Recently a multi-segment article was published by the Associated Press, written by the author Mitch Weiss, in an attempt to falsely represent the Word of Faith Fellowship and Christian School as an abusive, cultish, tyrannical organization run by Pastor Jane Whaley and her “dedicated team of church leadership.” I vehemently disagree with this faulty characterization and am writing a rebuttal to this article, most specifically to the portion entitled “The Use of a Ruse” in the piece published on March 6, 2017. I am a lifelong member of the Word of Faith Fellowship and an alumnus of its Christian school. I work as a healthcare professional in the nearby community of Hendersonville, North Carolina, and, most importantly, I am a loving husband and father to the two most beautiful children who are now also receiving an education second to none at the Word of Faith Christian School. My rebuttal is based on my personal involvement in the events described in this segment, as well as audio recordings which specifically and clearly debunk the entire premise of a “ruse” as alleged by both the author and his informants.
Much like an identification badge displayed by law enforcement officers, Mr. Weiss displays his credentials as a Pulitzer Prize winning, investigative journalist on his various pieces of journalism and job description platforms. It did not take too much research for me to find that Mr. Weiss has certainly earned this respectable status in his field through years of hard work and dedication to uncovering deeply hidden truths. With this in mind, I now all the more question why Mr Weiss would give in to a much cheaper brand of what I view as “sensational journalism” in this most recent publication. In the current format, I do not have time or space to refute every detail of the aforementioned article segment, but I will focus on the overarching message which portrays Mrs. Whaley as a manipulative person of authority preying on the emotions of a vulnerable young man, Michael Lowry, for the sole purpose of relieving herself and her organization of a legal investigation.
Michael is my younger brother, the youngest of the three “Lowry boys” as we were often referred to. Much to my family’s dismay and heartache, he decided to leave our parents’ home in late 2011, and then associated himself with the Faith Freedom Fund. This local group was led by John Huddle at the time, and their mission was to encourage members of our church to leave their families and church friends if they wanted to pursue a more worldly lifestyle. When Michael first left, he clearly and emphatically stated multiple times to my family that he had no desire or intention to bring allegations against the church because he had nothing to bring. He loved his family and wanted to stay in touch; however, he wanted to go out and experience some of the things his parents did not allow in their own home. My brother Michael later reported to me that he initially informed the people he was with of his intentions of moving on with his life without disparaging his previous environment, but they were insistent on his recounting a story of some awful experience fitting their larger narrative of depicting the Word of Faith as an abusive environment. These people included John Huddle, Jerry Cooper, and other like-minded individuals whose intent it is to discredit and even destroy Jane Whaley and the Word of Faith Fellowship, as they clearly express on their various websites and social media platforms. Michael told me specifically that John Huddle even grew visibly angry when he was not providing a good story to support the abuse narrative. Michael, who was twenty-one years old at the time, did not have a job and relied on these people to provide housing and provisions for him; therefore, he was with them day in and day out. Another thing about my little brother is that, due to a serious medical event in utero, he was slightly delayed developmentally. He was able to learn and complete school with some extra tutoring but nothing more than that, and he certainly had the ability to find a career in which he could have been successful as an adult head of household one day. My purpose in making this statement is to demonstrate that Michael was a very impressionable young man who, though an adult and free to make his own decisions and life choices, needed a parental, caring influence in his life at such a crucial age. The pain in seeing him make poor decisions and associate himself with people like John Huddle and Jerry Cooper, whose lives seemed to be consumed by their nefarious agenda of discrediting our church, was especially painful to our family. We knew he would be used as nothing more than a prop for them to level more accusations against Jane and the church. Under the pressure of Huddle and others, Michael later told me, he developed a story based on a prayer session in the Bible School to fit what they were demanding. Months after leaving the church, Michael filed a police report of this fabricated incident of abuse by multiple church members. Given the circumstances, this development was not terribly surprising. Over this time he gave interviews to various local media outlets, his story was posted in John Huddle’s blog, and we watched the story change and grow like a fisherman’s tale almost weekly for a time. It went from being pushed in the chest until he was bruised to being shoved on the floor and nearly choked to the eventual claim that he was was unconscious after being hit on the head.
