Posts Tagged “demons”

Word of Faith Fellowship Church grounds in Rutherford County, N.C. / CBS affiliate WSPAI’ve already blogged about the Word of Faith Fellowship church in Spindale, NC which was the subject of a series of Associated Press stories.

In addition to some North Carolina prosecutors (who were also members of the church, and one a relative of its leaders) being reviewed for having helped prevent Word of Faith from being fully investigated through the years, there’s been a little more fallout. As the Associated Press reports, a county social worker — also a member of the church who may have helped shield them from accountability — has resigned from her job (WebCite cached article):

A veteran social worker accused of coaching congregants and their children on what to say during a 2015 child abuse investigation of her secretive religious sect has resigned, an attorney for a child welfare agency said Friday.

Andrea Leslie-Fite said Lori Cornelius left her position at the Cleveland County Department of Social Services.…

[North Carolina State Bureau of Investigation] spokesman Patty McQuillan said Friday the agency isn’t currently investigating Cornelius or the Rutherford County Division of Social Services. But she said that could change.…

In its ongoing investigation, the AP has reported that the 2015 social services investigation included complaints that students at the church-run K-12 school were encouraged to beat classmates to cast out devils. Former members also said Cornelius coached children on what to tell investigators with the help of assistant prosecutors Frank Webster and Chris Back. Back is the son-in-law of sect leader Jane Whaley.

That DSS probe ended with no charges.

The abuse this church inflicted on people was all about devils:

Victims of the violence included pre-teens and toddlers — even crying babies — who were vigorously shaken, screamed at and sometimes smacked to banish demons, according to on-the-record interviews with 43 former members. Those interviewed said congregants also were subjected to a practice called “blasting” — an ear-piercing verbal onslaught often conducted in hours-long sessions meant to cast out devils.

Yes, let’s torture people in order to drive out devils (or demons or ghosts or poltergeists or whatever-the-fuck)! Why, of course it makes total sense that incorporeal beings can be harmed that way. Obviously!

Photo credit: WSPA-TV, via CBS News.

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Rutherford Cty (NC) Court House / via North Carolina Court System Web siteIt seems officials in North Carolina finally awakened to the idea that maybe … just maybe! … there’s been a little corruption going on, surrounding abuses at the Word of Faith Fellowship Church in the town of Spindale. The Associated Press’s coverage of this story continues, with a report that there might be a corruption investigation (WebCite cached article):

A district attorney has asked the state to investigate two assistant prosecutors after an Associated Press story that quoted former congregants of a North Carolina church as saying the men derailed criminal probes into allegations of abuse by sect leaders.

David Learner said Wednesday that he wants the State Bureau of Investigation to look into the accusations against his employees, who are members of the evangelical Word of Faith Fellowship church.

The AP story, released Monday, cited nine former Word of Faith members who said Frank Webster and Chris Back provided legal advice, helped at strategy sessions and participated in a mock trial for four congregants charged with harassing a former member.

The ex-congregants also said that Back and Webster, who is sect leader Jane Whaley’s son-in-law, helped derail a social services investigation into child abuse in 2015 and attended meetings where Whaley warned congregants to lie to investigators about abuse incidents.

As the AP reported and I’ve blogged, Word of Faith believes in beatings and other kinds of abuse as a way of exorcising demons and devils. Or at least, that’s their rationale for the abuse.

It’s nice, I suppose, that there might be a probe into Webster and Back, but really, I’m not confident it will go far. This is, after all, a Bible Belt (er, Bobble Bay-elt) state, where churches are sovereign, and no one questions them much. So this might die on the vine, just as past investigations into Word of Faith’s affairs did.

Photo credit: North Carolina Court System.

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Photo from Word of Faith FellowshipThe Associated Press continues to report on the vile shenanigans that have gone on at the Word of Faith Fellowship church in Spindale, NC, which I blogged about just a few days ago. I wondered, when I first posted on the subject, how and why this church was able to continue doing what it’s been doing for decades, unaffected by the North Carolina legal system. Well, this latest AP report explains why. The fix, it seems, was in (WebCite cached article):

At least a half-dozen times over two decades, authorities investigated reports that members of a secretive evangelical church were being beaten. And every time, according to former congregants, the orders came down from church leaders: They must lie to protect the sect.

Among the members of the Word of Faith Fellowship who coached congregants and their children on what to say to investigators were two assistant district attorneys and a veteran social worker, the ex-followers told The Associated Press.

