Custody case shines light on church practices

Posted: Friday, August 11, 2000

RUTHERFORDTON, N.C. (AP) -- In a custody dispute, former members of The Word of Faith Fellowship accuse church leaders of restraining children and screaming prayers at them to drive out demons.

''I have seen children with bruises on their bodies, scratches made on their arms, fingernail marks on their arms,'' said former church member Sheri Nolan.

A hearing, expected to conclude Tuesday, will determine temporary custody of three children belonging to Ben and Pamela McGee. Ben McGee left the church and his wife in April; she remains a member. Their children range in age from 4 to 9.

The fellowship, with an estimated 300 to 400 members, was established in Rutherford County in 1978. Over the past decade, former members and neighbors have made allegations that church elders mistreated children and brainwashed congregants.

The State Bureau of Investigation examined the church five years ago after more than 40 former members told their stories to news organizations. The probe concluded without any charges.

Church elders acknowledged that children were paddled, but denied they were abused.

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