- Associated Press - Monday, December 1, 2014

MONTGOMERY, Ala. (AP) - An Alabama minister was back in court Monday, fighting to keep his job after confessing he had sex with married church members inside the church and did not tell them he has AIDS.

Circuit Judge Charles Price said he will rule within a week on whether the Rev. Juan McFarland can return to Shiloh Missionary Baptist Church in Montgomery or whether the judge’s order temporarily banning him from the church will become permanent.

McFarland’s attorney, Dwayne Brown, said the 47-year-old minister is terminally ill with AIDS. McFarland walked slowly to the witness stand Monday and talked haltingly and softly during his brief testimony.

Under questioning by an attorney for the trustees and deacons, McFarland admitted that he confessed to the congregation during sermons in August and September that he had committed “sins against God.” Attorney Kenneth Shinbaum asked him repeatedly for specifics, and McFarland answered each time, “I plead the Fifth.”

The congregation voted to fire him Oct. 5. The decision followed a sermon in August in which McFarland confessed to having HIV and another sermon in September in which he made several confessions: that he was diagnosed with AIDS in 2003; he had sex with female church members in the church complex, but not in the sanctuary; he did not tell them about his illness; and he used illegal drugs, including on Sundays.

Lee Sanford, chairman of the church’s board of trustees, testified McFarland told church members “that he could preach better high than any other minister could do without it.”

McFarland’s attorney told the judge that the church approved bylaws in January 2013 giving McFarland his job for life or until he resigned. He argued that the vote to fire him in October was improper.

The attorney for the trustees and deacons argued that McFarland pushed through the 2013 bylaws without proper notice to the church membership and without a quorum of the members present for the vote. He argued that the dismissal vote was valid because a quorum was present and a vote to fire a minister was proper under the church’s bylaws before 2013.

Former church parliamentarian Marc Anthoni Peacock testified that no one objected to the way the bylaws were approved in 2013 and it only became an issue when church leaders wanted to fire McFarland.

The judge told the packed courtroom that his decision will revolve around the legal aspects of the case, not the moral issues.

“I’m not dealing with the sin,” he said.

McFarland refused to leave the pulpit after the Oct. 5 vote to dismiss him. At the request of the deacons and trustees, the judge temporarily banned him from the church on Oct. 16 and required him to turn over the church-owned Mercedes sedan that he drove.

Nathan Williams Jr., chairman of the board of deacons, said McFarland received more than $50,000 annually as minister of the congregation’s more than 150 active members. McFarland has not received any pay since the dismissal vote, and he is asking the judge to order back pay.

Outside the courtroom, Brown said his client does not want to split the 95-year-old church, and he would agree to step down if proper compensation were offered.

“My ultimate concern is that the congregation survives,” Brown said.


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