CHARLOTTE, N.C. — Five members of an anti-LGBT church in Spindale, N.C., were indicted on several felony charges this week, following a complaint lodged by a young gay man who says church members kidnapped him and assaulted him because of his sexual orientation.
A grand jury indicted Justin Brock Covington, Brooke McFadden Covington, Robert Louis Walker Jr. and Adam Christopher Bartley on second degree kidnapping and simple assault charges. A fifth member, Sarah Covington Anderson, was indicted on second degree kidnapping as well as simple assault and assault by strangulation.
The grand jury met on Monday, with indictment announcements released on Tuesday.
All are members of The Word of Faith Fellowship, a church which has continually come under fire for its alleged cult-like behaviors and severe treatment of members, particularly young people.
In 1995, the church was the subject of an “Inside Edition” report on its “blasting” techniques, in which a person is encircled by church members and subjected to high-pitched shrilling sounds, screams and prayers. Blasting sessions can last anywhere from a few minutes to a few hours.
In this most recent case, 21-year-old student Matthew Fenner, a member of the church since age 16, alleges that several members targeted him because of his sexual orientation.
On Jan. 29, 2013, Fenner says he was threatened with confinement for two days, slapped, strangled and verbally assaulted in an attempt, he says, to free him of “homosexual demons.”
Faith in America, a Taylorsville, N.C.-based LGBT advocacy group, has taken up Fenner’s cause.
They report in a press release: “Fenner said that at the time of the assault, he had a number of places on his back and neck that had been biopsied two weeks earlier for possible malignancy due to Fenner having cancer when he was a young boy. Fenner said members of the church who were involved with the assault ‘continued to grab at these spots resulting in much pain.’ He states in the affidavit that he believed he would have been severely beaten if he had admitted to any same-sex relations.”
The church and the accused have said the allegations are not true.
An affidavit signed by Fenner and submitted with his complaint to local law enforcement alleges extreme abuse by several members of the church.
Word of Faith Fellowship has also been involved in past cases, including allegations of abuse made in 2012 by Michael Lowry. His allegations led the U.S. Department of Justice to initiate a hate crimes investigation.
Lowry had been placed under FBI supervision, but he later recanted his story and returned to the church.
According to Faith in America, Lowry has since left the church again and now claims he was manipulated into recanting his story.
Fenner is no longer a member of the church and he is now an anthropology student at the University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill. His mother and brother are still members of the Spindale church and testified against Fenner in the grand jury deliberations.
The church also operates an unaccredited private school, which was due to receive state funding under North Carolina’s new private school voucher program. The program has been ruled unconstitutional by a state appeals court and is awaiting a hearing at the North Carolina Supreme Court.