Posts Tagged “north carolina”

In this 2012 photo provided by a former member of the church, Word of Faith Fellowship leader Jane Whaley, center, holds a baby with others during a church ceremony in Spindale, N.C. From all over the world, they flocked to a tiny North Carolina 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. (AP Photo)It’s been awhile since I blogged about the sorry crew which is the Word of Faith Fellowship in Spindale, NC. In their case, it’s not quite true that “no news is good news.” Far from it! The Associated Press has continued digging into their affairs, and reports on a scheme the church’s leadership cooked up (Archive.Is cached article):

When Randy Fields’ construction company faced potential ruin because of the cratering economy, he pleaded with his pastor at Word of Faith Fellowship church to reduce the amount of money he was required to tithe every week.

To his shock, Fields said church founder Jane Whaley proposed a divine plan that would allow him to continue contributing at least 10 percent of his income to the secretive evangelical church while helping his company survive: He would file fraudulent unemployment claims on behalf of his employees. She called it, he said, “God’s plan.”

The scheme went like this: Companies owned by Whaley’s parishioners would pretend to lay off employees, allowing them to file for unemployment, but they would continue working at those companies. The business would have workers, but no payroll. For them, it must have been an amazing boon.

But if you’re smart, like me, you immediately knew the gaping hole in this plan … at least, for the employees:

The former congregants said that not only were they coerced into continuing to work while collecting unemployment, the money fell short of what they needed to pay their bills.

“The unemployment checks never equaled what you were making,” said [Rick] Cooper, who worked for Diverse Corporate Tech Inc., a manufacturing company owned by church leader Kent Covington.

“I was making about $700 a week, but I only collected $235 a week in unemployment,” Cooper said. “So I’m working the same hours — many times, much longer hours — for less. It was devastating for my family.”

Church members were expected to keep tithing regardless of their financial situations and Whaley kept close tabs on “who was giving what,” Cooper said.

The AP reports beatings were doled out for anyone who didn’t cooperate, along with separating people from other parishioners and even family members. Yeah, nice, huh?

All in order to keep tithes coming in from business owners who were having financial problems. Tithes, to a church which is part of the religion founded by a man who supposedly taught the virtues of poverty, and specifically — and explicitly — taught his followers not to amass money and never concern themselves with it:

  • “Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy, and where thieves break in and steal. But store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys, and where thieves do not break in or steal; for where your treasure is, there your heart will be also. … No one can serve two masters; for either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and wealth.” (Matthew 6:19-21, 24)
  • Jesus said to him, “If you wish to be complete, go and sell your possessions and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, follow Me.” But when the young man heard this statement, he went away grieving; for he was one who owned much property. And Jesus said to His disciples, “Truly I say to you, it is hard for a rich man to enter the kingdom of heaven. Again I say to you, it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle, than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of God.” When the disciples heard this, they were very astonished and said, “Then who can be saved?” (Matthew 19:21-25)
  • Looking at him, Jesus felt a love for him and said to him, “One thing you lack: go and sell all you possess and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, follow Me.” But at these words he was saddened, and he went away grieving, for he was one who owned much property. And Jesus, looking around, said to His disciples, “How hard it will be for those who are wealthy to enter the kingdom of God!” The disciples were amazed at His words. But Jesus answered again and said to them, “Children, how hard it is to enter the kingdom of God! It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of God.” They were even more astonished and said to Him, “Then who can be saved?” (Mark 10:21-26)
  • And He sat down opposite the treasury, and began observing how the people were putting money into the treasury; and many rich people were putting in large sums. A poor widow came and put in two small copper coins, which amount to a cent. Calling His disciples to Him, He said to them, “Truly I say to you, this poor widow put in more than all the contributors to the treasury; for they all put in out of their surplus, but she, out of her poverty, put in all she owned, all she had to live on.” (Mark 12:41-44)
  • And turning His gaze toward His disciples, He began to say, “Blessed are you who are poor, for yours is the kingdom of God.” (Luke 6:20)
  • “But woe to you who are rich, for you are receiving your comfort in full.” (Luke 6:24)
  • “Sell your possessions and give to charity; make yourselves money belts which do not wear out, an unfailing treasure in heaven, where no thief comes near nor moth destroys. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.” (Luke 12:33-34)
  • “No servant can serve two masters; for either he will hate the one and love the other, or else he will be devoted to one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and wealth.” (Luke 16:13)
  • When Jesus heard this, He said to him, “One thing you still lack; sell all that you possess and distribute it to the poor, and you shall have treasure in heaven; and come, follow Me.” But when he had heard these things, he became very sad, for he was extremely rich. And Jesus looked at him and said, “How hard it is for those who are wealthy to enter the kingdom of God! For it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of God.” They who heard it said, “Then who can be saved?” (Luke 18:22-26)
  • “To the angel of the church in Laodicea write: … ‘Because you say, “I am rich, and have become wealthy, and have need of nothing,” and you do not know that you are wretched and miserable and poor and blind and naked, I advise you to buy from Me gold refined by fire so that you may become rich, and white garments so that you may clothe yourself, and that the shame of your nakedness will not be revealed; and eye salve to anoint your eyes so that you may see.'” (Revelation 3:14a, 17-18)

(If those aforementioned Bible verses sound familiar, that’s because I cribbed them from a much-longer article I wrote, discussing many Biblical teachings that most Christians have refused to obey.)

