The Michael Lowry Story

Posted on: December 10th, 2012 by feyadmin 2 Comments

For Immediate Release
January 4, 2013

Organization wants to know why
Google/YouTube is protecting anti-gay church

Faith In America is seeking an explanation as to why YouTube would remove a video that the organization posted as part of its ongoing report about an anti-gay church that allegedly abused a young man because of his sexual orientation.

The video was produced by Faith In America and contained the personal story of Jerry Cooper, who was once a member of Word of Faith Fellowship (WOFF) in Spindale, N.C. In the video, Cooper corroborates allegations of abuse by the church that have been lodged by 22-year-old Michael Lowry, a gay man who says he was confined for four months against his will.

“It is really dumbfounding,” said Brent Childers, executive director of the gay advocacy group. “YouTube allows a controversial video that pokes fun at Islam. But here we have a video in which a person is telling his own personal knowledge of how this bizarre Christian church treats gay youth or those suspected of being gay, and they remove the video.”

The video in question can be viewed at Faith In America’s FaithandEquality.org web site, a social media resource that offers LGBT youth and families a new religious perspective on sexual orientation – one that stands in sharp contrast to the traditional perspective by many mainstream churches. http://faithandequality.com/the-michael-lowry-story/#more-498

“What YouTube is doing, perhaps inadvertently, in this particular case is giving cover to a church that believes it is OK to harm gay youth and families in the name of religious teaching,” Childers said. “In doing so, it is giving cover to a vast number of churches who do the same, whether a small charismatic church in rural North Carolina or a large Methodist church in some American suburb.”

Childers said that Google, which owns YouTube, is considered to be a very LGBT-friendly company. In addition, one of Faith In America’s own media strategies in 2007 involved the first CNN/YouTube Democratic presidential primary debate. YouTube selected a question from a Faith In America supporter and pastor who asked why is it still OK to use religion to discriminate against gay Americans. It was rated the best question of the debate by a group of youth who had been assembled around the globe by YouTube to rate the questions.

“We have been told that YouTube apparently considers any allegations against a church as somehow stepping on their religious liberty. Considering the wealth of YouTube videos that address controversial religious issues, we find that hard to believe. Unfortunately, YouTube doesn’t offer a process to question the removal of a video that has been deemed inappropriate. And they do not give a reason why.”

Cooper was scheduled to appear today in a Rutherford County courtroom to face off against four WOFF members who were arrested and charged with stalking and harassing him during an incident in October. Cooper and Lowry in October had returned to Spindale to follow-up on Lowry’s original police report when Cooper was surrounded at a public mall by church members reportedly acting as church security personnel. Forest City Police officers were called and arrived to reportedly observe the alleged harassment.

Word of Faith Fellowship has been accused of being a cult because of the way it controls its members. Despite numerous investigations into reports of abuse, the church manages to portray itself as a mainstream church. Its web site has the pastor pictured with several high-ranking government officials, including the Israeli Ambassador to the United States, U.S. Sen. Kay Hagan and former N.C. Lt. Gov. Walton Dalton.

Faith In America in October requested the U.S. Department of Justice to investigate Lowry’s case as a possible hate crime. Lowry alleges he was locked away for four months in a church building and suffered other abuse there because of his sexual orientation. The church’s web site states that homosexuality is a form of demonic possession.

At least four former church members have stepped forward to say that they either observed or were victims of similar abuse that Michael Lowry alleges occurred. One of those individuals, Ben Carmona, says he experienced similar abuse. He says he was once accused of having “unclean homosexual spirits” because of his friendship with another boy. Carmona, who says he also was confined as Lowry alleges, also fled the church. He is now studying architectural design at a Chicago university.

Lowry was scheduled to appear before a grand jury in December, but the hearing was postponed when Lowry spotted a WOFF member on the grand jury. Lowry does not believe he will get a fair hearing because of the church’s influence in Rutherford County.

