SPINDALE, N.C. — Word of Faith Fellowship, the controversial evangelical sect accused of kidnapping and beating a gay man to expel his “homosexual demons,” has come under the spotlight yet again. Now, Associated Press reports that the church has been importing worshipers from Brazil who are then treated like slaves.
Matthew Fenner was raised in the church, later pressing charges against it for kidnapping and assault. The charges against Minister Brooke Covington resulted in a mistrial due to juror interference. Word of Faith members were also indicted on similar charges in 2012, though the church has been involved in a number of investigations since the early 1990’s.
Word of Faith’s central compound is located in Spindale, about an hour from Charlotte. The location has tight security and is remote in a rural area. The sect also has daughter churches in two Brazilian cities as well as Ghana, with over 2,000 worshipers internationally.
The most recent AP report reveals that hundreds of immigrants have been brought into the Spindale church, forced to work for no pay, and had every aspect of their lives controlled by church members. Some immigrants were forced into arranged marriages with American church members so that the Brazilians could remain in the church’s service.
Three former members went to U.S. attorney Jill Rose of Charlotte in 2014 to report the violations. In a covert recording, Rose is heard promising to look into the matter. Afterward, the whistle-blowers received no further contact with Rose despite attempting to reach her for months.
One of 16 Brazilian workers and dozens of American ex-congregants spoke to AP about the various abuses committed within the church. Andre Oliveira, brought to the U.S. at age 18, shed tears during the interview.
“They kept us as slaves,” Oliveira said. “We were expendable. We meant nothing to them. Nothing. How can you do that to people — claim you love them and then beat them in the name of God?”