Some months later, a new and surprising allegation was leveled in Michael’s case–he was abused by church members because he was homosexual. What a shock to those of us who had known him his entire life! We knew that he had dated girls and expressed an interest in marriage in his ongoing relationship even at the very time he left us! Sure, Michael had a couple mannerisms which some people could have deemed as a bit feministic, but anyone who knew Michael also knew that he was interested in girls. In fact, sometimes he was a little too interested in girls within his range of eyesight. “Michael, watch your eyes” I would sometimes say, while feeling a little embarrassed that my brother was very noticeably giving a nearby girl an intense look over without being at all discreet about it! With this news story, all of a sudden, Michael had somehow retroactively become gay before he ever left the church? And on top of that he was receiving prayer for “homosexual demons” that none of us even knew about??? Seriously? Are they feeding Michael this story because it’s more sensational this way or what? I recall thinking after I first heard this new story rendition. “What is worse even yet is they are so judgmental and condescending to my brother out there and use a mannerism he has to redefine his entire image so they can get him to tell a darker story about the church!” Unfortunately, I have to say that I only wish that was where it had stopped. Michael recounted to me later, when he came back home, that at first John Huddle did not like the idea of using the gay story. Later, John was talked into supporting the gay narrative in Michael’s case by an associate. The plan was that if he claimed abuse for his homosexuality, he would be able to reach out to more organizations for financial assistance. He told me he had been moved from house to house through this process, and many times he was kicked out of a home in a very hurtful way.
Now we enter the next phase of the story which occurred in the fall of 2012 and involves a group mentioned in the AP article, Faith in America. Based in the Hickory, North Carolina area, this group’s mission is to help homosexual youth who are victims of religious bigotry. They bought into Michael’s ever evolving story, and they did much more than provide him a place to stay. Having contacts within the FBI, this organization assisted and encouraged Michael to file a hate crimes complaint against our church and Jane Whaley, alleging that church doctrine demands emotional and even physical abuse of gay members. Though the charges were completely fabricated, enough bitter and angry ex-members agreed to provide supplemental testimony for Michael if he were to go to court against us. It is important to note that none of the supporting witnesses Michael was relying on were present for the actual event where he supposedly “suffered abuse,” because they had all left the church prior to him. The supporting witnesses were going to tell fabricated stories of previous events in which they had observed Michael being abused as a child or had heard homophobic doctrine preached while in the church. Michael also recounted to me that during his time with this organization, he was introduced to gay pornography and other experiences by leaders of Faith in America. Given the explanation that he needed to know if he was really gay since he had not had certain physical encounters, Michael told me that he was encouraged to watch the gay porn videos, and that he was provided with an iPad and a couple websites to visit. He further explained to me that those counseling him said that if he had a sexual response while watching, he probably really was a homosexual.
Having covered enough with the complex back story, now let me go on to the “ruse” as alleged in this AP article and as stated as plain fact by author Mitch Weiss in the 4th from last paragraph under this subheading. Quoting that entire paragraph, “Told that his mother was very ill, Lowry returned to his parents’ home in February 2013 and soon recanted.” That is a complete lie, Mr Weiss! Quoting the next paragraph in its entirety, “But Lowry told the AP that his mother had not been sick. Instead, he said, Whaley used the ruse to corner him and pressure him to withdraw his accusations.” Another complete lie! At least in this one you attribute the statement to Michael instead of printing it as an unequivocal fact! First of all, Jane Whaley had nothing to do with Michael reaching out to me, his brother. In response to Michael trying to contact both my parents and me, I have an archived message I sent to Michael via Facebook inbox message in early 2013 stating, “if you want to talk, call my cell. ###.” I also have an audio recording which clearly proves that Michael initiated the phone call to me and railed about how awfully he had been treated by everyone over the past year. He accused the group in Hickory, John Huddle, Jerry Cooper, and others. When he called me, he had just been relocated again, this time to a detached garage belonging to a neighbor of the Faith in America leader in Lenoir, North Carolina. He waited until he thought everyone was asleep and walked down to the road to call me. He said that the people around home knew he was wanting to come home, so they had been looking over his shoulder constantly for signs of contact with his family. Michael said they checked his inbox and knew his Facebook and email passwords so they could monitor all of his communication. He had wanted to call sooner, but this was his first opportunity to get by himself. Out in the cold, depressed by miserable and abusive circumstances, Michael was broken. He said that he just could not continue the lies, the investigation, and the constant barrage of disparagement from these former members–he was desperate and hoping I would offer some help. After a couple minutes of listening to Michael, I was devastated by what had been done to my brother, and I was angered by the heartless people willing to take advantage of an impressionable and confused young man to advance their own cause. I offered to come get him. He was elated but also concerned that he was not dressed like he should be. He had not bathed in days. When I told him that none of those things mattered to me and that I just needed him to give me a location, he said he could not risk going back to his room and that he would have to leave all his belongings for fear that they would force him to stay. Just as they had controlled his every move and communication until that time, he was afraid that if they found him before I arrived, they would force him to stay there and even involve his FBI case worker if they had to. I picked him up on the roadside near that house in Lenoir.
