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Man says he was imprisoned by church for four months because he is gay

Monday, October 22, 2012
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A North Carolina man has accused his former church of holding him against his will for four months while he was physically and emotionally abused because he is gay.

Michael Lowry, 22, told a sheriff’s investigator last week that he was imprisoned in a church building at the Word of Faith Fellowship Church in Spindale, N.C., from Aug. 1 to Nov. 19, 2011. He said he was knocked unconscious during his first day of confinement.

Lowry filed his complaint against the church in February.

Word of Faith was started by Sam and Jane Whaley in 1979. The couple has been running the church continuously since 1985, and have been accused of enforcing extensive control over its congregation, including being 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.

Michael Lowry Image: WLOS-TV

According to Lowey, about six years ago, when he said he told his family and Jane Whaley he was gay, he said he became the subject of constant scrutiny.

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.

“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.

Also on Aug. 1, according to court records, 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.

Lowry’s former pastor, Jane Whaley, said Sunday that all of his allegations are “lies.”

She said that Lowry stayed in what amounts to a dormitory, not because he was confined, but because he’d been thrown out of his house by his parents.

The Word of Faith Church was investigated for child abuse and Jane Whaley was subsequently convicted of abusing a congregant. The conviction was later overturned.

The church also sued North Carolina’s Department of Social Services in the 1990s over the child abuse charges, obtaining a $300,000 award and having the child abuse charges expunged, according to court records.

Rutherford County District Attorney Brad Greenway said the case is being investigated and it’s too early to say if it will reach a grand jury.

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