WASHINGTON – A nasty media war has sprung up between the Associated Press and a North Carolina church over a series of abuse allegations.
Word of Faith Fellowship (WFF), an international Protestant church based in Spindale, North Carolina, was the subject of an exposé by the Associated Press on July 24, in a piece about allegations that WFF brought church members from Brazil into the United States on tourist and student visas and then forced them to work without pay, essentially enslaving those they pretended to evangelize.
WFF vehemently denied these allegations, stating in a July 30 press release that “we are appalled to learn of the allegations published by the Associated Press regarding foreign members of our church being ‘enslaved.’ Many of these allegations are obviously preposterous on their face and they are all false.”
A testimonial on WFF’s website has called the AP “fake news.” borrowing President Trump’s popular phrase.
AP based its claims on interviews with 16 Brazilian former church members who said they were forced to work without pay and were abused both physically and verbally. Children as young as 12 were allegedly brought from Brazil and put to work immediately at WFF’s property in North Carolina.
“Many males worked in construction,” reported the AP. “Many females worked as babysitters and in the church’s K-12 school.”
The Brazilians would work alongside Americans, former church member Thiago Silva told the AP. “The locals were paid, the Brazilians were not,” he said.
WFF said such allegations are “ludicrous” and pointed out “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 Brazilians who claim they came to and from the church from Brazil multiple times also said they were minors at the time, either travelling with their parents or sent by them.
The AP’s sources also claimed that WFF made sure that the Brazilians could not go for help anywhere outside the church. Few of them could speak much English. Many allegedly had their passports taken away from them so that they could not go to American law enforcement for fear of prosecution and deportation as illegal immigrants.
The visas that these Brazilian workers were given were also allegedly abused by the church. Those with tourist visas are not allowed, by U.S. law, to do any work for which anyone would normally be paid; those with student visas are allowed limited work, but the circumstances under which these Brazilians were allegedly working do not follow those criteria.
After these visas expired, the AP claims that these Brazilian workers were pressured to marry an American so that they can stay in the United States and continue working.
“Some of those interviewed spoke of male Brazilians – as well as church members from various other countries – obtaining green cards for permanent residency and being able to legally work by being ‘married off’ to female American congregants,” AP reported.
“It is illegal to enter a sham marriage for the purpose of avoiding U.S. immigration laws,” the wire service said.
This is merely the latest in a series of allegations of criminal and abusive activity going on at the North Carolina church, with claims going all the way back to an Inside Edition report in 1995. The AP reported in February that former members were accusing Pastor Jane Whaley of abusing parishioners physically and verbally.
“Jane’s core beliefs are blasting and violent deliverance. She will not stop until she’s put in prison,” Sean Bryant, a 29-year-old who left the church last year told the AP. “Everybody inside the church – especially the children – are at risk.”
WND reached out to WFF and its lawyer, Joshua Farmer, to comment on these and other allegations, but received no response.
WFF was founded in 1979 by Jane and Sam Whaley. Most of their core beliefs are in line with mainstream Bible-based evangelical Christianity: the Bible as the only authority on matters of faith, belief in God as a Trinity, the necessity of baptism and grace for salvation, necessity to preach the Gospel to all creatures, the reality of heaven and hell, and the sanctity of life.
However, some of their more puritanical practices are outliers in the evangelical community. According to the church website, “we do not believe in nor practice the celebration of pagan holidays such as Halloween, Christmas, Easter, birthdays, Valentine’s, etc. After researching the history of each of these, we found that these all originated from the worship of demons and other gods, truly pagan worship.”
In addition, they do not drink alcoholic beverages of any kind, and seem to be opposed to Christian rock music.
One of WFF’s strangest practices is that of blasting. WFF’s website likens blasting to “the initial outpouring of the Holy Spirit,” and describes the practice as follows: “We, the members of the Word of Faith Fellowship, use the biblical terminology Blast in reference to any strong demonstration of the Holy Spirit (Acts 2:2) such as in preaching, praising, singing, praying in all kinds of prayer, praying in the spirit, supplication, travail, diverse tongues, weeping, and groaning and crying out to God, including shrill cries for Christ to be formed in us and others (Galatians 4:19; Romans 8:29), and to come against temptations of the Devil.”
Although this seems to include all types of prayer and worship at WFF, one form of blasting involves yelling and screaming, sometimes for hours, at fellow members to expel demons of one sort or another. There is audio of such a session in the AP article revealing the abuse that has allegedly been going on in the church.
Most allegations of abuse stem from these sessions, which would sometimes last hours. Some members of the cult have claimed that they were “punched, smacked, choked, slammed to the floor or thrown through walls in a violent form of deliverance” to get rid of demons, according to the AP.
The 1995 Inside Edition report on WFF includes a clip of a child psychologist, Dr. Ruth Peters, watching footage of children at one of these ‘blasting” sessions.
“This is definitely child abuse,” she said in the report. “There’s no excuse in my mind for it.”
Five members of WFF are facing charges of assault and kidnapping over the alleged assault of Matthew Fenner.
Fenner is a “gay” man out of whom they allegedly tried to beat the “homosexual demons,” according to the charges filed in North Carolina.
WFF has denied all of these allegations in the strongest terms, and has a website dedicated to testimonials of current members of the church speaking out against what they see as slander by these former members who have left.
One of these testimonials features a woman named Amy, whose ex-husband Peter Cooper is one of the AP’s sources on abuse at WFF. She claims that all of the allegations are made up by the Cooper family and their associates in order to slander WFF and all of its members.
“They say that there are 43 that are coming out, speaking against the church. Let’s just take one look,” Amy said. “You have a whole family and their cousins, their wives, and a few close friends, their children: that adds up to 43 very quickly. So this is one entire family that is choosing to bring out stories. And of this group of 43, there’s five lawyers trying to use the degree that they’ve gotten to bring other people down, to hurt other people, to come against lawyers that they were jealous of. Something went wrong. This is one family that has nothing but competition. They love to hurt people, and they will do anything it takes to bring someone down. And that is their motive.”
“If you look at the history of this family,” she continued, “since 2002, they’ve been in the media, and now they’re story has completely changed after all these years.”
Amy accused the Coopers and their associates of holding meetings to plot against the church and to record conversations with church leaders in the hopes of selectively editing clips to incriminate them. She also alleges that not only were the Coopers not abused by the church, but that she was abused by her ex-husband Peter Cooper.
It should be pointed out that accusations of abuse at WFF have been public since 1995, seven years before the Cooper family left WFF in 2002.
WFF carries out ministries in prisons and nursing homes, as well as small scale political activity, mainly consisting of hosting non-partisan forums for candidates to express their political beliefs and running petitions and voter registration drives.
Among WFF’s peculiarities is the fact that they use the Amplified Bible as their translation of the Word of God. The Amplified Bible, which was last updated in 2015, is published by the Lockman Foundation. According to their website, the Amplified Bible “enhances the clarity of Scripture by using in-text amplifications.”
This involves adding text, sometimes up to full sentences, to the literal Word of God to “uniquely expand and clarify the biblical text immediately giving the reader a deeper understanding of Scripture.”
In addition to the community in North Carolina, WFF has two missions in Brazil and one in Ghana, according to their website. This international church has grown out of a group of 50 people that originally gathered with Pastors Jane and Sam Whaley in 1979.
WFF now lists 74 people as pastors or ministers in addition to Jane and Sam Whaley, who are still the heads of the church.