Monday, October 22, 2012

Gay Man Alleges Church Imprisoned and Physically Abused Him

A 22 year-old man has filed a complaint with law enforcement against his childhood church, claiming that the church imprisoned him for being gay. According to the Kansas City Star, Michael Lowry filed a complaint against Word of Faith Fellowship Church for reportedly confining him for four months against his will. Lowry claims that he was held in a church building from August to November 2011, where church staff subjected him to physical and emotional abuse. The confinement followed years of harassment and exorcisms from church members who believed that his homosexuality was the result of demonic influences, he alleges. Lowry states that his handlers locked him in a church building, knocked him unconscious, and forbid him from communicating with his family, finally allowing him to leave in November 2011.

According to the Kansas City Star, church co-founder Jane Whaley stated that Lowry was housed in a dormitory because his parents kicked him out of their home. He was free to come and go, she claimed, but said that he was later asked to leave because of his behavior. When asked why Lowry would make such claims, Whaley claimed that he had been goaded into filing the complaint by disgruntled former church members. She told ABC News that the church is not against gays, but added that several members have supposedly been "delivered" from their homosexuality. "As far as this church being against gays, that's absurdity. There are eighteen people in this church who have been delivered, they're not homosexual anymore, but if they were they could still stay in the church," she said.

World of Faith Fellowship, located in Spindale, NC, was founded by Sam and Jane Whaley in 1979. A protestant non-denominational church, World of Faith Fellowship has mission branches in Ghana and Brazil. The church has come under scrutiny for alleged physical and spiritual abuse before. According to a 2000 article in the Daily Courier, former members accused the church of physically abusing children, subjecting members to surveillance, and "blasting" (in which members form a circle around an individual and "pray" in a loud, shrill manner for minutes or hours at a time). One former attendee alleged that church members used "blasting" on her son when he was about a year old. They also allegedly subjected the same boy to hours of "blasting" when he was older for supposedly having "homosexual devils" and "feminine spirits."

ABC News states that the church was investigated for past child abuse, and that co-founded Jane Whaley was convicted of abuse (a conviction that was eventually overturned). The church later sued the North Carolina Department of Social Services over the child abuses charges, which were eventually expunged.

The World of Faith Fellowship website offers details on its attitudes toward LGBTQ persons. The website describes different categories of prayer, including "blast" prayer, insisting that prayer can dismiss "demonic" influences such as substance addiction and homosexuality. (See www[dot]wordoffaithfellowship[dot]org/our-church/prayer) Furthermore, it claims that all manner of people came to the church seeking salvation, including the "demon-possessed", substance abusers, "fornicators" and homosexuals. Thus, homosexuality is categorized as a spiritual pathology alongside addiction and possession. (See www[dot]wordoffaithfellowship[dot]org/pastors-and-ministers/heart-of-sam-and-jane)

The World of Faith Fellowship website also addresses past allegations of child abuse and "cult accusations, claiming that the church had been subjected to "major persecution." Lamenting that it was the victim of "hate crimes," the church boasts that God "vindicated" it as it struggled for its religious freedom. In doing so, the World of Faith Fellowship depicted itself as a victim of hostile, ungodly forces. (See www[dot]wordoffaithfellowship[dot]org/our-church/from-persecution-to-vindication)

The nonprofit group Faith in America has come to Lowry's side, urging the U.S. government to investigate his disturbing claims. According to an October 19th press release, Faith in America has urged the FBI's Civil Rights Program and the U.S. Department of Justice's Hate Crimes Division to investigate Lowry's case. The press release quotes Brent Childers, executive director of Faith in America, as calling the case "disturbing."
“If Lowry’s account of what happened is accurate, there is no question that these actions constitute a serious hate crime. In my six years of working to educate people about the harm caused to gay and lesbian people by religion-based bigotry, this is the most disturbing story I have encountered. This young man has had to flee his family and his community with little more than a few personal belongings. He feels he has been exiled, shunned, humiliated and denied the pursuit of happiness that most young people would be enjoying at his age. No church should be allowed to subject its members to physical, emotional, and psychological abuse because of a church's views on sexual orientation."
Lowry's charges against the Word of Faith Fellowship must be taken seriously and investigated. The church's statements are homophobic, to be sure, but a full investigation will reveal whether or not those attitudes devolved into imprisonment and violence.


  1. Ahab, I totally agree, take his claims seriously. -- I hope...

    1. Donna -- I hope a full investigation uncovers the truth. These are serious allegations.

  2. Yes. There needs to be an investigation and if there has been wrongdoing, those responsible should be held fully accountable.

    On a related note, some churches get away with far too much, even if less egregious behavior. Such are abusive emotionally. I think it would be a wise move to start requiring them to at least report all of their financial information to the IRS, for starters. There should be a lot more transparency. No taxes for true charity but as an agent for the LDS Church told my friend, "there's a lot of gray area between the for-profit and the not-for-profit arms of the Church."

    1. Cognitive Dissenter -- If "Pulpit Freedom Sunday" was any indication, many right-wing churches aren't too keen on IRS limitations anyway, so I'm all for more fiscal transparency from these churches.

      I agree that some churches get away with a lot of unethical behavior, even if these allegations are an extreme example. Emotional and spiritual abuse have no place in our world.

  3. Despicable. Meanwhile the religious zealots keep claiming gay people are the dangerous predators.

    1. Buffy -- Yeah, there's some serious projection going on with the Religious Right homophobes.


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