SPINDALE, N.C. (AP) – Forty-three former members of an evangelical church in western North Carolina say they were subjected to years of emotional and physical abuse.
Ex-congregants of the Word of Faith Fellowship tell The Associated Press in on-the-record interviews that instead of finding inner peace and eternal life, they were regularly punched, smacked, choked, slammed to the floor or thrown through walls in the name of the Lord.
When it comes to relationships, marriage, and sex, Word of Faith Fellowship members must follow strict and unusual rules – or risk severe punishment, former members say.
Some of the edicts:
– Congregants need permission from leader Jane Whaley and other ministers to get married, and it then can take months – or even a year – before the newlyweds are allowed to have sex.
– Congregants are prohibited from watching television and movies, reading newspapers, or eating in restaurants that play music or serve alcohol.
– Congregants aren’t allowed to play board games like Monopoly.
– Couples need permission from church leadership to have children, and leaders dole out condoms to make sure unapproved women don’t get pregnant.
– Followers are banned from celebrating birthdays and religious or secular holidays, including Christmas, Easter and the Fourth of July.
– Followers are not allowed to enroll in college without permission and, if permission is granted, can attend only alongside other members so their behavior can be monitored. Whaley also picks their majors, and they must work for the church or a business owned by church leaders once they leave school.
– For all married couples, love-making is limited to 30 minutes, no foreplay is allowed, the lights must be turned off and only the missionary position is sanctioned.
– Members are not allowed to wear Nike products because Whaley believes the company’s iconic “swoosh” logo is a pagan symbol.
– Men and women must swim with shirts covering their upper bodies and cannot take the extra clothing off in public – not even in their own backyards.
– Men cannot grow beards.
– No one is allowed to date without permission, and most relationships and marriages are arranged by Whaley and ministers.
– On their wedding night, couples are permitted only a “godly peck on the cheek.” When they get in bed together, they must roll over and go to sleep.
– Whaley’s permission is required to buy a house or a car.
The former followers said couples violating the rules can be publicly rebuked, subjected to violence or forced to separate. They say even young children and babies were abused.
The church denies wrongdoing.