N.C. Man Says Church Kept Him Imprisoned for Being Gay

The Word of Faith Church has been investigated before for abuse.

ByABC News
October 22, 2012, 11:07 AM

Oct. 22, 2012— -- A North Carolina church that has previously faced allegations of harassment and child abuse is the subject of a new investigation launched after a 22-year-old man claims he was held against his will for being gay.

Michael Lowry, who began attending Word of Faith Fellowship Church in Spindale, N.C., as a child, filed a complaint with police earlier this year and has met with investigators multiple times over the past week about the allegations, according to police.

Lowry claims that he was kept in a church dormitory for months in 2011 after telling church members he was gay, according to the Charlotte Observer.

Lowry told ABC News affiliate WLOS that he was knocked unconscious by church members in Aug., 2011, as they read him scripture because of his sexuality.

"The pastor said to find out what my darkest secret was, and I was like, 'I'm never telling,' Lowry told WLOS. "They hit my head with fists and I was out on the floor, they held my hands and feet down and were pushing on my chest and I could barely breathe."

The Word of Faith Church was investigated for child abuse and founder Jane Whaley was convicted of abusing a congregant. The conviction was later overturned. The church also sued North Carolina's Department of Social Services in the 1990s over the child abuse charges, obtaining a $300,000 award and having the child abuse charges expunged, according to court records.

Lowry could not be reached for comment by ABC News.

The Rutherford County, N.C., sheriff's department met with Lowry on Friday to go over his claims again, according to Sheriff Chris Francis.

"We did a follow up interview, we looked at the allegations against the individuals, and it looks like they're part of the church, and then we did a presentation to the district attorney and the assistant district attorney on Friday," Francis said. "We believe there will be a presentation to the grand jury sometime in the near future."

Lowry has been subpoenaed to testify in front of the grand jury about his claims, Francis said.

Jane Whaley, a pastor of Word of Faith, told ABC News the allegations are "not the truth at all."

Whaley said she and other church members, including Lowry's parents, had no idea Lowry was gay until a televised news report which aired last week. He never told them he was gay when he was a church member, she said.

"As far as this church being against gays, that's absurdity. There are 18 people in this church who have been delivered, they're not homosexual anymore, but if they were they could still stay in the church," she said.

Whaley said that the room Lowry claimed to be locked in is not able to be locked from the outside. She said that Lowry came willingly to stay at the church after his parents threw him out for "rebellious behavior" and that he stayed in a building used for Bible study.

Whaley pointed out that Lowry has appeared on news broadcasts with a fellow ex-church member, Jerry Cooper, on numerous occasions to discuss the allegations. Cooper has been outspoken about his dislike for the church, she said.

"(Lowry) wouldn't be saying this except some disgruntled members have pushed him to do that, one of them being the guy that's with him and two others," Whaley said today. Whaley noted that she still loved Lowry and Cooper, despite their claims.

Cooper has pressed charges against Word of Faith members for harassment, and a court date is set for November, Sheriff Chris Francis said.

"I've witnessed it, the patterns, the people held down, the loud screaming, all of it, so I knew Michael's story was very credible," Cooper told WLOS in an interview with Lowry present.

Carol Reynolds, who works for the church, said that their ministry has grown to more than 800 congregants who do outreach work throughout the U.S., and in Brazil and Ghana.