Home Christian News Judge Dismisses Defamation Lawsuit Filed Against Celebration Church by Former Pastors

Judge Dismisses Defamation Lawsuit Filed Against Celebration Church by Former Pastors

stovall and kerri weems
Screenshot from Instagram / @stovallweems

A Florida judge has dismissed the defamation lawsuit filed by former Celebration Church pastors Stovall and Kerri Weems on the grounds that the suit concerns an ecclesiastical matter and is therefore outside the court’s jurisdiction.

“As pled, these claims would require this Court to impermissibly examine the inner workings of Celebration Church, including the church’s internal financial policies and bylaws, as well as as the duties and actions of Pastor Weems,” said Judge Marianne Lloyd in her ruling. “Because the Plaintiffs’ claims on their face as currently written require this Court’s involvement in ecclesiastical, doctrinal matters, neutral principles of law cannot be used to consider the issues at hand. As such, this Court DISMISSES WITHOUT PREJUDICE the Plaintiffs’ complaint.”

Cases dismissed without prejudice may be brought again at a later date.   

Stovall and Kerri Weems vs. Celebration Church

In January 2022 Celebration Church in Jacksonville, Florida, suspended Stovall and Kerri Weems, who helped found the church in 1998, and commissioned an investigation into their leadership. On Feb. 23, the Weemses filed a lawsuit for injunctive relief against Celebration, making requests that included the restoration of their base salary, benefits and back pay and the restoration of the status quo to what it was prior to the suspension. 

Celebration Church responded with a motion to dismiss the injunction, alleging the Weemses were conducting “a campaign of deception, manipulation, distraction, and abuse of power” against the church. On April 15, Stovall Weems resigned from his roles at the church and accused Celebration of abandoning “the clear biblical principles and scriptural qualifications for spiritual covering, spiritual authority, and ecclesiastical governance and oversight.”

On April 24, Celebration released the findings of the investigation on Stovall and Kerri Weems, a 22-page report which found the Weemses guilty of fraud, narcissism and “rampant spiritual and emotional abuse.” The couple responded on May 28 by filing a defamation lawsuit claiming that the church’s intention in conducting the report was to “destroy Plaintiffs’ livelihood and reputation, discredit them, publicly humiliate them, punish them, and try to prevent them from continuing their ministry anywhere else.” The Weemses have in fact been continuing ministry since leaving the Celebration Church. They have launched Stovall Weems Ministries and also post spiritual reflections on Instagram. 

After the Weems’ filed their defamation suit, Celebration Church sued to evict the couple from a property the church owns.

News 4 Jax reports that this eviction case is still in the works, as is a suit filed by First Citizens Bank against the Weems to recoup over $716,000 in debt.