A Panama City, Florida church taunted SBC President Bart Barber’s sidekick Todd Benkert (the one being kissed in the photograph by SBC President Barber) over Benkert’s charges the church hosted a known sex abuser as a speaker. Benkert reported Hiland Park Baptist Church to the SBC Credentials Committee and then made the report known to the Tennessean, the newspaper in Nashville.
“As we continue to discuss this matter with our own counsel in pursuance of all of our legal recourses, it would be helpful to all potential parties involved if you would provide clarity, in writing, of the following question: Is the Credentials Committee, which is a duly elected committee of the Southern Baptist Convention, which is a Georgia corporation, formally and officially claiming, in writing, to an entire SBC-affiliated congregation that when we hosted Pastor Johnny Hunt we hosted a speaker who has ‘committed sexual abuse?’”
This is an attempt to force SBC Elites to commit to writing their claim that Johnny Hunt is a sex abuser—and thus to lay the groundwork for a defamation case against the SBC.
Benkert is called out for special attention by the church—though it doesn’t mention him by name.
The church writes, “We also feel compelled to share our concerns about one very troubling part of this inquiry process. It does not seem logical to us that Southern Baptists, when they approved a revised Bylaw 8 at the 2019 annual meeting, envisioned or would have knowingly approved a process whereby one activist individual, who was also appointed by the current President of the SBC to the Abuse Reform Implementation Task Force, could submit a church for inquiry, leak that submission to the secular press, and thereby place that church in secular and denominational headlines before the church can be informed.”
Benkert informed the Tennessean and it prompted a February 2 story on the SBC “inquiry” into the church. Further, Benkert spoke to the Atlanta Journal Constitution in a February 10 article on Hunt.
While the Credentials Committee letter to the church was not made public, apparently, the letter charged that the church hosting former SBC President Johnny Hunt was inappropriate because Hunt “committed sexual abuse.” The quotes are contained in the Hiland Park response, so it appears the church is quoting the SBC’s words back to the committee.
According to the church, “There is no proof whatsoever that our recent guest speaker has ‘committed sexual abuse.’ The Bible states in Proverbs 18:17, ‘The first to plead his case seems right until his neighbor comes to question him.’ We are not aware of any evidence, any proof, or any legal charges against our guest speaker. This remains an anonymous allegation regardless of the conclusion of one investigatory body. It falls far short of a legal accusation.”
The church listed several problems with the charges against the church—with one issue focused on having a guest speaker. According to the church, “No governing document of the SBC states that having a guest speaker who has been ‘credibly accused by an independent third-party investigation’ is grounds to be deemed out of cooperation, we find the essence of your letter problematic.”
The church highlighted the problem of using the standard “credibly accused” because the term is “troublingly ambiguous, far below biblical standards of considering evidence against a spiritual leader, and exceedingly dangerous.”
Tom Buck provided a good word of caution about this entire story. He posted on Facebook: “It IS important to note that Hunt has admitted to a consensual sexual touch, which I consider to be adultery, and I don’t think he should be in the pulpit. But the SBC doesn’t have a right to tell a local church what to do and the Credentials Committee isn’t investigating based on the confessed adultery. They’re investigating and potentially recommending the church be disfellowshipped (kicked out of SBC) based on an unproven accusation of sexual assault.
He continued, “Furthermore, not only did Todd Benkert report the church to the committee privately, he contacted the secular media to report the church as well. So this church is being publicly dragged through the mud. (I am posting this publicly now, because it’s already public and the church is seeking to defend itself)…
Then the key point from Tom Buck, “I think two things are true. No church should have Hunt preach because he is disqualified due to his adultery. BUT no one has a right to tell another church who to have speak (it’s autonomous) and the SBC should not convict a man of something solely based on a ‘credible accusation.’”
I’d add a third thing can be true: Todd Benkert is an unrepentant liar who shouldn’t be a pastor much less serving on any SBC committee. The only reason he is on any SBC committee is his relationship with SBC President Bart Barber. What does that say about the wickedness of the current SBC President? Oh, and if you doubt Barber is wicked, Barber and Benkert are accused of harassing an alleged sex abuse survivor.
You can read the church’s response below: