T. Russell Hunter was arrested for driving under the influence of alcohol in August of 2018.
Hunter, longtime figurehead of “AHA” abortion abolitionism and leader of the tax-exempt Free the States prolife lobbying organization, has not (as far as I can tell) made any public confession or recognition of this scandal. He has, however, confessed this scandal in a private abolitionist facebook group that he administrates.
I’m writing this because I love the abolitionist community and I firmly believe in the truth of the doctrines of abolitionism. I believe orthodoxy matters, orthopraxy matters, and integrity matters. Not only does this sin indicate a lack of integrity, how this sin was handled and how it was finally exposed is very troubling. What is almost as troubling is how many abolitionists and long-time supporters of Hunter have shrugged off this matter. I am also fully aware that writing about such a matter makes me an easy target of accusations of “obsession,” “bitterness,” and “hating Russell.” Even today Hunter told me that I hated him. Instead of owning up to his sin, those who dare mention it are said to “hate” Hunter and love it when he sins so we can hurt him. Those who have raised doubts or questions have been sharply and quickly condemned. If that is not a red flag, I’m not sure what is.
The following is quick breakdown of the events according to public record and Hunter’s own testimony in the secret abolitionist Facebook group. After I go through the events according to the record and testimony, I want to focus on Biblical leadership and accountability.
- Hunter had begun drinking heavily late at night while drawing. He was doing this alone at his studio and then driving home at various degrees of inebriation. Hunter has a history of heavy drinking from his days in grad school and had previously sworn off of alcohol. This was not an one-time mistake of an ethical “slip-up” and this was a habit that Hunter had formed. Hunter getting caught was the one-time event, not his sin. Hunter, in his video, says that this incident was an “isolated event.” Let me be clear. It was not an isolated event and Hunter contradicts himself in saying so. Hunter on one hand admits that he had developed a habit of drunkenness, while on the other hand claims that it was an “isolated event.”
- Hunter also mentions that he was self medicating due to feeling down because of broken relationships (not the point of this article, but these broken relationships were broken by Hunter).
- During this habit of late night, solitary, drinking of liquor, Hunter had kept his drinking from his wife, his coworkers, his local community, and the broader abolitionist community he is the leader of.
- Sadly, Hunter did not repent and confess on his own volition. He was pulled over by police and arrested, and only at that time he confessed to his wife and a small circle of people he works with. This was a grace to Hunter, as I pray this article will be.
- At this time the men in his local community (it is very much uncertain if this is a local church or a small group of friends he sometimes spends time with) decided amongst themselves that Hunter should not disclose this sin and crime to anyone beyond a very small circle of confidants. Further, they decided that it would be good for Hunter to continue on with, his leadership role within abolitionism, and the Free the States lobbying group. Hunter’s lawyer also recommended that he keep this incident as secret as possible.
- According to Hunter his friends are holding him accountable and disciplining him. As far as I can tell, this discipline included moving Hunter’s studio to a different office where these friends also work.
- The abolitionist community and the hundreds, if not thousands, who look to Russell for leadership are intentionally and diligently kept in the dark. According to Russell’s own testimony, this was to protect the cause.
- Many months later, a notoriously anti-abolitionist found out about Hunter’s sin and crime and exposed Hunter. He did not only expose Hunter’s sin and crime, he used Hunter’s sin and crime as a weapon against abolition.
- After this man went public with Hunter’s arrest, Hunter then decided to make a live video confessing what happened. This live video was only made available for those in the secret social media group that Hunter helps administer.
- Again, thus far and as far as I can tell, neither Hunter or Free the States have made any public statement.
Now that the events have been explained, I have some thoughts about this scandal.
When Christians take on positions of leadership and act as a moral authority, they also take on a greater degree of responsibility and are held to a higher standard. Russell Hunter is, beyond a shadow of a doubt, the de facto figurehead leader of the “AHA” abolitionist community and a leader of the Free the States political action committee.
I do not believe all personal sins must be exposed broadly and publically. I agree with RJ Rushdoony in his The Cure For Souls that dramatic public shows of repentance may not always be either necessary or helpful. There is also a distinction to made between sins and sins that would disqualify you from leadership. Although being a board member of a prolife organization or being a leader of an abolitionist community is not synonymous with ecclesiastical eldership, I do believe that the qualifications for eldership found in 1 Timothy 3:1-7 and Titus 1:5-9 are good standards of integrity for most forms of leadership within the Body of Christ.
Given these distinctions, when you are serving as a leader of an organization or a group of people, those within those groups have every right to know about sins that would disqualify their leaders. Those who publicly support and financially support Free the States should know that their most public spokesperson has serious moral failings. Those within the abolitionist community, those who listen to Hunter, defend Hunter, share Hunter’s rhetoric and art, and those who see Hunter as their leader, all have an ethical right to know about disqualifying sins. In short, when you are in a position of leadership, you are accountable to the people you serve. This means transparency. There can be no accountability when there is no transparency.
