Posts Tagged “corrupt”

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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PsiCop animated modification of original photo of Rutherford County Sheriff Robert Arnold, via WBTV / Original URL: http://www.wbtv.com/story/22057943/ten-commandments-on-display-at-sheriffs-office-causing-controversyThere are a lot of Christians who think the Ten Commandments are the pinnacle of human morality. They view them not only as the rules everyone should live by, but they think of them as having a kind of magical power to make everyone better and more moral. Or something. I guess. That’s why many of them want to post the Ten Commandments everywhere. Supposedly, being constantly confronted by the Decalogue will turn every American in to an upstanding, law-abiding citizen.

Only, all too often, it turns out this isn’t actually the case. As the Daily News Journal of Murfreesboro, TN reports, one particular Decalogue champion turns out to have been anything but law-abiding (WebCite cached article):

Former Rutherford County Sheriff Robert Arnold pleaded guilty Wednesday to three of 14 counts stemming from a two-year criminal investigation into illegally profiting from inmates through a company selling electronic cigarettes.

Arnold pleaded guilty to wire fraud, honest services fraud and extortion. Each count carries up to 20 years in prison, a $250,000 fine, supervised release of not more than three years and a $52,500 restitution payment from electronic cigarettes revenues from the JailCigs business to the county.

Now, the DNJ article doesn’t mention it, but as the Friendly Atheist points out, former Sheriff Arnold just happens to have been a major proponent of spreading the gospel of the Ten Commandments, just a few years ago (cached). At that time, he’d openly defied an earlier court order, on the pretense that he is required to do so because “In God we trust” is printed on our currency, and because “[the Ten Commandments] were the founding principles of this country.” Or something. I guess.

As I always do in cases like this, I like to point out that, for Christians, putting up Decalogue monuments (or plaques, or signs, or whatever) is incredibly problematic. First, it’s an expression of public piety, which Jesus explicitly forbid his followers ever to engage in. Second, one of the Ten Commandments is, itself, a prohibition against idolatry; depending on one’s sect, it’s either part of the First Commandment, or it’s the Second. But, given that Christians are generally unwilling to follow the words of their own scripture, I guess it’s just too hard for them to stop posting the Ten Commandments all over the place. The poor little things, they just can’t help themselves … right?

I expect Arnold and his supporters will, no doubt, consider his corruption — which he admitted in court — a kind of insignificant aberration. After all, I’m sure they’d tell me, “he’s not perfect, just forgiven.” So hey, it doesn’t really matter if he fails to live up to the faith he supposedly follows. Right? Once he’s out of jail, Arnold might even go on the Christian lecture circuit, propounding his past “sin” of corruption to his co-religionists and touting his “fallen” status as a kind of perverse credential of piety. Such is how Christianity works … as freakish as it seems.

Hat tip: Friendly Atheist.

Photo credit: PsiCop animated modification of original, via WBTV.

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John G. Rowland, governor of Connecticut, 1995 - 2004Note: Some things have happened with the Gov since I posted this. See below for more information.

Unless you happen to live in or near Connecticut, you probably don’t know about our former governor John G. Rowland. He was dogged by corruption allegations for a couple of years in the early ’00s; in 2004 he finally resigned, and despite having spent months insisting he did nothing wrong, pled guilty to a federal felony corruption charge. He served his time and has been out of prison for a few years, mostly trying to make a name for himself as a motivational speaker. Yes, that’s right, a corrupt former politician actually thinks he knows how you should live your life!

The newspaper in his hometown (Waterbury CT), the Republican-American, has never really gotten over Rowland’s shameful departure from office. Every once in a while they try to rewrite history and make it seem that a man who admitted — in court — to having been corrupt, was actually railroaded out of office by false allegations and the vicious, fictional reporting of rival newspaper the Hartford Courant. Their latest effort at doing so is this Rep-Am article in which they make Rowland seem like he’s ready to take vows or something (WebCite cached article):

He is, after all, John G. Rowland, whose spectacular rise as governor of Connecticut was followed by an even more spectacular fall. And he is — and eager to tell you so — in the midst of his own revival; a renewal of faith that began with a handwritten fax to the governor’s office, that saw him through his darkest days in prison and on one recent Sunday led him to clap his hands to a rousing gospel song at a church service which resembled, not altogether coincidentally, a revival. …

“John Rowland today is not the same guy he was in 2003,” says the Rev. Will Marotti, pastor of New Life Church. “He’s very much in tune with his weakness, more sensitive and more humble.”

New Life Church isn’t the same church, either. As Rowland grew in his faith, Marotti’s congregation grew from a few people meeting in his living room to the hundreds packing the Oakdale venue and companion site on Bee Street in Meriden.

Rowland’s spiritual journey began before his famous troubles. In March 2003, New Life Church planned a Sunday rally for the troops in Afghanistan. On a whim, a hunch or, he’ll say, something greater, Marotti faxed a handwritten note about the event to the governor’s office.

Rowland never attended events on Sunday, which he considered a family day. But, on a whim, a hunch or, he’ll say, something greater, he decided to go.

But, as Rowland’s media nemesis Colin McEnroe (a talk-radio host on WTIC-AM during Rowland’s term) points out, this little scenario might not be true. The Rev. Marotti was much more connected to Rowland — the politician — prior to his corruption crisis, than is conveyed by this Rep-Am article. Here’s Colin’s observation (cached version):

But it’s worth nothing that, back in those bad old days, Marotti was already a theo-political operative for Rowland. He had been appointed by the governor to a council overseeing “faith-based” uses of government funds in the fall of 2003, and he repaid that kindness by going on the warpath for Rowland in the heat of the crisis [locally cached]. Marotti openly pressured the media (including me) to lay off Rowland and pressured the legislature to hold off on impeaching him.

What we have here, folks, is another version of a phenomenon I’ve noticed being used elsewhere in Connecticut … which is for public people to visibly espouse religiosity in order to evade criticism or increase their appeal. I suspect that Rowland, who’s currently Waterbury’s economic development director, is angling for some other, more-public job. He might be considering another run for office somewhere, or maybe something else: There are rumors he may become a talk-radio host on the same WTIC-AM which had once been home to McEnroe (locally cached version). At any rate, I don’t buy this “spiritual transformation” crap, not from a guy like Rowland anyway. You don’t spend close to 10 years in high office, contriving ways to profit personally — and illegally — from it, then suddenly decide to “get right with God.” Nope, I don’t believe it. If you live in Connecticut or anywhere that Rowland might someday go to, you shouldn’t, either.

Unfortunately, this tactic frequently works in the United States, because the country’s religious majority is too credulous about such claims. I have no doubt that Rowland and the Rep-Am‘s rewrite of his history will work.

P.S. The reason there’s a talk-radio vacancy at WTIC is because late-morning host Jim Vicevich … a sanctimonious, hyperreligious whiner I blogged about once before … was let go a week or two ago. Gosh, I can’t tell you how broken up I am over that. (Not!)

Update: Rowland did, in fact, get his afternoon drive-time radio show on WTIC-AM a few months after I first posted this. He has, however, lost that show (cached), due to an indictment for election-finance shenanigans (cached). At that time, I blogged about the spectacular failure of his claimed religiosity. Not that any of his “true believer” minions admit that he could possibly have done anything wrong (not recently, and not back in the early 00s). So the lesson is lost on them.

Hat tip: Colin McEnroe “To Wit”

Photo Credit: Notable Names Database.

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