The ongoing feud between the board of elders of the Detroit World Outreach Christian Center Church in Redford Charter Township, Michigan, and Charisse Gibert, widow of the megachurch's late Pastor, Benjamin Gibert, over who should take the helm left vacant by his death took a shocking turn Tuesday when the church claimed the pastor did not want his wife to succeed him.
The claim comes just two days after the elders had pastor Charisse arrested during the church's worship service on Sunday.
"It's documented and Bishop Ben made it very clear in writing that Dr. Charisse was not the assistant pastor. Her role was defined as assistant TO the pastor, directed by him alone. He explained that she was not bishop when Bishop Ben was away. This is in a written document from him," DWO elder, Pastor Gael Wallace, said in a recorded statement Tuesday.
The elders who said they were forced to handle the dispute publicly due to the behavior of their late pastor's widow, further explained why he did not want his wife to succeed him as leader of the church.
"These instructions came from our bishop after the board of elders had received complaints from members about Dr. Charisse. The investigation concluded that she had breached confidential matters discussed with a member for the purpose of godly counsel and biblical guidance. She also failed to handle objectively an offense meeting concerning a racial discrimination complaint involving a family member," elder Marvin Wilder said.
"She retaliated against a member for expressing a decision to leave the church and she publicly provided defamatory, negative or improper shortcomings of staff or other volunteers in public and private meetings, among other things," he added.
The elders explained that after an investigation was conducted into Pastor Charisse's conduct, the agreed "unanimously" with her late husband "to remove Dr. Charisse from overseeing operations ... and remove her as assistant pastor."
"It was during this period when Bishop Ben clarified Dr. Charisse's role at DWO and stated that she was not the assistant pastor of DWO. Bishop Ben did request that the elders not remove her from the website as co-pastor. This was done specifically to prevent inquiry from members or embarrassment to Dr. Charisse following her demotion," Wilder said.
The dispute between the elders of the 5,500-member megachurch and Charisse exploded in the public arena Sunday morning when the one-time first lady was arrested and escorted from the building in handcuffs in the middle of worship.
Dramatic video of her arrest, which she also shared with her followers, shows multiple officers walking into the 8 a.m. worship service. It's unclear from the video whether there was some effort from church members to prevent the arrest during the worship service, but officers appeared to have a discussion with members of the church as Gibert lifted her hands in worship. She then walks toward the pulpit at the church as praise singers kept ministering. Police officers, however, followed after her and arrested her as the church members watched.
In their statement on Tuesday, however, the elders said the arrest was purposefully orchestrated by Charisse to manipulate church members.
"Understand that it was never our desire to see her removed. As stated in our previous video. She was asked not to come on the premises after she made repeated interruptions in our order of service for several weeks. We sent her a letter on April 19, through her attorney, asking her not to attend service until this matter had been resolved," Wallace said.
Wilder explained that the police had also warned Charisse about attending the church.
"We know she received the letter because she responded in correspondence dated Friday, April 21. In that letter she defiantly stated that she would attend service despite our request. When she appeared on Sunday, April 23, the police escorted her off the property during the 8 a.m. service. She complied and was advised that if she returned it would result in her arrest," Wilder said.
"She (Charisse) planned an alternative service on Saturday, April 29. She also scheduled a service for Sunday, April 30. But despite those things she defied our request again and appeared after the police admonished her not to do so. She came to disrupt the service on Sunday, April 30, despite our previously planned guest speaker. Her appearance was solely for the purpose of making a public display. She purposely rushed to the altar for members to publicly witness her arrest," Wilder charged.
Bishop I.V. Hilliard, senior pastor of the 28,000-member New Light Christian Center Church in Houston, Texas, and presiding prelate of the Association of Independent Ministries, has condemned the arrest of Charisse Gibert at the church as "appalling" and stated his support for her as the one to succeed her late husband.
"Bishop Ben was a very dear spiritual son of mine whose wife, Pastor Charisse, served along with him helping him to fulfill his pastoral responsibilities during the very challenging health situations he endured. Pastor Charisse prayed for members, preached and taught until he could return to the pulpit after several extensive hospital stays. It does appear that God has placed this capable, anointed woman of faith in the hearts of many of the DWO family who want her as pastor, who are faithfully supporting her and I applaud all of them," Hilliard said.
"In light of the recent hostile affairs at DWO, I'm asking all the pastors of our AIM fellowship, of which I am presiding prelate, those who are friends of my ministry, those who respect my integrity and long standing commitment to righteousness, to prayerfully support Pastor Charisse during this season. It is my plan to come to the city of Detroit real soon to attend the newly established DWO Saturday worship service to openly show my support," he added.
While not mentioning Hilliard by name, elder Wallace said she was disappointed by the open show of support for Charisse.
"On a personal note, something that has been very disappointing to me is that there are men who truly loved and respected Bishop Ben, they are encouraging his widow to do things that are potentially unlawful at the risk of bringing more pain to her and to our family. This to me has been one of the most disappointing aspects of a very painful time. It's my prayer that the truth of God and not emotion will direct our steps in the days to come. We all desire to bring honor to the memory and the legacy of Bishop Ben," Wallace said.