The Word of Faith Fellowship Church (WOFF) is being accused of imprisoning, and physically and emotionally abusing 22-year old Michael Lowry for four months because he is gay. The Spindale, North Carolina nondenominational Christian church, run by Sam and Jane Whaley (image, right), is no stranger to controversy, having been featured on “Inside Edition” for a ritual practice called “blasting,” described by some as “a form of hands-on, high-pitched screaming prayer.”
“In a statement given to a sheriff’s department investigator last week, Lowry said he was kept in a church building from Aug. 1 to Nov. 19, 2011. He said he was knocked unconscious during his first day of confinement,” according to a report in the Charlotte Observer:
Lowry’s former pastor, Jane Whaley, said Sunday that all of his allegations are “lies.”
Whaley said Lowry was not held or beaten. She said the church only learned that he was gay when his family did – after watching a news report by an Asheville television station Thursday.
Lowry said he first told his family and church leaders of his sexual orientation when he was 15 or 16. That set off years of harassment and abuse, he said, as church members tried to expel the demon that they believed caused his homosexuality.
It should come as no surprise that some have called the Word of Faith Fellowship Church a “cult.”
The Observer adds:
Word of Faith has also been accused of enforcing extensive control over its congregation.
Former members interviewed by the Observer in 2000 say they were told where to live, where to work, what to read, how to dress or even when it was OK to have sex with their spouses.
Lowry says many of those controls continue today.
Word of Faith also practices “blasting,” a form of hands-on, high-pitched, screaming prayer, a ritual that has landed it on “Inside Edition” and YouTube. The church, according to its website, also doesn’t celebrate “pagan holidays” ranging from birthdays to Christmas.
Word of Faith was investigated twice in the late 1990s for its treatment of children, and later sued the local Department of Social Services in connection with what is now referred to on its website as “the persecution.”
Whaley said the church has been exonerated of all allegations.
Lowry was born into Word of Faith, and his parents and two brothers remain members.
He said he hoped to be trained by the church to become a minister. But there was a problem: Lowry said he has known since puberty that he was gay.
He had always been active in the church, but said he became increasingly uncomfortable living under constant scrutiny and watching how children were disciplined.
About six years ago, when he said he told his family and Jane Whaley he was gay, Lowry said he became a target of those same methods.
His dissatisfaction with the church had deepened by summer 2011. On Aug. 1, 2011, he said he was taken by church members to the Word of Faith complex and placed in a building with other men and boys having trouble at home.
“The doors were locked, it was jail,” he said. “You weren’t allowed to speak to your family. Many of the men had wives and children but they weren’t able to communicate with them.” Blastings were common, he said.
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