EDITOR’S NOTEBOOK: Lawsuits Galore, Violence Against Pro-Lifers, and Problems at the IRS
Editor’s Note: Most Saturdays we will feature this “Editor’s Notebook” column. MinistryWatch President Warren Smith will comment on one or more stories in the week’s news, adding an additional perspective or, sometimes, a behind-the-scenes look at how the story came to be.
The Lawsuits Are Flying. I’ve lost count as to how many lawsuits there are involving former Celebration Church pastor Stovall Weems. At least three, that I know of, though one of them was settled recently.
Weems and his wife Kerri have settled with First Citizens Bank after a claim stating they defaulted over $700,000 in unpaid debt. Weems owed over $600,000 of that debt for their nonprofit Honey Lake Farms Inc., a 565-acre hunting preserve with exotic animals and a 5,000-square-foot lodge. Last month, an attorney for the bank filed a notice stating First Citizens was voluntarily dismissing the suit due to an amicable settlement.
However, Celebration Church launched an investigation over concerns that Weems breached his fiduciary duties to the church. A 22-page report accused Weems of fraud and said he “unjustly” enriched himself at the expense of the church through a series of deals and purchases. The report claimed his conduct brought Celebration “to the brink of insolvency” and listed the church’s unpaid accounts receivable at more than $3.3 million.
Following Weems’ resignation from all roles at Celebration in April, the couple filed a defamation lawsuit against his former church. In it they claimed the church’s report that Weems committed “rampant spiritual and emotional abuse” along with fraud slandered his character.
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Celebration filed a lawsuit on June 1 seeking to remove the couple from a million-dollar estate they claim the Weemses purchased last summer as a parsonage without authorization from the church’s board. The suit said although the Weemses have no property rights, title, or interest, they continue to live on the property after Weems’ resignation and refuse to pay rent or vacate the premises.
At the risk of piling on here, it seems appropriate to note that Scripture has strong warnings against Christians suing each other in the civil courts. The most obvious is in I Corinthians 6. Our own Kim Roberts (who is a lawyer herself), has written about the topic here. I commend both scripture and Kim’s article to you if you want to dig more deeply into this topic.
Is It A Conspiracy? A Buffalo, N.Y., pregnancy resource center, CompassCare, incurred over $500,000 in damage to its facility. A pro-abortion group called Jane’s Revenge claimed responsibility.
But the center said it has received little help from local, state, and federal law enforcement so it will conduct its own investigation in conjunction with the Thomas More Society, a Roman Catholic public interest law firm in Chicago. The goal of the investigation is to look at all violent events at pregnancy centers across the country, estimated to be 78, and find any commonalities. Then they will use the evidence found to file a civil suit. —
Tom Brejcha is president of the Thomas More Society. Brejcha also said they are still waiting on reports from the investigators, but early reports indicate the same actors are carrying out the violent attacks around the country.
Using civil lawsuits in situations where criminal charges are not filed or have failed to produce a conviction is not new. You may remember that O.J. Simpson was acquitted of murder, but a civil trial found him “personally responsible” and a jury ordered him to pay $33.5 million.
That said, this is something of a novel approach. We’ll be watching.
Whither Form 990s? MinistryWatch has been reporting on problems at the IRS since at least last April. Now a new investigation by ProPublica finds that at least a half-million Form 990s are backlogged. The delays, which began two years ago, are a huge blow to transparency because they prevent the ability of the public and oversight groups such as MinistryWatch to evaluate the nation’s tax-exempt companies.
The problem is getting so severe that state charitable enforcement officers are sounding the alarm. In November, the National Association of State Charity Officials sent a letter urging the IRS to address backlogged 990 data releases.
The letter said: “For charity regulators, the Form 990 series not only helps ensure transparency and accountability, but also provides vital information for state investigations into potential fraud and misuse of charitable resources. It is critical that the availability of that data be timely.”
In a statement, the IRS said it is “making progress” and aims to resume posting the information soon. “This is an important tool, and the IRS is committed to keeping information up-to-date on the site to help taxpayers and others who use the data,” a spokesperson said.
But if that statement sounds pretty non-specific, it is. And it’s not the first time the IRS has made a promise it wasn’t able to keep. IRS Commissioner Charles Rettig stated to the House Oversight Committee in March 2022, “As of today, barring any unforeseen circumstances—COVID, etc.—and if the world stays as it is today, we will be what we call ‘healthy’ by the end of 2022 and enter the 2023 filing season with normal inventories.”
It’s now obvious that this prediction wasn’t even close to coming true.