Quotes & Sayings

We, and creation itself, actualize the possibilities of the God who sustains the world, towards becoming in the world in a fuller, more deeper way. - R.E. Slater

There is urgency in coming to see the world as a web of interrelated processes of which we are integral parts, so that all of our choices and actions have [consequential effects upon] the world around us. - Process Metaphysician Alfred North Whitehead

Kurt Gödel's Incompleteness Theorem says (i) all closed systems are unprovable within themselves and, that (ii) all open systems are rightly understood as incomplete. - R.E. Slater

The most true thing about you is what God has said to you in Christ, "You are My Beloved." - Tripp Fuller

The God among us is the God who refuses to be God without us, so great is God's Love. - Tripp Fuller

According to some Christian outlooks we were made for another world. Perhaps, rather, we were made for this world to recreate, reclaim, redeem, and renew unto God's future aspiration by the power of His Spirit. - R.E. Slater

Our eschatological ethos is to love. To stand with those who are oppressed. To stand against those who are oppressing. It is that simple. Love is our only calling and Christian Hope. - R.E. Slater

Secularization theory has been massively falsified. We don't live in an age of secularity. We live in an age of explosive, pervasive religiosity... an age of religious pluralism. - Peter L. Berger

Exploring the edge of life and faith in a post-everything world. - Todd Littleton

I don't need another reason to believe, your love is all around for me to see. – Anon

Thou art our need; and in giving us more of thyself thou givest us all. - Khalil Gibran, Prayer XXIII

Be careful what you pretend to be. You become what you pretend to be. - Kurt Vonnegut

Religious beliefs, far from being primary, are often shaped and adjusted by our social goals. - Jim Forest

We become who we are by what we believe and can justify. - R.E. Slater

People, even more than things, need to be restored, renewed, revived, reclaimed, and redeemed; never throw out anyone. – Anon

Certainly, God's love has made fools of us all. - R.E. Slater

An apocalyptic Christian faith doesn't wait for Jesus to come, but for Jesus to become in our midst. - R.E. Slater

Christian belief in God begins with the cross and resurrection of Jesus, not with rational apologetics. - Eberhard Jüngel, Jürgen Moltmann

Our knowledge of God is through the 'I-Thou' encounter, not in finding God at the end of a syllogism or argument. There is a grave danger in any Christian treatment of God as an object. The God of Jesus Christ and Scripture is irreducibly subject and never made as an object, a force, a power, or a principle that can be manipulated. - Emil Brunner

“Ehyeh Asher Ehyeh” means "I will be that who I have yet to become." - God (Ex 3.14) or, conversely, “I AM who I AM Becoming.”

Our job is to love others without stopping to inquire whether or not they are worthy. - Thomas Merton

The church is God's world-changing social experiment of bringing unlikes and differents to the Eucharist/Communion table to share life with one another as a new kind of family. When this happens, we show to the world what love, justice, peace, reconciliation, and life together is designed by God to be. The church is God's show-and-tell for the world to see how God wants us to live as a blended, global, polypluralistic family united with one will, by one Lord, and baptized by one Spirit. – Anon

The cross that is planted at the heart of the history of the world cannot be uprooted. - Jacques Ellul

The Unity in whose loving presence the universe unfolds is inside each person as a call to welcome the stranger, protect animals and the earth, respect the dignity of each person, think new thoughts, and help bring about ecological civilizations. - John Cobb & Farhan A. Shah

If you board the wrong train it is of no use running along the corridors of the train in the other direction. - Dietrich Bonhoeffer

God's justice is restorative rather than punitive; His discipline is merciful rather than punishing; His power is made perfect in weakness; and His grace is sufficient for all. – Anon

Our little [biblical] systems have their day; they have their day and cease to be. They are but broken lights of Thee, and Thou, O God art more than they. - Alfred Lord Tennyson

We can’t control God; God is uncontrollable. God can’t control us; God’s love is uncontrolling! - Thomas Jay Oord

Life in perspective but always in process... as we are relational beings in process to one another, so life events are in process in relation to each event... as God is to Self, is to world, is to us... like Father, like sons and daughters, like events... life in process yet always in perspective. - R.E. Slater

To promote societal transition to sustainable ways of living and a global society founded on a shared ethical framework which includes respect and care for the community of life, ecological integrity, universal human rights, respect for diversity, economic justice, democracy, and a culture of peace. - The Earth Charter Mission Statement

Christian humanism is the belief that human freedom, individual conscience, and unencumbered rational inquiry are compatible with the practice of Christianity or even intrinsic in its doctrine. It represents a philosophical union of Christian faith and classical humanist principles. - Scott Postma

It is never wise to have a self-appointed religious institution determine a nation's moral code. The opportunities for moral compromise and failure are high; the moral codes and creeds assuredly racist, discriminatory, or subjectively and religiously defined; and the pronouncement of inhumanitarian political objectives quite predictable. - R.E. Slater