Some participants in this scheme cooperated with the state’s investigation, even though risk being prosecuted for unemployment fraud themselves. I wonder what else the AP is going to uncover about these people?

Photo credit: Associated Press.

Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Comments Comments Off on AP Reveals Unemployment Scam Run by “Abuse Church” in NC

Word of Faith Fellowship Church grounds in Rutherford County, N.C. / CBS affiliate WSPAI just blogged about the case involving North Carolina’s “abuse church,” Word of Faith Fellowship in the little town of Spindale. But only a short time later, the trial of one of the abusive pastors imploded … and as CBS News reports, it happened in remarkable fashion (WebCite cached article):

A judge held a juror in contempt and declared a mistrial Tuesday in the case of a North Carolina church minister charged in the beating a congregant who says he was attacked to expel his “homosexual demons.”

Superior Court Judge Gary Gavenus immediately sentenced the juror, Perry Shade Jr., to 30 days in jail and a $500 fine. Gavenus said the juror brought in three documents, including one related to North Carolina law, but it wasn’t the right law pertaining to the charges in the case.

Gavenus said he had warned the jurors not to bring in outside material.…

[Word of Faith minister Brooke] Covington was the first of five church members to face trial in the case. Each defendant will be tried separately. Covington’s trial began May 30.

And that’s not all, either:

Chad Metcalf, 35, was brought to Gavenus in handcuffs after he allegedly told the jury in a hallway to reach a verdict. Deliberations had begun Monday.

“I take this very seriously,” Gavenus told Metcalf.

The juror who was held in contempt was the same one who reported Metcalf’s comment to the judge.

Gavenus said Metcalf could face 39 months in prison and set a $100,000 bond.

This case was years in the making, given that indictments were first handed down in December 2014 (and likely had been the result of no short amount of proceedings) … so I expect it’ll take several years more for a retrial to take place — if they even have one. The fix really was in, where Word of Faith was concerned; as the Associated Press’s investigation showed, some area prosecutors were members of the church who actively helped shield them from prosecution. It also doesn’t take rocket science to understand that North Carolina is a Bible-belt Bobble Bayelt state, and I’m sure the good ol’ boys who run it aren’t any too happy about having to prosecute a fundamentalist church over its practices (in this case, literally beating the demons, devils, whatever out of people).

Photo credit: WSPA-TV, via CBS News.

Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Comments Comments Off on NC Abuse-Church Trial Implodes

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.

Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Comments Comments Off on More Fallout from Word of Faith Fellowship Abuse Exposé

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.

Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Comments 1 Comment »

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.

Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Comments 1 Comment »

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.

Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

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

My Guitar (lil' Backie)I blogged about the gay oppression “religious freedom” laws recently passed in North Carolina and in Mississippi. Christianists in both states are ecstatic that they now have additional legal weapons to use against a class of person they despise. But there’s been something of a backlash. Businesses, for example, are boycotting both states.

But things ramped up when two famous rockers canceled shows in those states. Bruce Springsteen canceled a concert in Greensboro, NC (WebCite cached article), and Bryan Adams canceled another in Biloxi, MS (cached).

As one would expect, the Religious Right is none too pleased about any of this. They view these counter-measures as a vile attack upon their beliefs and, in turn, their persons. They remain steadfast in their refusal to bend, and they continue to press the lie that these laws promote “safety.” For example, as The Hollywood Reporter explains, an NC Congressman went after Springsteen over his Greensboro cancelation (cached):

A U.S. congressman who represents portions of Greensboro, N.C., is accusing Bruce Springsteen of being a “bully,” after the rock star canceled a concert there to protest a new law that’s being described as anti-gay.

“It’s disappointing he’s not following through on his commitments,” said Rep. Mark Walker, a Republican freshman congressman.…

“Bruce is known to be on the radical left,” continued Walker, “and he’s got every right to be so, but I consider this a bully tactic. It’s like when a kid gets upset and says he’s going to take his ball and go home.”

Walker explains the reasoning behind this law:

“I choose to stand with our sheriffs, who support this bill, which doesn’t target the LGBTQ community; it targets imposters,” said Walker. “It’s a little crazy to think sexual predators wouldn’t be devious enough to pull something off if they were free to go into any bathroom they want.”

There are some problems with this rationalization. First, just because sheriffs support a bill doesn’t automatically make it a good law. Second, there are already laws against “sexual predators” and this one does nothing to stop any of them (since, unless police are posted at restroom doors to prevent entry, it can be enforced only after-the-fact, and by that time a true sexual predator could already have attacked someone). Third, this justification assumes that transgender folks are “sexual predators” in disguise, which isn’t generally true. Yes, I suppose a criminal might pose as transgender, but how often does that really happen? Can Walker or anyone else show it’s common enough to merit such a law? I haven’t seen any statistics along these lines, just a lot of innuendo and slander against gays and transgender folks.

Oh, and it’s nice how Walker dismisses Springsteen as a “radical leftist” and a “bully.” He doesn’t seem to realize his own fellow Religious Rightist movement is, in its own way, also quite “radical” and guilty of a lot of “bullying” of its own. What a fucking hypocrite! I hope he understands his own Jesus explicitly forbid him ever to be hypocritical, at any time or for any reason.

Photo credit: Wikimedia Commons.

Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Comments Comments Off on Rockers Take on Christianists Over “Religious Freedom” Laws