N.C. Gay Man Held Hostage in Real-life "American Horror Story"
A North Carolina man claims leaders from his former church held him captive for four months against his will because he is gay, the Charlotte Observer reports.
It may seem like an episode of "American Horror Story." But Michael Lowry, 22, filed a complaint against the Word of Faith Fellowship Church in February in which he complained that he was physically and emotionally abused while held hostage in the church.
The young man claims he was kept against his will in a church building from Aug. 1 to Nov. 19, 2011. He told investigators that on his first day of being confined he was knocked unconscious. He compared his experiences to being put in jail.
"The doors were locked, it was jail," he said. "You weren't allowed to speak to your family. Many of the men had wives and children but they weren't able to communicate with them."
Lowry, who was born into World of Faith, says he first told his family and the leaders of his church that he was gay when he was about 15 or 16 years old. He claims that church members harassed and abused him for the next few years as they tried to get rid of a demon inside him that they believed caused him to be gay.
Lowry, who wanted the church to train him to be a minister, says he was placed with other men and boys who were having trouble at home. He also told the publication that he was often subjected to "blasting," a high-pitched screaming prayer that members of World of Faith practice.
On his first day of confinement, Lowry's keepers accused him of masturbating while he was taking a shower. He told authorities he was beaten up and eventually knocked out. He added that he was not permitted to leave the facility until November, when, he told officials, "God is telling me it's time to go. I don't want to be told what to do anymore."
Leaders of World of Faith deny the allegations against them. They dismiss Lowry's claims as lies.
Jane Whaley, Lowry's former pastor who founded the North Carolina-based church with her husband Sam in 1979, said the young man was not held against his will or physically assaulted. She says he stayed with the church because his parents kicked him out his house and those who stay with the church are allowed to come and go. In fact, Whaley says the church asked Lowry to leave due to his behavior.
"We want to serve Jesus," she said. "We don't want to be hypocrites. If this church is not for you, people leave."
When Lowry first left the World of Faith, he moved to Michigan to stay with relatives but has since decided to live with a friend in an undisclosed location in order to avoid harassment from the church's leaders.
Lowry isn't the only former World of Faith member to file a complaint against the church. Last week Lowry's friend also filed charges against four church members after being involved in a confrontation. The four listed in the complaint are charged with false imprisonment and misdemeanor stalking.
Whaley says the church has grown to 750 members since it was first founded in Spindale, N.C., which is about 65 miles west of Charlotte. According to the article, several church leaders are local business leaders and are politically active. About 10 years ago, Sam Whaley gave the opening prayer in the U.S. House after then-U.S. Rep. Charles Taylor, a Republican, asked him to do so.
But the church has been under fire before for the way it treats its members and children.
In 2000, former members of the Word of Faith talked with the Observer and said the church controlled almost every aspect of their lives. They said they were instructed on where to live, where to work, what to read, how to dress and even if they could have sex with their souses.
The church was investigated twice in the late 1990s for its treatment toward children, but Jane Whaley says the church has been cleared of all allegations. The Whaleys, in turn, sued the local Department of Social Services and refer to the incident as "the persecution" on its website. The church makes it a point not to celebrate "pagan holidays," which means a lot more than Halloween: It includes birthdays and Christmas.
The executive director of Faith in America, an organization that protects the LGBT community from religious-based bigotry, Brian Childers, said that Lowry's case is "the most disturbing I've encountered" and that if his claims are true, "there's no question that these actions constitute a hate crime."