The Word of Faith Fellowship, a North Carolina church facing a slew of investigations, is now being accused of kidnapping the children of at least one mother.
According to the Associated Press, the church in Spindale, North Carolina, used its relationship with a social worker to take more than a dozen children from their families.
As a child advocate, Nancy Burnette was tasked with visiting the church to ensure two foster children were safe while a family was working to adopt them. Out of the blue, the pastor pointed to Burnette and accused her of being "wicked."
″You are here to cause strife!” she recalled pastor Jane Whaley shouting during a fiery sermon. At that point she said she felt the church members converge upon her. “You don’t think these kids are supposed to be here!”
North Carolina's social services laws cite "family preservation," so as to prevent "unnecessary placement of children away from their families." Yet, many children have been taken from their families and put into the custody of church members. Thus far, three single mothers have come forward to allege a county court clerk bypassed the foster system so that church members were able to obtain custody of their children, despite a judge calling the conduct inappropriate.
“What I didn’t know was how hard Word of Faith would fight — and the tactics they would use — to keep the kids,” Burnette said.
One mother begged a judge to keep them in foster care because she was so desperate to keep her children away from what she called the "abuse" of the church. Each time, the lives of the children came under total control of preacher Jane Whaley and church leaders enforcing her edicts.
"One thing that is confusing for people in the community is how these children can be so well-behaved and so well-dressed if things are so bad," said John Huddle, who lost his children after be severed ties with the church. "But the clothing can cover the bruises and the smiles can hide the hurt."
Keela Blanton was pregnant and fearful she would lose her child if she was incarcerated. So she temporarily signed over custody of her child to Word of Faith and Rutherford County clerk Laura Bridges. According to documents, after her release, it was stipulated she would take over "full responsibility for my child." After two months, she was out of prison, but Blanton said Bridges and her husband claimed that they loved the boy and wanted to continue to care for him. Blanton ultimately filed child abuse reports in 2012 after saying she saw bruises on her 4-year-old son’s face. She alleged that the boy seemed anxious. A clinical assessment concluded her boy showed "signs of being coerced and brainwashed."
A lawyer for Whaley, claims the AP report is incorrect.
“The notion that church members separate children from their parents at Ms. Whaley’s urging is preposterous,” attorney Noell Tin said. “The idea that a thriving and diverse church like the Word of Faith Fellowship functions in this manner is an insult to its members.”
The Word of Faith Fellowship "has grown to about 750 congregants in North Carolina and a total of nearly 2,000 members in its churches in Brazil and Ghana and through affiliations in Sweden, Scotland and other countries," the AP reported.
The church was previously accused of kidnapping a homosexual man and attempting to beat "the gay" out of him. They're currently under investigation for bringing in hundreds of Brazilian worshipers and allegedly turning them into slaves. They also allegedly taught the church members how to commit unemployment fraud so that members could continue to give more money to the church.
Watch an interview with the mothers below: