MONTGOMERY, Ala. (AP) — An Alabama church wants to remove a pastor accused of having sex with congregation members while infected with AIDS.
Deacons and trustees of Shiloh Missionary Baptist Church of Montgomery filed a lawsuit Tuesday against their pastor of 24 years, Juan D. McFarland.
The lawsuit said that after attempts to remove McFarland as pastor, he changed the building’s locks and control of its bank accounts. They asked a judge to block him from serving as minister and give them control of the church complex, its bank accounts and a Mercedes Benz furnished for the pastor’s use.
“We are just trying to minister to the flock and get the church back in order,” James Long, vice chairman of the board of trustees, said at a news conference on the Montgomery County Courthouse steps.
A phone number for McFarland has been disconnected. A man who answered the door at the church Tuesday afternoon said McFarland was not present, and he could not be reached at his Montgomery apartment.
In a related development, Wells Fargo Bank filed court papers Tuesday saying McFarland sought to change control of the church’s bank account on Oct. 6, one day after the congregation voted to fire him. The bank said it can’t determine who has the rightful claim to $56,211 in the account. It sent the court a check for the full amount and asked to be relieved of responsibility.
Church leaders said McFarland confessed in two recent sermons that he was diagnosed with AIDS in 2008 and that he had sex with an unspecified number of female church members in the church building without telling them about the virus.
“It was surprise, shock, but I think the leadership team did not react wanting to get him out. We wanted to get him help,” Long said.
Long and Nathan Williams, chairman of the board of deacons, said the help was rejected, and the congregation voted to remove him as pastor 80-1 on Oct. 5. Their resolution said they were acting because he had used illegal drugs while preaching and “had knowingly engaged in adultery in the church building with female members of Shiloh Missionary Baptist Church, while knowingly having AIDS.”
McFarland showed up Oct. 12 and preached to about 50 people. Church leaders said they did not attend Sunday to avoid a confrontation.
Instead, they filed the suit Tuesday accusing him of misappropriating church funds and of “debauchery, sinfulness, hedonism, sexual misconduct, dishonesty, thievery and rejection of the Ten Commandments.”
“He needs to get the message that he needs to be gone,” said Julian McPhillips, the church leaders’ attorney.
McFarland, 47, has not been charged with any wrongdoing. Knowingly spreading a sexually transmitted disease is a misdemeanor in Alabama punishable by up to a year in jail.
Court records show McFarland had two marriages end in divorce after wives filed suit to end the unions. Neither complaint mentioned allegations of adultery or other wrongdoing.
Shiloh Missionary Baptist Church was founded in 1919 and built a new church complex in 1993 near Alabama State University. McFarland became the pastor of the church in 1990. Church leaders said it has more than 170 active members and about 300 on the rolls.
Associated Press photographer Brynn Anderson contributed to this report.