Cooper agrees. He was told a special prosecutor and special judge had been brought in from neighboring McDowell County to hear his case Friday. He informed the district attorney that a Word of Faith Fellowship a leader in the church serves as a court reporter in McDowell County.

They are asking that the case be heard in another area of the state, beyond the immediate influence of the church. So far, their request has been rebuffed by local court officials.

Faith In America has not been able to determine the status of its request for a hate crimes investigation. After filing the request, Childers received a telephone call from a U.S. Department of Justice official who asked him if he had attempted to dialogue with the church as a means of conflict resolution.

Faith in America is a nonprofit organization that educates nationally about the harm caused to gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender individuals, especially youth and families, when misguided religious teaching is used to justify stigma and hostility toward them.


December 10, 2012

Gay man’s grand jury appearance postponed after learning anti-gay church member on jury

Faith In America renewing its request for federal involvement

A grand jury hearing today in western North Carolina in which a young gay man was to appear to testify about his allegations against an anti-gay church and several of its members was abruptly postponed when the man alerted court officials that a member of the church was sitting on the jury.

The development in the Rutherford County Courthouse has prompted Faith In America, a gay advocacy group, to renew its request for federal involvement in the case.

A WLOS-TV report today at 5 p.m. reported court officials initially told Lowry that they would not remove the church member from the jury. The report stated Lowry told court officials he would go before a grand jury on which a member of the controversial church served as a member. See the segment at: www.wlos.com

A subpoena was issued in October for Lowry to testify before a grand jury today. As Lowry was standing in a courtroom hallway, he noticed a group of people going into the grand jury room and he recognized one of them as a member of Word of Faith Fellowship, the church involved in his case.

Court officials in Rutherfordton, N.C. abruptly stopped the process and then afterwards agreed that Michael Lowry, 22, could testify at a grand jury hearing in January after new grand jury members are seated.

“This case has raised some important questions pertaining to Michael Lowry’s case being handled by a court in the county where Word of Faith Fellowship is located, where its members live and do business and where relatives and friends of the church live and do business,” said Brent Childers, executive director of Faith In America. “But asking jurors about their religious affiliation is a controversial judicial issue. Both federal and state courts have issued conflicting rulings and the U.S. Supreme Court remains silent on the issue.

“It is a very important question for Michael Lowry because it could greatly affect his ability to have a fair hearing about his allegations. When the case is being handled by a court in the same vicinity of the church that is involved in the case, it is very likely that Lowry’s due process is being compromised. Today’s court episode underscores that.

“These issues easily could be resolved for Lowry if the Department of Justice would agree to have this case come before a federal grand jury in Asheville. That would resolve potentially controversial issues in terms of Lowry getting a fair hearing and the court system being able to offer him that.”

Lowry alleges he was subjected to emotional, psychological and physical abuse by leaders and members of the western North Carolina church, who he alleges placed him in confinement against his will for four months and repeatedly assaulted him because of his sexual orientation.

The church, which has been the subject of repeated investigations because of alleged cult-like activity, is located just few miles from Rutherfordton. The church has broad associations within the local community, as well as with state and federal elected officials and national religious organizations. According the church’s website, homosexuality is a form of “demonic possession.”

Faith In America in October requested the U.S. Department of Justice’s Civil Rights Division to investigate the matter under the federal hate crimes law that was expanded in 2009 to include crimes motivated by bias toward the victim’s sexual orientation.

The request came after four church members were arrested and charged with harassment and stalking in a matter related to Lowry’s case. When Jerry Cooper, a friend of Lowry’s, visited the community in October as he was assisting Lowry in following up on Lowry’s original police report, Cooper was surrounded and detained in a mall parking lot by several members of the church who Cooper said were serving as security agents for the church.

A hearing involving those charges is also scheduled for January.

November 10, 2012

Jewish groups, others should denounce N.C. anti-gay church

Faith In America is calling upon Jewish organizations, elected officials and institutions of higher learning to denounce any association with an anti-gay North Carolina church where abuse allegations by a young gay man are currently being investigated.

