RUTHERFORDTON — Former Word of Faith Fellowship member Lacy Wien took the stand for all of day three of the custody battle taking place in a Department of Social Services proceeding involving Shana Muse and the controversial Spindale church.
Wien is the second witness brought by DSS attorney Brad Greenway and Muse attorney Ed Hensley. Muse testified for about one and a half days to start the case, which is in the disposition phase after judge Randy Pool declared, without a trial, that there was sufficient evidence that Muse’s children had been abused.
DSS is contending that because Muse left the children with a family inside the WOFF, which DSS says is an abusive environment, the children should be turned over to DSS.
Muse supports the DSS action because she wants her children removed from the church as soon as possible. If that happens, she will then formally petition DSS for custody of her children, ages 9 to 16.
Kent Covington, a minister in the church, and his wife, Brooke, have cared for the children since last September when Muse left the children with the couple as she attempted to get her life in order after leaving the church.
The couple hopes to retain custody of the children and legally adopt them.
Wien, 19, who spent 14 years in the church with her family, testified to abuse she claims to have received while at the WOFF and to the treatment of Muse’s four children she witnessed.
Wien left the church in 2002 after planning an escape with her now husband, Ruben Wien. The two currently reside primarily in Sweden, Ruben’s home country. Ruben Wien is also a former WOFF member, but was expelled from the church.
The WOFF claims that members are allowed to come and go freely, but Lacy Wien says that was not true for her.
Wien testified to questions from Greenway to open the day. Covington’s attorney Tom Hix followed with cross examination and Hensley and Rob Martelle, court-appointed guardian ad litem for the children, joined in with questions during redirect questions.
Wien is involved in her own separate civil lawsuit against the WOFF in which she claims to have suffered permanent physical injuries from her abuse and is seeking monetary damages.
Wien, formerly Lacy Brown, moved to Rutherford County and joined the WOFF in 1989 with her parents, brother and sister.
She testified to continuous corporal punishment and ongoing extreme attempts to control her behavior by church leaders and teachers in the WOFF Christian School.
Wien said she regularly received spankings while in the church up to and including when she left at age 18.
The two most compelling incidents she recalled were one when she was 8-years-old at the school and another she described which involved WOFF founder and spiritual leader Jane Whaley.
Children regularly received spankings and church discipline, a form of isolation, while attending the WOFF school, Wien said.
Wien’s mother Lisa Brown was a teacher in the school and was Wien’s teacher when she was 8-years-old.
Wien said that during a class that year she raised her hand to ask a question of the teacher, her mother. Her mother did not acknowledge Wien and Wien then tried to get her mother’s attention by saying “mom” outloud.
Wien said her mother scolded her for saying that, telling ther she was Ms. Brown in that setting. Brown sent her daughter off for discipline to be administered by Ann MacDonald.
Wien said MacDonald proceeded to spank her with a thick paddle over the course of five and half hours after which Wien said she had a fracture in her tailbone and pain in her back.
“At first I was fighting not to be spanked,” said Wien. “She (MacDonald) threw a piece of paper on the floor and told me to bend over the pick it up. I crouched to pick it and she didn’t like that.”
Wien said she ended up nearly passed out over MacDonald’s knee. At one point during the spanking, MacDonald’s husband Douglas and church member Joe Franta entered the room and helped hold Wien down while the spanking continued.
“About half-way through it (I felt like I was injured),” said Wien. “It felt like it (tailbone) cracked.”
She told MacDonald that she was hurt, but the spanking continued for at least another two hours, according to Wien.
Wien said that no medical treatment was provided to her, and admitted that she did not tell her mother about it.
“I was threatened that if I did tell her (mom) that I would be back in the office and get it worse,” said Wien on cross examination by Hix. “I did speak to Karel Reynolds about it years later and she justified Ann’s threat.”
Wien also testified to punishment received at the hands of Whaley, just before Wien left the church in 2002.
Wien said she and Whaley had an argument about Wien’s desire to leave, as well as Wien’s desire to have a relationship with Ruben Wien.
Wien said that Whaley became physical with Wien while trying to convince Wien to stay with the church and away from Ruben.
“She put her hands around my neck and pulled me up out of my chair,” said Wien. “She was beating my head against a wall and yelling derogatory comments (like you’re a fornicator). She laid me down on the table and held me there for the rest of the meeting.”
The meeting lasted two to three hours.
Wien testified to numerous occasions when the Muse children were spanked, placed on church discipline and blasted, a form of prayer in which the subject is screamed at with loud groans and words to drive out demons. The WOFF calls the practice a deliverance circle.
Wien said the children also witnessed and participated in blasting sessions, including blasting newborn babies of less than one-year of age.
Infants participated in blasting sessions, sometimes while restrained in a chair by a shirt or towel.
Muse has four children, two teenage girls from a father of Saudi Arabian descent and two younger boys from her estranged husband Vincent Muse.
