Mitch Weiss

Calling attention to 'important AP investigation on physical and sexual abuse' at N.C. church

Calling attention to 'important AP investigation on physical and sexual abuse' at N.C. church

If you pay attention to religion headlines, you've probably heard about the exclusive Associated Press story this week on "years of ungodly abuse" at a North Carolina church.

The investigative piece — a mountain of a wire service report at more than 4,000 words — delivers the journalistic goods.

Here's a big chunk of the opening, which sets the scene:

SPINDALE, N.C. (AP) — From all over the world, they flocked to this tiny town 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 Associated Press 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.
"I saw so many people beaten over the years. Little kids punched in the face, called Satanists," said Katherine Fetachu, 27, who spent nearly 17 years in the church.
Word of Faith Fellowship, an evangelical church with hundreds of members in North Carolina and branches in other countries, also subjected members to a practice called "blasting" — an ear-piercing verbal onslaught often conducted in hours-long sessions meant to cast out devils.
As part of its investigation, the AP reviewed hundreds of pages of law enforcement, court and child welfare documents, along with hours of conversations with Jane Whaley, the church's controlling leader, secretly recorded by followers.
The AP also spent more than a year tracking down dozens of former disciples who scattered after leaving the church. Many initially were reluctant to break their silence because they had hidden their pasts from new friends and colleagues — and because they remain afraid of Whaley.

If you don't have time to read the full report, there's an abridged version — about 1,100 words — that hits the high points.

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