I love my microwave oven. I can reheat my coffee or have a bag of popcorn in a couple of minutes. No muss, no fuss. There are things you cannot microwave. Biblical restoration from sin is one of those things. That is a process that must be slow-cooked or it will be ruined.
Yesterday, a group of Johnny Hunt’s close friends announced that 7 months after reports surfaced that he had abused a woman in his church around the time he was the president of the SBC (details are sketchy on the timing of all of this) he was now fully restored and ready to return to ministry. Hunt has left Woodstock and joined the church of one the buddy who made the announcement. There was no formal process of restoration undertaken by the church he pastored when he sinned. He has made no public statement admitting his sin. His denials and deflections stand – the idea that this was a consensual affair, not abuse. There was nothing but a statement that the microwave of ministry restoration has reheated Johnny Hunt and he was ready to see his best days of ministry ever.
I have no axe to grind with Hunt. He was never my cup of tea as a preacher, but I thought he did a good job as SBC President (didn’t know about his personal failings at the time) and I never had any kind of negative feelings toward him. This isn’t personal. I do object to the way he responded to the revelations of his sin, his evident lack of true repentance, and this awful and unbiblical process of repentance cobbled together by a group of his friends to declare him fit for ministry again.
I differ from many of my friends in that I believe that restoration after a fall into sin is possible for a pastor or church leader. However, when the sin was abuse, especially sexual abuse, I wonder if restoration to leadership is ever a good idea. Certainly, microwaving the process to make it so quick isn’t right for Johnny Hunt, for his former church, for the SBC, and especially not for the woman he abused.
There are several troubling aspects of this process.
- The process was undertaken and overseen by a group of Johnny Hunt’s pals. Can they be trusted to ask him the hard questions, to make him face up to the tough issues?
- There is an ecclesiological issue here. We are a congregational denomination and we put our trust in the local congregation to handle matters of discipline. Here’s a group of pastors acting on their own, without the authority of any church, to declare Johnny Hunt for ministry. Ordination is a local church matter, and so is discipline. These pastors have taken that responsibility out of the hands of the people who should have handled it.
- The church Johnny Hunt pastored when he committed the sin was left out of the process entirely. Wouldn’t a biblical process involve the church where the sin occurred? How can Johnny Hunt be declared restored when his church had no part in the process at all?
- Most troubling, there is no evidence that Johnny Hunt has dealt with the woman he sinned against. His public statements denied the abuse, passed the buck to her, claiming it was a consensual affair. Now, he’s restored without genuine repentance or humble admission of his guilt. How can he be genuinely repentant and remain unconcerned about the one most hurt by his sin? There was no mention of her in the statement yesterday. It’s as if she didn’t exist, or matter.
- Psalm 51 shows us what true repentance is about. David humbled himself before God. Obviously, he made that public, since we have the Psalm. His sin was known publicly and so his repentance was public as well. There is nothing in Johnny Hunt’s words or manner that reminds us of David’s genuine repentance.
- The debate about whether a man who falls can be restored is a theological debate for another day. When the disqualifying sin is abuse, the discussion is more intense. Can we agree that 7 months is a microwave restoration? If 7 years from now, after intense oversight and work on the character flaws that led to his fall, and genuine repentance, Johnny Hunt was announced as returning to the pulpit, it might be a healthy debate. After 10 years, or 15, even more interesting. After 7 months, it is just disgusting, a source of sorrow. There is no way that a man who was caught in sin like this should be back in the ministry so soon.
What does genuine restoration look like? Here are some brief observations.
- It is handled by a church, preferably the one where the sin took place.
- It begins with deep, heartfelt repentance to God and to people who were harmed by the sin.
- It takes time – no microwave restoration. Serious sin reflects character failings and character takes time to rebuild.
- It requires submission to oversight by people who will help you deal with your issues. (Not buddies who will push buttons on the microwave).
This is not honoring to God. It adds hurt to the woman who was abused by Johnny Hunt.
Our president, Bart Barber, posted on this today and made a salient point. These men spoke without authority. No church has restored Johnny Hunt. Certainly, the SBC has not done so. Just a group of Johnny’s buddies has stamped him restored.