Because of Hunter’s sin and crime, Al Gerhart (a major critic of abolition) exposed Hunter and used Hunter’s lack of integrity as a weapon against a just cause. Not only was the drunkenness, drunk driving, and deception of Hunter’s family used against abolition, Hunter’s failure to be transparent was also used against abolition. This sort of public scandal involving Russell Hunter has been my concern for some time. I wish my fears did not come to fruition, but now we must react Biblically.
Clearly the drunkenness and the deception of his wife and friends is a serious issue. But how this sin was handled by Hunter and his inner circle is very troubling. Hunter did not want to confess publicly because he did not want to jeopardize things (his words). For years abolitionists have said “we serve a King and not a cause.” If you purposely hide your sin, hide from accountability, and fail to be transparent all in the name of “not wanting to jeopardize things,” you are placing your cause before your King. At that moment, you are serving a political campaign and your own ambitions more so than King Jesus. You are placing political pragmatism before integrity.
There is no doubt that this sort of sin would have been used against the righteous cause of abolition, but to hide the sin only allowed a man like Gerhart to take an even greater advantage. What was hidden in the shadows was brought to the light, but not because of righteous confession. Sadly, this has been the pattern.
Hunter confessed to his wife and his local friends after he was caught by the local authorities and he was no longer able to hide his sin. At that point he continues to attempt to contain the fallout. He then confesses to the private abolitionism Facebook group, but only after Al Gerhart published his article exposing Hunter and defaming abolitionism. At every step Hunter only confesses after he has been exposed. At every step he attempts to cover up his sin and minimize transparency.
Further, Hunter does not accept any consequences other than the consequences he cannot effect (such as legal consequences). He does not step down from his highly visible and public role of leadership. In his video, Hunter disparagingly spoke about how there’s a “philosophy” that says people who are caught in sin should step down. Russell can be helpful to the Kingdom, but that does not mean he should remain in roles of leadership in Christian organizations or Christian movements. No one is so talented, so smart, so visionary, that they are above accountability. Hunter fails to accept consequences.
I do not believe you must be sinless in order to lead with integrity, but I do believe you must be qualified and I do believe that leadership should be held accountable by those they lead. If the standard is openness eight months after the sin, and only after a political adversary exposes the sin, how could there possibly be any trust or accountability?
We serve a merciful God that can redeem any man He chooses. Hunter spoke much of his repentance in his private group, and although a repentance that consistently happens after he’s driven into a corner, a repentance that makes excuses, and a repentance that dodges accountability and transparency does not bode well, that does not mean God cannot use these circumstances for His Glory in the life of T. Russell Hunter. Although Hunter’s actions may be a result of embarrassment and a result of politically having no other choice, I pray that he has truly been convicted of his sin. I pray that Hunter and his inner circle comes to understand the responsibilities inherent in leadership. I pray that we will not only hear words about repentance, but see fruits of repentance and an eager willingness to take both full responsibility and accept the consequences of his actions. I am not the sort to think one must be a member of a local church to be saved, nor am I the sort to focus all of the Kingdom of God around local churches, but when you have these kinds of integrity issues (drunk driving and deception on the part of Hunter), a faithful assembly would be a huge help in actual accountability and sanctification. So, because of that, I also pray that Hunter would join together with local believers who will hold him accountable. Accountability is more important than institutional membership, but Hunter has neither.
Lastly, I pray that those around Russell will not be “yes men”. I pray that they will love Russell enough and our Lord enough to seek out integrity, no matter what kind of perceived harm it could do to the cause of abortion abolition.
“Wine is a mocker, strong drink a brawler, and whoever is led astray by it is not wise” – Proverbs 20:1
“Not a drunkard, not violent but gentle, not quarrelsome, not a lover of money.” – 1 Timothy 3:3
“Do not admit a charge against an elder except on the evidence of two or three witnesses. As for those who persist in sin, rebuke them in the presence of all, so that the rest may stand in fear. In the presence of God and of Christ Jesus and of the elect angels I charge you to keep these rules without prejudging, doing nothing from partiality.” - 1 Timothy 5:19-21
“For an overseer, as God’s steward, must be above reproach. He must not be arrogant or quick-tempered or a drunkard or violent or greedy for gain,” – Titus 1:7
“Do not lie to one another, seeing that you have put off the old self with its practices” - Colossians 3:9
“Lying lips are an abomination to the Lord, but those who act faithfully are his delight.” – Proverbs 12:22
“For nothing is hidden that will not be made manifest, nor is anything secret that will not be known and come to light.” - Luke 8:17
“Let no one deceive you with empty words, for because of these things the wrath of God comes upon the sons of disobedience. Therefore do not become partners with them; for at one time you were darkness, but now you are light in the Lord. Walk as children of light (for the fruit of light is found in all that is good and right and true), and try to discern what is pleasing to the Lord. Take no part in the unfruitful works of darkness, but instead expose them.” - Ephesians 5:6-11