, and that the disclosing of this moral failing was meant to damage him reputationally.
- Pastor Johnny had nothing to do with these awful allegations. Nonetheless, the SBC, its leadership, and the firm hired for “damage control” – Defendant Guidepost Solutions LLC (“Guidepost”) – decided to use Pastor Johnny as their scapegoat.
- On May 22, 2022, Guidepost, the SBC and its leadership publicly released a report that purported to focus on whether the SBC’s executive leadership had inappropriately responded to allegations of child and other sexual abuse. But the first name mentioned in the report was Pastor Johnny – not because he was accused of ignoring reports of child or other abuse and not because he was accused of some similarly heinous crime.
- Instead, Pastor Johnny was named because the woman with whom he had the brief, extramarital encounter in 2010 had disclosed that encounter to the Guidepost investigators.
Johnny Hunt correctly mentions that what he was accused of doing by Guidepost was technically outside of the scope of their investigation to argue that his incident should have never been included in the report.
But by publishing the allegation against Pastor Johnny in a report purporting to
focus on “child molesters and other abusers,” Defendants intentionally and maliciously created
the false impression that Pastor Johnny is a sex criminal.
Hunt then asserts that the Guidepost Report was used to further a false narrative of sex abuse rampancy in the SBC and that he was used to justify the narrative.
46. And after all of that work and money, it did not find a single instance where a member of the SBC’s Executive Committee had been accused of committing sexual abuse during his or her time on the Executive Committee.
47. In other words, Guidepost’s response with respect to the first task of its engagement – determining whether members of the SBC’s Executive Committee had been accused of sexual abuse during their tenures – should have been a flat “no.”
48. But Guidepost refused to provide such a response. Maybe Guidepost was embarrassed by the amount of time and money it had spent on the engagement. Or maybe Guidepost thought that such a finding would inflame rather than ameliorate the public pressure on the SBC. Whatever the reason, Guidepost decided it needed a scapegoat. It needed to uncover an “abuser.” It needed a “bombshell” – something to justify its $2 million fee.
Hunt’s lawsuit than explains that the encounter was consensual and initiated by the other party.
53. First, Pastor Johnny has never sexually assaulted anyone. Pastor Johnny acknowledges that in 2010 – after his term as SBC’s President had ended and when he was no longer a member of the Executive Committee – he engaged in consensual, limited contact with the wife of an SBC pastor. The wife – not Pastor Johnny – initiated the encounter. And Pastor Johnny ended the encounter after a very brief period when he realized that his acquiescence to the encounter was a sin. He abruptly stepped back, asked for forgiveness, and left the room. There was no assault or nonconsensual activity of any kind. Pastor Johnny did not “groom” the accuser; he did not initiate the encounter; he did not “force himself” on the wife; and he did not “violently” kiss her. The Report’s statements to the contrary were false.
54. Moreover, even if one were to take the accuser’s word at face value, her allegations against Pastor Johnny would not amount to a sex crime under the laws of Florida, the site of the encounter. Yet that was the clear, unambiguous implication from the accusations in the Report.
This tweet by Bart Barber, the current SBC President is cited as a continuation of damages.
1. Hunt was the subject of a third-party investigation in response to allegations that he sexually assaulted a woman half his age in ways that would, to my knowledge, constitute a felony in any jurisdiction in the US.— Bart Barber (@bartbarber) December 5, 2022
The lawsuit argues that Hunt’s actions would not have qualified as sexual battery under Florida law. This is the second defamation lawsuit to have arisen from the Guidepost Report. The first was filed by David Sill because the SBC labeled him a sex abuser over Jennifer Lyell. Johnny Hunt’s lawsuit is quite similar, with the exception that even if the allegations against Hunt were true, he can still win in part if he can prove that they should not have been included in a report about sex abuse.
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