God's love must both center and define the Christian faith and all religious or human faiths seeking human and ecological balance in worlds of subtraction, harm, tragedy, and evil. - R.E. Slater

In Whitehead’s process ontology, we can think of the experiential ground of reality as an eternal pulse whereby what is objectively public in one moment becomes subjectively prehended in the next, and whereby the subject that emerges from its feelings then perishes into public expression as an object (or “superject”) aiming for novelty. There is a rhythm of Being between object and subject, not an ontological division. This rhythm powers the creative growth of the universe from one occasion of experience to the next. This is the Whiteheadian mantra: “The many become one and are increased by one.” - Matthew Segall

Without Love there is no Truth. And True Truth is always Loving. There is no dichotomy between these terms but only seamless integration. This is the premier centering focus of a Processual Theology of Love. - R.E. Slater


Note: Generally I do not respond to commentary. I may read the comments but wish to reserve my time to write (or write from the comments I read). Instead, I'd like to see our community help one another and in the helping encourage and exhort each of us towards Christian love in Christ Jesus our Lord and Savior. - re slater

Sunday, March 12, 2017

Biologos - Mountains, Meadows, and Marmots: Creation or Judgment?

In today's article by Joel Duff the observation could be made that "What one sees as the pinnacle of God's creative work another claims as all wreck and ruin." As posted in Relevancy22's many topics on Creation is the thought that:

"Christian cosmologies need a definitive upgrade from their
traditionally bleak judgments and bleaker future expectations
ingrained so deeply within the church tradition."

Joel attests to this fact too - that all we see in our present day world is God's greatest gift and glory to mankind.


R.E. Slater
March 12, 2017

Photo Credit: Joel Duff

Mountains, Meadows, and Marmots: Creation or Judgment?

by Joel Duff (guest author)
March 9, 2017

This past summer I had the pleasure of sitting on a 13,000 foot ridge of La Plata Peak in Colorado for two hours while my oldest son ran up the final 1,300 feet to the top of the mountain. From this amazing perch I enjoyed looking out over dozens of mountain peaks topped with patches of snow and the presence of some friendly pikas and marmots while numerous forms of insects visited dozens of species of high alpine flowers.

My encounter with creation brought to mind Psalm 104, which recounts the acts of creation and proclaims that that:

“O LORD, how manifold are your works! 
In wisdom have you made them all; 
the earth is full of your creatures.” (v. 24 ESV)

Earlier in the same Psalm, mountains are mentioned: “The high mountains are for the wild goats; the rocks are a refuge for the rock badgers” (v. 18). Likewise in Psalm 19, David proclaims that the “heavens declare the Glory of God.” In the book of Job we find God exhorting Job to look at a wide variety of attributes with which He endowed His creatures, asking Job who he is to question the wisdom of His creation.

At no time while gazing over the mountain tops, as I interacted with the animals and took pictures of the flowers, did it occur to me that what I was witnessing was anything less than the glorious, good creation of God.

More recently I found myself in a theater taking in scenes of God’s creation through the documentary Is Genesis History? hosted by Del Tackett. This beautifully produced film transported myself and the rest of a clearly awed audience to many natural wonders of this world. Even though my interpretation of Genesis is much different than his, I could share with the Tackett (and the audience) a great sense of wonder at these magnificent scenes. So you can imagine my surprise[1] as I watched the final scene which found Dr. Tackett looking out over a landscape similar to my mountain experience and proclaiming, “It’s glorious, but represents the judgement of God.”

As surprising as this statement may sound, Dr. Tackett was only stating the logical conclusion which flows from his young-earth creationism (YEC) worldview. For him, what you and I experience is not so much God’s good creation as it is the end-product of God’s judgement.

How so? According to Tackett and like-minded YECs, geological processes such as earthquakes, floods—including Noah’s Flood—volcanism, plate tectonics, uplift, subsidence, and the like, could not have been a part of God’s “very good” creation. Instead, they were brought into the world by Adam’s sin, which affected every aspect of creation—possibly including extraterrestrial planets and stars. But these very same processes are the immediate cause of every geological formation we see today. Thus, had Adam never sinned, there would be no Grand Canyon, no Niagara Falls, no Mt. Kilimanjaro, and no Mt. Everest. In fact, there might have been no high mountains at all.

Is the present-day diversity of living things also the result of the judgement of God?

Despite a lack of YEC literature addressing ecological interactions in the pre-Fall world, it is evident that the young-earth view of the radical reconstruction of the world following Adam’s sin touches far more than the physical surface of the Earth. It also applies to the living inhabitants of creation as well.[2]

Rather than looking out over a mountain vista, Dr. Tackett might also have taken us to a zoo and said: “Look at all of these magnificent creatures complete with marvelous adaptations for survival in deserts and mountain tops. They remind us of God’s judgment for sin.”

