Ex-congregants reveal years of ungodly abuse
SPINDALE, N.C. - Forty-three former members of an evangelical church in western North Carolina say they were subjected to years of emotional and physical abuse.
Ex-congregants of the Word of Faith Fellowship tell The Associated Press in on-the-record interviews that instead of finding inner peace and eternal life, they were regularly punched, smacked, choked, slammed to the floor or thrown through walls in the name of the Lord.
They say even young children and babies were abused.
The church denies wrongdoing.
Newcomers to the Word of Faith Fellowship live by a list of strict rules for daily life, which sect leader Jane Whaley says God revealed to her, former members say. They include:
- Followers are banned from celebrating birthdays and religious or secular holidays, including Christmas, Easter and the Fourth of July.
- Congregants are prohibited from watching television and movies, reading newspapers, or eating in restaurants that play music or serve alcohol.
- Men and women must swim with shirts covering their upper bodies and cannot take the extra clothing off in public - not even in their own backyards.
- Men cannot grow beards.
- Followers are not allowed to enroll in college without permission and, if permission is granted, can attend only alongside other members so their behavior can be monitored. Whaley also picks their majors, and they must work for the church or a business owned by church leaders once they leave school.
- Whaley's permission is required to buy a house or a car.
- Members are not allowed to wear Nike products because Whaley believes the company's iconic "swoosh" logo is a pagan symbol.
- Congregants aren't allowed to play board games like Monopoly.