Church denies ‘gay demon’ attack
A north Carolina church – The Word of Faith Fellowship in Spindale – has been forced to post a statement on its website following indictments brought against one of its leaders and four members who allegedly kidnapped, beat and strangled 21-year-old Matthew Fenner, above, to cleanse him of ‘gay demons’.
The statement from the cult-like church’s founders – Pastors Sam and Jane Whaley –reads:
We are deeply saddened by the allegations being made by Matthew Fenner. We love Matthew and have always been a church that has loved everybody, because God is love. What Matthew claims was done to him is absolutely not true and we would never allow something like that to happen. The outlandishness of Matthew’s story continued to grow and it is clear that he has been influenced by several individuals who have vowed to destroy our church.
We ask for your prayers until we are vindicated. It’s a shame how people believe lies over the truth, which is causing these five precious people to have to fight to prove their innocence and clear their name. Again we ask for your prayers.
The church’s accuser, according to this report, is a UNC Chapel Hill pre-med student who says he left the Word of Faith after being assaulted for more than two hours after a Sunday night service.
In an affidavit, Fenner alleges that in January 2013, a church leader, her adult children and some 20 other Word of Faith members repeatedly punched, shook and knocked him down to expel what they felt was Fenner’s “gay demon”.
He said he also was strangled at one point. Fenner said the episode left him bruised and fearing for his life.
His allegations closely track those made by former church member Michael Lowry in October 2012. Lowry said he was beaten and held against his will at the church as members tried to rid him of a “gay demon”.
The church leader indicted is Brooke Covington, 56, of Rutherfordton, above right, who is the daughter of church founders Sam and Jane Whaley (pictured above.) She faces a felony charge of second-degree kidnapping and a misdemeanor charge of simple assault. Covington’s children, Sarah Anderson, 27, and Justin Covington, 20, both of Rutherfordton have also been indicted.
Anderson faces felony charges of second-degree kidnapping and assault by strangulation, along with simple assault. Justin Covington was indicted on second-degree kidnapping and simple assault charges.
The indictments are the latest chapter in Word of Faith’s stormy 35-year existence in the North Carolina foothills. Church leaders say they have created a spiritually and financially thriving community that includes 15 nationalities and missions in several parts of the world.
Word of Faith also aggressively defends itself in court, claiming to have spent millions of dollars in legal fights with local governments or to defend its leaders and members against criminal charges and in custody battles.
Its accusers in Rutherford and surrounding counties say Word of Faith is a cult that dominates its followers’ lives, breaks up families and wrecks lives.
Said Brent Childers, executive director of the Hickory-based nonprofit Faith in America, a frequent critic of Word of Faith:
Churches are free to preach against homosexuality and sinful behavior … but members of a church clearly cross the line if they target an individual with physical, emotional and psychological abuse because of their sexual orientation.
In his affidavit, Fenner says he was a church member for three years when the attacks “to break me free of the homosexual demons they so viciously despise” took place. At one point, Anderson grabbed him by the throat, then shook and beat him, Fenner said.
Before the two-hour incident ended, as many as 25 church members had taken part.
I really didn’t think I was going to get out of there. I thought I was most likely going to die.
He said he escaped from the church the next night.
Hat tip: M Dolon Hickmon