Daughter happy in church

RUTHERFORDTON — The oldest daughter of Shana Muse took the stand Thursday in an ongoing custody battle between Muse and a couple in the Word of Faith Fellowship church.

Muse’s four children have been taken care of by WOFF ministers Kent and Brooke Covington since Muse left the controversial church last September.

The Rutherford County Department of Social Services is seeking custody of the children, claiming the WOFF environment is abusive. Muse supports the DSS action, hoping to get the children out of the church as soon as possible and ultimately win full custody of the children.

Also on the stand Thursday were former WOFF member Cassidy Lawrence and clinical psychologist Jeanne Murrone.

Today will be the final day of oral evidence in the case after Judge Randy Pool held a conference with the attorneys to start the day. Any testimonial evidence not done by today will be submitted through affidavits, with a deadline for those of next Friday.

Pool will then analyze the accumulated evidence and make a decision.

Covington attorney Tom Hix objected to the limitation on oral evidence but Pool ruled that the seven days of oral testimony was enough and he had the authority to limit the time for oral testimony in this type of proceeding.

Muse’s oldest daughter, Sarah, 16, testified that she was never really happy with her mother. Only since she came to the WOFF, and especially since the Covingtons took over her care, has she been happy, she said.

“It’s been the best time of my life,” Sarah said. “It’s the happiest I’ve ever been and it’s the happiest I’ve ever seen my brothers. For the first time in my life, I have someone who will love us and who will always be there for us. For the first time in my life, I feel safe.”

She told the story of her life before the WOFF as well as her time there.

Sarah said her time before WOFF was a very unhappy and depressing time be-cause of abuse, primarily handed out by Muse’s estranged husband and the father of the two boys.

She also said her mother’s continued drug use at the time was a cause of much of the problems. Muse end-ed up in jail for a short time and came up to Rutherford County in 2000 to start a new life with her two sisters, Suzanne Cooper and Cindy Cordes.

Both Cooper and Cordes remain members of the WOFF. Cordes testified over the course of Tuesday and Wednesday.

The children stayed with Cooper when they first came here and began atten-ding services at WOFF.

“After about a week of being here, I was happy and I didn’t want to go back to Florida,” said Sarah.

She said the church environment has not been abusive. Though she did say that spanking was done from time to time; children are given strong prayer or blasting; and children are placed on church discipline.

Sarah called the Covingtons mom and dad throughout her testimony, sometimes called them just “mom” or “dad”, but usually saying “mom Brooke” or “dad Kent.”

She testified that some children are placed on church discipline for misbehaving. Church discipline, also called discipleship or isolation, has been defined in several ways but is generally time alone for a person to seek help from God for issues that have come up.

Sarah said that church discipline can be given to children when they misbehave. Both Cordes and Mark Morris, a current WOFF member who testified Wednesday, said that church discipline was voluntary and people choose to have it.

Sarah testified that children are also spanked for misbehaving in school. She said she was spanked one time for what she believed was failure to complete her homework. She said both of her brothers had been spanked between three and five times since 2000 that she has direct knowledge of, but knows that they got spanked more often.

She said that strong prayer is voluntary and done regularly, including during the school day.

“A blast is a strong prayer from God,” she said. “I love strong prayer, it has changed my life, I’ll never stop praying. You’re never praying at a person, you’re praying together.”

She said that strong prayers can happen at any time during the school day. If somebody requests one, the class will stop what they are doing and give the prayer.

She said that her mother got more abusive and more violent with her brothers over the course of their stay at the WOFF. Sarah told of one incident near the end of Muse’s time at WOFF in which Sarah claims Muse struck her oldest brother in the face.

“It threw him five feet across the room and left red marks on his face,” she said about the incident. “She wound up and hit him as hard as I’ve ever seen her hit him.”

Muse earlier characterized the hit as a pop on the cheek.

Sarah said the court-ordered visitations with her mother have not been good.

She testified that she and her siblings and Cordes were subjected to regular verbal abuse about the WOFF.

“She (Muse) would say that we are part of a cult, that we’re going to burn in hell, that we are brainwashed,” said Sarah. “She keeps saying she will take us to Wellspring and deprogram us.”

Wellspring Retreat in Albany, Ohio is a counseling center for ex-cult members where Muse and other former WOFF members have gone for treatment.

Sarah has already graduated from the Word of Faith Christian School and is taking college courses. She attended Wofford College this summer and took Physics I and II and got and ‘A’ in each class. She is currently taking classes at Isothermal Community College. Some of the courses she attends at the school and others she does by correspondence.

