Less than a week after a pastor was ousted amid heated controversy after he admitted that he had sex with female church members while knowing that he had AIDS, he led Sunday services at Shiloh Missionary Baptist Church.
A fervent congregation of around 50, taking up a fraction of the pews, sang loudly and encouraged Pastor Juan McFarland throughout his sermon. Though the choir loft behind him was empty, the pastor appeared to be full of the spirit.
On Wednesday, retired Shiloh deacon Nathan Williams Jr. said McFarland had admitted in a September church service that he was HIV positive. He followed that, said Williams, with more stunning confessions, including that he was diagnosed with AIDS in 2008, had sexual interactions with church members, took illegal drugs and misused church funds.
After the debacle, church leaders voted 80-2 to oust McFarland from the church. The news made national headlines and network news broadcasts.
For some visitors to the church on Sunday, greeted with smiles from church members in the lobby, the sight of McFarland at the pulpit came as a surprise.
McFarland, who has been Shiloh’s pastor for 24 years, referenced biblical stories of the power of prayer and God’s ability to provide sudden healing, themes that reflect his own dilemma. He focused on the story in the book of Matthew, in which a faithful centurion calls upon Jesus to heal his servant, who is dying of leprosy.
“…his servant was healed that same hour,” McFarland said. “Jesus did it suddenly.” From out in the congregation, a male voice called out, “Preach it, reverend!”
“Sometimes the worst times in our lives is when we have a midnight situation, and we are in a midnight situation,” McFarland told churchgoers. “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.”
He recounted the story in the book of Luke of the woman who, when she pushed her way through a crowd to touch Jesus’ garment, was suddenly healed of her illness.
“Press your way through the crowd. Pass your way through the naysayers,” McFarland said.
Annette Russell, the church’s missionary president, spoke to the congregation about the chaos that had enveloped the church since the media became aware of McFarland’s confessions.
“I have been praying for a calmness, that these people can come to their senses so we can praise the Lord,” Russell said, in tears. “I prayed to God, ‘Send us some faithful folks,’ and he did it today.
“He’s a man of God, but he’s a human being,” she said of McFarland. “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. We do our business at Shiloh. It didn’t have to be expressed in the papers or on television.”
A looming reality
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SOURCE: USA Today / Montgomery (Ala.) Advertiser – Teri Greene