Trial of 5 accused of beating ex Word of Faith church member starts

This 2016 image from video shows the entrance to the Word of Faith Fellowship church in Spindale, N.C. Newcomers to the Word of Faith Fellowship live by a list of strict rules for daily life, which sect leader Jane Whaley says God revealed to her, former members say. (AP Photo/Alex Sanz)

RUTHERFORD Co., N.C. (WSPA) – Jury selection is expected to go on again Wednesday in a trial connected to church abuse allegations.

Five members of Word of Faith Fellowship were charged in 2015 after a former member claimed he was attacked for being gay.

The church disputes the former member’s claims, as well as allegations of abuse that others say they also endured.

Seven jurors were seated Tuesday before court was adjourned.

Many jurors were excused for their knowledge of the church, some even calling it a “crazy cult.”

Tomorrow attorneys will interview the final 24 in the jury pool.

Justin Covington, 20, Brooke Covington, 56, and Adam Bartley, 25, all of Rutherfordton, along with Robert Walker Jr., 26, of Spindale, were indicted on charges of second-degree kidnapping and simple assault.

Sarah Covington Anderson, 27, of Rutherfordton, faces the same charge and one count of assault inflicting physical injury by strangulation.

Deputies say the victim was beaten because he was gay.

Matthew Fenner said he was attacked in 2013 and claimed he was berated, pushed, and told he was disgusting to try and break him free of homosexual demons.

Fenner is one of several former church members to claim they were abused. More than 40 former people told the Associated Press that they endured physical abuse to “purify” their sins. Some allege they were sexually abused and that minors were cut off from their families for years after they were placed in ministers’ homes.

Church leaders have denied the accusations.

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