On Sunday, September 14, when Reverend Juan McFarland stood behind the pulpit to deliver his sermon, rather than offering the members of Shiloh Missionary Baptist Church in Montgomery, Alabama, a word from the Lord, the minister dropped one hell of a bombshell on his congregants.
According to numerous accounts from Shiloh members in attendance that day, Pastor McFarland told his longtime church family that he had full-blown AIDS.
As if that news wasn’t shocking enough, McFarland, who’s served as Shiloh’s pastor for more than 20 years and allegedly learned of his HIV diagnosis in 2003, also admitted to having numerous sexual encounters with women—some of whom were members of his own church—all the while knowing he was infected with HIV. (A local NBC affiliate reported that, when reached by phone, McFarland had confirmed the details of his revelation.)
What prompted the longtime pastor’s sudden confession? Well, according to those who heard Pastor McFarland’s confessional sermon series, the preacher implied that it was God who told him it was time to confess his sins to his church.
According to Nathan Williams Jr., an 80-year-old member of Shiloh and onetime chairman of the church’s deacon board, some of McFarland’s sexual encounters happened on the church’s property but never in the sanctuary.
“Like that made any difference,” said Williams in an interview.
However, that wasn’t the end of Pastor McFarland’s revelations. On the following two Sundays—yes, he was allowed to remain the pastor for two more Sundays!—McFarland, while sermonizing, added to his initial confession. While it’s unclear what details were disclosed when, in addition to the long list sex-related sins, he also allegedly admitted to using illegal drugs and misappropriating church funds.
That the church didn’t fire McFarland after the first confession is downright unbelievable. Instead, according to one anonymous source who spoke to WSFA, “The church was very accepting of Reverend McFarland and was willing to help him in any way possible.” Deacon Williams seemed to confirm this sentiment, saying, “as Christian people, we wanted him to get well.” He added, “I thought of him as one of my sons.”
Finally, on October 5, the church’s deacon board voted unanimously to remove McFarland as pastor. However, apparently not everybody thought that was a good or fair decision—after the announcement about the firing was made, the news caused an uproar among church members. In fact, the feud became big enough that the Montgomery Police Department was reportedly called in, though no official police report was filed.
What remains unclear is just how many women McFarland may have knowingly put in danger of contracting HIV.
One parishioner—who wanted to remain anonymous— told Montgomery’s WSFA, “I know a young lady who is a member of the church who says she has slept with him and that she didn't want this to go public, and she running out now trying to find out if there is anything wrong with her. And my heart goes out to her because she's been a wonderful church member, and then for something like this to happen. The fact that he didn't tell them at all. That's a crime in itself.”
Meanwhile, Pastor McFarland isn’t walking away without a fight. The pastor, along with a few of his supporters, has reportedly changed the locks on the church, forcing Williams and other church leaders to seek legal counsel.
Williams told WSFA, “Our moves are going to come directly from counsel. We want peace and we want to do things right, legally. We are not looking to hurt him. We are looking to get the church back. That’s our theme: Get the church back. We want the church back. That’s it.”
Others believe McFarland should be charged.
“Let [a] judge decide if he should go to jail or not,” an unnamed source told the local TV news channel. “We tend to sweep things under the rug, especially if they’re the leader.”
According to the Montgomery Police Department, transmitting a sexually transmitted disease is a class C misdemeanor.
As of press time, no charges have been filed against Pastor McFarland.