New Destiny Christian Center, the Florida megachurch founded by the late Zachery Tims, has responded to a lawsuit filed by Tims' ex-wife, who helped found the ministry 15 years ago.
In a public statement released Friday, NDCC said it wishes the best for Riva Tims and her ministry, but that she has no legal grounds to make claim over the church.
"Obviously, we are saddened by the course of action Pastor Riva Tims as chosen to pursue. Her lawsuit is completely without merit and we are extremely confident in our legal standing," the church said in its statement.
Tims revealed during a press conference in Florida Thursday that she had filed a lawsuit against NDCC challenging its appointment of Paula White as the new senior pastor. White, who currently leads Without Walls International Church in Tampa, was officially announced as the Apopka megachurch's new leader just hours before Tims revealed her intention to fight for the ministry she and her former husband founded over a decade ago.
During the press conference, Tims compared that struggle for New Destiny's future to the biblical account involving two mothers fighting over a single baby in King Solomon's court.
"I am here today to declare that as founder of New Destiny Christian Center that I am the real mother," said Tims, insisting that she should be made senior pastor of the church.
Ms. Tims and her attorney insist that church by-laws make her the heiress apparent to New Destiny, a claim that church administrators deny.
New Destiny insisted in its statement: "Pastor Riva willingly signed legal documents releasing all claims over New Destiny Christian Center and left our church to begin her own ministry, literally just a few miles away."
Ms. Tims' church, Majestic Life Ministry, is located in Orlando and was founded in 2009, when she and Zachery Tims divorced. Ms. Tims claims she was forced to leave New Destiny in the wake of the divorce.
New Destiny vowed in its statement that it will "take all actions necessary to protect our church, its ministry and its reputation."
"As a co-founder of our church, she will always be loved and respected, but we are moving forward now with our new Senior Pastor, Paula White, and our focus is solely on the bright future of service and ministry that is ahead for our church. This lawsuit will distract us from that mission. We wish Pastor Riva well in her service to Christ and we will continue to pray, as we always have, for the success of her ministry."
Zachery Tims was found dead in a New York City hotel room on Aug. 12. He was 42. The cause of his death has not been made known to the public.
Ms. Tims, who has four children with the late Pastor Tims, reportedly said New Destiny was their legacy, inheritance and heritage.
She previously revealed that she had tried to meet with New Destiny's Board of Directors and with White, who had been working closely with administrators since Tims' death. But she was turned away, she said.
The Orlando Sentinel reports that Tims' lawsuit seeks an injunction against New Destiny to prevent White from being named as its pastor and alleges that the Board Directors and White conspired to "control, monopolize and manipulate" the selection of a new pastor. Tims also claims in the lawsuit that White is unfit and incompetent to take charge of New Destiny due to the minister being $26 million in debt in 2006. New Destiny reportedly has more than $4 million in assets.
New Destiny plans to officially present White to congregants, many of whom have expressed disagreement with the board's decision, as its new senior pastor during a special New Year's Eve service Saturday. White will begin her duties beginning Jan. 1, according to church officials.
"Pastor Paula was selected after an exhaustive process conducted by the NDCC Board of Directors in close cooperation with the church’s Board of Regents," NDCC said in a Thursday statement. "Pastor Paula will serve as a non-voting member of the Board of Directors and will be subject to the oversight of the Board of Directors and the Board of Regents. Her focus will be on preaching and ministering to our church family."
The church noted that White was chosen, after much prayer, because the minister understands NDCC's history, has a close relationship with its members and staff and knows "the heart of our senior founder." White, whom the board says has "served as a mother to the leadership and body of New Destiny for 15 years," has referred to Tims as her "spiritual son." NDCC's board believes the evangelist will honor the vision and legacy Tims had put in place.