The church, Word of Faith Fellowship (WOFF), has aligned itself with certain Jewish groups and others through a Holocaust Museum project that the pastor of the church says was developed because she felt she and the church were facing persecution similar to that faced by Jewish people during World War II. The church considers “homosexuality” a form of demon possession, according to its website, and a young gay man has alleged he was emotionally, psychologically and physically abused by the church. In an incident related to that case, last month four church members were arrested and charged with stalking, harassment and false imprisonment.

The church’s Holocaust Museum was promoted at the Citizens United For Israel (CUFI) annual summit in Washington, D.C. in 2010 and 2011. Photographs from the CUFI events show the church pastor, Jane Whaley, and other church members with a number of influential government leaders and Jewish leaders, including Michael Oren, Israeli ambassador to the United States; Rosemary Schindler, a relative of Holocaust rescuer Oskar Schindler; and Malcolm Hoenlein, who is the executive vice chairman of the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations. Members of North Carolina’s congressional delegation are also pictured at the CUFI exhibit, including U.S. Rep. Heath Shuler, U.S. Rep. Patrick McHenry and U.S. Sen. Kay Hagan. Photos on the church website also show Former Fox News Commentator Glenn Beck and Pastor John Hagee, a controversial pastor of a charismatic mega-church in Texas who founded CUFI in 2006. Both are shown on a website page named “Our Dear Friends Who Love Israel.”

“It is somewhat baffling to think this pastor would consider a TV show expose and investigations surrounding allegations from within her own church as something that could conceivably compare to the type of horrific persecution suffered by Jewish people during the Holocaust,” said Brent Childers, executive director of Faith In America. “What is more astounding about this so-called ‘church’ is how on one hand it can teach that homosexuality is a form of demon possession and apparently remain oblivious to the type of persecution that such teaching promotes and justifies.”

Between 1995 and 2005, the church faced a number investigations by the North Carolina Department of Social Services into abusive practices toward children. ABC Television’s Inside Edition did air an expose on the church in 1995 and the N.C. State Bureau of investigation (SBI) conducted a probe in 1996.

It was the investigations into allegations of abusive behavior that Whaley says on a church website apparently made her feel as though both she and her church were being persecuted like the Jews during the Holocaust . She states that as the reason they developed the church’s Holocaust Museum.

In 2003, a judge wrote a scathing indictment in his order to give custody to the N.C. Department of Social Services four children who were residing with a WOFF family. According to an Oct. 8, 2003 article in Forest City’s “Daily Courier”, the district court judge wrote “The court finds that WOFF authorities attempt to exercise complete control over the mind, body and spirit of its members, both adults and children. This control is obtained and exercised through the use of physical and mental discipline through excessive corporal punishment, blasting and other practices and behaviors found herein. The environment created at WOFF has an adverse effect on the health, safety and welfare of children.”

In the video entitled Holocaust Museum Video Introduction on the homepage of www.theholocaustmuseum.info, Whaley states it was during that period of investigations that God revealed to her that they were facing persecution similar to the Jews.

“We’ve been asked ‘Why have you done this work?’,” she begins. “’What motivated you to do it?’ A little bit over 10 years ago, our church went through major persecution, and especially myself.” She continues, “God took us back to begin to study what happened during World War II in the holocaust and to let us see what was beginning to happen to us.” She says, “And we began to realize that this was the beginning of what happened to the Jews.”

Despite the 2003 judge’s indictment and experts who have deemed church’s practice cult-like, the church has attempted to portray itself as bona fide church. The church has used it Holocaust Museum as part of its outreach far outside of the small, rural community of Spindale, North Carolina. In fact, the photos of CUFI summit are listed on website page in the site’s “Outreach” section.