Frank Webster and Chris Back — church ministers who handle criminal cases as assistant DAs for three nearby counties — provided legal advice, helped at strategy sessions and participated in a mock trial for four congregants charged with harassing a former member, according to former congregants interviewed as part of an AP investigation of Word of Faith.

Back and Webster, who is sect leader Jane Whaley’s son-in-law and lives in her house, also helped derail a social services investigation into child abuse in 2015 and attended meetings where Whaley warned congregants to lie to investigators about abuse incidents, according to nine former members.

Yeah, that’s right. This church employed all its legal connections to derail prosecutions, for example:

According to nine former members interviewed by the AP, at least five other congregants who are lawyers participated in or were present during coaching sessions designed to circumvent investigators.

Back and Webster also helped sabotage a Rutherford County Department of Social Services investigation in 2015, according to Jeffrey Cooper’s brother, Chad Cooper, an attorney who said he attended a church meeting convened to undermine that probe.

Chad Cooper, who left the church last year, said also participating in the meeting was Word of Faith member Lori Cornelius, a longtime social services worker assigned to a nearby county.

Cooper said social services personnel were investigating complaints that students were beating classmates at the church-run K-12 school to cast out devils, and that teachers, including Whaley, encouraged the violence.

There’s more — a lot more! — to this story, which is much longer and more substantial than the AP’s earlier piece (cached). I urge you to read it … all of it. It shows how, as with the Roman Catholic Church and its “priestly pedophilia” scandal, this church used its status as a religion, and its deep connections to the region and the legal system, to ensure it was, effectively, above the law. But the interference went beyond just church members who were attorneys and social workers (which, by itself, is quite bad enough). Brad Greenway, for a time District Attorney of Rutherford County — and who is not a member of this church — was quick with excuses for why he couldn’t prosecute at least one case:

Asked why he didn’t do more — especially since he said he believed people were being beaten — Greenway said, “I don’t know what you’re expected to find if you went there. You’d find a building. … Are you going to find shackles? Handcuffs?”

Greenway said outsiders don’t understand what it’s like to try to make a case against the church.

Here’s my paraphrase of Greenway’s whine: “Boo hoo hoo! It’s just too hard to develop a case! There was nothing <sniff> I could do! It was all <snuffle> just so hopeless! We had no choice <sniff> but to let a church we knew was abusing people <sniff> continue doing so! Boo hoo hoo!” Any DA who can’t make a case when s/he knows there’s one, should just fucking resign and let his/her betters take over the job. (Which may be why he’s no longer in that position.)

But actually, it appears Greenway was much more sympathetic to Word of Faith Fellowship than just unable and unwilling to make a case. As the AP explains, he actually tipped them off to key developments:

One of the former congregants interviewed by AP, attorney Jeffrey Cooper, also said that … Greenway … leaked information to him and other church lawyers about a 2012-2013 grand jury investigation he was conducting into the church.

Greenway told the AP that he talked to Cooper and other church attorneys about the investigation, but couldn’t recall specifics of the conversations. But he denied supplying the church with “inside information.”

He acknowledged, however, that when asked by Cooper and church attorney Josh Farmer “something about ‘What are you going to do? What do you think is going to happen’…I might have said, ‘We’re going to the grand jury.'”

Look, I get it. This is the Bible Belt (er, the Bobble Bay-elt) where churches are sovereign … just as R.C. hierarchs were (and often still are) sovereigns. No one messes with a church, even when that church is messing up people really badly. They’re all godly outfits, you see, so it must be just fine. Right?

Photo credit: Word of Faith Fellowship Web site.

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Comments Comments Off on Corrupt Local Officials Protected Abusive NC Church

Word of Faith Fellowship Church grounds in Rutherford County, N.C. / CBS affiliate WSPAThe American South isn’t called “the Bible Belt” for nothing. Churches pervade the area, and range in size from megachurches with tens of thousands of congregants, to tiny little backyard shacks that host services for just a couple families. Some of those churches, especially those that call themselves “non-denominational,” can get pretty weird. And I’m not just referring to charismatic or “holy roller” churches … those are weird, too, to be sure, but in Bible Belt terms they’re almost mainstream. No, by “weird” I mean downright cult-like, in ways that most Southern churches aren’t.

