Matthew Fenner joined the Word of Faith Fellowship church in Spindale, North Carolina when he was just sixteen; by age twenty-one, he’d left the church, after claiming he was beaten, strangled, held captive by five church members, mentally, physically, and verbally abused because he’s gay.
For him, January 27, 2013, started off as just another prayer service, until parishioners began gathering around him. They began to berate him because he was gay; one woman told him he was “disgusting.” This went on for two hours, with Fenner being pushed and beaten, and screamed at in a church ritual that some members believe was necessary to get Fenner to "break free of the homosexual 'demons.'"
Last week, five Word of Faith Fellowship church members — “Good Christians” Justin Brock Covington, Brooke McFadden Covington, Robert Louis Walker Jr., Adam Christopher Bartley and Sarah Covington Anderson — were indicted by the grand jury on charges of second degree kidnapping, simple assault and assault by strangulation; Sarah Covington Anderson was indicted on second degree kidnapping as well as simple assault and assault by strangulation.
In his affidavit to police, Fenner claims that, on at least three occasions, he was ganged up on and attacked, beaten, strangled, and demoralized for being gay. And he says that during that January 2013 assault, a group of church members, led by Sarah Covington Anderson, surrounded him, peppered him with questions about his sexual orientation, pushed him and screamed at him. It was then, he says that Sarah Covington Anderson grabbed him by the throat, punched him, and beat him. He says at least fifteen to twenty other “Christians” surrounded him while the beating took place.
“By this point, Sarah began to tell me how much she couldn’t stand to be around me and that I was disgusting because of my sexual orientation. I told her that I was sorry that I didn’t know what she wanted me to tell her and to which she then slapped me with a great amount of force across my left cheek. At this point I was really starting to get scared.” — Matthew Fenner
Matthew says he joined the church, with his mother and brother, at a time when he was questioning his sexual orientation; he says he decided to attend the church and its school because of his mother.
"My mom and I were always really close and I just thought maybe I can keep an open mind and see if it works — see if I can change. Obviously, that was really a stupid decision because you can't change who you are. But in my mind it seemed like the right thing to do." — Matthew Fenner
As a church member, he became a tutor, helping other students and going to services, but soon some of those “Christians” began to suspect Matthew was gay. It was then, after that January church service that he was attacked.
After he was released, and covered in bruises, Matthew raced home to his mother’s house; she refused to believe him, even though he’d clearly been beaten, and, in fact, both his mother and brother testified against him during the grand jury hearings.
Joshua Farmer, whose law firm is representing those five “Christians” calls the allegations “nonsense”:
“They are innocent of the charges leveled against them and we look forward to proving their innocence and to their complete vindication before a trial court. We are adamant that no one ever physically harmed Mr. Fenner… The church does NOT target members who are gay.”
But there are rumblings that this kind of behavior by church members — the shouting, screaming, physical abuse — is par for the course for Word of Faith Fellowship. The church, founded in 1979 by Sam and Jane Whaley, has, for years, been accused of enforcing extensive control over its congregation.
Former members say they were told by church leaders where to live and work, what to read, how to dress and when to have sex with their spouses. They say that Word of Faith practices "blasting," a form of hands-on, high-pitched, screaming prayer to drive demons from the bodies of parishioners like Matthew Fenner. In 2012, the church’s website stated, “Those who were once drug addicts, alcoholics, homosexuals, etc. are now delivered by the power of God and are living normal lives, serving God and doing his will.” Interestingly enough, since the allegations by Matthew Fenner, the statement has been edited to remove the word “homosexuals.”
Still, many LGBT groups have condemned Word of Faith after several young men — whose parents are church members — claimed they were abused because they are gay. In 2012, Michael Lowry made similar claims against the “church” which resulted in a Department of Justice investigation into the matter as a hate crime. Lowry later recanted his story and returned to the church, but today, he is once again out of the “church” and claiming he was manipulated by church members into recanting his story.
I’m always amazed by those in the far, far religious right, who rant and rave that the LGBT community is trying to strip them of their freedom of religion, and yet say absolutely nothing about the mental and physical abuse churches inflict on homosexual members.
I’ve yet to see or hear of one instance where a gay group has kidnapped, beaten, verbally abused a member of any church to get them to renounce the demon of faith or come to “homosexuality”, but this kind of anti-gay behavior goes unpunished by so called “Good Christians” like, from left to right, below, Sarah Covington Anderson, Robert Louis Walker Jr., Justin Covington, Adam Bartley and Brooke Covington.
How Christ-like is that?