Some people have been making pretty brazen threats on social media against a notorious and secretive North Carolina church called the Word of Faith Fellowship (WoFF). The church is rumored to be a source of COVID-19 infections. No compelling evidence seems to currently support the allegation, but a Facebook group called Citizens Against Corruption and Abuse has been trying hard to make the case.
Here’s some of the language in question (please note it doesn’t come from the Facebook group, whose administrators say they “do not permit threats of violence against any organization”).
“Could we just lock up the WoFF compound and burn it to the ground with them inside? That way, we can open up the rest of the county.”
“If [officials] just eradicated that compound & made it a crater this might get [the disease] under control.”
“I’m ready to burn the [place] down to be honest.”
“If I had money and I knew where [founder Jane Whaley] lived, I’d burn her house down.”
The first two are disturbing but pretty clearly hyperbolic. If this affair ended up in court, the judge would probably allow them on free-speech grounds. I’m not a lawyer, but the third and fourth one seem to cross the legal line.
The WoFF posted the evidence of the troubling invective, along with the names of the authors, on the home page of its website, and notified the Rutherford County Sheriff’s Office. On the same website, no evidence was provided of another threat that Whaley says she received — the suggestion that she be beheaded.
Among all one hundred North Carolina counties, Rutherford ranks number nine in confirmed COVID-19 cases. The Charlotte Observer writes that as of yesterday,
… 116 people in Rutherford County had tested positive for COVID-19, a 54 percent increase from the week before, according to N.C. DHHS data. Six people have died. Health officials reported “clusters” of coronavirus cases in “healthcare agencies, retail stores, commercial businesses, congregate living situations and educational entities,” according to a statement posted Friday on Rutherford’s emergency management Facebook page. It did not mention churches.
The Word of Faith Fellowship was controversial, to say the least, long before the coronavirus.
[T]he congregation has beaten a gay member to get rid of his “homosexual demons,” shaken babies to banish their demons, used Brazilian worshipers as slaves, and committed unemployment fraud so worshipers would keep tithing,
… wrote Hemant two months ago. Holy hell. The Observer supplies another reminder of just how insane and contemptible these people are:
The multi-national evangelical congregation practices a form of “strong prayer” known as “blasting” in which groups of believers will scream and shout at an individual until [the victim] vomit[s], a sign that they have expelled a demon that has caused them to sin. That includes being gay.
Ex-members often refer to WoFF as a cult, and say that it engages in outright child abuse. This YouTube video, and this one, go into some detail about that. There’s also a damning recent book about WoFF, by Associated Press reporters Mitch Weiss and Holbrook Mohr: Broken Faith: Inside the Word of Faith Fellowship, One of America’s Most Dangerous Cults.
Returning to the death threats: I find them about as off-putting as I do the behavior of this hideous church. People who use threats cede the high ground. It’s a dumb move.
If there’s any truth to the rumors about the church transmitting the virus (and in the absence of evidence, we have to assume the charge is unfounded, or at least unproven), the authorities should deal with it. I’m as mad at actual churchy spreaders as anyone, but I decline to substitute gossip for facts; and vigilantism of any kind has always skeeved me out.
I’ve contacted Citizens Against Corruption and Abuse, the group that’s been pushing the accusation. If I hear back with something of substance, I’ll either update this post or write a new one.