Five members of Word of Faith Fellowship (WOFF) in Spindale, North Carolina, have been indicted on kidnapping and assault charges for allegedly attacking and beating a fellow church member, who is gay.
Matt Comer at QNotes reports that a grand jury on Tuesday indicted Justin Brocke Covington, Brooke McFadden Covington, Robert Louis Walker, Jr. and Adam Christopher Bartley on second-degree kidnapping and simple assault charges. Sarah Covington Anderson was also indicted on second-degree kidnapping, simple assault and assault by strangulation charges.
The indictment stems from allegations made by Matthew Fenner, 21, who said church members attacked him because he is gay. On January 27, 2013, Fenner was allegedly threatened with confinement for two days, slapped, strangled and verbally assaulted to “free” him from “homosexual demons.” Fenner, a former church member, said as many as 15-20 men his age assaulted him, screaming and shaking him, punching his chest and grabbing his head while telling him to repeat certain phrases.
“I honestly thought I was going to die,” Fenner told WSPA News.
Fenner also claims local officials did not take his allegations seriously at first, and hesitated to let him file a complaint.
WOFF has faced numerous accusations of abuse and cult-like behavior over the three decades in Rutherford County, N.C. Most recently, in 2012, church member Michael Lowry alleged he was attacked and confined because of his sexual orientation. His allegations spurred a Department of Justice hate crime investigation, and he was placed under FBI supervision. Lowry later recanted his story but now says he was coerced into recanting.
The church has a long and controversial history. It was the subject of a 1995 Inside Edition exposé, which first revealed church practices, including “blasting,” which involves members surrounding another member suspected of demonic possession and screaming to exorcise the demons. Children, as well as adults, were subjected to the sometimes hours-long practice, which at times involved tying them to chairs. The Department of Social Services and the State Bureau of Investigations examined the allegations, but found no wrongdoing.
Josh Farmer, the church’s attorney, told WSPA News that the accused members are innocent of the charges and “we look forward to proving their innocence and to their complete vindication before a trial court. We are adamant that no one ever physically harmed Mr. Fenner. … The church does not target members who are gay.”