Posts Tagged “north carolina”

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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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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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.

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Help! Help! I'm being repressed! (Dennis the constitutional peasant, Monty Python & the Holy Grail)By now most of my readers will have heard about the passing of North Carolina’s “bathroom law” a couple weeks ago (WebCite cached article), and yesterday’s signing of an anti-LGBT law in Mississippi (cached). The Religious Right has marketed laws of this type — along with a similar law in Georgia that was vetoed (cached) — as providing “religious freedom” to a downtrodden minority that’s about to be wiped out by the vile forces of secularism. They erupted in the wake of the Supreme Court decision in Obergefell v. Hodges (2015), which made gay marriage available nationally. Ostensibly, these laws are intended to prevent forcing anti-gay florists, bakers, and caterers from being hired to work gay weddings. That, you see, would be a horrible form of oppression that they simply can’t tolerate. I guess. Oh, the poor little things!

These two particular laws, however, go further than just doing that … much further. The North Carolina law, for instance, is known as “the bathroom law” because it requires transgender people in government buildings to go to bathrooms corresponding to the gender on their birth certificates (cached). The Mississippi law appears to have been so broadly worded that it allows any business to discriminate against gays, not just for their weddings, but any time (cached).

What makes the NC law stupid is that, even in public restrooms, it shouldn’t really matter which one someone goes into; ordinarily no one is fully exposed while they’re “doing their business.” So it’s quite possible for transgender people to go into a restroom, use it, and leave without anyone being any the wiser. In other words, then, does it really fucking matter which bathroom a transgender person uses? Also, it’s stupid because it can’t be enforced without police having access to people’s birth certificates so they can verify which facility someone must legally use. School officials might have these in the case of students, but it wouldn’t be the case for everyone who uses a restroom in a government building.

What makes the Mississippi law objectionable is that it could easily make gays into second-class citizens, barred from businesses that don’t like them. If enough of them in a community should do this, it could make gays’ lives very difficult. One can’t help but view this sort of thing as being akin to the “Jim Crow” laws used to oppress blacks, just a few decades ago.

The problem with all of this is its basic premise, which is that the Religious Right is entitled to meddle in others’ private lives, because they have metaphysical beliefs about how everyone should live. Obergefell v. Hodges, among other things, forces them to have to treat people whom they disapprove of as though they were fellow human beings — and they just can’t stand that for even one second.

Look, I’m all for “religious freedom,” but granting religious believers power over the lives of others — in the name of granting them “freedom” — just isn’t going to fly. “Religious freedom” applies to believers’ churches and homes. It’s not a license to impose their metaphysics on everyone else.

I get that religious florists, bakers and caterers don’t like having to work gay weddings. But in truth, flowers, cakes, and meals don’t make weddings happen! The couple, their witnesses, and the officiant make a wedding happen. Everything else is superfluous. That there are flowers, or a cake, or a dinner makes no difference whatsoever. The couple will end up just as married without them, as with them. So gay-hating florists, bakers and caterers withholding their business, isn’t going to stop gay weddings from occurring. For believers to think they have not only that power, but the right to exert it, is arrogance of the highest order — not to mention, a delusion. Florists, bakers, and caterer are in the business of arranging flowers, baking cakes, and catering receptions. They should do so, and stop sniveling and whining about gays getting married, fercryinoutloud.

But even with all of that having been said … the aforementioned folks are only the tips of the icebergs in North Carolina and Mississippi. As I noted, both of the laws just passed do a lot more than just “protect” florists, bakers and caterers from having to work gay weddings. Additional provisions were thrown in, with the intention of making gays’ lives much worse, overall. It’s time the Religious Right grow the fuck up, admitted that they hate gays and LGBT folks simply because they’re gay or LGBT, and stop acting as though their hatred is holy. Their mischaracterization of their own motives and wishes makes them lying liars for Jesus. I wonder what he’d have to say about that? It’s possible that what he might tell them isn’t something they want to hear … !