One of those cult-like outfits is the Word of Faith Fellowship in rural Spindale, NC. The Associated Press spoke with former members and published a story outlining outrageous abuse that had been meted out to some congregants (WebCite cached article):

From all over the world, they flocked to this tiny town in the foothills of the Blue Ridge Mountains, lured by promises of inner peace and eternal life. What many found instead: years of terror — waged in the name of the Lord.

Congregants of the Word of Faith Fellowship were regularly punched, smacked, choked, slammed to the floor or thrown through walls in a violent form of deliverance meant to “purify” sinners by beating out devils, 43 former members told The Associated Press in separate, exclusive interviews.

Victims of the violence included pre-teens and toddlers — even crying babies, who were vigorously shaken, screamed at and sometimes smacked to banish demons.

As part of its investigation, the AP reviewed hundreds of pages of law enforcement, court and child welfare documents, along with hours of conversations with Jane Whaley, the evangelical church’s controlling leader, secretly recorded by followers.

The AP also spent more than a year tracking down dozens of former disciples who scattered after leaving the church.

Several former followers said some congregants were sexually abused, including minors.

This cultish church, of course, denies all of this:

But hours after the AP’s stories were released, the church posted a statement on its website calling the allegations false and contending they were made by “certain former members” out to target the church.

The problem with this is, the abuse was substantiated by sources independent of what people simply claimed had happened. They were backed up by recordings, law enforcement reports, etc. So it’s not just some people’s word against theirs.

A lot of these abusive practices appear to be predicated on the notion that people’s problems are caused by demons and/or devils, which can be driven out by the abuse. This is, of course, medieval thinking … but sadly, it’s still all too common in 21st century America.

Rather shamefully, though, as the Friendly Atheist points out, this isn’t the first time Word of Faith has been caught abusing its congregants. Its vile tactics were reported on as long ago as 1995. And in 2014, some Word of Faith operatives were charged with beating a man in an effort to drive the gayness out of him (cached). So none of this is really news. What I expect will happen, now, is what happened all those other times … i.e. Word of Faith will go back to being the abusive cult it’s always been, and local authorities in North Carolina will look the other way. After all, dey gotsta drive dem dere demons out!

Photo credit: WSPA-TV, via CBS News.

Hat tip: Friendly Atheist.

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Comments Comments Off on AP Runs Exposé on Abusive Church in NC

King Arthur II concept art 4Most of my readers have never been part of fundamentalist Christianity. As such, they’re unaware of fundies’ very strange — and supernaturally-saturated — worldview. As a former fundie myself, I’m familiar with it, but unless you’ve been part of it, it can be difficult to comprehend. This worldview is predicated on the presumed reality of the supernatural and preternatural, with powerful and infernal forces at work in the world, actively trying to destroy the godly and saintly.

Yes, I realize this is actually a very primitive mindset, one that made sense in ancient times, when nature wasn’t very well understood. Indeed, it probably did — way back when, in prehistory — seem as though invisible metaphysical agents were at work in the world. It’s a philosophy that seems downright bizarre now that we have a much better idea of how the world works. Yet, fundies cling to it — fiercely, and even angrily. And it explains a lot of what they say and do.

Take, for example, retired Army officer Robert Maginnis, who made this pronouncement on disgraced televangelist Jim Bakker’s show (WebCite cached article):

He even said that he had “personally met” with witches [cached] who told him that they are advising high-ranking government officials in Washington, D.C. “I know that there’s demonic forces in that city,” he said. “I have personally met people that refer to themselves as witches, people that say they advise the senior leadership of the country.”

Yeah, as though any of these people Maginnis says he “met personally” actually walked up to a Christofascist like him and said, “Hey, Bob, just want you to know, I’m a witch!” I’m sorry to have to say it, but this guy is clearly spewing bullshit.

And that, my friends, is the problem with this sort of thinking. It’s easy to make up all sorts of tall tales about witches and demons and devils and all that assorted horse-hockey, because it’s all metaphysical and non-demonstrable anyway. As long as Maginnis never provides the names of any of these supposed “witches” who’re working with “demonic forces,” there’s no way anyone can even begin to confirm any of his B.S.

To be clear, however, there’s no such thing as a witch, nor are there any demons or devils. Satan exists solely as a literary character, in works such as the book of Job and Paradise Lost.

Photo credit: Wikimedia Commons.

Hat tip: Friendly Atheist.

