A 22-year-old gay man from North Carolina is making headline news for the statement he gave to a local sheriff's department investigator last week, alleging that employees of Word of Faith Fellowship Church, a nondenominational Christian congregation in Spindale, kept him a prisoner and tried to forcefully change his sexual orientation.
Michael Lowry filed the complaint against Word of Faith back in February regarding his alleged imprisonment from Aug. 1 to Nov. 19, 2011, but the story is only now getting traction.
"The doors were locked, it was jail," Lowry said of his ordeal, claiming that others were imprisoned as well. "You weren't allowed to speak to your family. Many of the men had wives and children but they weren't able to communicate with them."
The young man came out about his sexuality to family and church leaders when he was 16, which led to some members of the church believing that he had a demon which needed to be exorcized – which eventually led to the alleged imprisonment and beatings that Lowry says he suffered. He added that he was only allowed to leave after he told church members that "God is telling me it's time to go. I don't want to be told what to do anymore."
Brent Childers, executive director of Faith in America, called Lowry's allegations "disturbing" and the incident a hate crime. He said the case is the worst he has encountered in his time working at the organization, which is focused on protecting gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender people from "misguided religious teachings" that can cause them harm.
World of Faith, which was founded in 1979 and has around 750 members, has denied any and all accusations, and has released a statement from lead pastors Sam and Jane Whaley.
"Concerning the allegations of Michael Roy Lowry, there is no truth in them," the statement on their official website begins. "Knowing Michael very well, we believe he has been greatly influenced and persuaded to make these false allegations."
Jane Whaley added that Lowry was likely compelled to lie by former church members who held grudges against the pastors, according to The Charlotte Observer.
"We want to serve Jesus," she said. "We don't want to be hypocrites. If this church is not for you, people leave."
Rutherford County District Attorney Brad Greenway has said that an investigation into the matter is indeed under way, and that authorities will need to collect more evidence before it can be taken to a grand jury.
"We'll continue to investigate, talk to some other people, and then make a decision," Greenway said on Sunday.