Word of Faith Fellowship LGBT abuse
Matthew Fenner (l) alleges that Brooke Covington (r) and other church members kidnapped and abused him. Photo: Covington by Kathy Kmonicek/AP

The trial against a minister accused of taking part in the 2013 kidnapping and assault of a gay congregant, Matthew Fenner, began on Thursday.

Prosecutor Garland Byers argued that the attack by Brooke Covington, 58, a minister at the controversial Word of Faith Fellowship in Spindale, North Carolina, and several others was motivated by an attempt to expel “homosexual demons,” CBS reports.

A grand jury indicted Brooke Covington in 2014, along with Justin Covington, 20, Robert Walker Jr., 26, Adam Bartley, 25, and Sarah Covington Anderson, 27. All will be tried separately.

The case argues that Fenner was leaving a prayer service in January of 2013 when nearly two dozen people surrounded him in the sanctuary, preventing him from leaving. He said they slapped, punched, and choked him, as well as subjecting him to a technique called “blasting,” consisting of high-pitch screams and prayers being yelled at the target.

Byers told the jury Fenner was severely beaten, at one point believing he might lose consciousness.

Covington’s lawyer, David Teddy, argued that the congregation gave Fenner a routine prayer lasting no longer than 15 to 20 minutes, followed by Fenner hugging everyone and then leaving.

The case follows an Associated Press report in February that found Word of Faith Fellowship congregants were regularly physically assaulted, even to the point of being slammed to the floor or thrown through walls, in order to “purify” them.

Fenner, who joined the church with his family in 2010, fled after the alleged attack.

“You can’t imagine the emotional toll this has taken on my life. I had to put a lot of things on hold because of this…I can’t do anything until this is over,” Fenner told the Associated Press of the abuse and the ongoing case.

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