Shiloh Missionary Baptist Church in Montgomery, Ala., is at the center of a messy controversy that has received attention worldwide. If you’re unfamiliar with the situation, here’s a brief explanation: Pastor Juan McFarland, who has been Shiloh’s minister for more than two decades, recently confessed that he had sex with parishioners on church property. He also revealed that he had used illegal drugs and misused church funds.
Pretty bad, right? Well, it gets worse. McFarland also revealed that he has AIDS, a fact he failed to disclose to the women in the church he had sex with.
After this information surfaced, church leaders voted 80-2 to oust McFarland from his role as pastor. According to USA Today, McFarland responded to the vote by changing the locks on the church and changing the church’s bank accounts. He refuses to step down.
In a blatant show of disrespect for the congregation’s wishes, McFarland stood behind the pulpit this past Sunday and preached a sermon about divine healing and forgiveness.
“Sometimes the worst times in our lives is when we have a midnight situation, and we are in a midnight situation,” said McFarland, according to the Montgomery Adviser. “When you pray, you’ve got to forgive. You can’t go down on your knees hating somebody, or wishing something bad will happen to somebody.”
That’s a convenient sermon for someone who could use some serious forgiveness right about now.
To be sure, McFarland’s case is an extreme example, but we’ve all seen what happens when a pastor — or any type of leader — is given too much power without enough accountability. This is nothing new.
That McFarland believes he is still qualified for leadership is actually not surprising, either. Most people guilty of what he’s done are delusional to a certain degree. What is surprising, however, is that some people in his congregation and on social media believe he is still qualified for leadership.
“He’s a man of God, but he’s a human being,” Annette Russell, the church’s missionary president, told the Montgomery Adviser. “It’s not that we condone what our pastor has done, but we need to have compassion. We’re not supposed to assassinate our brothers and sisters. We’re not supposed to judge.”
And this is where things get a little tricky. Christians may be called to avoid judging those outside of the church, but they’re also called to hold professing Christians accountable. There’s a difference between having compassion and allowing a failed leader who has perhaps irreparably damaged the congregation to continue leading. Should churchgoers work to extend McFarland forgiveness and compassion? Absolutely. With that being said, McFarland’s actions have disqualified him from all leadership roles, and he should immediately hand over the keys to the church and step down.
To be sure, not everyone in the congregation supports McFarland. Most don’t, in fact. The church has sought legal counsel from Montgomery attorney Julian McPhillips, who says the majority of the church members want McFarland gone.
This is an important, albeit unfortunate, reminder that people in leadership are often tempted to abuse their power, and systems of accountability and discipline should always be in place. The story at Shiloh Missionary Baptist Church is far from over. If McFarland continues with his behavior and refuses to step down, an ugly legal battle will likely ensue, and he will further damage the congregation that he has already exploited.
Follow Cort on Twitter @CortGatliff