Matthew Fenner, the gay man who was kidnapped and beaten by his fellow church members who were hoping to expel his “homosexual demons,” reportedly pleaded for years for authorities to investigate.
Fenner, who believed he would die during the two-hour physical and verbal attack, sought help for two years before anyone would investigate the Word of Faith Fellowship in North Carolina. The district attorney’s office at first said Fenner could only pursue misdemeanor charges, according to the Associated Press.
The AP’s conclusions are based on more than a dozen interviews and court documents, along with a series of secretly made recordings that were provided of Fenner’s meetings with law enforcement authorities, including Rutherford County Sheriff Chris Francis.
In February, the AP detailed how many Word of Faith Fellowship congregants were regularly attacked both physically and verbally in an attempt to “purify” sinners by beating out devils.
The church has come under scrutiny by law enforcement and social services authorities on numerous occasions with little effect, mostly because followers refused to cooperate. But Fenner’s relentless pursuit eventually led to the indictment of five congregants, who were charged with kidnapping and assault.
This is yet another example of special treatment for religious institutions — something we see all too often in a nation that’s supposed to have a wall between church and state. If these people hadn’t been able to hide their violence behind the guise of faith, it probably wouldn’t have taken two years to investigate such a severe hate crime. I’m not the only one who thinks this delay was caused by the influence of the church. The AP spoke with Jerry Wease, chairman of the Rutherford County Democratic Party and a licensed counselor who has worked with people who left Word of Faith:
Over the last two decades, it appears that different politicians or leaders in the community have had a certain fear of the Word of Faith and for whatever reason that sort of encapsulated them and made them untouchable… If no one is going to stand up and say choking, beating, violence and abuse is illegal and morally wrong, I have one question: Why? Why is every elected official not standing up and saying this?
The incredibly thorough AP investigators seem to have covered all their bases, interviewing (or attempting to interview) all the authorities who were responsible for mishandling the Fenner probe. Then-District Attorney Brad Greenway, who is ultimately responsible for the delay, told the AP the church was influential.
The church “would make sure they would bring in all these well-dressed congregants to tell a different story. Don’t take this the wrong way — and I knew people were being abused down there — but you just got tired going against them,” he said.
What we have here are people admittedly stalling investigations into a religious group that’s known for violence and abuse. I’m glad these five people have been charged, and I hope Fenner sees justice.
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