Health & Spirit

NC church known for 'blasting' out demons faces growing human trafficking probe

Michael Gordon, The Charlotte Observer on

Published in Religious News

A spokesman for the Charlotte law firm of Tin Fulton Walker & Owen, which is representing Whaley in connection with the federal probe, said its own investigation "indicates that the church's Brazilian missions have been mischaracterized in media reports."

Members of the World of Faith Fellowship Church in Spindale, representing 15 countries, perform their "Hymn of Nations" during Wednesday night service in November 2012. The controversial church is not the subject of a international human-trafficking investigation involving its branch churches in Brazil.

In a July statement released after the AP report, Word of Faith leaders said they were "appalled" by allegations that Brazilian congregants had been "enslaved."

"It is ludicrous that people now claim they were in an abusive environment at our church but admit that they traveled from Brazil to the United States many different times, returning repeatedly to their place of alleged enslavement," the statement said.

Rose has history with the church. Earlier in her career she was an assistant district attorney in a judicial district that included Word of Faith's home county of Rutherford. In 2014, as an assistant U.S. attorney, Rose interviewed several Brazilians who had accused their former church of mistreatment, the AP has reported.

Whaley and her husband started Word of Faith in 1979, building a successful, diverse, financial successful but widely debated congregation in the North Carolina foothills. The church operates within a 35-acre compound and has its own security force. Critics say Whaley's absolute control extends to where people live and when married couples can have sex.

The church's distinctive practices -- including a form of prayer known as "blasting," in which a church member is subjected to prolonged shouting and shaking to expel sinful impulses -- have led to the church being called a cult.

In June, the assault and kidnapping trial of Whaley's daughter, who was among a group of church leaders and members accused of assaulting Matthew Fenner to expel his "homosexual demons," ended in a mistrial due to the misconduct of a juror.

Fenner said he was leaving a prayer service in January 2013, when nearly two dozen people surrounded him in the sanctuary. He said they slapped, punched, choked and blasted him for two hours.

The church leader's attorney said the allegations were untrue, and that Fenner wanted to punish the church for condemning his homosexuality.

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