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DSS asks for talks on WOFF • Saturday January 18, 2003

The Digital Courier, Jan. 15, 2003
By JAMES LEWIS, Daily Courier Staff Writer

FOREST CITY — Detectives, prosecutors and child welfare investigators plan to meet next week to discuss information regarding inquiries into treatment of children at The Word of Faith Fellowship.

Chief Deputy C. Philip Byers said a social worker with the Rutherford County Department of Social Ser-vices contacted the sheriff’s office Tuesday to request the meeting.

Byers said he didn’t know specifics about the meeting’s agenda.

The social worker said “they had some things they wanted to share with us,” he said.

Byers said the meeting would include himself and several high-level investigators from the sheriff’s office, DSS social workers and District Attorney Jeff Hunt.

Hunt, reached at his home in Brevard late Tuesday, downplayed the meeting’s significance.

“It would be normal for the DSS to meet with me on various things,” he said.

Hunt last month asked the DSS to investigate the welfare of four children who are now in the care of a WOFF minister and his wife.

A separate investigation into the welfare of a child or children cared for at the WOFF’s child care facility has also been launched in recent weeks.

The Lincoln County DSS is handling the investigation requested by Hunt while Rutherford social workers are believed to be investigating the child care facility after an allegation regarding treatment of children was made.

Officials have refused to discuss the specifics of any allegations which have been made.

However, the WOFF’s senior pastors, Sam and Jane Whaley, are set to appear before a District Court judge on Friday after DSS alleged the couple and other church officials were not cooperating with the investigation involving the child care facility.

In a court petition filed earlier this month, DSS states that church officials have refused to provide a list of names and addresses of all children ages 0 to 5 years old.

Over the past eight years, the Spindale-based church has periodically been scrutinized by the press and authorities regarding the treatment of children. The church has also been involved in a number of child custody battles, the most recent arising less than a month ago.

Former members of the organization have alleged that the church exerts a controlling atmosphere on its membership and exercises severe corporal punishment, subjects children to loud prayers meant to drive out demons and devils during which children and sometimes adults are physically restrained.

DA Hunt asked the State Bureau of Investigation to examine those charges in 1995. After reviewing the SBI’s findings, Hunt announced no charges would be filed but said, “Some of the unorthodox practices of the Word of Faith Fellowship seem to create opportunities for abuses.”

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