2023 Author: Steven Freeman | [email protected]. Last modified: 2023-05-24 12:22
The Sunday service at the Word of Faith Fellowship evangelical church in Spindale, North Carolina, one day in January 2013 ended in an unusual and violet way for Matthew Fenner.
Without a word, about twenty parishioners led by the leader of the congregation surrounded the 21-year-old boy and began to beat him up. For about two hours he was punched, punched, and kicked, and even at one point they grabbed him by the neck to shake him.
Had the parish money been stolen?
No, the motive for the brutal assault was different, according to Fenner, who reported it to the police and recounted a year later in an interview with the local television channel WSPA. What he was looking for was to extract "the homosexual demons that they so despise".
More than four years later, the young man - who is gay - was the first witness to take the stand on Thursday in the trial against the Church minister accused of kidnapping and assaulting him that day, The Washington Post reported. Brooke Covington, 58, is the first of five members of the congregation to be tried in connection with this case. They have all pleaded not guilty.
In his testimony in court, Fenner said that while receiving the blows he thought he was "going to die" and that Covington assured him that God "had said there was something wrong with your life."
Covington's defense responded that the young man had publicly thanked that he had been saved from "a life of sins" and that at no time did he ask to stop being beaten, the newspaper reported.
The Word of Faith church, created in 1979 and with some 2,000 spread across several countries, has been the target of similar accusations in the past that have put it in the sights of the authorities.
An investigation by the Associated Press agency based on interviews with 43 ex-members revealed that punching, pushing against the wall, throwing the floor or squeezing the neck with the hands were common practices that were intended to "purify" the victims.
“I saw many beatings over the years. Children who were punched in the face, who were called Satanists,” Katherine Fetachu, 27, who for 17 was part of the congregation, told the news agency.
In its Twitter account, the Church rejected the accusations of its former parishioners calling them "lies" and shared videos of family members or ex-husbands of the accusers responding to their "falsehoods", which in some cases they attribute to their "hatred" towards the leaders of Word of Faith.
Among other allegations, the former members also claimed that sexual abuse, including minors, had occurred within the Church. In a conversation secretly recorded by her co-religionists, World of Faith co-founder and leader Jane Whaley admits to learning about a case of sexual abuse of three minors, but that she did not report it to authorities, according to the AP.
The agency also noted that the Church imposes a strict code of conduct that prohibits watching television, reading newspapers, going to the movies, or eating in restaurants where music plays. It also regulates with whom its members can marry.