A South Los Angeles church that has served the community for nearly 80 years is suing a former leader the board of trustees fired in 2020, alleging he continues to claim the role of senior pastor for personal fundraising purposes and that he broke into the church, took documents and changed the locks.

Tabernacle of Faith Baptist Church brought the suit against ex-Senior Pastor John David Long; his wife, Jeanette Long; and their son, John Wesley Long. The suit alleges trespass and theft and the church seeks unspecified damages as well as a court order preventing Long from representing himself as the church’s senior pastor.

“The church cannot continue to function properly without court intervention,” the suit states.

Long could not be immediately reached for comment on the suit filed Tuesday.

The Central Avenue church was founded in 1944 and “has been a pillar of the African-American community of Los Angeles for nearly eight decades,” the suit states.

Long became pastor in June 2017 during his tenure had significant trouble working with the church leadership, the suit states.

“Long was a poor communicator and often held events at the church without the knowledge or approval of church leadership,” the suit states. “On several occasions, the chair of the board of trustees met with Long and discussed these concerns, but Long made no effort to improve.”

During much of the coronavirus pandemic, Long was in Florida and “abandoned” the church and his duties as senior pastor, the suit alleges. He began giving misplaced directives to church volunteers and employees in an apparent attempt to gain control of the church’s finances and he tried to set up a separate and unapproved online mechanism to solicit funds from church members, according to the suit.

“Unbeknownst to church leadership, Long, during the summer of 2020, was working on a hostile takeover of the church,” according to the suit, which further alleges he started a campaign to disparage and remove members from the board of trustees.

The board of trustees and deacons’ board voted to fire Long last August, but he has held countless online church services while still claiming to be the senior pastor, the suit states. Although he is no longer affiliated with the church, many members allegedly have donated funds directly to him through electronic channels.

“There is a member who contends that she gave over $5,000 to Long in 2020 and the church cannot account for one penny,” the suit states.

In response to a cease-and-desist letter sent by the church last October, Long allegedly broke into the church and changed the locks to the building and to the gates.

“It was also discovered that church employee, member and other information was stolen from the finance office,” the suit states.

Long and his wife were recorded on surveillance video and a report was taken with police, according to the suit.

Long held a meeting on a sidewalk outside the church, also in October, and said he was wrongfully fired and was still the church’s senior pastor, the suit states.

“He continues to contact church members via mail, phone and unsolicited home visits, still purporting to be the senior pastor of the church,” the suit alleges.

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