Matthew Fenner alleges kidnapping and assault by members of his former church. Photo via Facebook.

CHARLOTTE, N.C. — Five members of an anti-LGBT church in Spindale, N.C., were indicted on several felony charges this week, following a complaint lodged by a young gay man who says church members kidnapped him and assaulted him because of his sexual orientation.

A grand jury indicted Justin Brock Covington, Brooke McFadden Covington, Robert Louis Walker Jr. and Adam Christopher Bartley on second degree kidnapping and simple assault charges. A fifth member, Sarah Covington Anderson, was indicted on second degree kidnapping as well as simple assault and assault by strangulation. The grand jury met on Monday, with indictment announcements released on Tuesday.

All are members of The Word of Faith Fellowship, a church which has continually come under fire for its alleged cult-like behaviors and severe treatment of members, particularly young people. In 1995, the church was the subject of an “Inside Edition” report on its “blasting” techniques, in which a person is encircled by church members and subjected to high-pitched shrilling sounds, screams and prayers. Blasting sessions can last anywhere from a few minutes to a few hours.

In this most recent case, 21-year-old student Matthew Fenner, a member of the church since age 16, alleges that several members targeted him because of his sexual orientation. On Jan. 29, 2013, Fenner says he was threatened with confinement for two days, slapped, strangled and verbally assaulted in an attempt, he says, to free him of “homosexual demons.”

Faith in America, a Taylorsville, N.C.-based LGBT advocacy group, has taken up Fenner’s cause.

They report in a press release: “Fenner said that at the time of the assault, he had a number of places on his back and neck that had been biopsied two weeks earlier for possible malignancy due to Fenner having cancer when he was a young boy. Fenner said members of the church who were involved with the assault ‘continued to grab at these spots resulting in much pain.’ He states in the affidavit that he believed he would have been severely beaten if he had admitted to any same-sex relations.”

Fenner has said it took several attempts — including several stalling tactics from local law enforcement and prosecutors — to get local officials to take his allegations seriously or allow him to file a formal complaint.

The church and the accused have said the allegations are not true.

“I knew it was a lie from the beginning,” Patrick Covington, a brother of one of the accused, told WLOS. “Because especially my sister is not capable of doing what he’s accusing her of doing.”

Patrick Covington told the news station he is also gay and left the church with Fenner, but he denies any abuse took place at the church.

Josh Farmer, an attorney for the church, has also denied the allegations.

“They are innocent of the charges leveled against them and we look forward to proving their innocence and to their complete vindication before a trial court,” Farmer said in a statement to WSPA. “We are adamant that no one ever physically harmed Mr. Fenner… The church does NOT target members who are gay.”

Affidavit reveals extreme abuse

An affidavit signed by Fenner and submitted with his complaint to local law enforcement reveals extreme abuse by several members of the church.

In the affidavit, Fenner recounts “at least three instances that resulted in Word of Faith Fellowship ganging up on me for being homosexual,” he writes.

The first took place on Jan. 27, 2013, in which Sarah Covington Anderson led a group of members in questioning Fenner about his “sin.” Brooke Covington then threatened Fenner with confinement in the sanctuary for two days if he did not begin to confess his sins.

“By this point, Sarah began to tell me how much she couldn’t stand to be around me and that I was disgusting because of my sexual orientation,” Fenner writes in the affidavit. “I told her that I was sorry that I didn’t know what she wanted me to tell her and to which she then slapped me with a great amount of force across my left cheek. At this point I was really starting to get scared.”

A group of members then surrounded Fenner, peppering him with question.

“Deliverance soon ensued (which meant extremely rough pushing, loud screaming, and other violent measures intended to ‘break me free of the homosexual ‘demons” they so viciously despite), and I was at one point grabbed by my throat by Sarah and shaken, punched, and beaten,” Fenner continues. “I received many bruises on my collarbones, neck, chest, and shoulders.”

Fenner continues, “I had at least 15-20 college age men around me, screaming, shaking me, punching me, hitting my chest, grabbing my head, telling me to repeat different phrases, all of which caused (and have resulted in much) mental distress to high levels.”

Later in the incident, Fenner says he was surrounded again by a larger group of young men. “The pushing, screaming, hitting, and shaking ensued again, and this time with more force,” he writes. “If I so much as adjusted myself in the chair, I was knocked bak down and was told to stop resisting.”

