Judge dismisses defamation suit brought by former pastors against Celebration Church

Stovall and Kerri Weems in legal battle with church since early 2022

Celebration Church file photo.

JACKSONVILLEThis story has been updated to include a statement issued Wednesday, Oct. 5, 2022 from a spokesperson for Stovall Weems.

A judge has dismissed a defamation lawsuit brought forth by the former pastors of Celebration Church, one of the largest churches in Northeast Florida, ruling that the court does not have jurisdiction over ecclesiastical matters.

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

The Weemses said the church trustees staged a “nefarious coup” to push them out. They said the church then defamed them through the publishing of an internal investigation that included allegations of fraud, financial misconduct and emotional and spiritual abuse against Stovall Weems.

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

The complaint also said Weemses were entitled to recover damages.

In addition to ruling that the court does not have jurisdiction over ecclesiastical matters, the judge also said the Weemses weren’t specific enough when stating which language from the church report was defamatory, but rather referred to paragraphs by number. (Statement from Stovall Weems’ spokesperson below)

The Weemses said the people interviewed for the church report are “known to be biased” against them, including “individuals with axes to grind” and witness to private situations and conversations inside the Weemses’ home, who were subject to non-disclosure agreements.

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

Stovall Weems said the problems really began when he confronted a church trustee over financial misconduct. Stovall Weems said that trustee was improperly billing the church for construction-type services at one of its properties. Stovall Weems said that trustee turned the others against him and lead to his ouster.

Stovall Weems resigned from his positions at Celebration Church in April 2022 and has since launched Stovall Weems Ministries. He and Kerri Weems have hosted gatherings at a facility in Mandarin and also online gatherings.

There is a separate eviction case ongoing between Celebration Church and the Weemses. Celebration served the couple with an eviction notice to get them out of the home where they reside on Black Hammock Island. The church bought the home from Stovall Weems and said because he no longer works at the church, he should not be living there. The Weemses’ defamation suit said that property was a retirement home for Stovall Weems and was never intended to be parsonage.

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

A statement on the ruling from a spokesperson for Stovall Weems was issued Wednesday. It reads:

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

Listed below is the motion to dismiss.