Why? Consider that YECs believe the in the pre-fall world, no animals with the “breath of life” experienced death. This biological “perfect” paradise precludes disruptive events such as mutations and natural selection resulting from resource competition. If immortal animals had all the plants they could ever need for food and were all able to reproduce without impediment, then the need for adaptations for protection, competition, and even mate attraction would be unnecessary. One wonders what the function of variation among individual members of a “kind”—if any existed—could have been. Was diversity solely aesthetic?[3]

According to Tackett, after Adam and his offspring’s sin brought radical climatic change and geological destruction to the face of the whole earth, especially at the time of the Flood, a great diversity of species and all their amazing features sprang forth as they adapted via evolutionary mechanisms—albeit at an impossibly fast pace—to new habitats, especially as a result of the Flood.

Where did the genetic information come from that allowed for this post-fall explosion of new species? The film explains that the initial “very good” creation included organisms front-loaded with immense genetic variation and thus the capacity to evolve into new species after sin entered the world. In addition to raising some difficult questions of theodicy and God’s foreknowledge, this doesn’t make any biological sense.

Hibernating pikas and marmots? Alpine species of plants? Polar bears and arctic foxes? None of these existed in the original creation, according to YECs. Just how few species existed in the original creation? The YEC literature is very sparse but extensive speciation proposed by Answers in Genesis points to an initial creation with low diversity. For example they speculate that the 1100 species of bats alive today, in addition to all fossil species, originated from a single bat ancestor.

Each of these modern bat species has remarkable and unique adaptations to diverse environments that may not have existed in the pre-Fall world, sculpted by the mechanisms of evolution unleashed by Adam’s sin. Therefore, from a YEC perspective, the diversity of life on Earth at which we— and so many biblical authors—marvel is not representative of God’s original creation.

God’s invisible qualities clearly seen in the post-Fall world?

Finally, as the last scene of the Colorado landscape faded from view, Romans 1:20 appeared on the screen: “For since the creation of the world God’s invisible qualities—his eternal power and divine nature—have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made, so that people are without excuse.”

Yet if the characteristics of living things and the very shape of the earth’s surface is evidence not of God’s power but of creation falling apart because of sin, how can God’s eternal power and divine nature be clearly seen in the world around us?

Mountains, weather, and biological diversity are consistently described in the Bible as being authored by God. In most contexts these natural features of the world are viewed with awe and reverence as good and wonderful things. We don’t find the psalmist blaming the existence of mountains on Adam’s sin nor even a global flood. Psalm 104 doesn’t attribute the lion roaring for its prey to Adam and Eve’s primal disobedience.

When Abraham and Lot, as recorded in Genesis 13, look down into the Dead Sea Valley, they don’t bemoan the fact that because of Adam’s sin a great rift in the Promised Land had opened up, creating the Dead Sea and a difficult passageway allowing access to the valley floor. But following the young-earth view to its logical end, had Adam not sinned the land before them would have had no sharp cliffs, barren spaces, or extreme heat or cold.[4]

Lot described this place as “like the garden of the Lord.” (Gen 13:10) But his response makes no sense in the young-earth perspective. How could this in any way be like the garden of the Lord if every plant, animal and even rock of the valley had been radically transformed as a result of Adam’s transgression? In the YEC worldview, this land would not have been recognizable to Adam and Eve in the prelapsarian world.

The evolutionary creationist sees God’s hand in every aspect of creation, present and past. For us, the beauty of creation is much more than just a shadow of a former time. Nature is damaged, in our view, not by a radical physical transformation at the moment of the first sin, but by the ravages of a broken humanity who does not worship the Creator as they should. We are not tending and keeping the “Garden” as it was intended.

It is difficult not to conclude that the original creation, as envisaged by YECs, must have been a rather monotonous place, lacking much of the geological and biological diversity of God’s creation that we can observe today. This perspective doesn’t align with the world that the biblical authors wrote about, nor does it align with the evidence from the world that we see today. We need a better way to understand what God has told us about who we are and how He formed this world we live in. At BioLogos, we are pursuing that better way.



References & Credits

[1] My reaction is not unique, others—Reasons to Believe, in particular—have made similar observations in response to this scene.

[2] “Creation’s Original Diet” (Answers in Genesis), is one of a few articles that explores the pre-Fall creation ecology. Especially notable in this article are the emphasis on the lack of resource scarcity and availability of all plants—and presumably all plant parts—as food in the pre-Fall world. But whether speciation could have occurred or even if there were diversity of climates and ecosystems in the pre-Fall world is rarely discussed in the YEC literature (at least, that I am aware of, but I’ve read most of the popular literature on this subject). See also: “Did Adam step on an ant before the fall?” (AiG) in which the we are told that “accidents never happen in a perfect world.”

[3] Even the names given to animals by Adam (if we assume that they were passed from Adam to the Israelites) are inconsistent with the YEC understanding of the Edenic ecology. Many animals are given names that reflect their adaptations for survival in a world of death. For example, the root word for Lion in Hebrew is “'ariy”, which means “in the sense of violence.”

