RUTHERFORDTON — Another former member of the Word of Faith Fellowship has filed a civil lawsuit seeking damages for physical and mental abuse from the church and members of its top leadership.
Lacy Wien, a member of the church for 14 years, claims in the lawsuit that she was spanked with a wooden paddle more than 1,000 times during those years and that she now suffers from permanent injuries sustained during those spankings. Those injuries, the lawsuit claims, have left Wien, now 19, unable to bear children.
The lawsuit was filed Thursday by Rutherfordton attorney Peter E. Lane, who also is representing former church member Holly Hamrick in a similar civil action filed against the church earlier this month.
Those named in Wien’s suit are The Word of Faith Fellowship, Inc., senior church pastor Jane Whaley and church members Lynn Marie Millwood, Ann E. MacDonald, Bonnie Lowrence, Karel Reynolds, Connie Davies, Jayne K. Caulder and Jennifer M. Creason.
Reynolds, who returned a phone message to the church seeking comment, said Thursday evening that Whaley was out of town, had just learned of the suit and had no comment on it.
Wien’s 10-page complaint states that she had been a member of the Spindale-based church since her parents moved to the area and began attending services in 1989.
She left the church one year ago after becoming engaged to another church member against Whaley’s wishes, the suit states. Wien has since married the man and is now living in Sweden.
In the suit, Wien describes the church as an environment where the members are controlled by Whaley. Wien alleges that Whaley and others named in the lawsuit engaged in a civil conspiracy designed to financially benefit Whaley and those “members who agree with, submit to and follow defendant Jane B. Whaley’s desires.”
The suit sets out numerous detailed narratives of Wien’s experiences in the church, including allegations that she was repeatedly spanked, held against her will and subjected to intentional physical and emotional distress.
Many of the allegations pertain to spankings given by WOFF leaders and those at the church-run school using a “thick, wooden paddle.” Wien alleges she was subject to the spankings from the time she was enrolled in kindergarten at the church school until she left WOFF last February, nearly a year after she had graduated from the school.
In a court hearing nearly three years ago, several former members referred to the wooden paddle as the “rod of discipline.”
“(Wien) was required to lean over a desk to receive these spankings and was struck with a wooden paddle from three (3) to in excess of (13) times during each of these spankings,” the suit states. “If (Wien) refused to lean over the desk as instructed, several members of the (WOFF) would hold the plaintiff down on the floor and, although each situation varied, the common practice was that one member would kneel on (Wien’s) back, another member would hold (Wien’s) legs while yet another member would administer the spanking. Almost all of the spankings received by (Wien) involved a ritualistic procedure whereby (Wien) was required to begin praying in a certain manner, then moan, then weep, and the spanking would begin when the member administering the spanking felt it was the right time. Many of these spanking sessions lasted from two to three hours.”
The lawsuit details at least a dozen specific instances of being spanked. While a fourth grader, Wien alleges she was required to receive a spanking every day because she had a “rebellious nature toward receiving spankings.”
In middle school, Wien alleges in the suit, she was spanked several times because she brought tuna and cheese sandwiches for lunch after being told “to bring a sandwich with meat on it and tuna was not considered meat and her sandwich was not ‘fluffy’ like the other children’s sandwiches.”
In April 2001, Wien alleges in the court document that she was spanked by Creason because she was talking about lawnmowers during lunch and Creason and her teacher “felt that this conversation was inappropriate in that it would bore the other female students.”
Wien’s complaints include details about two incidents in which she alleges she suffered permanent injury.
The first incident is said to have occurred in September 1992 when Wien was a third grader and she was taken to the school principal’s office over breaking a rule about how to address the teacher.
The suit states that Ann E. MacDonald told Wien she needed to be spanked and must bend over a desk. Wien states she “began to cry and move” while MacDonald spanked her three times and the woman called in her husband, Douglas L. MacDonald, to help hold her down. Ultimately, the suit states, Wien was told to “lie down in (Mrs. MacDonald’s) lap and receive the spankings in submission.” The suit states that Wien continued to cry and flinch during the spanking session which lasted more than two hours.
