“I wonder when we are ever going to change…We don’t need another hero.” Britten and Lyle
This is a post that was almost never written. It’s one that has been in my mind for a long time, but I’ve not yet put word to processor to write it. The time has never seemed right to do so. If the time has ever been right, it’s right now. Christians in the state of Georgia and beyond need a reminder that they shouldn’t put too much stock in any one man’s personality or accomplishments (unless, of course, than man is Jesus Christ). One such man is Johnny Hunt, pastor of the First Baptist Woodstock megachurch and a hero of the conservative resurgence of the Southern Baptist Convention. The false confidence that Georgia Baptists put in Hunt’s opinion of Ergun Caner last year has led to a lot of tragedy and heartache. As many readers of this blog already know, Ergun Caner has recently resigned from the presidency of Brewton-Parker College among a brewing and secretive scandal. CB Scott, a Vice President of that institution, was fired after he refused to sign a non-disclosure agreement. In his words, he refused to sign the agreement and accept an attractive severance package “as a matter of personal integrity.” Of course, CB Scott should have never been put in that position because the scandal-ridden charlatan Ergun Caner should have never been appointed as the President of Brewton-Parker or any other Christian institution…but he was…at the recommendation of Johnny Hunt, whose moral authority and charismatic allure (likely) helped legitimize Ergun Caner as a viable candidate. Even though Johnny Hunt knew of Caner’s past charlatanry, he still backed him. He even invited him to fill his pulpit last July. I was a member of Hunt’s church at the time. I am no longer. Like CB Scott, I wouldn’t just sit silent in the face of scandal and shame.
Highway 92 Revisited
“I’ll be a big noise with all the big boys. There’s so much stuff I will own. I will pray to a big God as I kneel in the big church.” Peter Gabriel
Georgia State Route 92 is 97.81 mile span of road that runs from Griffin to Roswell and through eight counties: Spalding, Fayette, Fulton, Douglas, Paulding, Cobb, and Cherokee. In Cherokee County, a short portion of the highway between Neese and Trickum roads was renamed “Johnny Hunt Highway” in honor of the Pastor of the First Baptist of Woodstock (FBCW). The renaming of this portion of Highway 92 was the brainchild of former Georgia State Senate Majority Leader, Chip Rogers (R-Woodstock), an active member of FBCW. Rogers was named as one of “The Most Influential Georgians” by James Magazine in 2009. On at least one occasion, while sitting in the congregation at FBCW, I heard Johnny Hunt give Chip Rogers a shout-out from the pulpit during a sermon. FBCW is a voting precinct, I’ve witnessed Chip Rogers actively standing outside of his own megachurch holding a campaign sign to encourage people to go into the church building and vote for him. Incidentally, a controversial real-estate deal in which Chip Rogers was involved “contributed significantly” to the failure of a Georgia community bank, according to the bank’s chairman. Rogers was sued by the bank. Incidentally, Rogers resigned his senate seat not long after it was revealed that he was involved in a sports-betting enterprise before his political career, advertising himself in videos as “Will the Winner” and encouraging callers to call a 900 hundred number for winning picks. Gambling is frowned upon at FBCW. Incidentally, I have to wonder how much discernment Hunt exercises when he chooses his influential, big time friends.
“…your arm felt nice wrapped ’round my shoulder…I had a feeling that I belonged. I had a feeling I could be someone. Tracy Chapman
While “Will the winner” is gone from the Georgia Senate, the Johnny Hunt Highway remains. FBCW itself is located on this small stretch of highway. However Hunt’s and FBCW’s influence is not limited to a plot of land on the side of Highway 92 in Woodstock, GA. The church boasts three additional campuses, one of which in Panama City Beach, where Johnny’s daughter Deanna Hunt Carswell lives.
Hunt, a former president of the Southern Baptist Convention, presents conferences nationally. He bestrides the narrow evangelical world like a colossus. When Johnny Hunt speaks people listen…and his voice emanates each Sunday from the Johnny Hunt highway.
“I took a drive today, time to emancipate…Saw things so much clearer, once you were in my rearview-mirror”. Eddie Vedder
The last time I traveled the Johnny Hunt highway was Sunday July 27, 2014. I had just been escorted off of the campus of FBCW by this rather large security officer in a black suit, wearing an earpiece, whom I’d never seen at church before:
I was escorted off the campus at the order of John Day, who directs security at FBCW and whose son was one of Johnny Hunt’s mentees. Multiple witnesses have attested that I was not acting in a disorderly way. My only offense was attempting to warn fellow church members about the charlatan Ergun Caner, whom Johnny Hunt had invited to fill the church’s pulpit that day. (Johnny was on vacation at the beach that day, on a rented yacht I’m told, near the FBCW Woodstock campus in Panama City).
My stance on Ergun Caner was starkly different than Hunt’s. Before Ergun’s sermon…let me pause, I use that term loosely. Caner just mentioned a bible passage and then talked about himself for 45 minutes. I don’t think Allan Taylor, the education minister at Woodstock liked Caner’s 45-minute talk about himself much either as this July 29 tweet might indicate:
Before Caner’s sermon began, a prerecorded video of Johnny Hunt was played for the crowd. In the video Hunt, stated:
“Ergun, I love you my friend. I’m grateful for the way God has used you and is using you. Thank you for your humble spirit and the way you’ve just desired to serve…just know that Woodstock welcomes you this morning…thank you for honoring us by being here today…Woodstock, know that you are in a for a real treat.”
