Bethel AME, S.F.'s Oldest Black Church, Won't Appoint Controversial Pastor John J. Hunter

Categories: Religion
rev-john-hunter.jpg
First AME Church
The Rev. John J. Hunter has not had a pleasant trip to SF.
The Rev. John J. Hunter arrived in San Francisco on Nov. 3; Bishop T. Larry Kirkland, of the African Methodist Episcopal Church, had appointed him to lead Bethel AME -- the city's oldest black church.

After Hunter arrived at SFO, the Los Angeles Times reported, a driver took him downtown, where he was set to meet with church officials. Instead, the officials handed him an emergency resolution that blocked him from the position. The document stated that Hunter would damage the church's reputation, built up and made sterling by Bethel AME's previous pastor, the Rev. J. Edgar Boyd.

"You could've e-mailed or faxed this to me," Hunter responded, according to the Times.

Rev. Hunter was a well-known name by this point. He had previously led First AME in L.A. for eight years. During that stretch, he was investigated by the IRS for owing more than $300,000 in back taxes and caught "using First AME's credit cards for $122,000 in personal expenditures on items including suits, jewelry, vacations and auto supplies," according to the Times.

The list went on:

For years, critics of Hunter complained that he was inaccessible, overspent on personal security and refused to live in the South L.A. community where he preached. They said the church's membership, tithing and its activist profile declined during Hunter's tenure.

Hunter was also sued for sexual harassment. The lawsuit, LA Weekly reported in 2009, claimed "that he pressured a subordinate for on-demand sex as 'God's will.'" The accuser, Rev. Brenda Lamothe, also alleged that Hunter sent her inappropraite greeting cards.

As LA Weekly explained:

Lamothe's publicist sent LA Weekly the greetings cards in question. One states, in handwriting, that the author is on a plane and when it lands the "first I will do is call you." Another, in what appears to be the same writing, says, "Yes, I jacked off too -- thinking of you." The cursive loop in the first "Y" contains a smiley face within.
While Hunter's camp insists these were intimate mementos intended for his wife (Mrs. Hunter was quoted yesterday as saying they were "private communications between me and my husband"), they are not addressed to anyone in particular. And -- do we have to say it -- who in the history of the world tells his wife that he pleasured himself to thoughts of her?

Bethel AME wasn't having that.

The morning after the officials gave Hunter the declaration, members of the congregation stood in front of the church before the 8 a.m. service, to keep Hunter from the pulpit. He showed up 30 minutes into the mass. After reportedly making a bit of a scene -- "loud and boisterous," is how one witness described it to the Times -- Hunter "left and has had little contact since then with church members."

Bishop Kirkland, apparently holding his ground, "flew to San Francisco to admonish the congregation for making judgments about Hunter."

The Bethel congregation is holding its ground, too.



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