Word of Faith Fellowship, Spindale, NC — a destructive cult
Pastor Jane Whaley, who believes that she alone receives messages from God, rules the church with an iron fist.
The WOFF’s abusive practices (see, e.g., this information) show this church to be
- sociologically an abusive, cult-like church to such an extent that it should be considered a destructive cult
- theologically a cult of Christianity
Among other things, the WOFF church has
- an unhealthy, unbalanced focus on demons
- an unbiblical manner of addressing real or perceived demonization, and
- other unbiblical practices, including attempts to control people in various ways.
The church has some 700 members at the Spindale location.
Broken Faith: Inside the Word of Faith Fellowship, One of America’s Most Dangerous Cults
Pulitzer Prize winner Mitch Weiss and fellow journalist Holbrook Mohr interviewed hundreds of people who have been connected with Jane Whaley’s Word of Faith Fellowship over the years. They also acquired secret recordings, videos and documents for their new book Broken Faith: Inside the Word of Faith Fellowship, One of America’s Most Dangerous Cults.
Broken Faith is a terrifying portrait of life inside the Word of Faith Fellowship, and the harrowing account of one family who escaped after two decades.
Jane Whaley: extremist cult leader
The control Jane Whaley assumes over the members of her church — including her husband, Sam Whaley, is extreme. According to the Associated Press, it includes
— Followers are banned from celebrating birthdays and religious or secular holidays, including Christmas, Easter and the Fourth of July.
— Congregants are prohibited from watching television and movies, reading newspapers, or eating in restaurants that play music or serve alcohol.
— 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.
— 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.
— Whaley’s permission is required to buy a house or a car.
— Members are not allowed to wear Nike products because Whaley believes the company’s iconic “swoosh” logo is a pagan symbol.
— Congregants aren’t allowed to play board games like Monopoly.
– Source: Associated Press, Sect rules include no TV, movies or reading newspapers, February 24, 2017
In addition the church has what AP titles as ‘Unconventional rules for sex and marriage’:
— 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.
— 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.
— 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.
— Couples need permission from church leadership to have children, and leaders dole out condoms to make sure unapproved women don’t get pregnant.
The former followers said couples violating the rules can be publicly rebuked, subjected to violence or forced to separate.
– Source: Associated Press, NC church has unconventional rules for sex and marriage, February 24, 2017
The church is currently (February, 2017) the subject of an in-depth report by the Associated Press:
From all over the world, they flocked to this tiny town in the foothills of the Blue Ridge Mountains, lured by promises of inner peace and eternal life. What many found instead: years of terror — waged in the name of the Lord.
Congregants of the Word of Faith Fellowship were regularly punched, smacked, choked, slammed to the floor or thrown through walls in a violent form of deliverance meant to “purify” sinners by beating out devils, 43 former members told The Associated Press in separate, exclusive interviews.
Victims of the violence included pre-teens and toddlers — even crying babies, who were vigorously shaken, screamed at and sometimes smacked to banish demons.
“I saw so many people beaten over the years. Little kids punched in the face, called Satanists,” said Katherine Fetachu, 27, who spent nearly 17 years in the church.
Word of Faith Fellowship, an evangelical church with hundreds of members in North Carolina and branches in other countries, also subjected members to a practice called “blasting” — an ear-piercing verbal onslaught often conducted in hours-long sessions meant to cast out devils.
As part of its investigation, the AP reviewed hundreds of pages of law enforcement, court and child welfare documents, along with hours of conversations with Jane Whaley, the church’s controlling leader, secretly recorded by followers.
The AP also spent more than a year tracking down dozens of former disciples who scattered after leaving the church. Many initially were reluctant to break their silence because they had hidden their pasts from new friends and colleagues — and because they remain afraid of Whaley.
Those interviewed — most of them raised in the church — say Word of Faith leaders waged a decades-long cover-up to thwart investigations by law enforcement and social services officials, including strong-arming young victims and their parents to lie. They said members were forbidden to seek outside medical attention for their injuries, which included cuts, sprains and cracked ribs.
The former members said they were speaking out now due to guilt for not doing more to stop the abuse and because they fear for the safety of the children still in the church, believed to number about 100.
Several former followers said some congregants were sexually abused, including minors. On one recorded conversation, Whaley admits to being aware of the sexual assault of three boys but not reporting it to authorities. […]
– Source: Associated Press, AP Exclusive: Ex-congregants reveal years of ungodly abuse, February 24, 2017
In 2012 Michael Lowry accused his former church, Word of Faith Fellowship, of holding him against his will while he was physically and emotionally abused him because he is gay.
A year later he recanted. After the local district attorney had already presented his case to a grand jury, Lowry told police and the FBI that he had not been abused. He also told the Associated Press that he was not gay, had moved back in with his family, and that he was again attending the church.
However, that did not last long, as Lowry again left the church. His story, in his own words, is posted on a website operated by John Huddle — another former member of the church.
