Members wage their own Battle of Jericho

November 2, 2011

Members of Jericho City of Praise in Landover say they are taking their cues from the Bible’s Old Testament book of Joshua in staging a seven-day protest to support their pastor, Joel R. Peebles, who last week was barred by a Prince George’s County court from handling the church’s finances.

Hundreds of members converged on the church parking lot at dusk Tuesday, prompted that afternoon by a simple message on Facebook: “Occupy Jericho at 6:30.” They marched around the blue-and-white church, singing, dancing and praying out loud, similar to the biblical account of the Battle of Jericho. Afterward, they rallied inside the 10,000-seat sanctuary.

The members are demanding that the court ruling last month, which turned over control of the church’s administration and finances to a board of trustees and effectively deposed Peebles, be rescinded, and that the board be disbanded and Peebles be put in charge.

Peebles, 41, the church’s assistant pastor, is the sole surviving son of Bishop James R. Peebles, who died 15 years ago, and the Apostle Betty Peebles, who ushered the church into its place as a nationally known multimillion-dollar ministry conglomerate. Her death last year sparked a battle for control between Peebles and its six-member board.

Tree Walters, 45, head of the audio ministry and one of the protest organizers, said members took to Facebook weeks ago to express their frustration. “Someone asked ‘What can we do?’ and someone said, ‘Let’s go to church tonight,’ ” Walters said.

Coletta Webster, 43, who has attended Jericho since 1994, defended her pastor: “They are portraying that he is in it for the money, and he is not like that,” she said. “He is a wonderful pastor and really loves the members of the congregation.”

Webster, like several protesters, said she bears no animosity toward the board, some of whom gathered in the church’s administrative offices during the protest. She said she believes both sides are motivated by a desire to help the church, but that she also believes “the apostle would never support Joel Peebles not being in control of Jericho.”

The protest comes after church elders last week were mailed a copy of Betty Peebles’s trust, which dispenses her assets and outlines her final wishes. In the trust, she bequeathed money to several of her grandchildren, as well as members of the board of trustees. She left money for the establishment of a youth center to bear her name and allotted a large part of her estate to her son.

She also ordered Joel Peebles to submit to spiritual teaching under the authority of Michael Freeman, pastor of the Spirit of Faith Christian Center in Temple Hills. In a section entitled “Joel’s Spiritual Tutelage,” she says her son should be required to attend one to two years of pastoral instruction under Freeman’s guidance, including attending and completing biblical studies at a seminary or Bible institute of Freeman’s choosing. He would not be required to earn a doctoral degree, but the tutelage time could be extended if he needed more time to get a doctoral divinity degree, the trust says.

Isaac H. Marks, attorney for the board, said the trust is proof that Betty Peebles believed that her son needed additional training before taking the helm of the church. Gloria McGruder, who heads the board, said Tuesday night, “We are working with Elder Joel to try to iron out everything so we can continue to save souls here.”

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