Joel Peebles, megachurch pastor, is fired from church his parents founded

April 18, 2012

A board of trustees selected by the late Apostle Betty R. Peebles, co-founder of Jericho City of Praise in Landover, on Wednesday fired her only surviving child, the Rev. Joel R. Peebles, as acting pastor and stripped him of membership in the church his parents created more than 40 years ago.

Peebles, 42, the sole survivor of the Peebles family, said he was notified in writing of his dismissal just after 1 p.m. Wednesday, when he arrived at the church to begin preparing for an evening Bible study session.

“I came here to go to church, and I got terminated,” the Mitchellville resident said Wednesday as he stood under the awning between the church’s two-story administration building, where his mother presided over church operations, and the sprawling sanctuary. “I was told to leave, and the police escorted me out. They told me I was not pastor here nor a member of the church. . . . The officer told me I was trespassing.”

The board said in a statement that Peebles’s dismissal signaled “a new day for Jericho.”

“While this decision was not made without prayerful consideration and patience, it became clear that this action was necessary to protect Jericho and move forward,” the statement said. “Steps taken today will ensure an orderly transition that will continue to provide thousands of people from across the region the opportunity to participate in worship, school and other services that are a vital part of our Church and community.”

But the issue seems far from settled. Wednesday evening, hundreds of members converged on the church, demanding to be let into the locked sanctuary and Peebles’s reinstatement. Many in the crowd spoke in tongues or wailed during an impromptu vigil at the time they normally attend Bible study.

“All the work he’s done, and they are trying to kick him to the curb like this?” one woman shouted. “The devil is alive!”

Said another: “We don’t have time to talk. We need to get on our knees and pray!” The woman asked that everyone in the crowd fast on behalf of Peebles.

At one point, Bobby Henry, a lawyer and member of the church, addressed the crowd, saying that Peebles was nearby but forbidden to enter the church grounds. The throng moved toward the street, where Peebles addressed them from the public sidewalk, promising that victory would be theirs and admonishing them “not to hate” those responsible for barring him from the church.

“I want to share with you that we will be having church. We will be having church,” he told the members. “We’re gonna have church here. We’re going to have church everywhere. . . . Nobody will never stop the people of God from worshiping God. . . . We’re going to stand as a church. A church is not a building. The building is simply a tool where people” can worship.

Referring to a large inscription on the church building that says, “Jesus is Lord,” he added: “Until it says, ‘The board is Lord,’ I don’t think we have to go anywhere!”

A woman in the crowd shouted, “We’re going where you go!” Others followed suit:

“We go where you go!”

Peebles’s firing is the latest development in a controversy that began just after Betty Peebles’s death in October 2010. The issue has been control of the church’s massive assets: a 10,000-seat sanctuary, a senior citizens’ complex, schools and a lucrative agreement to provide parking for Washington Redskins home games.

Board members contend that Betty Peebles thought her son needed additional training before taking the reins. Joel Peebles said his mother wanted him to succeed her.

“I preached by my mother’s side every Sunday,” Peebles said in a previous interview. “I preached at 8 a.m. and was by her side when she preached at the 11 a.m. service.”

Henry called Wednesday’s dismissal “another attempt by Satan” to interfere with Peebles’s work. “He has preached every Sunday. He has negotiated and signed $88 million in loans and other things to help establish this ministry,” Henry said.

A source familiar with the controversy said the board decided to fire Peebles because the two sides had not been able to agree on managing the church. Both sides claimed victory after a court hearing on Monday.

The source pointed to statements, made by Peebles, that were posted on a Web site referring to “Joel Peebles Ministries,” an entity he started after a judge ordered that the board had authority over church operations. Deana Bass, a publicist for Peebles, said the Web site was started by supporters of Peebles who have filed suit on his behalf. She said he enjoys support from many members who have been upset by the board’s treatment of him, Henry and several others who have been fired.

An attorney for the board declined to comment.

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