Allegations of kidnapping, abuse at area church

Kidnapping, assault, shaking, pushing and grabbing all happned within the wall of the church, according to criminal court documents from the Rutherford Country Courthouse

NBC News WCNC, North Carolina/May 6, 2017

By Mark Boyle

Spindale, North Carolina -- Over time, several people have fled the Word of Faith Fellowship, in the small town of Spindale, North Carolina.  Many left behind their families, kids and everything they know.  But for the first time, we are hearing directly from current members inside the Worth of Faith.  They say the abuse allegations are made-up.

In one criminal case pending now against one of the church leaders, Brooke Covington, is accused of second degree kidnapping and simple assault.

A former member says she “unlawfully confined him, restraining him and removing him from one place to another, without consent.”

The charging document goes on to say Covington did “assault and strike the teenager by shaking him, pushing him, grabbing his head and hitting his chest.”

“They can get very violent,” said Ben Cooper who left Word of Faith.

Cooper's experiences echo the criminal charges.

“There is beating, pushing people to the floor, choking them, something that I've experienced myself quite a few times,” Cooper said.

For more than a decade, Cooper was a member of the church congregation.  He says church pastors would take kids from their parents’ homes and beat them if they didn't follow strict guidelines dictating dress codes, music selection and no sex.

“They start telling you as a kid that your parents are full of demons,” Cooper said.  “It can be hard to catch your breath.  I was being shaken pretty violently. It's extremely uncomfortable.”

Cooper said when he decided to leave Word of Faith in 2014 at the age of 28 he recorded the conversation with the head of the church, Pastor Jane Whaley.

Cooper told the pastor, “I'm not saying that we don't ever want to come back to this church, I'm not saying that.”

In the recording, Whaley is heard saying, “You stop it right now. You were deceived. You were deceived, you're caught up in the warfare, don't you dare do it, don't you dare, don't you dare. 

Later in the recording, Cooper says Whaley started screaming at him.

“You're not going anywhere,” Whaley said.  “God sent you here.  You will be a minister.  You will be trained as a minister in the church and you'll stop criticizing and judging.”

“The Bible says you will be at the fruit.  I see the fruit, you are rotten fruit, you are rotten fruit.  There's rotten food here.  Yes, it's you. And the only reason you would leave is because God is sending you out of here. And watch the judgment come on you.”

“And I have never in my life ever talked to any young person like God is having me talk to you right now. “

NBC Charlotte spent hours going through hundreds of pages of court documents.

NBC Charlotte spoke with four former members. Two did not want to go on camera, but they all say church leaders tried to keep them from going public with their claims.

However, former members like John Huddle say he's spending his time now out of the church, telling stories of what he says happened to him.

“The slow train wreck that had finally come to rest and it was a big pile of mess,” Huddle said.

Huddle is no longer with the church, but his ex-wife and two adult children are.  Within the past few weeks they spoke out publicly for the first time.

In the video, Huddle’s ex-wife, who is still a member of the church, says “He decided he didn't want to live with us anymore and he walked out on us.  He left us and he left us in some of the most expensive years of my children's lives.  But with the friends of mine, the dear friends of mine at the word of faith and my parents, we have lacked for nothing.”

The criminal case against pastor Covington is still ongoing with a hearing set for May 9.

NBC Charlotte’s Mark Boyle did speak with Pastor Jane Whaley on the phone this week.  She said she wasn't available for an on camera interview, but calls the allegations of abuse "gossip and lies."

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