N.C. church members charged in alleged extreme hate crime

Four Spindale, N.C., church members charged with false imprisonment and staling

Michael Lowry says he was subjected to imprisonment and assault as his Spindale, N.C., church leaders due to his sexual orientation. Screencap courtesy WLOS News 13.

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CHARLOTTE, N.C. — Four members of a Spindale, N.C., church have been charged with false imprisonment and stalking after allegations surfaced that they held a young gay man imprisoned against his will due to his sexual orientation.

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A Friday afternoon press release from Faith in America, a North Carolina-based group which raises awareness on religious bigotry, details the story of 21-year-old Michael Lowry. He and his parents have been members of Word of Faith Fellowship Church in Spindale in Rutherford County since he was born.

According to the group and a news report from WLOS News 13, Lowry is pursuing charges against the church. He says he was confined against his will in a building on church property and subjected to repeated assaults in an attempt to cure him of his homosexuality. Lowry was also subjected to “supervised” bathroom visits because church leaders feared he might be masturbating.

Faith in America is calling on the Federal Bureau of Investigation’s Civil Rights Division to step into the case. They believe it is a clear example of an extreme hate crime. A 2009 federal hate crime law protects victims on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity. North Carolina hate crime law does not include protections for LGBT people.

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“Faith in America is calling on the FBI’s Civil Rights Program to investigate Lowry’s allegations,” Faith in America Executive Director Brent Childers said in the release. “If Lowry’s account of what happened is accurate, there is no question that these actions constitute a serious hate crime. In my six years of working to educate people about the harm caused to gay and lesbian people by religion-based bigotry, this is the most disturbing story I have encountered. This young man has had to flee his family and his community with little more than a few personal belongings. He feels he has been exiled, shunned, humiliated and denied the pursuit of happiness that most young people would be enjoying at his age. No church should be allowed to subject its members to physical, emotional, and psychological abuse because of a church’s views on sexual orientation.”

Word of Faith Fellowship has previously been scrutinized by Inside Edition and another news outlet for their extreme practices and abusive behaviors.

Stay tuned to goqnotes.com for more on this developing story.

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Posted by Matt Comer

Matt Comer previously served as editor from October 2007 through August 2015 and as a staff writer afterward in 2016.