A multimillion dollar ministry in the Washington, D.C. metropolitan area is getting closer to a schism as its congregation worshipped in two different locations this past Sunday.
Jericho City of Praise, located in Landover, Md., had around 3,000 of its members worship at a nearby hotel while several hundred held services at the sanctuary itself, showcasing the divide of support between its recently dismissed pastor and the staff that fired him.
Pastor Joel R. Peebles, son of the two founders, led a service at the ballroom of the Metro Points Hotel in New Carrollton after being ousted from Jericho by the Board of Trustees of Jericho Baptist Church Ministries, Inc. Meanwhile, in the Landover sanctuary, two services were held with an estimated 300 in attendance.
While both sides have their interpretations of events, both agree that the issues began to erupt after the death of Peebles' mother, Dr. Betty P. Peebles, who co-founded the church in 2010. The Board argued that before becoming ill, the late Dr. Peebles had entrusted the affairs of Jericho to the Board, whereas Peebles argued that his mother would have wanted him to be in control.
Legal battles ensued, including a decision in July 2011 in which a judge from Prince George's County Circuit Court blocked Peebles from collecting money at Jericho's services, an amount estimated by one lawyer to be around $300,000 a month.
Last Wednesday, the Board voted to remove Peebles from his office, citing as reasons his running of a for-profit enterprise in the church and his refusal to cooperate with the Board's leadership.
"Elder Peebles attempted to operate a for-profit company from the Church. This action is a clear violation of IRS 501(c)(3) regulations and threatened the very existence of Jericho, and the Board was forced to act," said the Jericho Board in a statement.
"Since the passing of Apostle Betty P. Peebles, the Board has made innumerable efforts to reach out to and work with Elder Joel Peebles. These efforts have been consistently rejected."
In response to the decision, Peebles organized a rally outside the church building, protesting his removal from his position as well as the added decision to strip him and several others of their membership.
Supporters of Peebles argued that the Board dismissed the pastor not because of his lack of cooperation or running of a for-profit, but rather because of the self-interests of some of the Board members.
On her website Darnella Moore, Blog Talk Radio Show host who identified Jericho as her "church home," said she believes that the Peebles family should remain in control of the megachurch.
"In spite of their rise to mega-church status in ministry, they have always been and remain the most touchable and approachable Pastors I have ever met in the Kingdom of God," Moore wrote.
"Such is the reason I remain at The City of Praise under the leadership of the Peebles' servant leadership and legacy, because like his awesome parents, Pastor Joel is indeed one of those Kingdom treasures and Generals on the battlefield for God's glory as opposed to his own!"