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#CharlieCharlieChallenge Vine screenshot / via USA TodayMost of my readers will, no doubt, already have heard of something called “the Charlie challenge” (or perhaps more correctly, “the Charlie Charlie challenge”). Apparently this is something teens must do to entertain themselves, because … I guess … the poor little things just don’t seem to have any other entertainment options left (I mean, it’s not like they have TV, radio, video games, Netflix, Youtube, Twitter, Facebook, or any of thousands of other outlets to occupy their time).

In case you don’t know what I’m talking about, the idea is to line up two pencils in a cross formation, one balanced on the other, with “yes” and “no” marked in the quadrants they border, then talk to them (and to some putative Mexican demon), flip out when they move on their own, then post videos of all this on the Internet to impress one another. Or something.

I don’t quite get it, but then I’m a curmudgeonly old guy who’s just not “hip” enough to understand the importance of it. Or something.

At any rate, this supposed paranormal game is getting a lot of play in the mass media. I guess reporters are bored, too, and have run out of stories to investigate. Or something. Here, for example, is a piece by USA Today on this topic (WebCite cached article); here’s Time magazine’s story on it (cached); and here’s CNN’s piece on the subject (cached). All of this constitutes yet another example of the “paranormal as news” trope that’s infected journalism for a number of years. Yawn.

The usual suspects have lined up to declare that the Charlie challenge is, in fact, the supernatural (or maybe more precisely the preternatural) at work, and have taken to whining and bellyaching about it, warning teens not to partake. For example, a Catholic priest has ordered people to avoid it, calling it “a dangerous game” in which demons truly are summoned (cached).

There are so many things wrong with all of this, I hardly know where to begin. First of all, contrary to the legend that accompanies “the Charlie challenge,” there’s no “Charlie” demon in Mexico (cached). People in Mexico, who speak Spanish for the most part, would give their legendary demons Spanish names, like “Carlos,” instead. Second, there’s no such thing as a demon … nor is there any Satan, or devils, or anything else of the sort. They do not exist — period.

Third, the supposed “paranormal” effect is rather easily explained, in a mundane fashion, using conventional science. The (UK) Independent, among other outlets, goes into it (cached) … although I suspect those who truly believe in the paranormal aren’t going to buy that it’s merely “gravity” doing it. They’ll just insist it couldn’t possibly be anything that simple … because, you see, they were there, and simply “know” it couldn’t be!

I suppose a skeptic like myself could perform a test, by setting up the pencils — without markings and without the required incantation/question — and then see what the pencils do on their own. But I doubt any “true believers” would really care about the results of that test. Yeah, they like to whine and gripe that skeptics are “closed-minded” and won’t just take their word for the bullshit they fabricate; but ironically they, themselves are “closed-minded” to any possibility that their paranormal B.S. might be invalid. Hmm.

Photo credit: #CharlieCharlieChallenge Vine screenshot / via USA Today.

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Demon of CalicutMost believers think that adhering to their metaphysical notions — whatever they might be — is virtuous. It somehow makes them better people, superior to others, even. Or something. I’m still not clear as to how that works, exactly, but they’re convinced of it, and they just love telling everyone so. The problem is, their beliefs can and do have some terrible ramifications. Take, for example, this report from the Associated Press via the Washington Post, about a Virginia father who killed his little daughter because of his metaphysics (WebCite cached article):

A Virginia man who said his 2-year-old daughter was possessed by a demon has been sentence to more than 20 years in prison for her death.

Thirty-year-old Eder Guzman-Rodriguez was sentenced Monday in Floyd County after pleading no contest to first-degree murder. His daughter, Jocelyn, was found dead in November 2011.

Prosecutors say Guzman-Rodriguez told police that his daughter had a demon inside of her and that he had attempted to exorcise her of the demon.

But this conflicts with other information the father had provided:

According to Shortt’s summary of the evidence, Guzman-Rodriquez told police that a “bad spirit” had entered him. He said that he saw his daughter gesturing to him, as if she wanted to fight and that he punched her “over and over” with his bare hands, Shortt said.

So, was the baby possessed, or the father? In the end, no one can say. Until someone provides objective, verifiable evidence to the contrary, I must assume neither was possessed. Nevertheless, I guess it was necessary to kill the baby. Or something.

I note that, when police arrived, there were some other people there, holding Bibles. It’s not clear if they played any part in Guzman-Rodriguez’s exorcism attempt; the article doesn’t say — possibly because the police never were able to make any determination. They very well could have arrived after the deed. I certainly hope they weren’t involved in Jocelyn’s murder.

Hat tip: Doubtful News.

Photo credit: Wikimedia Commons.

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