A judge’s ruling Monday, placing the church’s management in the hands of a board of trustees chosen by Betty Peebles — and without her youngest son and assistant pastor — means that Jericho’s governance has fallen out of family hands for the first time since the church’s founding in 1962.
News of the decision spread through the 19,000-member congregation faster than the 10 plagues through Egypt. Publicly, it was business as usual for Peebles, who posted a message to members over the church’s Web site that was removed a few hours later. Privately, he was making plans to challenge Prince George’s County Circuit Court Judge Dwight Jackson’s order.
“There will be an appeal,” said his special assistant, Deana Bass, adding that Peebles was continuing the work he has always done.
Meanwhile, the board of trustees moved forward with business that had stalled during the months-long legal battle, said Isaac H. Marks, the trustees’ attorney. Sources familiar with the imbroglio said that Peebles and the trustees huddled Wednesday to try to secure a $29 million bank loan. Church officials have been concerned that the controversy would affect the church’s ability to borrow if lenders think that Jericho’s leadership is fractured.
Marks said that board members hope Peebles will continue to serve as assistant pastor. “We fully expect that he will work in conjunction with the board,” he said.
In an interview in July, Peebles, who did not respond to interview requests this week, talked about the importance of his family’s role in the megachurch. Jericho, which started as a gathering of men and women in the basement of a public housing complex in Northeast Washington, now claims as assets a 10,000-seat sanctuary, a senior citizens complex, a business park, a college, a school and a lucrative deal to provide parking during Washington Redskins games. Peebles said his mother, who died of cancer a year ago at age 76, trained him to eventually take over the church’s management.
“My family started this church,” he said. “I came up in this church. It is my responsibility to oversee this church, and that is what my mother wanted.”
Some members wondered privately whether Peebles will remain at Jericho or leave to found another church. Supporters criticized the board’s move to strip Peebles, 42, of what they see as his birthright. Detractors said that Betty Peebles’ not naming her son as the church leader when she knew she was gravely ill indicated that she did not want him to head the church.