When he first came home, Michael wanted to just do anything he could to right the wrongs he had created over the previous year. We met with you, Mr. Weiss, to discuss why he had returned home, and what had happened to change his story so drastically from hate crime accusations to a recanting of the abuse charges as well as the hate crimes charges. Part of making things right at home of course included ending the investigations and pending charges through recanting. Of course Michael recanted to the FBI–he wanted to! Before he recanted, the FBI agent explained to him the seriousness and criminal nature of lying to a federal agent, basically saying “you either lied last time you talked to me, or you will be lying this time by recanting, no matter which story is the actual truth.” Michael understood. Then, in Michael’s actual meeting with the FBI, no one was allowed in the room with Michael, so I did not directly hear anything that was said. However, immediately following that meeting, Michael told me that the agent offered him the opportunity to exit that building with his caseworker in a way by which none of us who were there with him (his parents and myself) would be able to follow. In the meanwhile, an FBI agent had showed up at my office a couple days after Michael’s return home. In the course of conversation, I learned that some from Faith in America and from John Huddle’s group contacted Michael’s case worker within the FBI accusing me of kidnapping! After I played the phone conversation recording in which Michael asked me to come pick him up, I provided a copy of the recording to the agent, and we cordially closed our conversation. The end result was that Michael came home with us that day, and I was never charged with kidnapping.
Having gone through all the emotional abuse and control over the course of a year, and having been exposed to practices that contaminated his heart, mind, and soul, Michael had a hard time committing to a better lifestyle when he returned home. He certainly did great for a time and was allowed lots of grace (believe me, lots!!!), but eventually he decided he wanted to hold on to some of the things he knew were unacceptable in my parents’ home. He left a second time and moved to Michigan with extended family. Following his public Facebook posts and his new story in John Huddle’s blog after leaving the church for the second time, the “ruse” of my mother’s illness came to life. Now with this article, Mr. Weiss, you have truly given it a life of its very own! It was rather obvious that Michael concocted this story of being lured back into the church to reconnect with some of his outside contacts. That included John Huddle and others with whom he had just burned serious bridges by returning to his family and the Word of Faith Fellowship. Michael had to come up with a plausible excuse for breaking their trust. Michael began saying things like “they used my greatest fear, they told me that my mother, whom I love so much and always will, was very ill to lure me back into the church and then forced me to recant.” So, Mr Weiss, since you did not bother reaching out to me before stating as fact that someone tricked Michael into coming home with a lie about a sick mother, I hope you now can see when and why this “ruse” story was fabricated. The old saying goes, “Fool me once, shame on you. Fool me twice, shame on me.” It’s quite obvious that Michael had fooled you at least once before this “ruse” story. You will have to decide which story you thought was true the first go around, whether he was telling truth about being beaten for being gay, or the opposite where he was never beaten at the church but rather heavily influenced by Huddle and others to create a story to fit their narrative and elicit support. Either way, you were given two totally contradictory stories by Michael himself. But shame on you for using Michael’s story about his ill mother. “The Use of a Ruse” was created NOT by Jane Whaley, but rather as a ruse itself AGAINST Jane Whaley to justify Michael’s actions in the eyes of his associates. The shame is on you this time.
Was it not worthy of a mention in your lengthy dissertation that you in fact visited the church in 2013 shortly after Michael returned to his family? As part of Michael’s family, I spent about an hour with you for an interview which included not only myself but also Michael and other family and church members. Was one or two lines, or perhaps even a paragraph, too much space to allow for expressing the alternate point of view in your discussion? Perhaps I should clarify that you do allow for the expression of opinions from those inside the church, but only in the form of previous members now making accusations, who claim they can recall what it felt like when they were here. You and I both participated in the same meeting at that time in 2013, so I know that you have been educated on what our viewpoint is. However, since you declined to include even a modest explanation of our view in your 2013 article following Michael’s recanting, and since you can find no space in your current multiple page article to allow for the expression of our concerns of influence by ex-members, allow me to provide you with a brief reminder. Time and time again, history repeats itself concerning those who leave Word of Faith Fellowship. As I explained above regarding what happened with Michael when he first left the church and stayed with John Huddle for a time, most of the people who leave our church pledge and promise that they are just moving on to another phase of their own lives. They emphatically state that they have no intentions of speaking out against the church and that they still love everyone remaining there, including their families and especially including Jane Whaley. As happened with Michael, however, anyone who leaves is immediately and aggressively targeted by a network of ex-members whose primary passion in life it seems is to try to discredit Jane Whaley and destroy our church. Almost without fail, they go from being mere acquaintances with many of these ex-members to being best buddies as they share stories of their disagreements with church practices or with specific events or circumstances which they found disagreeable. Before you know it, Jane Whaley who was just their friend forever, has suddenly become an arch enemy.
Mr. Weiss, I believe I have laid out a rather clear case debunking an entire section of your story as nothing more than a fact-free character assassination on Jane Whaley. I hope you will read this essay and apologize to Mrs. Whaley for erroneously accusing her of being a manipulative liar. Your accusation based on nothing but mere hearsay. If that is not bad enough, you then had that smear printed in a worldwide publication. More than that though, Mr. Weiss, I hope that you will stop writing this sensational nonsense and return to the true, tough, investigative journalism which once earned you respect.