Leaders of San Francisco’s Bethel African Methodist Episcopal Church in the Western Addition have rejected a troubled Los Angeles pastor’s attempt to take the pulpit at The City’s oldest black congregation.
The Rev. John J. Hunter was recently transferred from the First AME Church in Los Angeles to lead the San Francisco church. But in an unprecedented move, leaders at Bethel AME drafted an emergency resolution barring him from taking control.
They said the assignment could “impair the legacy, reputation, relationships and goodwill” of the church in the community.
Hunter’s eight years in Los Angeles were sullied by a sexual harassment lawsuit, a federal tax investigation and the questionable use of church credit cards, the Los Angeles Times has reported.
In 2008, Hunter acknowledged using First AME’s credit cards for $122,000 in personal expenditures on items including suits, jewelry, vacations and auto supplies. A year later, the IRS said he owed more than $300,000 in back taxes. Hunter has said he repaid both debts.
Bethel AME officials fear that Hunter’s blemished reputation would upend a multimillion-dollar business deal in the works. The deal, which officials declined to detail, would unravel if lenders learned of Hunter’s questionable financial transactions, the newspaper said.
When Hunter’s transfer to the San Francisco church was announced Oct. 28, members worried about his past.
It took Hunter several days to formally introduce himself to church officials, fueling the congregation’s concerns about the pastor.
And when he was headed for Bethel’s pulpit ready to preach Nov. 4, church officials confronted him in the foyer and demanded to see the assignment declaration from Bishop T. Larry Kirkland in Los Angeles.
Hunter didn’t have a copy and was blocked from the front of the church. Hunter left and has had little contact with church members since.
The rejection — virtually unheard of in the AME denomination — pits the small, 650-member congregation against the executive orders of Kirkland and has many churchgoers questioning the ramifications of their protest.
Kirkland later flew to San Francisco to admonish the Bethel congregation for making judgments about Hunter.
But the congregation remains firm in its decision. Bethel members said Sunday that they were ready to walk out if Hunter showed up.
The church’s presiding elder, the Rev. W. Bartalette Finney Sr., urged Bethel members to focus on their spiritual relationship with God and not on the problems of the church.