An Alabama pastor was removed from his leadership role of more than 21 years after he shared a sordid tale involving AIDS and sleeping with female congregants. Rev. Juan D. McFarland, pastor of the Shiloh Missionary Baptist Church in Montgomery, Alabama recently confessed to various misdeeds including illegal drug use, misappropriation of church funds and adultery.
McFarland told parishioners during a sermon on Sept. 14 that he was diagnosed positive for HIV in 2003 and AIDS in 2008. Church members were initially sympathetic but in subsequent Sunday sermons, as the pastor revealed more of the unseemly details, the reception changed. McFarland revealed that he had slept with multiple female members of the congregation, inside the church. He also acknowledged that he failed to inform his partners of his medical status.
McFarland also informed church members that he had used illegal drugs including cocaine and marijuana, at times, while preaching or performing other church related duties and that he used church monies to fund his activities. Although congregants voted 80-1 that McFarland be removed from his position, he had the locks changed and he initially refused to step down.
Acquired Immunodeficiency Syndrome (AIDS) which first appeared in the U.S. in the early 1970s is a deadly disease that compromises the body’s infection fighting abilities. Presently, it is reported that more than a million people in the U.S. are living with AIDS and about 16 percent are unaware that they are infected. Medical science has not yet confirmed a cure for AIDS but there are medications that are effective in slowing the disease’s progression. Many people afflicted with the illness are able to live relatively normal lives.
Gay and bisexual men are at high risk for contracting AIDS and, as a race, African-Americans bear the most severe burden of infection. Compounding the grim reality of the life threatening illness is the stigma that often results. AIDS is considered the final stage of HIV infection. The HIV virus is transmitted via body fluids including blood, semen and even breast milk. For a person to contract the virus, the infected body fluid must come into contact with broken skin or mucous membranes. HIV can also be transmitted via needles as in the case of drug users. The only way to know for certain if the disease has been contracted is to be tested.
In the case of Pastor McFarland, many in the church are calling for legal intervention. While some states have laws regarding the deliberate spreading of sexually transmitted diseases, in Alabama it is classified as a misdemeanor. So far, McFarland is not facing any charges because none of the women have complained. It has also been reported that at least one of the women alleged to have slept with him is afraid to come forward because of the shame.
Many in the church and in the Montgomery community are deeply disturbed by McFarland’s confessions. Some feel that his actions are even more reprehensible because of his role as a leader in the church. Still, others will use this as an opportunity to start a conversation about HIV and AIDS in the African-American church. Sadly for those congregants who learned via a Sunday sermon that sleeping with the Pastor may have exposed them to AIDS, the conversations did not come soon enough.
By Constance Spruill