We were not, as Taylor’s tweet implies, in for a treat. I’d never seen Johnny have to plug a guest preacher so much before. Yet, he plugged Caner. Perhaps he did so because he knew people had reservations about Caner. Caner is a known charlatan who is known to have used off-color racial language in the pulpit. According to initial reports coming from Brewton-Parker, Caner used such language at the offense of many. At a chapel service at the school and a third of the student body walked out in protest of Caner. This incident precipitated what many believe was a forced resignation. However, Caner using such language was Caner being Caner…the same Caner that Johnny Hunt, Newsong, and Tony Nolan have known for years. The reader may be perplexed at the point as to why I bring up Newsong and Tony Nolan. Along with Hunt, these individuals have preached at conferences with Caner for years. Their connection is more than spiritual (and financial). Hunt’s daughter is married to a member of the Carswell family, of Newsong fame. Tony Nolan recently preached a revival at Brewton-Parker where it was claimed that 120 souls were saved at one time. Johnny Hunt was on the board of Liberty University when Caner was the Dean of the theology school there. Thick as thieves, they are.
Ergun Caner is one of Johnny Hunt’s big time buddies.
I am not. I was just a pew-sitting, rank-and-file member of Johnny Hunt’s church. I wasn’t one of his celebrity associates, he was just my pastor. I couldn’t even get a meeting with him to talk about my concerns with Ergun Caner. Maybe he would have met with Will the Winner. When I tried to talk to the church about them, I was escorted off campus. I was escorted off along with John Day’s own nephew, who had accompanied me to church that day. His nephew is not a Christian. We were on the way to Sunday School class when we were forced to leave.
I tried to warn my church about Johnny’s friend, Ergun Caner. I was kicked off the campus for doing so. I haven’t been back. I drove off with John Day’s nephew and left the Johnny Hunt highway in my rear-view mirror for good. I know of at least three other families that have left church in the wake of this scandal…out of hundreds who ignored or endured it.
The Political World of American Evangelicalism
“We live in a political world. The one we can see and can feel; But there’s no one to check, it’s all a stacked deck. We all know for sure that it’s real” Bob Dylan
All this is water under the bridge. I’m not bitter and I now have a pastor who’ll take a meeting with me. He’s a great man, though, you’ve likely never heard of him. He’s not an evangelical celebrity, he’s just a guy who will take a meeting with little pew-sitter like me. I bring up these events of the past to show that we’ve let certain personalities in evangelicalism become too big to fail and those who speak out at their local church, like me, will just get escorted out the front door for dissenting. CB Scott was fired from his job at Brewton-Parker for not pledging to keep his mouth shut about Caner. Not fired in the wake of this latest Caner scandal, was Brewton-Parker VP, Peter Lumpkins, who recently likened Caner to Elijah. The band plays on. The political intrigue continues.
Over a year ago, I wrote about Caner’s ill-fated hire at Brewton-Parker. So did James White, so did Mark Lamprecht, so did a lot of folks. The Trustees at Brewton-Parker listened to men like Johnny Hunt instead. Ergun Caner and his friends were too big to fail…but they did. Then they tried to sweep it under the rug…again. People didn’t listen to my warning. We need to use this latest incident as a catalyst to change the culture of evangelicalism. Ergun Caner is not the problem, the environment is. It’s a political world. I said it a year ago, and I’ll say it again:
“To the best of my knowledge, Dr. Ergun Caner does not manage the financial stewardship of any Georgia Baptist church. Dr. Caner is just a man who was looking for a job in his field and found one. The Georgia Baptist leaders, specifically the trustees of Brewton-Parker, entrusted with the task of hiring the President of the institution are the ones responsible for installing Dr. Caner in that role. They dropped the ball. These men are the ones who should be held accountable by Georgia Baptists. These men and the institution they lead should be defunded immediately.”
Jesus said He would build his church. Let’s stop looking to mega-pastors and personalities to do it for Him. We don’t need another hero, we have Jesus.
“Thinking about formulas, what we’ve done. I’m 71 today, y’all know that? 71…and in the 50 years, I’ve been in the ministry…I’ve watched formulas, formulas of man’s opinion of how to do church. If you do this, this, this, this and this, you’re going to be big, big, and bigger…and I’m telling you, it’s like a virus! And it’s everywhere! And you know what, it sells. Publishers are grabbing these things and they’re heralding these mega-churches wherever they are and they’re heralding mega-preachers who’ve become gods and their selling their stuff and here’s the problem…people are buying it like you wouldn’t believe. They’re sucked right into a message that says, ‘You can build God’s church!’ when Jesus himself said, ‘I will build my church.’ Man’s creativity, God does not need. He’s needs man’s willingness to surrender to him.” Wayne Barber, preaching to the congregation at the church were I grew up on July 27th, 2014, the day of I was escorted out of FBCW.
To all the people who valued Johnny Hunt’s recommendation over the documented evidence of Caner’s incorrigible charlatanry…
I told you so.
*Please note that the preceding is my personal opinion. It is not necessarily the opinion of any entity by which I am employed, any church at which I am a member, any church which I attend, or the educational institution at which I am enrolled. Any copyrighted material displayed or referenced is done under the doctrine of fair use.