[4] George E. McCready Price, one of the intellectual founders of modern young earth creationism,provides a vision of the prelapsarian world that comports well with the sentiments expressed by Tackett in that final scene: “The earth, as Adam first saw it, was supremely beautiful. No bare, rocky cliffs towered up between him and the sunlight, frowning destruction upon his feeble steps; no wide, dreary swamps breathed pestilential vapors into his Eden home; no pathless deserts intervened between him and distant lands.”

And later: “Even the mild, soft climate, of singular uniformity over all the earth, north and south, was little changed after the expulsion from Eden, until that awful time when "all the fountains of the great deep" were "broken up, and the windows of heaven were opened," and a third dreadful curse rested upon the earth as the result of sin.”

Source: Outlines of Modern Science and Modern Christianity, p. 154 and 155 (pub. 1902)

About the Author

Joel Duff is a professor of biology at The University of Akron. He earned his B.S. in biology from Calvin College, and a Ph.D. in botany from the University of Tennessee. He research focuses on understanding biological diversity by examining differences in DNA sequences and genome structure. He has worked on numerous plant and animals systems and has authored more than 40 research articles in science journals. He is an active writer and speaker exploring the intersection of science and Christian faith. He is a contributor to the book Grand Canyon: Monument to an Ancient Earth and blogger at Naturalis Historia (thenaturalhistorian.com). He is an avid nature photographer and enjoys exploring God’s creation with his wife and five children.

What the Christian Faith is NOT - The Christian World of Abusive Religion

Sadly, the world of Christian terror and abuse is real. As said, it is abusive, controlling, and very effective in creating fear amongst households and congregational members. As a last resort to controlling a person, controlling families and churches will shun and excommunicate sons, daughters, wives, and church members from their family or faith assembly. Here is a report by The Associated Press following up on the worldwide church assembly of faith believers known as Word of Faith Fellowship. It is a story full of tragedy.

Should you or your family be a participant in a church fellowship like this than its time to leave. If you're shunned consider it a mercy. I have met too many of these tragic individuals to think kindly of their abusive family, friends or church. The world of religion gone wrong is a toxic world full of mangled good intentions become abusive and ungodly. It is not how faith is born, acts, or lives.

Always remember, the love of God is gentle, kind, tender, nourishing, and forgiving. If your faith assembly is not this than leave. Do not remain. Once escaped you can deal with the results afterwards. But you need to be in a safe place and to know the love of God is not this. Nor the Bible. Nor Christian teaching.

Sure, the bible has a lot of hard words to say to followers of God but remember these believers were struggling to understand God too. Just because they believed God to say do this, or to do that, doesn't mean they understood Him. More likely they understood him through their own "depraved religious" hearts than truly as Jesus heard Him centuries later. Jesus followed the same bible as Israel did but He rewrote its entirety underscored in the love of God over and over and over, again and again and again.

What abusive religions are teaching and saying - and you are experiencing - is the sin and evil of the religious human spirit. Sin cannot be beaten out of you - nor can holiness be brought into you - by coercive human act. Nor can godliness be made more real by acts of more restrictive penitence, or by denying bodily needs, and so on. These are human works trying to purchase God's love and acceptance by human means.

All of salvation - all of it - is based upon God's love and sacrifice for you on the Cross of Jesus. This is where salvation occurs - in God alone. It is freely given to you without need for anything on our end except that of acceptance and faith. The only result you should seek thereafter are the Christian graces (fruits) of love and forbearance, peace and hope, mercy and forgiveness. But not as threats, denials, or religious acts. There are no religious or human acts that can further effect the atonement God has wrought on your behalf. None. The grace of God is restorative.

And with restoration will come grace acts upon the soul by the Spirit as a consequence to God's love. Not ourselves. Though it may be awhile before this may happen. Abused souls have learned not to trust. Their hearts are hardened to any religious acts or promises made to them about God. No, recovery may take years. But through all the deep bitterness and anger know you are loved.

Further, no matter how sinful owe may feel about ourself or our actions know God loves you. Too often we are our worse judges made doubly so by the guilt and abuse we have grown up with from toxic relations brought upon us from significant people in our lives. If this is where you are then know you are deeply loved. It is one of the fundamental truths of the Christian faith. Jesus showed this in hundreds of ways in the bible to all kinds of people even though the church has failed to love a thousand times over in understanding, practicing, or preaching God's love. How deeply ironic and sad, don't you think?

Know that the only acceptable Christian faith is the one that is founded on love - not judgment. Not beatings. Not coercion. Not fear and threats. Love. Remember this. Its the stuff that will heal a broken soul and abused life. It is what I have learned against what religion taught me to be. You can too. A godly religion is one of love, peace, and deep spiritual satisfaction. This kind of faith - the one of love and loving - is hard enough - we don't need to add more chains to our souls by adding to God's perfect plan of atoning reconciliation by adding religious acts that gets us nowhere. Yes? Yes!

