The newly elected president of the Southern Baptist Convention has a credibility problem.
His Web site has the subheading “The internet home of the preaching ministry of Dr. Johnny Hunt.”
Hunt, the pastor of First Baptist Church of Woodstock, Ga., lists educational credentials from Gardner-Webb College and the Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary. No reference is made to the terminal or honorary degree which affords him the title of “Dr. Johnny Hunt.” Yet Hunt is often identified as having degrees from schools other than those on his Web site.
The February 2008 annual pastors’ conference of the First Baptist Church of Jacksonville program said Hunt “has received a Doctorate of Divinity from Immanual [sic] Baptist Theological Seminary and a Doctorate of Sacred Laws and Letters from Covington Theological Seminary.”
Writing about Hunt’s nomination, Georgia Baptist Convention editor Gerald Harris wrote, “Immanuel Baptist Theological Seminary in Sharpsburg, south of Atlanta, awarded him an honorary Doctor of Divinity degree and Covington Theological Seminary in Rossville honored him with a Doctor of Sacred Laws and Letters degree.”
While both schools have question marks over them, consider only Covington Theological Seminary, which offers night classes, “allowing the students an opportunity to have daytime jobs while earning a Bible education.”
The school’s president holds “the B.R.E., Th.B, M.Div., D.Min, D.R.E., and Th.D. degrees from Covington Theological Seminary.” The school’s vice president for academic affairs has a Ph.D. from the Southern Baptist School for Biblical Studies, a degree that the school does not appear to offer.
Covington is not accredited by the Association of Theological Schools, as are all six Southern Baptist Convention seminaries.
Covington fits into a category known as a “diploma mill,” an entity that demands little academic training, enables students to bypass rigorous education, has no legitimate accreditation and awards impressive sounding degrees.
One of Hunt’s own “sons in the ministry” was forced to resign from the prominent First Baptist Church of West Palm Beach, Fla., in part because of his diploma mill degrees from Covington.
Recommended by Hunt, Steven Flockhart was forced out “over a controversy involving fabricated education credentials,” reported Baptist Press, which noted that Covington “claims its accreditation through an agency that is not recognized by the U.S. Department of Education and is an outgrowth of a company that was once charged with fraud.”
Hunt is not the only SBC elected official to claim Covington. Others include former president Jim Henry and former vice presidents Bob Pitman and Junior Hill.
When denominational leaders bear titles from dubious institutions, they legitimize diploma mills and encourage younger ministers to seek educational shortcuts, which deceive churches about the quality of the training of their clergy.
The president of Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary warned clergy two years ago: “Do not pad your resume or reputation with false or inflated accomplishments.”
Advice that goes unheeded too often.
Robert Parham is executive director of the Baptist Center for Ethics and executive editor of EthicsDaily.com.