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Former L.A. church leader fired from post at San Francisco church

The Rev. John J. Hunter, who last fall was abruptly reassigned from L.A.'s storied First African Methodist Episcopal Church, has been fired from his post at Bethel AME Church in San Francisco.

February 09, 2013|By Angel Jennings, Los Angeles Times
  • Rev. John J. Hunter
Rev. John J. Hunter (Rick Loomis )

The Rev. John J. Hunter, who last fall was abruptly reassigned from First African Methodist Episcopal Church, the oldest black church in Los Angeles, has been fired from his post at a San Francisco church.

"I hereby immediately relieve you of the pastoral charge of Bethel AME Church," Bishop Larry T. Kirkland wrote in a letter to Hunter dated Friday. "You will have no further contact with that congregation in an official capacity."

Hunter could not immediately be reached for comment.

In January, the judicial body of the African Methodist Episcopal Church denied Hunter's petition to return to First AME, the storied black church in Los Angeles.

Hunter was moved after a controversial eight-year tenure in L.A. that was clouded by a federal tax investigation, a sexual harassment lawsuit and the questionable use of $122,000 in church credit cards.

Hunter, who was moved from First AME in October, challenged his reassignment to Bethel AME after that congregation rejected him. He maintains that his rights as a minister were violated, saying 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 membership is 650.

The nine members on the council — the denomination's equivalent of the Supreme Court — ruled Feb. 1 that Hunter skipped steps in the judicial process by petitioning them first. They denied his appeal because Hunter did not follow the proper chain of command.

Meanwhile, Hunter has filed a civil lawsuit against church leaders in San Francisco for physically barring him from taking the pulpit.

The suit, which alleges assault, battery, libel and emotional distress, is the latest in Hunter's public battle with members of the African Methodist Episcopal denomination. The 55-year-old pastor is seeking unspecified restitution exceeding $25,000.

In December, First AME filed a civil lawsuit against Hunter, alleging that he, his wife and a small "cabal" of church leaders misappropriated millions of dollars in church and nonprofit funds.

In his letter to Hunter, Kirkland said that "for a period not to exceed 90 days, you will be compensated at the base salary amount you would have received had you remained pastor of Bethel." He also noted that the arrangement could change pending the "outcome of the judicial proceeding against you, and/or if you agree to be assigned to another pastoral charge."

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