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Stoval Weems

Stovall Weems sues ARC, Chris Hodges, Dino Rizzo Over Megachurch Takeover

Pastor Stovall Weems was the pastor of Celebration Church in Jacksonville, Florida until he was ousted from his role for alleged financial impropriety. The resignation came with a lawsuit filed in local court against the church. Now he has filed lawsuit against Chris Hodges, Dino Rizzo, John Seibeling, and the Association of Related Churches (ARC).

In the 2022 lawsuit, Weems alleges that a trustee, Kevin Cormier, was actually the one who committed financial impropriety upwards of hundreds of thousands of dollars, and that his appropriate response led to retaliation against him ultimately forcing him out of the church he founded. A detail mentioned in the 2022 lawsuit appears to be the bridge:

Pastor Stovall learned from Pastor Tim and ARC President, Gregg Surratt, that Kevin Cormier convinced others to participate in Pastor Stovall’s wrongful ousting in blatant violation of the Church’s procedural requirements regarding Overseers or an investigation.

Whereas in 2022, Weems argues that he was the victim of retaliation after confronting Cormier, the latest lawsuit alleges that ARC and related personnel participated in ousting Weems because of his focus on missions and not unbridled church growth strategies.

Defendants were consumed by greed and the desire to advance their own financial and business interests when they deliberately targeted Pastor Weems and those closest to him because he rejected their unbridled church growth model and was focused on missionary work and developing supporting businesses that Defendants perceived as a significant threat to their economic interests.

Weems also alleges damages over $100 million.

Using ARC’s significant influence and power as a vehicle to facilitate and conceal their nefarious scheme, Defendants intentionally caused substantial financial and other irreparable harm to the Plaintiffs through a pattern of unlawful and often criminal acts that included extortion, bribery, psychological abuse, wire fraud, and computer crimes which ultimately caused over $100 million in damages.

Evidently, Stovall Weems had built a megachurch nearing 20000 people, according to his complaint. However, Weems grew disillusioned with church growth strategies.

In 2018, Pastor Weems came to the realization that Celebration Church had become too “corporate” and focused on generating attendance and revenue and needed to concentrate on helping the poor, missionary work, equality, and simplifying the church by creating alternative revenue streams that would make the church less donation dependent.

Pastor Weems also came to recognize that the modern church growth system and its constant pressure to grow attendance and generate more and more revenue to keep the corporate “machine” running was having significant negative psychological and health impacts on pastors, who needed counseling, guidance, and treatment to recover from the adverse effects of the growth model that Defendants are at the forefront of promoting.

However, Weems had his own zany alternative to the church-growth movement:

The plan for this vision included the following:

  1. a retreat and outpatient facility for pastoral care—Honey Lake Farms—and an adjoining medical clinic—Honey Lake Clinic, Inc.—that would provide Christian mental health treatment services, the revenue from which would be used to build out and support Honey Lake Farms’ mission;
  2. a for profit corporation—NorthStream—designed to provide centralized and shared management services to Celebration Church and numerous other churches that enabled church leadership to focus their attention on ministry and missions rather than operational aspects of their churches; that would also develop Restorative Community Developments (RCD’s1 ), the first of which was Honey Lake Farms; and
  3. a separate entity—AWKNG, Inc.—which would act as a hub for the restorative/ministry programing used at Honey Lake Farms, a theology school, missionary partnerships, media operations, and other similar endeavors.

It was in these projects that Cormier was alleged to have embezzled funds of which Weems was ultimately removed for.

Lawsuits in the church

Weems has provided substantive answers to the objection to the lawsuits. The main reasoning he provides is that crimes have been committed and therefore the this falls under the civil magistrate’s domain and not the church.

Conclusions

Weems has maintained a rather consistent story across two lawsuits and criticizes the Evangelical Industrial Complex in the process. Big Eva is oft known for some elaborate games, and perhaps this is one of them. It would seem there is more to Weems than yet another “disgraced” megachurch pastor as some are making him out to be.

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