From all over the world, they flocked to the tiny town of Spindale, NC, in the foothills of the Blue Ridge Mountains, lured by promises of inner peace and eternal life. What many found instead: years of terror—waged in the name of the Lord. Congregants of the Word of Faith Fellowship were regularly punched, smacked, choked, slammed to the floor, or thrown through walls in a violent form of deliverance meant to "purify" sinners by beating out devils, 43 former members told the AP in separate, exclusive interviews. Victims of the violence included pre-teens and toddlers—even crying babies, who were vigorously shaken, screamed at, and sometimes smacked to banish demons. Students in the church's K-12 school were encouraged to beat their own classmates. Several former followers said some congregants of the church were sexually abused, including minors.
Word of Faith Fellowship has been scrutinized on numerous occasions by law enforcement, social services agencies, and the news media since the early 1990s—all without significant impact, mostly because followers refused to cooperate. Those interviewed by the AP—most of them raised in the church—say Word of Faith leaders strong-armed young victims and their parents to lie. They said members were forbidden to seek outside medical attention for their injuries, which included cuts, sprains, and cracked ribs. The former members, some of whom offered up secretly recorded conversations with the church's controlling leader, Jane Whaley, said they were speaking out now due to guilt for not doing more to stop the abuse and because they fear for the safety of the children still in the church, believed to number about 100. Click for much more on the alleged abuses. (Read more child abuse stories.)