Speaker on cults baffled by WOFF

Spartanburg Herald-Journal, Feb. 24, 2003
By Baker Maultsby, Staff Writer

SPINDALE, N.C. — Paul Martin sat on the stairs leading up to the pulpit in the Adaville Baptist Church sanctuary Sunday.

Minutes earlier, he delivered a talk to the congregation on the dangers of cults.

As he sat there and fielded questions, Martin, who runs the Ohio-based Wellspring Retreat counseling center, was nearly at a loss for words to explain the events surrounding the Word of Faith Fellowship.

“I don’t know what to make of it,” he said. “In 17 years as a counselor, I have never seen anything like this.”

WOFF has been a hot topic over the past several months in the Rutherford County community.

In December, the controversial church became embroiled in a custody battle involving the children of former member Shana Muse. WOFF members Kent and Brooke Covington have temporary custody of Muse’s four children while the parties await a date in court.

WOFF also is under investigation by the Department of Social Services, which is working to obtain information about the treatment of children in the church.

More recently, two former church members have filed civil lawsuits against WOFF, alleging a range of mental and physical abuse. Both suits name the church and its leader, Jane Whaley, as defendants.

Lacy Wien, who left WOFF this past year, alleges that as a child growing up in the church she was spanked more than 1,000 times and “continued to receive the spankings” after her 18th birthday.

Wien also claims that Whaley lifted her out of a chair “by the plaintiff’s neck and sat the plaintiff on (a) table and proceeded to violently bang the back of the plaintiff’s head against the wall.”

The suit, filed by Rutherfordton attorney Peter Lane, alleges that as a result “of all of these assaults and batteries … the plaintiff suffers severe back and spinal injuries that leave the plaintiff in constant pain.”

According to the suit, Wien believes the injuries have left her unable to bear children.

Meanwhile, Adaville Baptist Church minister James Daves is heading up an interdenominational group of other ministers and residents called the Faith Freedom Fund. The idea is to offer assistance to those leaving WOFF, a church Daves said is “hurting people who have no resources and need help.”

Against this backdrop, Martin and Wellspring staffers Liz Shaw and John Wick talked about their personal experiences in groups they described as cults and about their efforts to help others who have been involved in abusive religious organizations.

Wick described leaders of such groups as “wolves in sheep’s clothing.”

“People don’t know what they’re joining,” he told the congregation. “There’s no sign on the door saying, ‘We’re a cult. Get ready to be abused.’ “

Martin touched on the same theme, emphasizing the term “false prophets.”

He also urged the congregation to lend support to the “lost sheep” who have joined abusive groups.

Martin’s visit served as something of a reunion for roughly 10 former members of WOFF.

Sheri Nolan, a former WOFF staffer now living in California, was among those on hand. After the church service, she joined the Wellspring counselors and several other former WOFF members for lunch at Ryan’s Steakhouse.

Nolan said it was gratifying to see other former members get on with their lives. “It’s wonderful that we can all have a life and not be destroyed by something like that,” she said.

Also eating at Ryan’s, however, was a family Nolan said now belongs to WOFF. She described her encounter with the group — especially with a young girl Nolan had known “when she was 4” — as “heartbreaking.”

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Religion News Blog posted this on Monday February 24, 2003.
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