A renowned Africa-American congregation in San Francisco has taken the unusual step of turning away the pastor assigned to lead it, after members drafted an emergency resolution noting that the clergyman's troublesome history could impair the community.
The Rev. John J. Hunter recently received notification that he was to lead Bethel African Methodist Episcopal Church, the oldest African-American house of worship in the city, but when he showed up earlier this month ready to deliver a Sunday sermon, church officials confronted him and turned him away.
Hunter had come from a previous eight-year tenure at First AME Church in Los Angeles that was marred by a sexual harassment lawsuit, a federal tax investigation and the questionable use of church credit cards, the LA Times reported. When Bethel AME asked him to show the signed declaration from Bishop T. Larry Kirkland of the African Methodist Episcopal Church stating his new assignment, Hunter was unable to show the proper paperwork.
This allowed the 650-member congregation to block him from preaching, stating that they fear his assignment could "impair the legacy, reputation, relationships and goodwill" of the 160-year-old church in the community.
The LA times noted that Bethel AME officials fear that accepting Hunter could also hamper a multimillion-dollar business deal in the works, especially considering the pastor's questionable financial transactions. The pastor apparently used $122,000 in personal expenditures that he charged on First AME's credit card in 2008, and in 2008 the IRS hit him for more than $300,000 in back taxes – although Hunter maintains he has repaid both debts.
"That's how much weight his reputation carries," said one senior church official, who chose to remain anonymous.
Hunter has said the church could have treated him better, rather than telling him he was not wanted right when he was showing up for his first day of service there.
"You could've emailed or faxed this to me," Hunter reportedly said the Sunday he was confronted by the Bethel congregation, according to church officials. The California minister added that he would not be preaching where he wasn't wanted, and left.
Hunter has since had little communication with the church. Bishop Kirkland flew down to San Francisco himself to speak with church officials about their decision, and has told the congregation not to be so quick to push judgments on the pastor.
"This could be looked at as an embarrassment," Bishop Kirkland said.
Bethel AME has responded that the congregation remains defiant in their decision to reject the Rev. Hunter as pastor of the church.
"Bethel, you have lost your first love," the Rev. W. Bartalette Finney Sr., presiding elder at the church, told the congregation. "You have lost your pastor. But you didn't lose Jesus."
The Christian Post was unable to speak with a Bethel AME representative by press time.