RUTHERFORDTON — The parties will have to wait for a ruling on a civil dispute between a divorced couple with ties to the Word of Faith Fellowship.
Testimony concluded Tuesday in the case Bernard “Ben” McGee brought against his ex-wife, Pam Sharp, a member of the Spindale-based church.
McGee charges Sharp is in contempt of a court ruling which gave joint custody of the couple’s three minor children. The primary residence of the children remains with Sharp in the church.
McGee left the church when he and Sharp separated.
District Court Judge Mark Powell will review the documents and testimony of the case and issue a ruling in the next few weeks.
McGee’s attorney, Laura Powell, said there was only one issue to be decided — the contempt charge. However, Sharp’s attorney, Tom Hix, wants the original court order revised.
The original ruling, made several years ago by Judge Randy Pool, specifically stated that the children were not to be subjected to a blasting or loud prayer — a controversial practice of WOFF in which a person is usually seated while a group of people surround the person and use loud words or guttural sounds. Church members have testified the practice forces demons out of the subject of the blasting.
Most of Tuesday’s testimony was about the practice, including testimony from the three children.
Hix argued in closing that the children are older now and have a right to determine what their own religious practices are.
“It is not just (Pam Sharp’s) right, it is the religious freedom of the children if they are of sufficient age,” said Hix of the children, now ages 9, 12 and 14. “To deprive them of their religious freedom, you have to find cogent evidence.”
Each of the three children testified that they like the strong prayer, asked for it and wished it to continue.
Each said they are currently participating in strong prayer despite the court order against it.
Attorney Powell said the issue was about contempt and changing Pool’s order would be wrong.
“(Sharp) has exhibited clear contempt of the court and she continues, by her own admission, to violate the order,” said Powell. “There has been an order issued in this case and to re-litigate this case is ludicrous.”
Judge Powell said he was open to potentially changing Pool’s order given the time between the order and now, but he also added that he was leery of going behind another judge and disputing his findings.
In addition to the children, two Rutherford County Department of Social Services employees testified as did Dr. Ann Crummie, a Rutherfordton clinical psychologist.
Crummie and her husband, Dr. Bob Crummie, run the Raintree Clinic. The two were asked to give therapy to the family as part of a ongoing investigation by DSS.
She said she visited the WOFF, unannounced, and observed the church service and the school.
Crummie said, while she herself would not want to be subject to the loud prayer, she said the people participating seemed to have a positive experience.
Attorney Powell asked her if she had seen the video of the loud prayer which was obtained by an undercover investigator and broadcast in 1995 by the television show Inside Edition.
Powell asked Crummie if the video, which shows and extremely loud session or sessions of the praying, was similar to what she saw and if the video style of praying could be damaging to a child.
Crummie said what she saw in the video could be damaging to a child, but said she thought the tape was sensationalized and what she saw in person was different.
Powell asked Crummie if she thought the church changed the way they do the loud prayer because Crummie was present. Crummie said it was possible, but did not know.
Crummie said the children did not show signs of depression or anxiety when she treated them.
A psychologist in Asheville used by DSS six months earlier did find signs of depression and anxiety which was attributed to both the father’s actions and to the religious practices of the church.
DSS did not find any abuse during three investigations between 2000 and 2003; two for allegations against the mother and one against the father.
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