Oldest black church in Los Angeles sues former pastor

A black person praying in a church

A black person praying in a church. © Christy Thompson - Fotolia.com

With a half million dollar debt looming over them, one of the oldest and most prominent black congregations in Los Angeles is suing their ex-pastor John J. Hunter.

A civil lawsuit  filed by the First African Methodist Episcopal Church this week against Hunter, his wife and a select of number of church leaders accuses them of “holding dictatorial control over [the church} for their own personal gain — both financially and for self-aggrandizement.”

Hunter has rejected the claims that he took advantage of his position and said the church approved his $239,000 salary and perks.

“My life, my ministry has been characterized by those attacking me,” Hunter told the Los Angeles Times. “To be then characterized as some looter and somebody who’s been greedy … nothing can be further from the truth.”

And this isn’t the first time Hunter has been under fire by the church.

In 2009, Hunter was sued for sexual harassment for pressuring a subordinate for on-demand sex as “God’s will.” The case was eventually settled out of court for an undisclosed amount.

Additionally, in 2008, Hunter was also investigated by the IRS for $300,000 in back taxes and for “using First AME’s credit cards for $122,000 in personal expenditures on items including suits, jewelry, vacations and auto supplies,” according to the Times.

This past October, Bishop T. Larry Kirkland transferred Hunter to a smaller congregation in San Francisco, citing his history of lawsuits that plagued the Los Angeles church.

However, the first day that Hunter was transferred, he was met with officials who handed him an emergency resolution that blocked him from the position, saying his presence would damage the church’s reputation. Even members of the congregation stood in front of the church entrance to physically block him from entering.

Despite the seemingly never-ending laundry list of controversies surrounding him, Hunter, who has led the Los Angeles AME church for around eight years, still plans to win  back into his position at the church. But Hunter’s popularity even before the lawsuits was already diminishing among church goers who complained that he was inaccessible, overspent on personal security and refused to live in the South L.A. community where the church is located.

The financial problems at the Los Angeles AME has ignited quite an ugly battle for control of the church and its nonprofit corporations, facing an upward of $500,000 debt to creditors. Vendors have claimed that they have not been paid in more than a year.

As for Hunter, he is currently taking a medical leave of absence and awaiting the decision from the national board about his reinstatement.

Follow Brittany Tom  on Twitter @brittanyrtom