Peace my friend. Peace,

R.E. Slater
March 12, 2017

*The links below are related but caution is always urged the reader to discern what they read. - res

Related Links
Religious Cults Information - http://religiouscultsinfo.com/tag/broken-faith/

* * * * * * * * *

Amazon Book List on Toxic Faith, Healing from Spiritual Abuse, etc - click here

* * * * * * * * *

Ex-congregants of NC church reveal years of ungodly abuse

by The Associated Press
Posted Feb 27, 2017 at 9:18 AM
Updated Feb 27, 2017 at 9:22 AM

Congregants of the Word of Faith Fellowship were regularly punched, choked, slammed to the floor or thrown through walls in a violent form of deliverance meant to "purify" sinners.
SPINDALE — From all over the world, they flocked to this tiny town in the foothills of the Blue Ridge Mountains, lured by promises of inner peace and eternal life. What many found instead: years of terror — waged in the name of the Lord.

Congregants of the Word of Faith Fellowship were regularly punched, smacked, choked, slammed to the floor or thrown through walls in a violent form of deliverance meant to "purify" sinners by beating out devils, 43 former members told The Associated Press in separate, exclusive interviews.

Victims of the violence included pre-teens and toddlers — even crying babies, who were vigorously shaken, screamed at and sometimes smacked to banish demons.

"I saw so many people beaten over the years. Little kids punched in the face, called Satanists," said Katherine Fetachu, 27, who spent nearly 17 years in the church.

Word of Faith Fellowship, an evangelical church with hundreds of members in North Carolina and branches in other countries, also subjected members to a practice called "blasting" — an ear-piercing verbal onslaught often conducted in hours-long sessions meant to cast out devils.

As part of its investigation, the AP reviewed hundreds of pages of law enforcement, court and child welfare documents, along with hours of conversations with Jane Whaley, the church's controlling leader, secretly recorded by followers.

The AP also spent more than a year tracking down dozens of former disciples who scattered after leaving the church. Many initially were reluctant to break their silence because they had hidden their pasts from new friends and colleagues — and because they remain afraid of Whaley.

Those interviewed — most of them raised in the church — say Word of Faith leaders waged a decades-long cover-up to thwart investigations by law enforcement and social services officials, including strong-arming young victims and their parents to lie. They said members were forbidden to seek outside medical attention for their injuries, which included cuts, sprains and cracked ribs.

The former members said they were speaking out now due to guilt for not doing more to stop the abuse and because they fear for the safety of the children still in the church, believed to number about 100.

Several former followers said some congregants were sexually abused, including minors. On one recorded conversation, Whaley admits to being aware of the sexual assault of three boys but not reporting it to authorities.

In the past, Whaley has strongly denied that she or other church leaders have ever abused Word of Faith members and contended that any discipline would be protected by the First Amendment's freedom of religion tenets.

She and church attorney Josh Farmer turned down repeated AP requests for interviews to discuss the fresh allegations from the dozens of former congregants.

The ex-members said the violence was ever-present: Minors were taken from their parents and placed in ministers' homes, where they were beaten and blasted and sometimes completely cut off from their families for up to a decade. Some male congregants were separated from their families and other followers for up to a year and subjected to the same brutal treatment.

Teachers in the church's K-12 school encouraged students to beat their classmates for daydreaming, smiling and other behavior that leaders said proved they were possessed by devils.

"It wasn't enough to yell and scream at the devils. You literally had to beat the devils out of people," said Rick Cooper, 61, a U.S. Navy veteran who spent more than 20 years as a congregant and raised nine children in the church.

Word of Faith Fellowship has been scrutinized on numerous occasions by law enforcement, social services agencies and the news media since the early 1990s— all without significant impact, mostly because followers refused to cooperate.

Some former members offered a more doctrinal explanation for their decades of silence — frequent warnings by Whaley that God would strike them dead if they betrayed her or her church.

"We were warned to keep the abuse to ourselves. If we didn't, we knew we would be targeted. ... You lived in total fear," said Liam Guy, 29, an accountant who fled in 2015 after nearly 25 years in the church.

Word of Faith was founded in 1979 by Whaley, a petite former math teacher with a thick Southern accent, and her husband, Sam, a former used car salesman.

They are listed as co-pastors but all of those interviewed said it is Jane Whaley — a fiery, 77-year-old Christian Charismatic preacher — who maintains dictatorial control of the flock and also administers some of the beatings herself.

She has scores of strict rules to control congregants' lives, including whether they can marry or have children. At the top of the list: No one can complain about her or question her authority. Failure to comply often triggers a humiliating rebuke from the pulpit or, worse, physical punishment, according to most of those interviewed.

Under Jane Whaley's leadership, Word of Faith grew from a handful of followers to a 750-member sect, concentrated in a 35-acre complex protected by tight security and a thick line of trees.

The group also has nearly 2,000 members in churches in Brazil and Ghana, and affiliations with branches in other countries.

It was Whaley's personality as much as her message — "strong prayer" and deliverance turn around troubled lives and assure salvation — that attracted people to the church, former members said.

When she started Word of Faith in her early 40s, some of the former members recall her as a motherly figure offering hope to those struggling with alcohol and drugs, or stuck in bad marriages. She filled a spiritual and emotional void, showering new congregants with love and attention.

