The Digital Courier, Feb. 14, 2003
By JAMES LEWIS, Daily Courier Staff Writer
RUTHERFORDTON — Another family dispute involving the Word of Faith Fellowship began working its way through the state court system on Thursday.
Gene and Denise Worley, who have been married for nearly 25 years, separated on Jan. 21 after an incident of domestic violence. Denise Worley left their Forest City home and she, along with the couple’s three children, is now living with “friends of the family” on the church’s campus outside Spindale.
District Court Judge David Fox ruled that Mr. Worley had pushed his wife and their 7-year-old son down to the floor during their confrontation last month and awarded temporary custody of the couple’s three children to Mrs. Worley.
Mr. Worley will be allow-ed supervised visitation with his children under an order read into the record by Judge Fox.
Mr. Worley testified during the proceedings in open court while the couple’s two daughters, ages 12 and 16, talked with Judge Fox and the couple’s attorneys in the judge’s chambers.
Accounts differ about exactly what led to the confrontation on Jan. 21 be-tween the Worleys, but both sides indicate it had something to do with the Word of Faith Fellowship or the church’s teachings.
Mr. Worley said last month that he became angry after being told that the couple’s oldest daughter, who has been living at another WOFF household since October, was not allowed to return home.
The summary of facts presented by Fox at the conclusion of Thursday’s hearings presented statements indicating that the dispute began after Mrs. Worley refused to allow their two younger children to come into the living room where Mr. Worley was listening to loud music.
“I was in a fit of rage,” Mr. Worley testified. “I was angry.”
The husband admitted pushing his wife onto the floor, but said he didn’t remember grabbing her or other alleged details of the incident.
Mrs. Worley, in court documents filed last month, alleges her husband also kicked her in the back and threw their son to the floor after the boy tried to protect her.
Judge Fox indicated in his ruling that at least one of the Worleys’ daughters was fearful of their father.
A police officer who encountered Mr. Worley after the incident testified he found the man on the sidewalk and he was intoxicated, crying and very upset.
Mr. Worley testified he had made a cold medicine concoction of corn liquor and lemon drops and had probably drank 3 to 4 ounces of the liquor within a few hours of the incident.
Worley said did not have a substance abuse problem, stating he did not drink in front of his children and that he had not used marijuana in about two months.
The man said he had recently sought counseling for anxiety, depression and anger management.
Judge Fox stopped short of ordering a substance abuse assessment, but indicated evidence of such action would spur the court to re-evaluate the visitation arrangements.
Several times during Mr. Worley’s testimony, he and the attorneys indicated that Mrs. Worley and her mother are members of the controversial church in Spindale and their children attend the church’s school.
Judge Fox also noted that the couple with whom Mrs. Worley and her children now reside are members of the church.
Fox noted that the church was a “controversial institution” which had been involved in numerous cases which had worked their way through the courts.
“(WOFF) is a 600-pound gorilla in this case that you Mr. Worley are going to have to deal with,” Judge Fox said.
The judge told Mr. Worley that his recent professed decision to give his life to Jesus Christ would work in his favor and would help him understand the belief system at WOFF and better communicate with his children.
The judge did not hammer out exact details of the visitation arrangements and both sides were at odds over who would supervise the visits.
Mr. Worley objected to WOFF members serving as supervisors and Mrs. Worley objected to suggestions that her mother-in-law serve in that capacity.
Mr. Worley was jailed for three days earlier this month after apparently contacting his wife by telephone, a violation of his release after being arrested following the dispute.
Worley testified that he had contacted her by accident and had called her residence while he thought she would be at work and he could speak with his children.
WOFF has been involved in at least three child custody cases over the past eight years, typically when one parent is involved in the church and another is not a member or has recently left the congregation.
A case now pending involves Shana Muse, who is a former member battling a church minister and his wife for custody of her four minor children.
The Department of Social Services is also examining several allegations of abuse or neglect involving church members. The District Attorney also requested an investigation into the welfare of Muse’s children. Those investigations are ongoing.