The suit states that “(Wien) at this moment noticeably began experiencing severe and continuing pain” in her back which she now believes is permanent. The suit states Ann MacDonald was aware of the injury and told her “to never tell anyone what happened.”
Wien, formerly Lacy Brown, states that during 2001 she began to form a secret friendship with Ruben Wien, a church member from Sweden, and that he proposed to her on Valentine’s Day 2002.
Six days later, the suit states, Millwood confronted Wien about the relationship with her future husband.
After admitting to the relationship, the suit states, Millwood told her “Ruben’s as good as dead and he’s on his way to Sweden now and you can be as good as dead also if you want to go with him.”
The suit states that the following day Mr. MacDonald, fellow church member Joshua Farmer and “another man not a member of the (WOFF) but believed to be in local law enforcement)” put Ruben Wien on a flight to his native Sweden via New York City. Instead of returning to Sweden, the suit states that Ruben Wien stayed in the United States and came back to North Carolina for his fiancee several days later.
The suit states that Lacy Wien then received “blastings” from WOFF on Feb. 21, 22 and 23 of 2002.
Blastings are a form of prayer which former members have described as a high-pitched, shrill prayer which church leaders say drive demons and devils out of a person’s body.
On Feb. 24, 2002, the suit states, Wien went to the church for another blasting session and told Millwood “Don’t lift your voices on me. I really feel like it’s time for me to leave.”
Wien states she was taken to “the holding room” and told to submit for another spanking.
Wien states she refused and told Millwood, “I just want to leave. I really want to be with Ruben.”
The suit states that Millwood “leaned against the holding room door and said, ‘You’re not going anywhere. You’re going to get your spanking tonight.'”
After stating again that she wanted to leave, Millwood fetched Whaley.
“(Whaley) entered the room with her hands raised and with both her hands grabbed (Wien’s) neck,” the suit states.
The suit states that Whaley lifted Wien out of the chair by her neck and put her on a table which was placed against the wall and “proceeded to violently bang the back of (Wien’s) head against the wall. (Wien) was dazed and (Whaley) pushed (Wien) down on the table with her legs hanging over the end of the table and together with (Millwood) tightly squeezed (Wien’s) shoulder and neck area while screaming to her about her lack of submission and her wickedness. (Wien) lost all feeling in her body due to the manner in which (Whaley and Millwood) had assaulted (Wien). (Whaley) then slung (Wien) off the table onto the floor where (Wien) was unable to move due to tingling and numbness in her legs.”
The suit states that Whaley then lectured her about the “evilness” of herself and Ruben Wien and told her she would not be allowed to leave the “meeting” until she denounced her love for Ruben Wien.
The suit states the teenager “gave up approximately two hours after being taken into the holding room and told (Whaley) that she didn’t want to be with Ruben and that the (WOFF) was the greatest place ever or something to that effect.”
The suit states that Lacy Wien was then “constantly guarded” by other church members until she was able to leave when Ruben Wien drove up to her house on Monfredo Street in Rutherfordton on March 2, 2002.
The two left for Sweden shortly afterward and were married last August, the suit states.
The church and those named in the complaint have 30 days to respond in court.
WOFF was investigated by authorities in 1995 but no charges were filed. The church has been under increasing scrutiny since late last year after a former member became entangled in a legal battle involving a church pastor and his wife over custody of her four minor children. Litigation over Shana Muse‘s four children is still pending.
Meanwhile, the Rutherford County Department of Social Services has launched an investigation into the treatment of children at the church. The District Attorney has requested another investigation into the welfare of Muse’s children.
In addition, a state regulatory agency is working to determine whether the WOFF runs a day care and if so why the operation has never been monitored or licensed by the state.
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