Those attending the church's twice-a-year international Bible seminars were encouraged to move to Spindale, a community of 4,300 midway between Charlotte and Asheville. It wasn't until they sold their homes and settled in North Carolina that the church's "dark side" gradually emerged, former members said.

By then — isolated from their families and friends, and believing Whaley was a prophet — they were afraid to leave, they said.

Looking back, some former members told the AP they that consider Word of Faith a cult.

"You had a strong leader who controlled everything in your life — where to live, work, who to talk to," Guy said. "You couldn't do anything without her permission. And she had people around her enforcing her law. Soon, you couldn't think for yourself. You had to do everything she said."



The church's obsession with controlling sexual thoughts and "ungodly" carnal pleasure — especially lengthy interrogations of pre-teens and teens about masturbation — spilled into every aspect of congregants' lives, the former members say.

And, they say, when allegations of sexual abuse arose within the church, Whaley not only didn't report it but tried to hide it.

In 2012, in a three-hour conversation with a former congregant recorded without her knowledge, Whaley acknowledged she was aware of several instances of sexual abuse at Word of Faith.

In one case involving two boys, she said she failed to report the incident "because it had all stopped, and they were serving Jesus, and I found out about it way later." She also said that "because of ministerial confidentiality, I don't have to."

In fact, there is no such waiver for clergy in North Carolina. Whaley is required to report even allegations of abuse.

On the recording, Whaley explained why she had kept secret the sexual abuse of "an older youth" by another church member, saying she'd asked the victim: "'Do you want me to go to someone and report it? I'll report it to the police.' And he said no because it would smear his name."

One of the former members interviewed by the AP said he was sexually assaulted by a church member in 2009, when he was 15. The man, whose name is not being used because the AP does not identify victims of sexual assault, said Whaley convinced him not to go to the authorities by telling him he would be forced to relive the terrible details in court.

He said he didn't know then that Whaley was wrong when she warned him his "name would be in the newspapers. ... She said she was protecting me. She didn't want me to face an investigation."

Another former member said he was molested by a male church leader but was "too ashamed" and scared how Whaley would react to tell anyone. He said he saw the same leader inappropriately touch several male teens living in the minister's house, but did not report those incidents for the same reasons.

According to court records, a church leader was convicted in 1995 of molesting a 13-year-old girl placed in his home. Of that victim, Whaley said on the 2012 recording, "She was 13, but she looked 20."

Whaley recounted telling the local district attorney that the girl was partially responsible for the abuse because she previously had been sexually assaulted by a family member and others.

Whaley's teachings are rooted in the modern Word of Faith Movement, founded by the pastor Kenneth E. Hagin of Tulsa, Oklahoma, who preached the "prosperity gospel": Pray loud enough and God will answer your prayers.

Hagin said that if his followers faithfully prayed — and tithed generously to church leaders — they would see their reward this side of heaven, including financial riches, good health and sobriety.

It's a philosophy adopted by many televangelists with millions of followers, including Joel Osteen, Joyce Meyer and Creflo Dollar.

But while other evangelical churches practice loud prayer and deliverance ceremonies to cleanse worshippers of devils, all those interviewed said Whaley's methods routinely carry discipline to violent extremes: She believes the devil has to be beaten out of sinners.

"I've seen her on multiple occasions ask: 'Did you throw her on the ground?' And when the person says 'Yes, we got the demon out,' Jane will say: 'I love it. I love it. Thank you, Jesus!'" said Sean Bryant, 29, who left the church last year.

Jay Plummer II of Tulsa, Oklahoma, now 28, remembers being subjected to deliverance as a teenager, where "they would shove you backward and grab your head — and just shake your head back and forth."

While a group of people screamed in his ears, Plummer said others jolted and hit him, "screaming and yelling: 'Come out devil!' 'You're unclean!' It was so violent — all those people around you, beating you, shaking you, yelling at you."

For several years, men and boys perceived as the worst sinners were kept in a four-room former storage facility in the compound called the Lower Building. They were cut off from their families for up to a year, never knew when they would be released, and endured especially violent, prolonged beatings and blastings, according to more than a dozen of those interviewed.

There is little Whaley does not control at Word of Faith, the former followers said:

Members can't watch television, go to the movies, read newspapers or eat in restaurants that play music or serve alcohol. Men cannot grow beards, and no one can buy a house or even a car without permission.

Sexual thoughts and intercourse are considered "ungodly" or "unclean," so adult members need permission to date, get married and even have sex after marriage. Ministers dole out condoms because couples are not allowed to have children without Whaley's authorization.

Several couples said they had to wait up to a year after their weddings before they were allowed to have sexual relations.

Two former members said a 20-year-old woman was repeatedly smacked and punched by a church leader who blamed her late menstrual cycle on pregnancy, when she hadn't obtained church permission to have a child. In fact, the victim said she'd never had sex with her husband; they'd only kissed — once.