Photo credit: Graphic based on Monty Python & the Holy Grail.

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Veracicat has checked your facts and is not impressed with your lies. (PsiCop, based on original from quitor.com: http://www.quitor.com/cat-with-glasses.html)In case you hadn’t heard by now — and I assume most of my readers have — gay marriage is suddenly legal in a number of states (WebCite cached article). Naturally, this has brought the insanity out of the Religious Right, who just can’t tolerate the idea that gays should actually be allowed to live normal lives. I can hardly hope to catalog all the wingnutty craziness that has, and will, erupt from them over it. That would be impossible. Only Google has a data center with enough storage for that!

But I can report on one particular paranoiac reaction that defies history. It comes from the Bible Belt (er, Bobble Bay-elt) state of North Carolina; the Asheville Citizen-Times reports on some GOP functionaries’ reaction to a gay-pride flag flying over City Hall (cached):

A decision allowing that a two-story rainbow flag be flown at City Hall had more to do with supporting civil rights than jumping into political conflict over same-sex marriage, Mayor Esther Manheimer said Friday.…

Former City Councilman Carl Mumpower and Chad Nesbitt, a former chairman of the Buncombe County GOP, said council violated state open meetings law by not holding vote during an official meeting in public.…

Nesbitt and Mumpower in their statement included a depiction of a Nazi flag flying from City Hall.

“I am equating their methods with the Nazi movement,” Mumpower said. “They are indifferent to the rule of law and indifferent to the vote of the people. And that’s Adolph Hitler all over again in a different disguise.”

This is where I find it necessary to call a big fucking time out.

First, if the best these sanctimoniously-enraged good ol’ boys can come up with is to trot out an old reductio ad Hitlerum, their argument was over as soon as it began. The Right bellowing appeals to Hitler and the Nazis every time they’re confronted by something they don’t like, is exceedingly childish, and it’s long since gotten old. These guys desperately need new material — and fast.

Second, gay rights advocates absofuckinglutely are not Nazis, no matter how much one hates them. It’s not hard to understand why this is the case. It’s because, as I’ve blogged before, details matter. They have not taken over the federal government and then: 1) outlawed all other political parties; 2) nationalized state governments; 3) deployed their own militia out to control the streets; 4) abolished labor unions; or 5) arrested their opponents en masse and imprisoned them in concentration camps … just to name a few of the specific things the Third Reich did.

Third, Hitler and his minions in the Nazi party were certainly not friendly to gays. There is no goddamn fucking way they’d ever have flown a gay-pride flag over anything. Quite the opposite, they despised gays in every possible way! Gays were among those whom they first rounded up and imprisoned, then exterminated (along with Jews, Dom/Romani, and other minorities). One of the pretenses for Hitler killing Ernst Röhm, his head of the SA (i.e. the Sturmabteilung or “brownshirts”), was that he was gay. To suggest the Nazis might have done anything in support of gays, is contra-factual and idiotic.

Because of all this, I’m placing Mumpower and Nesbitt in my “lying liars for Jesus” club. I’m sure they’ll be happy to end up there, surrounded by lots of their fellow Christofascists who likewise have hurled ad Hitlerums around in ridiculous and juvenile fashion.

I’ve said it before and will say it again: I get it. Really. Honest, I do. I get that these hyperreligious nutcases don’t like gays. They don’t want to treat gays like human beings. They’d much rather not even know that gays exist. Gays creep them out. I understand that. I truly do. But … I don’t fucking care! The cold fact is that gays exist, they are human beings just like everyone else, and it’s fucking long past time for the world to accept it. These Religious Rightists don’t have to like it, and I doubt they ever will — but they do have to get over it and move on with their lives, fercryinoutloud. Just knock off the lying bullshit already.

Photo credit: PsiCop, based on original from quitor.com.

Hat tip: Raw Story.

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