A North Carolina man said that he was beaten and held captive by members of his controversial church because he is gay.
The allegations have now surfaced as Michael Lowry, 22, filed a formal police complaint against Word of Faith Fellowship Church.
He says that he was held against his will in a dormitory of the church’s 35-acre Spindale compound for over two months last fall.
Church officials contradict Lowry’s claims, saying that he was not beaten, nor did they know that he was gay until he spoke publicly in a television interview on Thursday.
Mr Lowry’s accusations are just the latest in a string of controversies surrounding the church which has been the subject of state and federal investigations over their allegedly abusive practices.
A secretly-recorded video that was aired on Inside Edition in 1995 shows the practice called blasting, where adults hold down and restrain children as they proceed to scream for prolonged periods of time and spank them.
The church, which is of a non-denominational Christian background, says that the practice helps expel evil from the body of sinners.
Jane Whaley, one of the church leaders, said at the time that all accusations were ‘entirely untrue’ and portions of the church’s website is explain the ‘persecution’ that they have faced over the past decades.
‘For ten years, we suffered major persecution. This persecution even reached to the point that the Department of Social Services told us that they would take our children if we did not stop our loud prayer when the children were around. We obeyed God rather than man- God has blessed us continually,’ Mrs Whaley and her husband Sam wrote on their page.
In keeping with their denials of said ‘persecution’, Mrs Whaley told The Charlotte Observer that all of Mr Lowry’s claims are false.
She said that, instead of his version where he was held in the church’s dormitory-style building from August 1 to November 19 of last year, the church admitted that he was willingly staying in the building but only because he had been kicked out of his house by his parents.
‘They hit me with a fist and I was out on the floor,’ he told local ABC affiliate WLOS.
‘(They) held my hands and feet down, are pushing my chest, I could barely breath.’
He eventually left in November, and again there are conflicting reports on the reason.
The Charlotte Observer quotes Mr Lowry as saying that he told church administrators ‘that God is telling me it’s time to go. I don’t want to be told what to do anymore’ and so they allowed him to leave.
In his WLOS interview, he said that some members of the church told him ‘you’re not welcome here, you can’t stay on the grounds unless you want God’.
The timeline of the public nature of his homosexuality is also at issue, because Mr Lowry says that both Mrs Whaley and church members knew that he was gay ever since he was 15 or 16 years old. She countered that claim by saying she learned at the same time as Mr Lowry’s parents- just days ago when the WLOS interview aired.
The denial of any knowledge about his sexuality comes as little surprise because if his claims are true, the assault would very clearly be considered a hate crime.
‘I literally lived in fear every day I was there, until I left,’ Mr Lowry told WLOS.
After getting out of the compound in November, Lowry moved to Michigan and with the help of another former Fellowship member who also left the Church, he is now back in North Carolina in hopes of putting pressure on authorities to speed up their investigation.
Inside Edition Video