“Since at least 2019, the Weemses’ leadership of the Church has been inconsistent and unbiblical,” says the report. “Stovall Weems failed to effectively define and communicate the Church’s purpose, failed to properly administer the organization, nominate Overseers, oversee Church staff, and ensure the Board’s directives were met effectively and efficiently. Instead, Weems has acted erratically, creating a culture of confusion and disarray that has hindered the Church from effectively carrying out its mission.” The authors go on to say,
Worse, Weems’ leadership was marked by rampant spiritual and emotional abuse, including manipulation, a profound sense of self-importance and selfishness, superiority and entitlement, overbearing and unreasonable demands on employees’ time, a lack of accountability or humility, demands of absolute loyalty and compliance, public shaming and humiliation of employees, coercion, shunning, gaslighting, and the creation of a culture of fear and intimidation in which it was not safe to disagree with Weems.
One woman who spoke to investigators said she was expected to be available at all times to answer texts and had to plead for at least an hour a day break. Another witness said that Stovall Weems told him to purchase a bottle of bourbon on Weems’ behalf in the middle of the night because the pastor did not want to be seen publicly buying liquor.
“Many witnesses described intense personal anguish and pain caused by working for the Weemses,” say the authors. “One witness expressed an inability to return to church—any church—due to crippling anxiety and panic attacks.” Employees who disagreed with Weems describe being shunned and isolated.
The investigation found that the Weemses lived a life of “entitlement and self-importance.” They had specific expectations for how staff should serve them food and beverages, went on exotic vacations in private charter flights, and owned multiple homes the report’s authors refer to as “mansions.”
The ‘Encounter’ of Stovall Weems
One notable section of the report involves a spiritual experience Stovall Weems claims to have had that investigators refer to as the “Encounter.” In 2018 during a Passover Seder service, Weems says he was transported to the Last Supper and that Jesus spoke to him, telling the pastor about God’s will for him and his wife on earth. The report does not make a judgment as to whether or not this experience was real, but states, “Most witnesses recall that event was the catalyst for dramatically changed behaviors and actions by the Weemses in the following years.”
Witnesses who saw the Weemses at home following the Encounter describe Stovall Weems behaving strangely, “visibly shaking and sobbing.” Kerri Weems, who has a history of clinical depression, was so disturbed by her husband’s conduct that she was suicidal. What’s more, says the report, “For months following the Encounter, Weems struggled to form words or communicate effectively. He was disengaged in business meetings with staff and cried frequently.”
In the time that followed, Stovall Weems would use the Encounter as a way to claim divine authority over his actions and to resist anyone who wanted to contradict him. The experience was the basis for Weems deciding to transition leadership of the church to Tim Timberlake without consulting anyone else, not even his wife, before making that decision. Say the authors, “The absence of any communication or coordination surrounding this handoff was the genesis for an extremely disorganized and disruptive transition, which ultimately culminated in this investigation.”
‘Deceptive’ Financial Dealings
Weems’ leadership was erratic and controlling, leading to the operations of the church spiraling out of control and increasing tension between the Weemses and the Board. The report describes at length Stovall Weems’ financial mismanagement of Celebration Church and its ministries in a variety of areas.
One involves a parsonage that the couple sold to the church, making $430,000 in profit; another involves the church’s second PPP loan. According to the report, when Celebration Church requested and received a second PPP loan for $1,106,400, Weems used the loan for none of its federally approved purposes, thereby preventing the church from receiving forgiveness of the loan.