Court upholds cult leader’s sexual misconduct conviction

Court upholds cult leader Wayne Bent’s sexual misconduct conviction: The New Mexico Supreme Court on Monday reinstated the convictions of religious cult leader Wayne Bent for sexual misconduct with teenage followers.

  • The decision reversed the Court of Appeals, which last year had overturned Bent’s convictions because the term of a grand jury had expired before it indicted Bent.
  • Bent, who also goes by the name of Michael Travesser, heads The Lord Our Righteousness Church. He claims God told him in 2000 that he is the Messiah.
  • His few dozen devotees live in a small plot of land near Clayton, New Mexico. The community is known as ‘Strong City’ — a name the media has sometimes used to refer to the group.
  • Theologically the group is a cult of Christianity. Sociologically the group has cult-like characteristics as well.
  • In December, 2008, a jury convicted Bent of the felonies for lying in bed with naked 14- and 16-year-old sisters in separate incidents in 2006. He was sentenced to 18 years in prison, of which 8 years suspended.
  • During his trial Bent and the sisters testified the incidents were spiritual exercises and that nothing happened sexually. The teens said Bent did not touch intimate areas, and Bent testified he had placed his hands on the sternums, but not the breasts, of the girls.
  • The Associated Press reports that

    Bent’s son, Jeff, said the justices will be asked to reconsider their ruling.

    “I find it incredible that the Supreme Court openly accepts that mistakes were made by the district court in my father’s case, and yet conclude he has no remedy,” Bent said in a statement emailed to The Associated Press. “They toss out the idea that a grand jury must be legally impaneled in accordance with law to hand down indictments, something I find appalling.” […]

    The Court of Appeals, after concluding that the grand jury indictment was invalid, did not consider other issues raised by Bent when he first challenged his convictions. […]

    If Bent’s indictment was invalidated, the court said, a new grand jury would likely find there is probable cause to indict Bent again and he would face a new trial.

Read the Court’s decision

Word Of Faith Fellowship Church Confined, Abused North Carolina Man For Being Gay: Report: 22-year-old Michael Lowry has filed a complained against his former church, which he accuses of holding him for four months against his will while he was physically and emotionally abused because he is gay.

  • The Word of Faith Fellowship, in Spindale, North Carolina, is an abusive church
  • Its teachings and practices fall so far outside those of normal, Biblical Christianity, that this church should be considered theologically a cult of Christianity. Sociologically it has cult-like elements as well.
  • The Charlotte Observer says

    In a statement given to a sheriff’s department investigator last week, Lowry said he was kept in a church building from Aug. 1 to Nov. 19, 2011. He said he was knocked unconscious during his first day of confinement.

    Lowry’s former pastor, Jane Whaley, said Sunday that all of his allegations are “lies.”

  • Word of Faith Fellowship, which has 750 members, has been accused of enforcing extensive control over its congregation.

    According to the Charlotte Observer

    Former members interviewed by the Observer in 2000 say they were told where to live, where to work, what to read, how to dress or even when it was OK to have sex with their spouses.

    Lowry says many of those controls continue today.

    Word of Faith also practices “blasting,” a form of hands-on, high-pitched, screaming prayer, a ritual that has landed it on “Inside Edition” and YouTube. The church, according to its website, also doesn’t celebrate “pagan holidays” ranging from birthdays to Christmas.

    Word of Faith was investigated twice in the late 1990s for its treatment of children, and later sued the local Department of Social Services in connection with what is now referred to on its website as “the persecution.”

    Whaley said the church has been exonerated of all allegations.

The £93m pastor accused of exploiting British worshippers: A church run by a controversial multi-millionaire African preacher has been accused of ‘cynical exploitation’ after its British branch received £16.7 million in donations from followers who were told that God would give them riches in return.

  • The Daily Mail says

    Winners’ Chapel is part of a worldwide empire of evangelical ministries run by Nigeria’s wealthiest preacher David Oyedepo, who has an estimated £93 million fortune, a fleet of private jets and a Rolls-Royce Phantom.

  • The paper says its revelations about the movement, which holds charitable status, have prompted the Charity Commission to carry out an assessment of the church – one of the fastest-growing in the UK.
  • Oyedepo, who is nicknamed ‘The Pastorpreneur’, preaches the so-called Prosperity Gospel: a scam that claims God will make you rich after you first donate money.

Judge orders meeting on payment for manager of FLDS sect’s trust: Utah Attorney General Mark Shurtleff has been ordered to appear in court to discuss how the state will pay millions in past-due fees to the accountant in charge of the polygamous sect’s seized property trust.

  • Accountant Bruce Wisan is trying to recoup $5.64 million in legal fees and other unpaid debts from managing the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints’ land trust — the United Effort Plan (UEP).
  • The United Effort Plan (UEP) property trust was created by the FLDS sect in 1942 on the concept of a “united order,” allowing followers to share in its assets.
  • Utah courts seized control of the trust in 2005 amid allegations by state attorneys that Jeffs and other faith leaders had mismanaged its assets.
  • But the UEP has remained the subject of ongoing legal battles, making it impossible for Wisan to recoup money.
  • The Salt Lake Tribune says

    The Utah Supreme Court in August affirmed previous court orders that the state should compensate Wisan, who has not been paid in the four years since the FLDS sued over the state’s 2005 takeover of the $114 million United Effort Plan (UEP) trust, preventing Wisan from paying himself from the trust.

RNB’s LINKS:

  • Paul Kurtz, “giant” of humanism, dead at 86: Founded the secular humanist Centre for Inquiry (CFI). Wrote or edited more than 50 books on ethics without religion, critiques of religion and the paranormal, and on scepticism, or the challenging of received wisdom.
  • Christian rock rises again on the charts, on the road, on the sea: Christian rock is experiencing a resurrection: Increasing prominence in the mainstream pop charts, a robust and growing tour business and, most important, a surge in creativity.
  • Parents may sue school district over yoga: A group of parents who say that yoga lessons being taught in the Encinitas Union School District (California) are a form of religious indoctrination are considering legal action against the district if the classes don’t stop, an attorney for the group said.

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