Church has past allegations

Faith in America has also been involved in past cases, including allegations of abuse made in 2012 by Michael Lowry. His allegations led the U.S. Department of Justice to initiate a hate crimes investigation. Lowry had been placed under FBI supervision, but he later recanted his story and returned to the church. According to Faith in America, Lowry has since left the church again and now claims he was manipulated into recanting his story.

Fenner is no longer a member of the church and he is now an anthropology student at the University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill. His mother and brother are still members of the Spindale church and testified against Fenner in the grand jury deliberations.

Faith in America says the church compares homosexuals to the “demon-possessed.” In 2012, they note, the church’s website stated, “Those who were once drug addicts, alcoholics, homosexuals, etc. are now delivered by the power of God and are living normal lives, serving God and doing his will,” though that statement has now been edited to drop the word “homosexuals.”

The church also operates an unaccredited private school, which was due to receive state funding under North Carolina’s new private school voucher program. The program has been ruled unconstitutional by a state appeals court and is awaiting a hearing at the North Carolina Supreme Court.

Matt Comer previously served as editor from October 2007 through August 2015 and as a staff writer afterward in 2016.

18 replies on “Anti-gay N.C. church members indicted on felony kidnapping, assault against gay man”

  1. This is why in spite of recent legal advancements we have a long way to go to reach full equality in NC. Time for us all to roll up our sleeves and dig in a little deeper.

  2. Where is the media? This type of abuse should be exposed nationally and the police should shut that church down!!!

  3. I say simply this. That two statements found universally in all religions and systems of belief. I feel best quoted by the so called “good book”, ” judge not lest yea be judged” and “an eye for an eye”. I believe it is high time that the Christians be held accountable for their actions, and I personally am not so sure that being burned at the stake in a public square is out of the question. After all that is what they did to my ancestors. How about giving them a taste of their own medicine.

  4. I hope these repulsive, misguided, sick, and odious religious wackos get prosecuted to the fullest extent the law allows. Solitary confinement is too good for these sickos.

  5. This sickens me a lot, just to hear or read how homosexuals are being assulted and tormented just because they love someone in the same sex. I swear that all the religions around the world is going to cause the extinction of the human race. The other thing is that the “Homosexual demons” doesn’t exist, maybe “Bigot demons”. So grow up for once, especially the Christians, see that being different is actually good and not the opposite.

    1. This sickens me also. I am so sick of Christians, They sicken me. They lie. And some of the preachers sound like hitler . so far I still believe in god, but not the bible. My God teaches LOVE AND TOLERANCE. Christians are teaching HATE AND INTOLERANCE

  6. Fenner is quite credible just for the fact that he has NOTHING to gain from reporting this church. If not just the individuals named in the assault.
    I have many gay friends who, when they were quite young, their families employed church members to intimidate them.
    The family forced them to be counseled by ex gay therapy frauds.
    And threatened to abandon them, at a time when it’s criminal to abandon a child who is legally still a minor.
    My city is full of runaway and throwaway gay kids.
    GOOD kids, not problem children at all.

    Which is even more demoralizing to be treated so harshly by your family, when you are also a law abiding and responsible kid.
    And you love your family, but they don’t love you back anymore.
    I always say, blood is thicker than any holy book.
    No holy book will love you back, or give you hugs and kisses or comfort you better than your own flesh and blood.
    Any family that chooses such a thing over a loving child, are the worst kinds of cowards.
    Yes, cowards.

  7. This is exactly what happened to my boyfriend in 1992. His ‘evangelical’ family forced him to undergo an ‘exorcism’, during which he was beaten to death. No one was ever punished for his murder.

  8. Why would this guy go to that church ? I live in NC and there are plenty of open and affirming Churches here. …. Just saying.

  9. Interesting they are no different then radicle Muslims, all in the name of religion it’s sick. Churchs should be paying taxes especially Cults like this one.

  10. When I was in a Pentecostal Christian ministry in the ’80s, my roommate was kidnapped on her way into work, lost a shoe in the parkinglot, and vanished! We found out she was being held by a “deprogramming” group (people paid to do this even though it was illegal ) that claimed we were in a cult.

    This woman was a 25 yr old college grad and going to get married to another member of our church, so her parents freaked out and paid $20K to have this done. What really through us for a huge loop was after being interviewed by the police, we found out that the NY State police knew of the deprogrammers plan and allowed them to do this without charging the group of any crime, even though they took her over state lines against her will.

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