Wien was a teaching assistant in the classrooms for both the boys between August 2001 and February 2002.
She said that both boys were subjected to regular spankings and isolation or church discipline for minor offenses.
Wien said one of the boys was spanked for “looseness” when he dropped is pencil on the floor.
Another time one of the boys was spanked because he told the teacher his stomach hurt and he didn’t finish his lunch. Another time a spanking was given for one of the boys asking to go to the bathroom outside of the designated time for the class to do so, Wien said.
On one occasion for each of the boys, Wien saw the boys held down in a chair while they were blasted.
Wien said she experienced similar discipline while she attended the school, including one time when she was spanked and blasted for bringing a non-meat sandwich to school that was not fluffy enough.
Wien said she had pressed a tuna melt for her lunch, but was told that that made the sandwich have the appearance of food for someone who was poor and that tuna was not considered meat.
Wien said she was constantly monitored in her time at the WOFF.
“We were never left alone,” she said testifying about ‘guards’ who followed her around.
“(A guard) is a person who has been designated as someone who walks with Jesus. They listen to your conversations, they follow you to the bathroom and to the grocery store.”
Wien said she was instructed at age 5 when she first went to the WOFF and had it reinforced up until 2001 that she was not to wash her private parts because touching herself there was considered unclean. Wien said that order came from Whaley to the entire congregation.
Wien testified that on more than one occasion she was asked to monitor the Muse children and other children while they were put to bed to insure they kept their hands above the sheets.
“When we put the children to bed, we had to make sure they put their hands above the covers,” said Wien about a time she held watch children at Reynolds’ house.
“They had a spy cam, with a television set where we watched to make sure they kept their hands above the sheets.”
Wien said the Reynolds’ house was the only one she knew of with a camera set up, but she directly watched the Muse children on several occassions.
Wien also spent a lot of time at Suzanne Cooper’s house helping care for the numerous children there. Cooper is Muse’s sister.
“We’d watch them until they’d fall asleep,” said Wien. “It was to insure they were not given to the unclean while they were in bed.”
Wien also told about the concept of ‘generational sin’ taught by the WOFF.
Wien said they were taught that the birthing process is unclean and that pregnant women must be blasted to remove demons. Newborn babies are also blasted.
“They are blasted to get rid of any demons that could have been loosed in the hospital or in the process,” said Wien, about the church teaching that claims that sins of mothers are passed to the children in the womb.
Wien testified about her experience with taking classes at Isothermal Community College. She said she was told what classes to take by a church member who worked at ICC.
Wien said she and other WOFF members went to orientation at the school, but the classroom time was spent at the church. Wien never attended class with non-WOFF students.
Wien has since been unable to get a transcript from ICC for any grades received in the classes she completed.
Muse’s oldest daughter, who is only 16, is reported to be taking similar college courses.
One of the courses Wien took was an art history course. She said the students were not allowed to look at any of the art because the art was considered unclean. Their test consisted of matching up numbers given to blank squares to the names of artists which had been assigned the numbers earlier in the class.
Wien said she expressed a desire in her time at WOFF to go to school in a medical field, but was told she could not. Wien said she, nor any of her high school senior classmates, ever received a diploma.
Wien testified that any members who tried to leave the church were tracked down, brought back and punished. She said her behavior was controlled and she was not allowed to watch television, listen to the radio, read newspapers or magazines or even read textbooks in sections other than those directly assigned.
She also said that she saw Ray Farmer, sometimes twice a week, for medical treatment of her allergies. Farmer is not a licensed physician.
Greenway asked Wien about the whether is was OK to tell untruths in the church.
“If it is to protect God and his work in that place (WOFF), yes,” said Wien.
Hix, on cross examination, tried to enter into evidence letters allegedly written between Lacy Wien and Ruben Wien while to two were secretly courting while living in Ray Farmer’s home.
Judge Pool said the letters were not relevant to the hearing, a dispositional hearing for the four Muse children.
Hix pressed Wien for details on a visit Wien made to Beverly and Roger Holland’s home, the parents of another former church member Holly Hamrick and where Muse has been staying.
Wien was present when Muse’s children came over as part of court-ordered visitation. Hamrick may be a witness when the case resumes this morning.
Hix also asked about the cost of Wien’s attending the Wellspring Retreat in Albany, Ohio. Wellspring is a counseling center for ex-cult members.
Wien said she did not have to pay for the two weeks of attending Wellspring. Hix questioned the motivation of Wien and Wellspring people, given Wien’s pending civil lawsuit.
Wien left the church in 2002 after sneaking out of the house and running down the road to a waiting car driven by Ruben.
Wien said Ruben had always promised “to come back and get her” after he left the church.
A “heated exchange” between Hamrick and church member Brooke Covington had to be broken up by courthouse personnel during one of the breaks Monday.
Judge Pool implored the attorneys to make sure the witnesses, who are not being allowed in the courtroom during other testimony, remain in control of themeslves during the proceedings.