Deposed First A.M.E. pastor the Rev. John J. Hunter found the pulpit off limits to him at San Francisco’s Bethel African Methodist Episcopal Church when he showed up to begin his new assignment there. Bethel officials confronted him in the foyer on Sunday, Nov. 4, and demanded to see the assignment declaration from Bishop T. Larry Kirkland, the presiding prelate for the A.M.E. Fifth Episcopal District, who reassigned Hunter.
Leaders at Bethel A.M.E. drafted an emergency resolution barring Hunter from taking control of the church, saying his assignment could “impair the legacy, reputation, relationships and good will” of the church in the community.
Even before arriving at First A.M.E., where he presided for eight years, Hunter had developed a history of misuse of funds at a church in Seattle, Wash. A group called A.M.E. Justice accused him of “depleting the church’s housing reserve and firing people who disagreed with him.”
That reputation followed him to First A.M.E. In 2008, Hunter admitted charging $122,000 for personal items on the church’s credit card, and a few months later the IRS said he owed $300,000 in back taxes.
There were also charges concerning two business loans involving the First A.M.E. Assistance Corp., although Hunter said neither he nor his wife Denice were involved in those decisions.
Perhaps even more controversial was a civil suit filed in 2009 by the Rev. Brenda Lamothe, Hunter’s executive assistant, who charged that he forced her to have sex with him over a four-year period. When she would no longer comply, he fired her, she said.
Kirkland reportedly flew to San Francisco to look into the actions of Bethel officials, but some members said they were prepared to walk out if Hunter was installed as pastor. The congregation’s action was unprecedented, but officials at Bethel said they were concerned that Hunter’s reputation would harm a multimillion business deal that the church was involved in.
Kirkland was reportedly out of town and neither he nor Bethel officials could be reached for comment.
In an earlier interview concerning reassignments, Kirkland said, “The congregation is always involved.
They don’t determine [who stays or goes]. They will have some input, but the bishop and presiding elders take all that into consideration, based on what’s in the best interest of the church and the community.”