She said she wants to go to medical school and knows the Covingtons will pay for her to do so.

On cross examination, Muse’s attorney Ed Hensley asked Sarah about her desire to be a doctor.

“Do you fantasize,” asked Hensley.

“What do you mean,” said Sarah.

Hensley rephrased the question and Sarah said “I’m creative, but I don’t sit there daydreaming.”

“You don’t daydream,” asked Hensley.

“I don’t daydream and think of things that are not real,” said Sarah.

“Do you fantasize, daydream or imagine about becoming a doctor,” asked Hensley.

“No, I don’t,” she said.

Hensley asked Sarah if church discipline was voluntary for adults. Sarah said it was.

“But you said your mom was put on church discipline,” asked Hensley.

“Yes, she wasn’t allowed to come into the sanctuary,” said Sarah.

“Well, who decided that,” asked Hensley.

“I don’t know, I guess it could have been her (Muse),” said Sarah.

Sarah said she does not want to go back to Florida and does not want to go back to her mother.

“I don’t want to go back and live the way we lived before,” Sarah said.

Murrone testified about a psychological evaluation she did at the request of the Covingtons.

Murrone, who works in Charlotte, is a licensed psychologist and is practicing as a clinical psychologist.

She went through the tests she administered to each child and gave her opinion as what would be best for each child for their psychological well-being.

For each of the children, Murrone said they would benefit from staying in their current environment because she said it provided much-needed stability and an educational experience with a smaller classes including one-on-one possibilities with teachers.

Murrone said each of the children have benefited from their current situation and removing them from it would be detrimental to their psychological health.

“Sarah is thriving where she is,” said Murrone.

Murrone said Sarah’s younger sister would not benefit from being removed from the Covingtons.

“Psychologically to move (her) from the environment she is in now would be an emotional and psychological death sentence,” said Murrone about the younger girl.

Murrone said the older boy needs a “small classroom with minimal distractions” to succeed in school.

“(He) is benefiting from where he is right now and he’s not going to get better if it is disrupted,” said Murrone.

Murrone said she has not been paid yet, but intended to bill the Covingtons. Murrone said she charges $175 per hour and has spent between four and six hours with each child and was not finished will her full examination. She also said there is time away from the children to compile the information gathered into a report. Based on the time she has already put in the bill would be over $5,000.

The other witness of the day was former WOFF member Lawrence. Lawrence was a member from 1994 to 2002 when he left.

Lawrence now lives in North Dakota with his father and was flown in by the WOFF.

The key point of his testimony was his claim about a phone call he says he received from the television program Inside Edition. The program in 1995 secretly filmed blasting sessions at the church and did a nationally broadcast story.

Lawrence said the person on the phone — who gave his name but Lawrence could not remember it — offered Lawrence $500,000 if he would rejoin the church and secretly film activities there. The purpose of the taping would be for Inside Edition and to possibly help the civil lawsuit filed by former member Lacy Wien.

Lawrence said he did not remember the phone number that came up on the caller ID, but it was from an area code he did not recognize.

Lawrence said he turned down the offer.

‘Bottom line, I don’t have anything against the church,” said Lawrence.

Inside Edition spokesman Jim Kelly said Thursday no one from Inside Edition called Lawrence.

“It’s preposterous,” said Kelly. “No one at Inside Edition has ever heard of this person.”

Lawrence said the WOFF environment was not abusive to him and he left of his own free will.

He said he chose to leave in the middle of the night because he didn’t want his mother to know because, “I didn’t want to break her heart.”

Lawrence said much of Wien’s accusations against the church were not true.

“I know that she knows that a lot of what she said wasn’t true,” he said.

Lawrence said the amount of strong prayer he participated in was minimal and that it was all voluntary and that the school was great for him.

Hensley asked him if there was anything about the school that was troubling.

“No, nothing I wouldn’t do all over again,” Lawrence said. “I had a wonderful time at the Word of Faith.”

Lawrence went to Charlotte for about four months after he left the church and then went to Bismarck to be with his father. He said he had serious drug problems right after leaving the church, but has been clean since January.

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(Listed if other than Religion News Blog, or if not shown above)
The Daily Courier, USA
Sep. 12, 2003
Jerry Stensland, Daily Courier Staff Writer

Religion News Blog posted this on Friday September 12, 2003.
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