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A 2012 photo provided to the AP by a former member of the church, Word of Faith Fellowship leader Jane Whaley, center, holds a baby, accompanied by her husband, Sam, center right, and others during a ceremony in the church's compound in Spindale, N.C. (YouTube).

Church or cult?

Female leader of evangelical church accused of decades of violent abuse

By WITW Staff on February 28, 2017

The Word of Faith Fellowship, an evangelical church in North Carolina, was founded in 1979 by Jane Whaley and her husband, Sam. Both are pastors, but it is Jane Whaley who has been credited with growing the church to a 750-person sect.

Allegations of abuse have dogged the World of Faith Fellowship since the 1990s, but little came of investigations into the mysterious church, which is locked away on a 35-acre complex guarded by tight security. Now, an extensive report by Mitch Weiss of The Associated Press has uncovered horrible acts of physical and psychological abuse, all perpetrated in the name of God.

Weiss interviewed 43 former members of the Word of Faith Fellowship, and reviewed hundreds of legal documents. Ex-congregants described a culture of continuous, ritualized violence. “Sinners” are allegedly hit, choked, and slammed to the floor. Minors are taken from their families and placed in the custody of ministers, who beat them. Toddlers — and sometimes babies — are shaken, screamed at, and smacked. Some church members, Weiss writes, have been sexually abused.

JaneWhaley, according to Weiss, is the larger-than-life figure at the center of the sect and “maintains dictatorial control of the flock.” The 77-year-old allegedly imposes a strict set of regulations, and decides whether or not congregants can marry and have children. One former church member told Weiss that he believed Jane was a prophet. Sources also claimed that Jane administers “some of the beatings herself.”

On its website, the Word of Faith Fellowship refuted The Associated Press story, saying it was based on “false allegations made by members of an extended family.”

Learn more about early allegations against the church and hear stories told by former church members in the video below.

Read the full story at The Associated Press.


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