Alabama AIDS pastor fights for pulpit

by Vanessa Garcia Rodriguez |

(FILE) SHILOH BAPTIST/Flickr

MONTGOMERY, Ala. (Christian Examiner) -- The former pastor of Montgomery's Shiloh Missionary Baptist Church, Juan McFarland, who was ousted from his pulpit by a judge in October, appeared in court this week to continue his fight for control of the Alabama congregation.

McFarland shocked members and gained nationwide attention in September after revealing in a sermon series his drug abuse, misuse of church funds, AIDS diagnosis and sexual affairs with female church members.

But despite an 80 to 1 vote by church members to dismiss the 47-year-old clergyman from his pastorate spanning more than two decades, McFarland still contends he cannot be fired from his post, pointing to the church constitution.

According to AL.com, Monday, Dec. 1, McFarland and his lawyer appeared in the 15th Judicial Circuit Court, before Judge Charles Price. Price is the same judge who granted a temporary injunction on Oct. 16 that required McFarland to relinquish keys to church property and vehicles and barred him from church grounds. The motion came after McFarland refused to step down and instead changed church locks and bank account passwords.

The Monday hearing served to consider McFarland's claim that apart from the resignation or his death he could not be removed as Shiloh's pastor because of church's bylaws.

The bylaws in question refer to amendments McFarland supposedly made in 2013 securing his lifetime role at the church.

But according to Lee Sanford, chairman of the church's board of trustees, McFarland did not follow proper protocol in his bid to add the 2013 amendments to the church bylaws. He said members did not receive notification of the changes in a timely manner and McFarland also failed to draw a quorum of church members for a vote.

The Montgomery Advisor reported that Kenneth Shinbaum, who represents the church's deacon body, indicated church members held a follow up business meeting Nov. 23 in which they voted to draft a new constitution.

"That one passed with better than 90 percent of the voting members approving it," Shinbaum said. "It grants the power to fire the pastor to the deacons and trustees by way of a vote. And the members again voted to fire (McFarland), just in case those other votes weren't good enough."

During the hearing, Shinbaum said McFarland's health appeared to be deteriorating and that at times he struggled to answer questions.

McFarland's lawyer, Dwayne Brown asked Judge Price to allow McFarland to return as the church's pastor, arguing that the courts had no authority to hear the case, citing government infringement on freedom of religion. Price maintained the conflict was over a contract and not church business.

"This isn't an individual member suing the church because he didn't like something that occurred during the service," Shinbaum said. "This is the deacon board and trustees, who are responsible for operating the church, coming together to take legal action in order to remove a pastor who they feel they have every right to remove. Their constitution gives them that right."

Price told the court late Monday morning that he would decide the case within a week.