Posts Tagged “rutherford county”

Five members of the church Word of Faith Fellowship in North Carolina face kidnapping and assault charges. (WSPA-TV, via (NY) Daily NewsFor several months now, the Associated Press has been digging into the abuse inflicted on congregants at the Word of Faith Fellowship in Spindale, NC, including continuing criminal trials (one of which recently imploded in spectacular fashion). The crux of it all is this fiercely fundagelical church’s practice of assigning every problem a congregant has to diabolical or demonic infestation, which they “treat” by — literally! — beating the devils/demons out of people. (Because naturally, it makes total sense that incorporeal beings will flee from people who’ve been beaten to within an inch of their lives, and never come back. Right?)

The abuse at Word of Faith has been going on for decades, and had been sporadically reported on through that time. For instance, it was covered by Inside Edition in 1995. Despite this, Word of Faith had avoided prosecution, and the AP uncovered the reason why: Word of Faith insiders in the NC justice system had shielded them from being investigated at all, in many cases, and whenever Johnny Law did come poking around, coached witnesses in how to answer questions.

The AP recently published another article explaining how and why it took so long for charges to be filed in the case of one abused congregant who’d reported what happened (WebCite cached article):

For two years, Matthew Fenner said he pleaded with authorities to investigate his allegations that a group of fellow congregants at the Word of Faith Fellowship church had punched, slapped and choked him to expel his “homosexual demons.”

An Associated Press investigation found that Rutherford County investigators and then-District Attorney Brad Greenway delayed investigating and told Fenner his only option was to pursue misdemeanor charges against the church members he said assaulted him for nearly two hours in the evangelical church’s sanctuary.

The AP’s conclusions are based on more than a dozen interviews and court documents, along with a series of secretly made recordings that were provided of Fenner’s meetings with law enforcement authorities, including Rutherford County Sheriff Chris Francis.…

Fenner tried to get action, but there was resistance:

When Fenner fled to his grandparents two days later [after he was attacked by church personnel], they called authorities. But Fenner told the jury that law enforcement — ranging from the Rutherford County sheriff’s office to the Federal Bureau of Investigation — didn’t take his allegations seriously.

The AP found that Fenner not only told law enforcement agencies about what happened to him, but also warned of ongoing abuse in the church.

“Over the last two decades, it appears that different politicians or leaders in the community have had a certain fear of the Word of Faith and for whatever reason that sort of encapsulated them and made them untouchable,” said Jerry Wease, chairman of the Rutherford County Democratic Party and a licensed counselor who has worked with people who left the church.

In Fenner’s case, it wasn’t even just the North Cackolackian justice system refused to budge; even the FBI wouldn’t pick up the case:

On Jan. 31, 2013, he met with FBI agent Fred Molina, who was investigating a complaint from another congregant who said he was beaten because he was gay. Fenner detailed what happened to him, along with the abuse of other congregants, six people told the AP.

A month later, Fenner called the FBI to check on the progress of the agency’s inquiry and was told a new agent was on the case because Molina was about to retire. That agent never called him back, Fenner said. When he received a letter months after that saying the FBI wasn’t going to investigate, he inquired why and said he was told it was because the other church member who reported being attacked had recanted.

Molina declined to talk to the AP, saying he was told by his former bosses not to discuss the case. But Nancy Burnette, who became familiar with the church through her court work with foster children and who helped some congregants flee, said Molina told her that he was pulled from the investigation. He urged her to “keep fighting” to get the “truth out,” she said.

So it seems even FBI management within NC was protecting Word of Faith. Nice, huh?

Fenner simultaneously pressed both state and federal law enforcement. Assistant US attorney Jill Rose declined to prosecuted because she said Fenner’s case didn’t meet federal hate-crime standards and didn’t cross state lines. At the state level he met with the DA (Brad Greenway) and sheriff (Chris Francis). Like Rose, Greenway refused to prosecute, and the sheriff told Fenner to file misdemeanor charges on his own.

It took Greenway being voted out, for the charges to be pressed. Indictments were handed down shortly after that. Hmm.

As I’ve noted previously, colossal deference to churches is certainly not unique to North Carolina, nor to fundagelical churches. The very same phenomenon helped the Roman Catholic Church avert charges against its own abusive clergy — and it happened all over the world for decades, if not centuries. It’s a tendency that must fucking stop. The idea that churches, and religious institutions generally, are not to be held accountable for their actions, is simply unacceptable. Folks within the criminal justice system are going to have to grow up, pull up their big-boy (or big-girl) pants, and just fucking deal with allegations against churches and religious personnel. They can no longer be allowed to skate just because they’re religious folks.

Photo credit: WSPA-TV, via (NY) Daily News.

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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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In a Saturday, Aug. 28. 2010 photo, Rutherford County Sheriff's Office and ATF investigators examine equipment damaged in a fire at the future site of the Islamic Center of Murfreesboro. Authorities told mosque officials that four pieces of heavy construction equipment on the site were doused with an accelerant and one set ablaze, said Camie Ayash, spokeswoman for the Islamic Center of Murfreesboro. (AP Photo/The Daily News Journal, John A. Gillis)Religious Right outrage over the so-called “Ground Zero Mosque” (which is really a cultural center, and will be built near, not on top of, the site of the former World Trade Center, as I blogged already) has been palpable over the last several weeks. For the most part, opponents have said they’re not really opposed to the building of a mosque in the US, just not near the World Trade Center. The problem with this claim, though, is that it’s a lie! All over the country, proposed mosque constructions have run into opposition by the Religious Right … not just the Cordoba Center/Park51 project. One example of this has been in Murfreesboro TN, as the Washington Post reported recently (WebCite cached version). Well, opponents of the Tennessee mosque appear to have ratcheted the heat up — literally; the AP (via Google News) reports that the ATF and FBI have found that its construction site had been torched (cached article):

Federal investigators said Friday that a suspicious fire that damaged construction equipment at the site of a future mosque in Tennessee was arson and offered a $20,000 reward for information leading to an arrest.

The future mosque in Tennessee, like other houses of worship for Muslims across the country, has been drawn into a fierce debate surrounding a proposed Islamic community center two blocks from Manhattan’s ground zero, and opponents are becoming even more hostile and aggressive.

The construction site arson frightened members of the Islamic Center of Murfreesboro. Firefighters had said there was a strong smell of diesel from the fire that engulfed the cab of a dump truck last weekend, and authorities found fresh fuel pooled under a second dump truck, according to an incident report from the Rutherford County Sheriff’s Department.

Still, authorities did not officially rule the fire an arson until laboratory tests on samples from the burned dump truck tested positive for accelerants.

The U.S. Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives and FBI is offering a $20,000 reward to anyone with information leading to an arrest.

Way to go, people. What an inspiring example of how the Religion of Love takes care of things.

Photo credit: AP Photo / The Daily News Journal, John A. Gillis.

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