With lawsuit pending, Jericho pastor’s sermon claims authority over church


Reverend Joel R. Peebles. (Marvin Joseph/WASHINGTON POST)
July 10, 2011

As the battle for control of Jericho City of Praise plays out in court, the Landover megachurch’s pastor asserted his authority Sunday over the ministry.

A week after a shoving match broke out at the end of the Sunday service, the Rev. Joel R. Peebles sought to dismiss the rumblings of conflict over the church’s leadership. In a rousing sermon, Peebles said plainly that he is in charge.

“We will have no confusion. We will have no mess. We will have no drama. We will have no difficulty — and if you are bringing it to the house, you need to find another house,” Peebles said as the hundreds assembled clapped and cheered. “Now I take authority under the covenant of God, in the name Lord Jesus, over this house. . . . If you’ve got a problem with it, find yourself another place.”

Peebles’s remarks came after he and the church’s governing board had filed dueling petitions in court Friday. The board is trying to stop Peebles, 41, from handling the congregation’s money. Each side accused the other of mismanaging the church’s considerable finances.

The pastor is the only surviving son of the church’s late founders. Before his mother, Apostle Betty P. Peebles, died in October, she put Joel in charge of the 15,000-member congregation. In dispute is whether she intended to leave the church’s board of trustees to direct millions of dollars in assets.

Joel Peebles’s nephew, Joshua, who lived with his grandmother, has sided with the board, whose petition accuses Joel Peebles and his supporters of seizing the tithes and offerings at a recent service and refusing to give them to the church’s treasurer. Last week, the pastor’s bodyguards escorted Joshua Peebles out of the service after he apparently made a move toward the collection baskets.

Joshua Peebles attended his uncle’s sermon Sunday, sitting quietly in his usual place toward the front of the 10,000-seat sanctuary. He declined to comment.

The pastor’s early-morning sermon, delivered over gentle piano riffs, recounted the church’s history as well as the pain his family has endured — the untimely deaths of his two brothers, his father’s injuries and his parents’ deaths — while they grew the nondenominational ministry from a handful of worshipers in a Northeast Washington public housing complex to one of the nation’s largest congregations, with a 125-acre campus near Fed­Ex Field.

Joel Peebles said he has been guiding the congregation through the loss of his mother so that what his parents built would not crumble.

“No matter what you may read in the newspaper today, no matter what you heard happened last week, don’t you put your mouth on my family,” he said. “That’s my nephew, that’s my family — that’s none of your business.”

Peebles said that he would continue to preach every Sunday and that he would not profane the pulpit by talking about the lawsuit against him.

“I know you want to hear me talk about it. I know you want to hear me call out people,” he said. “But listen, when you’ve been called to shepherd sheep, you shepherd all the sheep that love you and the sheep that don’t love you.”

Peebles called on the congregation to stick together and not allow the distractions to wear at the church.

“I have been gentle long enough, and I have taken it personally enough, and enough is enough,” he said. “So from this point on, we are a no-nonsense, no-excuse church.”

The audience responded volubly to Peebles’s animated words, and the tithers’ march proceeded without incident. Peebles said that all donations would be spent on the ministry, not on legal costs, and that they would be accounted for on the church’s Web site.

Congregants declined to comment on the controversy, with some saying only: “It’s in God’s hands.” They walked to their cars in the sprawling parking lot, outside the $36 million sanctuary whose walls bear the inscription “Betty P. Peebles, pastor.”

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