22-year-old Michael Lowry is suing his Rutherford County church for holding him hostage for four months against his will while he was physically and emotionally abused because he is gay.
In a statement given to a sheriff’s department investigator last week, Lowry said that he was kept in a church building of Word of Faith Fellowship Church, a nondenominational Christian congregation in Spindale, North Carolina from Aug. 1 to Nov. 19, 2011.
Lowry said he first told his family and church leaders of his sexual orientation when he was 15 or 16. That set off years of harassment and abuse, he said, as church members tried to expel the demon that they believed caused his homosexuality.
On Aug. 1, 2011, he said he was taken by church members to the Word of Faith complex and placed in a building with other men and boys having trouble at home. Lowry took a shower at the church, during which his handlers accused him of masturbating. He told investigators that he was roughed up and eventually knocked unconscious
“The doors were locked, it was jail,” he said. “You weren’t allowed to speak to your family. Many of the men had wives and children but they weren’t able to communicate with them. Blastings were common“, he said. (“Blasting,” is a form of hands-on, high-pitched, screaming prayer, a ritual that has landed the Word of Faith Church on “Inside Edition” and YouTube.)
Sam and Jane Whaley started Word of Faith in 1979, and the couple have been running it continuously since 1985. Jane Whaley says the church now has 750 members. It operates from a 35-acre complex, 65 miles west of Charlotte.
Word of Faith has also been accused of enforcing extensive control over its congregation.
Former members interviewed by the Observer in 2000 say they were told where to live, where to work, what to read, how to dress or even when it was OK to have sex with their spouses.
Brent Childers, executive director of Faith in America, said in a statement that Lowry’s case is “the most disturbing I’ve encountered” in the six years he’s worked with the group.