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Black Collar Crime: Methodist Pastor John McFarland Charged with Molesting Seven Children

pastor john mcfarland

The Black Collar Crime Series relies on public news stories and publicly available information for its content. If any incorrect information is found, please contact Bruce Gerencser. Nothing in this post should be construed as an accusation of guilt. Those accused of crimes are innocent until proven guilty.

Previous posts about McFarland can be read here and here.

John McFarland, pastor of Orangethorpe United Methodist Church in Fullerton, California, was charged Monday with sexually assaulting seven children. Prior to his tenure at  Orangethorpe, McFarland was the pastor of Surf City Church in Huntington Beach from 2011 to 2016, Fountain Valley United Methodist Church in Fountain Valley from 1988 to 2016, and from 1981 to 1988, he was the pastor of Calexico United Methodist Church in Calexico — all located in California. McFarland was also a chaplain for 20 years for the Fountain Valley Police Department until his retirement a few years ago.

Fox-11 reports:

John Rodgers McFarland, who has been the head pastor at Orangethorpe United Methodist Church in Fullerton since 2014, was arrested on a warrant Thursday charging him with seven counts of lewd and lascivious acts with a minor younger than 14 and four counts of lewd and lascivious acts with a minor 14 to 15 years old.

The 56-year-old Fullerton resident is accused of molesting the children between 2003 and 2017, according to the Orange County District Attorney’s Office, which did not release the genders of the alleged victims.


McFarland, who’s being held in the Orange County Jail in lieu of $2 million bail, faces up to 179 years to life in prison if convicted, prosecutors said.

In San Diego County, McFarland was arrested and charged in December with molesting a girl younger than 14 in Escondido between 2012 and 2013. The alleged molestation occurred when he was visiting relatives, said Lt. Chris Lick of the Escondido Police Department.

McFarland is due in court in San Diego June 18 for a pretrial hearing and July 9 for a preliminary hearing, according to Tanya Sierra, a spokeswoman for the D.A.’s office in San Diego County.


  1. Avatar
    Tom Fuller

    I was told by an optimistic friend that the San Diego case got thrown out. Later I checked, and technically it did, but it was just stacked onto the Orange County charges. Last week he pleaded guilty. I am really stunned. I have known this guy for more than 20 years. He’s the last person you would suspect. Been writing him about once a month…assuming he was innocent, which he claimed to be…wanting to keep up his spirits. Now I’m feeling really awful for his victims, who are too numerous to count. Kinda feel like one myself.

    • Avatar
      Bruce Gerencser


      I have been writing about clergy sexual misconduct for thirteen years. Sadly, people put too much faith and trust in clerics. Why? They can’t imagine their preacher committing sex crimes or even having a consensual affair. I encouraged church members to see me as a frail human being, not someone who was above the fray. Unfortunately, many people couldn’t do this. They needed a holy, sainted, morally superior preacher. And when I failed? They were crushed.

      I have written over 800 stories in the Black Collar Crime series. It is not uncommon for church members to defend their pastors to the death. Even when they are convicted, the defenses continue. Often, they blame the woman (or even the child) for seducing their beloved pastor. We should ALL be accountable for our behavior, including pastors. Every predatory pastor makes a conscious choice to harm others. We hold such predators accountable in the secular world, and pastors should be held to the same standard.

      I genuinely feel your pain. I hope this experience will teach you to look more critically at religious leaders. I know that’s hard to do. Christianity teaches people to love and forgive. However, when wolves are in your midst, there’s no time for love and forgiveness. They must captured and punished. Why? The safety of the sheep. Christians must put the welfare of children and vulnerable church members before their pastors and other church leaders.

      I wish you well.