"That was one of the worst beatings," said Rachael Bryant, 28, who left the church last year. "She started punching her in the chest, punching her in the stomach, slapping her in the face. It went on and on."

Sixteen of the former members said they were hit or beaten by Whaley, including two who said she banged their heads against a wall repeatedly. Another 14 said they saw her smack or assault others — including grabbing crying babies at services and aggressively shaking them to drive away the demons.

Tim Cornelius, 44, a nurse who left in 2013 after more than 20 years in the church, said that in the eyes of Word of Faith leaders, "The baby isn't hungry or needs to be changed. The baby is crying because they're possessed by a devil."

Some of the worst abuse involving children and teenagers took place inside the church-run school, according to former congregants.

Nearly half of the 43 ex-members interviewed said they themselves were hit dozens of times as students with wooden paddles and other objects, leaving deep welts, cuts, lacerations and other bruises that often made it difficult for them to sit and walk.

Among their transgressions: Smiling too much or not enough. Fidgeting in their seats. Answering a question too slowly.

Most of those interviewed said all it took to prompt a beating was for a teacher to believe a student was possessed by demons.

Whaley believes in all types of devils, the ex-members said. Ask too many questions, it's the "sneaky devil." It's the "buddy-buddy devil" if you become too friendly with another church member, and the "birthday devil" if you celebrate your special day. Worst of all is the "unclean devil," linked to dirty thoughts.

"You lived in fear," recalled 34-year-old Natasha Cherubino, who broke with the church in 2015 after nearly 20 years. "You could hear the yelling and screaming and the teachers being verbally abusive. You would sit at your desk and think 'I don't want to be hit like that.'"

Fourteen of those interviewed reported being blasted or beaten by classmates or having witnessed such attacks, violent behavior they said was sometimes encouraged by their teachers, including Whaley.

"I can't tell you how many times, in the middle of class, one child will turn to the other and say they have demons and the others will surround the child," said Rebeca Melo, 28, who taught at the school until she left Word of Faith in 2015."They're thrown to the floor and they're beaten. We're told not to stop it," she said.

Natasha Cherubino and her husband, Tiago, recall a time their then-6-year-old was giggling in school when classmates surrounded her.

"They started praying for my daughter and grabbed her by the neck. They started strangling her," Tiago Cherubino said.

John Cooper, who spent a few years working as a teacher's aide in Jane Whaley's class, said Whaley encouraged the violence and warned students not to say anything to their parents.

Many of those interviewed recalled frequent interrogations focused on sexual thoughts and practices, especially masturbation by boys and young teens.

"They wanted to know how I masturbated," said ex-member Jamey Anderson, 28, who spent much of his childhood inside Word of Faith. "They just had this creepy obsession with sex. Why would you ask kids about masturbation? Most of us didn't know what the word meant."



Over the years, various investigations into Word of Faith Fellowship have failed in large part because of the lack of cooperation from church members, according to the hundreds of pages of documents obtained by the AP.

In 1995, for example, the North Carolina State Bureau of Investigation interviewed dozens of former members, along with Whaley and other sect leaders, about abuse allegations.

ven though investigators determined congregants, including children, had been abused — and a few said they'd be willing to testify — the district attorney ultimately declined to prosecute. Then-DA Jeff Hunt concluded that the evidence was weak and any prosecution would be stymied by most victims' recalcitrance.

Many of those interviewed said they were ordered at an early age to lie to and mislead investigators to protect Whaley and her closest confederates.

They said strategy sessions were convened where children and parents were coached on how to answer key questions. Several church members who work in local government offered insider advice on how to sidestep pointed inquiries, the ex-congregants said.

Whether the injuries were black eyes, cuts, bruises, bloody noses, sprained limbs or possibly broken bones, the former members said victims were ordered by ministers to "take hold" and deal with any pain internally.

In the one pending criminal case related to the church, five congregants were indicted on kidnapping and assault charges, accused of trying to beat the "homosexual demons" out of member Matthew Fenner during a Jan. 27, 2013, deliverance session.

"I thought I was going to die," Fenner told the AP.

Fenner said he spent nearly two years pushing law enforcement to investigate before the district attorney finally presented the case to a grand jury. Four ex-followers interviewed by the AP said they witnessed the attack.

The case remains pending and has been delayed multiple times due to legal wrangling, including an unsuccessful attempt by the church to have the same law firm represent all five defendants. The law firm's principal partners are Word of Faith members.

The legal delays have raised concerns among those interviewed that the abuse might never be stopped.

"Jane's core beliefs are blasting and violent deliverance. She will not stop until she's put in prison," Sean Bryant said. "Everybody inside the church — especially the children — are at risk."

Bryant spent more than half of his life in Word of Faith, but said he left to protect his wife and their 1-year-old daughter.

He recounted a time in 2015 when Whaley interrupted her sermon to grab his crying daughter from his wife. When a worshipper asked Rachael Bryant what happened, Whaley snapped, he said.