John Huddle himself escaped the cult in 2008
A local man is detailing what he says it was like to be a member of a large, controversial mountain church. Former Word of Faith Fellowship member John Huddle says that the church is a cult, which he escaped in 2008. “Locked In” was released last week and gives Huddle’s account of moving his family from South Carolina to Spindale to become a member of WOFF in 2002. He says for the next six years church leaders used mind control and thought reform to keep he his family and other church members in line. Huddle also says that WOFF leaders created a list of 145 rules detailing what church members were not allowed to do. The list bans celebrating Christmas, wearing black tennis shoes, playing ping pong and drinking Cheerwine. “When you’re inside the group, you don’t concentrate on what you’re giving up, you concentrate on what you think you’re gaining, which is a relationship with God and God’s people and salvation,” said Huddle. “A lot of the restraints are out of fear, fear that you will lose your family, fear that you will lose your job, fear that you will lose your house.” Huddle says he published “Locked In”, which is for sale on Amazon, in order to offer guidance and hope to those in cults who are looking for a way out. He says his daughter, son and now ex-wife remain members of the Word of Faith. According to Huddle, he is no longer allowed to see or speak to his children.
Word of Faith Fellowship in the News
- 2 members of secretive NC sect charged with fraud conspiracy [Archived version], Associated Press, June 8, 2018
Two members of a secretive evangelical church in North Carolina were charged Thursday with conspiracy to commit wire fraud in an alleged unemployment benefits scheme that former congregants have said was meant to keep money coming into the sect.
Marion Kent Covington, 63, and Diane Mary McKinny, 65, both of Rutherfordton, North Carolina, were indicted in U.S. District Court in Asheville. […]
Most employees were members of the Word of Faith Fellowship in Spindale, North Carolina. Prosecutors say Covington used his leadership position in the church to force them to comply.
- History of the Word of Faith Fellowship. This article is posted on an archived version of the now-offline ‘Word of Faith Cult Awareness Page’
- Three WOFF survivors speak out
- Word of Faith Fellowship, Clete Hux, for Christian research ministry Watchman Fellowship
- A World Without Devils — Moving on From a Christian Cult, by Jill Evans
- Locked in: My Imprisoned Years in a Destructive Cult, by former WOFF member John Huddle. From the Foreword:
“This is an account of how an innocent person can be vulnerable to the deceptiveness and exploitation of a pastor, whose Christian church had all the elements of a cult. Many cults are deceptive and appear as legitimate organizations at the outset. Members are taken on a step-by-step journey that exposes them to increased manipulation and control over time. If John knew in advance the extent of all that would be required of him, he most likely would have been reluctant to join. Whaley’s unique doctrine demanded that members totally conform to her messages from God; and these messages encompassed every aspect of her followers’ lives, including family, career, and financial matters, in addition to spiritual concerns.”
Lorna Goldberg, L.C.S.W., Psy.A.
Past President, International Cultic Studies Association
Dean, Institute for Psychoanalytic Studies
- ‘Nobody saved us’: Man describes childhood in abusive ‘cult’, Mitch Weiss and Holbrook Mohr, The Associated Press, as posted by USA TODAY, December 13, 2017: “As part of an ongoing investigation into Word of Faith Fellowship, dozens of former congregants have told the AP that church members were regularly beaten in an effort to “purify” sinners — even children. But despite allegations of abuse spanning two decades, authorities have done little to intervene.”
Jamey Anderson vividly recalls being a skinny kid trembling on the floor of a dank, windowless storage room, waiting in terror for the next adult to open the door.
He was bruised and exhausted after being held down while a group of Word of Faith Fellowship congregants — including his mother and future stepfather — beat him with a wooden paddle, he said. As with most punishments at the secretive Christian church, Anderson said, it was prompted by some vague accusation: He had sin in his heart, or he had given in to the “unclean.” The attacks could last for hours until he confessed to something, anything, and cried out to Jesus, he said.
Sometimes even that wasn’t enough for redemption. Then, Anderson said, he would be locked in a dark place he called the “green room,” where he would bang his head against the brick wall, wanting to die.
“I just wanted it to end,” he recalled in a series of interviews with The Associated Press. “Of course, they told us that killing yourself is the unforgivable sin.”
Today, Anderson is a 29-year-old handsome, articulate attorney with a quick wit and a sarcastic side. At first glance, he seems well-adjusted. But he finds it hard to trust anyone.
He fled the secretive evangelical church when he was 18, but he is not free. More than a decade later, he still struggles to find his footing in a world that he doesn’t understand, having been raised, as he puts it, in a “cult.”
- Archived news articles about the Word of Faith Fellowship (WOFF)
- Religious Cults Info. Operated by former WOFF member John Huddle, author of Locked In: My Imprisoned Years in a Destructive Cult. The link leads to his collection of articles on Jane Whaley’s Word of Faith Fellowship