  2. Avatar
    Tom Fuller

    Hi, Bruce. Thanks for the reply. I understand. I served as the Chair of our United Methodist board that investigates complaints against preachers. It was a miserable but interesting job. I hated the feeling of sitting in the judgment seat, and I hated what I had to deal with–abuse accusations against clergy I had liked or admired. Also, for several years I served on a local Women & Children’s Protective Services. I was brought up with conservative values, have three daughters and one wife, and I have tried to walk the line. I’m also aware of/grateful for my own forgivenness. I try to walk a balance between those extremes, the one you mention, and the other one, that grows bitter against everything ecclesiastical. I had a rough ministry. Served two tough, mean congregations, and a campus ministry where, every week, new accusations were brought against me by politically-motivated clergy. Not a week went by that I wasn’t battling slander from shadowy sources who wouldn’t face me. Some were completely false, and most others were misquotations, distortions of things I said, twisted around to make me look bad. It was funny…they never did get my real sins! If only they’d known! Anyhow, once, my Dad told me that my good, positive spirit was being destroyed, and so I moved from that place because I didn’t want that to happen. If it did, I thought, they would win. By the way, I’m still in the ministry, just my own. I’m in church reform. I came away scathed, with some form of PTSD, or something resembling it. The pastorate should be nicer, kinder and happier–more Christian! Some of nastiest people I ever met sat near the front on Sunday mornings, carrying big Bibles. Even nastier ones sat in the chancel area. Also, I possess a permanent disgust for hypocritical, abusive clergy–such as my former friend in California. Usually I can spot phony clerics, but not so with him. I also have a sense of understanding and compassion for those who mess up and are genuinely remorseful. I love befriending them, because they’re usually pariahs. I also appreciate the many who remain moral and ethical, who just do their jobs, fear the Lord in the right way, and try to live blameless lives. Most of those in my circle of friends fit that category.

    Thanks for shining a bright light on our professional, spiritual darkness. Personally, there’s none more despicable, I believe, than the false prophet, the wolf in sheep’s clothing–or whatever we call them these days–who devours his/her own sheep. I’m trying not to be one. Your friend, tom

  3. Avatar
    ... Zoe ~

    Hi Tom,

    Bruce can correct me if my memory is off here, I just don’t think I’ve seen anyone come back who said “he/she/they” didn’t do it and admit they’ve changed their mind.

    You are one of his victims. He lied to you and to everyone else.

    Judging from your approach here with Bruce, it’s refreshing to have a Christian thank Bruce.

  4. Avatar
    Tom Fuller

    I really do try to understand others, because it seems no one else is doing that these days, and to give people the benefit of the doubt, as I was doing with my former friend in California. Everybody is so freaking certain they’re right, and everybody else is wrong. That’s bordering on bigotry in any ideological camp. We are polarized to a boiling point, which basically amounts to a cross between a knife fight and a pissing contest, to determine who’s more civilized than whom. Yeah, I’m sorry to say that churched people can be the worst at that. Personally, my most unethical attackers have been liberals, but at times I catch it from the legalists as well. Occasionally from both at once! When we study them all, they seem to be mirror images, who dislike one another because they are so similar. We see our own sins most clearly in other people. I am not the strongest person in the world, emotionally, and my relationship with the Lord requires me to self-examine rather regularly, and admit where I’m wrong–which is why I corrected my earlier comment. After spending decades counseling, I realize that many people seem offensive, angry, bitter, etc., when, in reality, they’re mainly hurt. I’m hurt, too, but I try not to think of myself as a victim, nor to squander my time finding fault in others who are different from me, unless they’re damaging someone and are not being held accountable. So, we should seek first to understand, then to be understood.

    I’m also still a Christian, though I have had my arguments with the Lord, especially with His silence. It still makes more sense than all of its alternatives. If there’s something about Creation I don’t understand, the fault’s not the Lord’s, but is in my perception. That’s what the Book of Job is about. I mean…assuming that my three-pound brain is the highest form of intelligence in the Universe would seem a bit arrogant. A three year-old with a telescope knows better. The way I see it, Christianity is ultimately liberal and intellectual.

    We struggle on. –tf

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Bruce Gerencser