"Jane started screaming at her to shut up and to stop releasing the demons at the baby," he said. "She totally humiliated her in front of 500 people. I was so freaking mad, but I just stood there like stone."

Many former members said they also are upset that prior investigations have gone nowhere or resulted in "slaps on the wrist."

"I feel like the truth needs to be told because the truth has been hidden for so long," said Benjamin Cooper, the 30-year-old son of Rick Cooper.

Given what they characterize as Whaley's record for retribution against those she sees as traitors, the former members said they hope there is strength and protection in speaking out in numbers.

"For most of my life, I lived in fear. I'm not scared anymore," John Cooper said.



Many of those interviewed by the AP were young children when their parents joined the tight-knit Word of Faith community. As mandated, they attended the school on the compound grounds and were ordered to mix only with other congregants when off church property.

Almost all the church's followers live clustered in neighborhoods near the compound, with as many as two dozen disciples crammed into a single house.

Fifteen of the former members spoke of being removed from their parents and made to live with church elders, sometimes shuffled from house to house. During that time, they said, they were mostly forbidden to have contact with their parents.

Some of those ex-followers said they were made to work in businesses owned by the ministers housing them, often for little or no pay.

"We grew up as if we were orphans because our parents were so removed from our life. All of us were to the point that we believed that there was almost no chance we would be saved," said Benjamin Cooper, one of those kept from his family for a decade.

Most of the abuse occurred within the compound, the former followers said, but 12 of those interviewed said they were beaten in the homes of church leaders.

Another Cooper sibling, Jeffrey, a 34-year-old attorney, said he's still haunted by an attack he witnessed in 2013.

Hearing screams from down a hallway, he said he opened a bathroom door and saw a church leader standing over a teenager pinned to the floor.

"He hit him at least 25 times. You could hear the whacks down the hall," Cooper said, fighting back tears.

Cooper said he considered the violence "felony child abuse." But like others interviewed, he said he didn't try to stop the beating or report it to police because he was afraid he would become a target of God's wrath — or Whaley's.

John Cooper recounted what happened to him at a meeting of nearly three dozen young ministers on April 12, 2012, when he was 19.

One by one, the ministers were sharing stories of how they were serving God. When it was Cooper's turn, a church elder interrupted and accused him of "giving in to the unclean" — a catchall phrase covering a wide array of sins. Suddenly, Cooper said, he was pinned to the floor and pummeled for a half-hour, accused of having erotic fantasies.

When the assault ended, Cooper said his body was covered with bruises and he had trouble breathing for weeks.

Danielle Cordes, a 22-year-old business major at the University of Florida who spent 17½ years inside Word of Faith, recalled numerous beatings by Whaley and other church leaders.

Seemingly innocuous behavior warranted a beating to expel the devil — perhaps asking a question, or wanting to play outside.

"We would be in the bathroom for hours and hours and hours," she said. "They would hit you 12, 15 times, then they would stop and pray for you, and shake you. Then they would do it again."

"When you're young, you don't understand what's going on, why they're hitting you," said Cordes, who left Word of Faith in 2013. "You didn't do anything wrong. You weren't causing trouble, but you think you're a bad person because they're beating you in the name of God."

Former member Anna Eiss recalled a sexually tinged incident at the church school, when she was 6. While resting on the floor during naptime, she said she put her hands between her legs to keep warm. A teacher saw her and accused her of masturbating.

"I didn't even know what that meant," said Eiss, now 20 and a military policewoman in the South Carolina National Guard.

Eiss said she was forced to sleep with her hands touching her head and that the ministers she was living with would wake her and beat her if her hands weren't in the correct position.

"You're living in total fear," she said. "There's no one to help you. You're all alone."

For the former church members, the memories — and the nightmares — never seem to fade, and they said they live in fear for their family members and the children still inside.

Cordes said she has deep psychological scars from spending more than three-quarters of her life in Whaley's world.

She remembers the last time she tried to visit her parents' house, three years ago. Her father slammed the door in her face without saying a word.

To this day, whenever she calls, family members hang up.

"I need my family and they're gone," she said.

Many spoke of experiencing severe depression and anxiety.

Greg Parker, 42, who changed his surname to his grandfather's when he left in 2003, said he went to therapists for years.

"They likened it to someone being in a war and coming out," he said.

In May, 10 years after fleeing the church, Jamey Anderson graduated from the University of North Carolina law school. But he remains emotionally broken; his mother and brother still belong to the church and will have nothing to do with him.

"What they did to us was sick," he said of the church's leaders.

The patriarch of the large Cooper clan agrees.

"You're cut off from everyone in the world. The church — and Jane — is the only thing you know," Rick Cooper said. "You believe she's a prophet — she has a pipeline to God. So you stand by while she rips your family apart. I'm not sure how you ever get over that."

Recalling other church groups that have led to deadly confrontations, John Cooper said it is critical to break the "cycle of abuse" before the violence escalates.

"What's going on now isn't right," he said.

Added Melo, the former teacher: "The children are in danger."


The AP National Investigative Team can be reached at investigate@ap.org