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AME church denies minister's plea

The Rev. John J. Hunter had asked to be returned to the helm of the First AME Church in L.A.

February 02, 2013|By Angel Jennings, Los Angeles Times
  • The Rev. John J. Hunter had petitioned to return to the helm of the First A.M.E. Church of Los Angeles. The African Methodist Episcopal Church's judicial body denied his petition.
The Rev. John J. Hunter had petitioned to return to the helm of the First A.M.E.… (Al Seib, Los Angeles Times )

The judicial body of the African Methodist Episcopal church has denied the petition of the Rev. John J. Hunter, former leader of First AME in Los Angeles, to return to the helm of the storied black church.

Hunter, who was abruptly moved from First AME in October, challenged his reassignment to Bethel AME in San Francisco after that congregation rejected him. He maintains that his rights as a minister were violated, saying Bishop Larry T. Kirkland moved him to a smaller church without the proper 90-day notice and without reason.

The church's governing book states that a "new appointment, when available, shall be comparable to or better than the previous one." First AME has a congregation of 19,000; Bethel AME's members number 650.

The nine-person council — the denomination's equivalent of the Supreme Court — ruled Thursday that Hunter skipped steps in the judicial process by petitioning them first. They denied his appeal based on grounds that Hunter did not follow the proper chain of command.

The ruling left the door open for Hunter to pursue further action in his bid to be reinstated at the church he pastored for eight years.

"The judicial council, further, holds that it lacks jurisdiction, since the matter lacks ripeness for disposition before this body," the ruling stated.

Hunter was advised to file a formal complaint against the bishop and follow the lengthy "judicial machinery," which is similar to the U.S. court system.

Hunter's spokeswoman, Jasmyne Cannick, said he plans to exhaust his options.

"Reverend John Hunter intends to continue to vigorously pursue the matter," Cannick said in a statement.

The church has sued Hunter, his wife, and some church leaders, alleging financial mismanagement. Hunter, meanwhile, has sued Bethel AME, alleging assault and emotional distress after church leaders physically blocked him from taking the pulpit last fall. The judicial body admonished Bethel last month for congregants' actions.

At First AME, some parishioners have expressed relief over the petition denial. Archie Shackles, a church board member, said he hoped the ruling would provide closure. "He had eight years . . . and all his ministry did was brought a lot of controversy to the church."

During his tenure, Hunter faced a federal tax probe and a sexual harassment lawsuit and admitted to questionable use of $122,000 in church credit cards.

angel.jennings@latimes.com

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