UPDATE: A statement made by the plaintiffs in a previous version of this story has been removed. The Post has found that the statement,which said that the Circuit Court opinion allowed “six defendants who admitted under oath to committing fraud, theft and forgery to remain in control of a Maryland Mega-church” is not an accurate reflection of the facts. The story has also been updated to include a statement from the defendants.
A multimillion-dollar mega church in Landover is rightfully controlled by a board of directors, not the son of the ministry’s co-founder, a Prince George’s County Circuit Court judge ruled Tuesday.
Judge Dwight Jackson’s ruling was a blow to the supporters of Bishop Joel R. Peebles, former pastor of Jericho City of Praise, who had argued that the current board of trustees had wrongly appointed themselves to lead one of the largest churches in the Washington area.
The church was thrown into turmoil in 2010 when Apostle Betty R. Peebles, the founder of the church, died and the board of directors began to take control of the congregation from her son. Ever since then, Joel Peebles and his supporters have argued that the board of directors- Gloria Magruder, Clifford Boswell, Denise Killen, Dorothy Williams, Clarence Jackson and Linda Plyes - had wrongfully installed new leadership.
Several of those supporters- Roderick Chavez, Barbara Jackson, Tremilo Walters, Charlease Logan and Bessie Ashworth- brought an injunction against some of Betty Peebles’ closes aides charging that while Peebles was ill they “failed to hold mandatory elections,” to legitimately govern the church as trustees.
In granting summary judgment, Jackson wrote that matters of church leadership and membership are the church’s prerogative. “It has long been established that ecclesiastical questions are to be determined by the churches and their appropriate tribunals, including matters relating to membership in the church, and their decisions are not reviewable by the Civil Courts.”
The Board of Trustees, in a statement, said that the lawsuit had been a waste of taxpayer time and money. “This Board of Trustees always has been committed to conducting the matters of Jericho in a responsible manner consistent with the way we were trained by Apostle Betty Peebles,” the statement read. “We have and will continue to abide by the laws of Maryland. We hope that this decision will discourage future complaints that are without merit, a drain on court resources and a distraction from our mission of ministry.”
In a letter to his congregation, Joel Peebles said that there are several more legal matters to be settled and the case is far from over.
“While the legal system has its twists and turns, the ways of Christ aids us in our steadfastness,” he wrote. “While this recent case is being sent for appeal and the three remaining cases are on the road to victory, let us continue our standards of unyielding love and forgiveness.”
Jackson’s decision is the latest development in a controversy that began just after Betty Peebles’s death more than three years ago. The issue has largely been over 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.