Five members of a controversial North Carolina church were indicted this week on charges that they kidnapped and assaulted a fellow member because he had been possessed by “homosexual demons.”
On Monday, a Rutherford County grand jury indicted Sarah Covington Anderson, Adam Christopher Bartley, Brooke McFadden Covington, Justin Brock Covington and Robert Louis Walker Jr. on charges of second degree kidnapping and simple assault. Anderson was also charged with assault by strangulation.
Matthew Fenner told WSPA that he was a member of The Word of Faith Fellowship church in 2013 when the others physically attacked him for being gay on Jan. 29, 2013.
“I honestly thought I was going to die,” Fenner recalled. “My head was like being flung back, my vision was going brown and black… I couldn’t breathe and I’m sitting here thinking if I don’t get out of this, I’m probably going to die.”
According to QNotes, the suspects slapped and strangled Fenner, and they threatened to imprison him for two days to fight his “homosexual demons.”
Although the church has been accused of abusing LGBT people in the past, Fenner said that local officials refused to take him seriously or even let him file a complaint at first.
QNotes described the Spindale church as “cult-like” for a technique of “deliverance” in which members are encircled, and subjected to “high-pitched shrilling sounds, screams and prayers.”
In an affidavit, Fenner recalled how Sarah Covington Anderson had told him he was “disgusting” because of his sexual orientation before the physical abuse began on one of three instances that he described.
“Deliverance soon ensued (which meant extremely rough pushing, loud screaming, and other violent measures intended to ‘break me free of the homosexual ‘demons” they so viciously despite), and I was at one point grabbed by my throat by Sarah and shaken, punched, and beaten,” the affidavit said. “I received many bruises on my collarbones, neck, chest, and shoulders.”
“I had at least 15-20 college age men around me, screaming, shaking me, punching me, hitting my chest, grabbing my head, telling me to repeat different phrases, all of which caused (and have resulted in much) mental distress to high levels,” he added.
An attorney for the church insisted that all of the charges were false.
“They are innocent of the charges leveled against them and we look forward to proving their innocence and to their complete vindication before a trial court,” a statement from the attorney said. “We are adamant that no one ever physically harmed Mr. Fenner… The church does NOT target members who are gay.”
The U.S. Department of Justice dropped a hate crimes investigation against the church in 2012 after Michael Lowry recanted allegations that that church members held him against his will for months because he was gay. But he now says that he was coerced into changing his story.
Watch the video below from WLOS, broadcast Dec. 9, 2014.