A North Carolina man has alleged that he was held hostage for four months by officials at his former church after he told them he was gay,
As the Charlotte Observer reports, 22-year-old Michael Lowry says he was physically and emotionally abused by leaders of the Word of Faith Fellowship Church while being kept in confinement in a dorm-like facility from Aug. 1 to Nov. 19, 2011. The article cites statements given to a local sheriff's department investigator last week in which Lowry, 22, claimed he was knocked unconscious on the first day after being confined.
"They hit my head with fist(s), and I was out on the floor...held my hands and feet down, and were pushing on my chest," Lowry told ABC 13. The abuse, he says, was part of an effort to "expel the demon" that church members believed caused his homosexuality, according to the Observer. "You can't stay on the grounds unless you want God," he told the news station.
According to some reports, Lowry also stated that he was frequently accompanied to the bathroom because church leaders were in fear he might be masturbating.
A former Word of Faith Fellowship Church pastor has slammed the charges as "lies," but as the Wisconsin Gazette points out, it isn't the first time that the parish, which was founded in 1979 and now has about 750 members, has been hit with eyebrow-raising allegations. Former members interviewed by the Observer in 2000 say they were told where to live, where to work, what to read, how to dress and even when to have sex with their spouses.
On the other hand, the former member says he believes Lowry's claims, calling Word of Faith "definitely" a cult. "I've witnessed it," Jerry Cooper told ABC 13. "I've witnessed the paddlings, I've witnessed the people held down...I've witnessed all of it."
Among those to support Lowry's case was Brent Childers, executive director of Faith in America, who said “there’s no question that these actions constitute a hate crime” if the allegations are proven true, according to the Observer.