Judge dismisses defamation lawsuit brought by former pastors against Celebration Church

JACKSONVILLE – A judge dismissed a defamation action presented by the former pastors of Celebration Church, one of the largest churches in northeast Florida, ruling that the court lacks jurisdiction over ecclesiastical matters.

Stovall and Kerri Weems have been locked in a legal battle with the church they founded in 1998 since the start of this year.

The Weems said church administrators staged a “nefarious coup” to evict them. They said the church then defamed them by releasing an internal investigation that included allegations of fraud, financial misconduct and emotional and spiritual abuse against Stovall Weems.

The Weems’ complaint said the report could expose them to “hate, contempt, ridicule and disgrace”. He also said that Stovall and Kerri Weems “suffered humiliation, mental anguish, emotional distress and embarrassment as a direct result of Celebration Church’s false and defamatory story and statement.”

The complaint also stated that Weemses was entitled to recover damages.

In addition to ruling that the court lacks jurisdiction over ecclesiastical matters, the judge also said the Weems were not specific enough when indicating which language of the church report was defamatory, but instead referred to paragraphs by number.

The Weems said those interviewed for the church report are “known to be biased” against them, including “individuals with axes to grind” and witnesses to private situations and conversations inside the home of the Weems, which were subject to non-disclosure agreements.

RELATED: I-TEAM: Ex-Celebration Pastor’s ‘Office Hospitality Cheat Sheet’ Outlines Daily Instructions

The church’s investigative report alleged Pastor Weems improperly spent $100,000 on a PPP loan for a risky digital investment called TurnCoin. He denied the allegation and said the money was used to help pay for payroll and other eligible expenses during the pandemic.

Stovall Weems said the problems really started when he confronted a church administrator for financial misconduct. Stovall Weems said the trustee was incorrectly billing the church for construction-type services at one of its properties. Stovall Weems said the trustee turned others against him and led to his ousting.

Stovall Weems resigned from his duties at Celebration Church in April 2022 and has since launched Stovall Weems Ministries. He and Kerri Weems held rallies at a facility in Mandarin and also online rallies.

There is a separate eviction case pending between Celebration Church and the Weems. Celebration gave the couple an eviction notice to get them out of the house where they reside on Black Hammock Island. The church bought the house in Stovall Weems and said that as he no longer works at the church he should not live there. The Weems’ libel suit said the property was a retirement home for Stovall Weems and was never intended to be a parsonage.

Celebration Church has been under the leadership of Pastor Tim Timberlake since September 2021. Timberlake has been named to succeed Stovall Weems, so he can transition into a “global pastor” role and focus on other initiatives.

Celebration Church released this statement to the News4JAX I-TEAM in March 2022:

Below is the motion to dismiss.

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