Between 2011 and 2012, the church took its Holocaust Museum to the CUFI annual summit in Washington, D.C., the University of Florida, Tallahassee Campus in Florida; Michael-Ann Russell Jewish Community Center in Florida; Agudas Israel Synagogue in Hendersonville, N.C. Sunshine Elementary School in Bostic, N.C.; and Cleveland Community College in Shelby, N.C. The church has affiliated itself with Appalachian State University, one of North Carolina’s leading public universities. The church’s Holocaust Museum’s website page entitled “Scholars and Diplomats” highlights its association with the university.

In October, 2012 Faith in America asked the U.S. Department of Justice to investigate the case of a 22-year-old North Carolina gay man who alleges he was subjected to emotional, psychological and physical abuse by WOFF members. He alleges he was placed him in confinement against his will and repeatedly assaulted because of his sexual orientation.

“The most important point I want to stress to our allies within the Jewish faith community is the position this church holds in regards to a person’s sexual orientation,” said Childers. “The church’s own website refers to homosexuality as a form of ‘demonic oppression’ and compares sexual orientation to drug abuse and alcoholism. The vast majority of Jewish faith communities do not embrace such outdated, misguided and harmful church teaching.

“It is quite amazing how this church has been able to disguise its hostility toward gay and lesbian people to reputable Jewish groups, elected officials, individuals and even institutions of higher learning – groups and places where such ignorance and intolerance is not acceptable. We believe these Jewish communities, elected officials, individuals and institutions of learning should denounce the hostility this church promotes toward gay and lesbian people.”

Childers said Citizens United for Israel has assisted the church in its efforts to portray itself as a bona fide church. CUFI’s leadership is comprised of numerous individuals associated with anti-gay religious and political organizations. The organization was founded by John Hagee, who in Sept. 25, 2008 was quoted in a CharismaNews article to say President Obama would be “brutal” if re-elected. He also said “Four more years of Obama will bring absolute socialism to America.” Hagee in a 2008 Daily Beast article was quoted to say the “AntiChrist,” the biblical arch-enemy of good who is to rise to leadership before the world’s destruction, would be Jewish and homosexual.

October 19, 2012

Organization seeks hate crimes investigation into allegations made against anti-gay church

Faith in America is calling on the U.S. Justice Department to launch an investigation into the case of Michael Lowry, a 21-year-old North Carolina gay man who alleges he was subjected to emotional, psychological and physical abuse by members of a North Carolina church, which he alleges placed him in confinement against his will and repeatedly assaulted him because of his sexual orientation.

“There have been a number of incidents recently in North Carolina in which pastors have verbally attacked gay and lesbian people,” said Brent Childers, executive director of Faith in America. “But this case is about far more than verbal hostility. This is about church members who allegedly confined a 20-year-old man behind closed doors, subjected him to severe emotional and psychological trauma, and physically assaulted him apparently because of his sexual orientation. We are asking the U.S. Justice Department’s Hate Crimes Division to initiate a full investigation into this case.”

Michael Lowry’s family has been part of the Word of Faith Fellowship Church (WOFF) in Spindale in Rutherford County since Lowry was born.

On February 20, 2012, Lowry filed an incident report with the Rutherford County Sheriff’s Department, describing an alleged attack that took place on church property on or about August 1, 2011. On Tuesday, Oct. 17, 2012 Lowry returned to Rutherford County and gave an additional statement to authorities.

According to the February 2012 report: “The victim stated he used to be a member of the Word of Faith Fellowship in Spindale. Mr. Lowry stated that last August a group of men held him down and hit him about the face and chest area. Mr. Lowry stated that (he) told them to let go but they would not. The reason they done this was because he was homosexual and they trying to get him to stop being homosexual. When this incident was taking place, the group would tell him he had demons in him and he was going to hell. Mr. Lowry also stated he was told his family would have nothing else to do with him. The group stopped and he was let go. Mr. Lowry stated that it was months later he left the church.”

Lowry says he spent almost four months inside a building on church property where he was subjected to humiliating acts, such as being made to sleep on the floor in the hallway and had to submit to supervised bathroom visits because church members feared he might be masturbating. Lowry says he was allowed to leave from the confinement building in November 2011. He then left North Carolina to live with relatives in Michigan.

