A church in North Carolina is accused of kidnapping, abusing, and brainwashing children to keep them in the congregation.
Former members claim that the Word of Faith Fellowship in Spindale, North Carolina, took custody of their children and put them into foster families who were members of the church.
The AP is investigating the church, and have so far interviewed over two dozen former members of the church who say the congregation ripped children from their families, according to a report by Daily Mail.
Three single moms reportedly told the AP that a county clerk, who was also a member of the church, used her position to bypass the foster system and take permanent custody of their children.
Twelve former church members claim they witnessed those three children living with the clerk being abused. The children would be blasted – an intense screaming session that was meant to cast out demons – and held down or violently shaken.
One of the three women whose child was taken from her told the judge that if she couldn’t have her child, the child would be better off in foster care than with the church.
The children’s lives are reportedly under the complete control of the church’s founder Jane Whaley and the church’s leaders who enforced Whaley’s rules.
The children were isolated from the outside world while living with church families. They were educated within the church, and prohibited from celebrating their birthdays or Christmas, and even from watching TV. If they broke the rules, they were verbally and physically punished, according to the investigation.
Noell Tin, Whaley’s lawyer, said the AP’s claims are “preposterous.”
“The notion that church members separate children from their parents at Ms. Whaley’s urging is preposterous. The idea that a thriving and diverse church like the Word of Faith Fellowship functions in this manner is an insult to its members.”
Dozens of other stories detailed how the church would coerce children who were in their custody into lying and acting out when visiting their parents. One child was instructed to pee his pants when with his mother.
Natasha Cherubino said she witnessed her three young step-siblings being coerced into throwing fits before visiting their father on the weekends in the midst of a custody battle between the father and the church in 2000.
“And when the children returned, they were interrogated about what they did at their father’s house.”
Shana Muse said she experienced the church’s wrath when she tried leaving the church in 2002 with her four children – aged between 8 and 15.
“If you’re thinking about leaving, be prepared. They will do everything to personally discredit you and show judges and the public the kids are better off with a church family.”
Muse decided to leave the church in September 2002 after witnessing church leaders scream at and beat her’s and other member’s children in the church.
She told one of the leaders, Kent Covington, who was also her boss, that she was planning on leaving and moving to Florida. However, when she returned home that day she found her house empty. Muse immediately called police and reported that her children had been kidnapped.
When officers arrived at the church and questioned members, Muse’s sister lied to police.
“She said I had been abusing my children and that they actually had custody of my children.”
The sister, Suzanne Cooper, who left the church in 2014, told AP that Whaley pressured her into lying.
“I live with that guilt every day.”
The sheriff wouldn’t allow Muse to take her children and alerted social services. To prevent her children from being placed in a foster home, she asked Covington if he and his wife could take her children in. The couple agreed, but Muse said they tricked her with a custody agreement.
“I did not read the document closely. I trusted them.”
The document said Muse “gives and conveys all my rights and custody and control” to the Covingtons.
After a long custody battle, a judge found “clear and convincing evidence the children were abused and neglected by isolation, excessive corporal punishment and blasting while at WOFF church.” The children were placed in other foster homes but eventually made their way back to the Covingtons.
Three of the children have since left the couple and the church, and told AP about the abuse they suffered during their time there. Patrick Covington, Muse’s son, spoke about the physical abuse he suffered at the hands of the church.
“I can’t tell you how many times I was beaten, how many times I had black eyes or was so physically hurt I couldn’t move.”
Rachael Bryant, Muse’s daughter, confessed that she lied about her mother because of Whaley.
“We were told to tell social workers that she beat us. What we did was wrong.”
[Feature Photo: AP/Chuck Burton]