A former member of a church that was notorious for allegations of ex-gay torture was arrested after he was caught breaking into the church leader’s home with a gun.
Rutherford County, North Carolina Sheriff Chris Francis identified the alleged gunman as Stephen Cordes, a former member of Word of Faith Fellowship (WOFF), accusing him of breaking into the home of minister Brooke Covington.
Related: Co-defendant testifies in ‘homosexual demons’ trial
Members of the church, including Covington, were indicted in 2017 with felony charges connected to the kidnapping and beating of gay congregant Matthew Fenner in an attempt to expel “homosexual demons” from him.
Authorities say that Cordes was found armed with a handgun in a closet in Covington’s home and that a shotgun was found in the trunk of his car, the Charlotte Observer reports. Police were called and arrived twenty minutes later, and Cordes was disarmed and arrested.
Rumors have spread that the secretive church is hiding an outbreak of COVID-19. The rural county the church is located in has the state’s ninth highest infection rate for its population with 119 known cases and six deaths.
Cordes had expressed concern that people he knew who were still involved in the church were at risk of catching the virus.
“If anything happens to my family that is still in there so help me…,” he wrote on Facebook earlier this month.
“We believe… that those discussions were at least part of what motivated” the break-in, said WOFF attorney and member Joshua Farmer in a statement. “We believe it is clear that he intended to do her, and perhaps others, physical harm.”
WOFF says that it has been “100 percent compliant” with state and county public health guidelines regarding coronavirus.
The church has armed guards and critics say that members’ entire lives are controlled by the church.
On January 29, 2013, then 21-year-old church member Matthew 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.”
“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,” said the LGBTQ organization Faith in America, which advocated for Fenner. “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.”
At the trial, co-defendent Sarah Anderson turned on her fellow church members and testified against them.
She said that Covington pushed Fenner’s chest and screamed, “Open your heart!” Covington said she slapped Fenner’s face. Thirty church members then started beating, screaming, and choking him for about two hours, she testified.
The church’s defense attorney asked some of the witnesses if Fenner asked for the attack to stop.
“If he would have said stop it would have gotten ten times worse,” said church member Danielle Cordes.
The church and the accused said the allegations were not true. They said that they gave Fenner routine prayer that lasted no longer than 20 minutes and that Fenner hugged everyone when it was over
At the trial of Covington and other church members for the alleged kidnapping and assault, a juror was held in contempt of court for bringing in outside legal documents and the judge declared a mistrial.
Covington’s husband, Kent Covington, was sentenced to nearly three years in prison and ordered to pay over $400,000 in unrelated fraud charges stemming from an unemployment insurance scheme. At that time, Brooke Covington was still awaiting a new trial.