Lowry and a friend, Jerry Cooper, returned to the Spindale community on Tuesday to speak with authorities about his February 2012 report. Cooper allegedly was harassed by members of the church while shopping for Lowry. A reported member of the church allegedly pulled a vehicle in front of the friend’s vehicle, blocking his departure from a mall parking lot. The church member then allegedly began taking pictures. Police were summoned and arrests warrants for false imprisonment and stalking were issued against four individuals, according to a news report that aired last night by Asheville’s WLOS-TV. The warrants list the addresses of all four men charged as 207 Old Flynn Road, Spindale, which is the WOFF church address.

Childers said that a group of concerned citizens in the Spindale community have assisted Lowry following his ordeal and have been urging local authorities to investigate the matter. The group also has asked the Federal Bureau of Investigation to get involved.

“Faith in America is calling on the FBI’s Civil Rights Program to investigate Lowry’s allegations,” said Childers. “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.”

The Word of Faith Fellowship Church was established in Rutherford County in 1978 by Sam and Jane Whaley and has about 400 members. Jane Whaley still serves as the church’s pastor. The church has a history of legal problems, including a former investigation by the State Bureau of Investigations in North Carolina. A network news show, Inside Edition, aired a story on the church in 1995.

According to news reports, a mother and member of the church testified in an August 2000 court hearing about the church’s treatment of those they suspect may be gay. An Aug. 9, 2000 article in the Rutherford County’s Daily Courier newspaper about the case quoted testimony from the mother, saying that church leaders had declared her son had “homosexual devils” and “feminine spirits.”

The article stated that her 12-year-old son had been subjected to hours of “strong blasting,” a process involving loud prayer used by church members to drive out demonic or devilish spirits from a person’s body.

The church’s website states: “Out of the place of prayer, God has been able to make His will known in the area of deliverance from demonic oppression.” It also states that: “Many have been set free from the devil’s torment and oppression as the result of believing prayer and submission to God. Those who were once drug addicts, alcoholics, homosexuals, etc., are now delivered by the power of God and area living normal lives, serving God and doing His will.”

Former members of the church report that WOFF members aren’t allowed to watch TV, read newspapers or other materials unless approved by the church. One former church member, who created a “Cult Freedom” blog to report on the church’s activities, reports that the church has confiscated the cellphones of members and printed out their messages to allegedly intimidate them.

Despite all the legal troubles the church has faced and several anti-cult blogs describing cult-like activity at the church, the church’s website has photos from a 2010 trip to Washington, D.C. in which the church founders are pictured with a number of prominent North Carolina congressmen, included U.S. Rep. Patrick McHenry, U.S. Rep. Heath Shuler and U.S Sen. Kay Hagan. The D.C. trip was to showcase an exhibit on the Holocaust that WOFF’s church-run school had developed. The photos also feature the Whaleys with a number of prominent Jewish leaders.

The church’s Holocaust Museum exhibit was part of the 2010 Summit of the Christians United for Israel, whose leadership is comprised of a number of anti-gay religious leaders, including Gary Bauer, John Hagee, Jonathan Falwell Jr. Michael Little, the COO of Pat Robetsons’s Christian Broadcasting Network, also serves on the CUFI executive board.

The website also states the church has an affiliate church in Brazil. It states it also has a church and a Christian school in the West African country of Ghana, where homosexuality is illegal and where a government official in 2011 stated people should report anyone who might be gay.

2 Responses

  1. […] In America is seeking an explanation as to why YouTube would remove a video that the organization posted as part of its ongoing report about an anti-gay church that allegedly […]

  2. […] The video in question can be viewed at Faith In America’s FaithandEquality.org web site, a social media resource that offers LGBT youth and families a new religious perspective on sexual orientation – one that stands in sharp contrast to the traditional perspective by many mainstream churches. http://faithandequality.com/the-michael-lowry-story/#more-498 […]