In the seven years since North Carolina’s Republican Party seized control of the state legislature, we in the Tar Heel State have been treated to some staggeringly tone-deaf behavior. But The (Raleigh) News & Observer recently uncovered one of the most outrageous and tone-deaf actions yet by a member of North Carolina’s GOP. It turns out that one of the leaders of a fringe charismatic church facing investigation for a litany of abusive and criminal conduct appeared at a fundraiser for North Carolina’s Republican lieutenant governor.
The News & Observer recently got its hands on a picture taken at a fundraiser for Lieutenant Governor Dan Forest in the foothills town of Forest City in July. He is reportedly greasing the wheels for a plan to challenge Democratic Governor Roy Cooper in 2020.
One of the guests has been identified as Robin Webster, a minister at Word of Faith Fellowship in nearby Spindale and the daughter of church founder Jane Whaley.
For the better part of two decades, Word of Faith Fellowship has faced criticism for abusive and controlling tactics. It started with this 1995 “Inside Edition” report about allegations of rampant emotional and physical abuse at the church. Watch here.
That piercing, banshee-like screaming you hear is called “blasting.” It’s intended to drive out demons, and can go on for hours on end–even if the target is a child.
While the criticism has continued more or less unabated since then, it rose to a fever pitch in February, when the Associated Press began rolling out the results of a lengthy probe into the dark matter surrounding Word of Faith. Several former members interviewed by the AP said that Word of Faith’s idea of “deliverance” includes shaking, beating, smacking, and choking people–even kids and babies.
But they also revealed things that go well beyond mere abuse. They contended that two church ministers who were also assistant district attorneys in a neighboring county helped sabotage a number of investigations involving their “brothers” and “sisters” at Word of Faith–including suspected child abuse.
One of those prosecutors is Frank Webster, Robin Webster’s husband and Whaley’s son-in-law. He and another prosecutor, Chris Back, were forced out of their posts in March in the face of a state investigation into the cover-up of child abuse. Since then, we have learned that Webster and Back are accused of being involved in a cover-up of a brutal attempt to beat the gay out a member. That member is currently suing the church for his ordeal.
We have also learned that WOFF is facing a federal investigation into allegations that it turned its satellite churches into Brazil into conduits for human trafficking. Additionally, the church faces a state and federal investigation into claims that Whaley had several members who owned businesses file bogus unemployment claims in order to keep the tithes flowing–even though it resulted in ordinary members being reduced to poverty.
Forest spokesman Hal Weatherman said that he didn’t know whether the Websters or any other leaders from WOFF attended the fundraiser or donated. He did say, however, that if they did donate, that information would be revealed when Forest files his next financial disclosures with the North Carolina State Board of Elections in 2018.
That wasn’t good enough for state Democratic Party spokesman Robert Howard, who said that “North Carolinians are right to be alarmed” if Forest took even one penny from anyone aligned with WOFF. “Alarmed” is being kind to it. There is ample evidence that WOFF isn’t a church, but a criminal organization. Obstructing justice, human trafficking, unemployment fraud, the lot.
And even without the criminal investigations, this church has been caught on tape abusing its members, including its youngest ones. It is unconscionable that anyone, regardless of party, would take a penny from a church that finds this behavior acceptable.
Indeed, I was disheartened to discover that Walter Dalton, the Democratic candidate for governor in 2012, took money from both Whaley and Frank Webster over the years. Dalton represented Rutherford County, home to Spindale. It is inconceivable that he didn’t know about the abuse happening at that church. Indeed, it is at least as shameful as the Websters’ apparent presence at the Forest fundraiser.
Even though Webster’s presence at the fundraiser has been confirmed, some of Forest’s supporters are trying to paint this as a smear attempt.
— A.P. Dillon (@APDillon_) October 27, 2017
Guess the photoshopped pic of Dan Forest drowning kittens didn't come out. As their midnight approaches, The N&O will get more desperate.
— BobLee (@BobLeeSays) October 27, 2017
News flash, guys. When a prominent leader at a church caught on tape engaging in abusive behavior and who is facing multiple criminal investigations appears at a fundraiser for a potential gubernatorial candidate, not covering it would be gross malpractice.
Progress NC has started a petition calling for Forest to condemn homophobia and return any money he received from those associated with Word of Faith. Sign here.
(featured image courtesy The [Raleigh] News & Observer)