A controversial church in Rutherford County, which has been accused of abuse by former members, received a loan through the federal government’s small business aid program, records released this week show.
The Word of Faith Fellowship, a Spindale-based church, raised between $ 150,000 and $ 350,000 through the Paycheck Protection Program, data from the Small Business Administration shows. Spindale is about 70 miles west of Charlotte.
The PPP was designed to assist small businesses amid the COVID-19 shutdowns. The SBA has guaranteed nearly 122,000 of North Carolina’s business loans since April.
Word of Faith attorney and church leader Josh Farmer declined to answer emailed questions about the church’s pandemic relief loan, including the exact amount Word of Faith received and how it had been used.
In court cases, Word of Faith has been accused by former members of physically and mentally abusing children. Four church members were also charged in 2018 in an unemployment benefits scheme.
Other religious organizations in the state have also received money through the federal program, including the Roman Catholic Diocese of Charlotte, which received between $ 1 million and $ 2 million, and Elevation Church, which obtained a loan of between $ 2 million and $ 5 million, according to SBA data.
Source of controversy
Word of Faith, found on a closed street patrolled by a church security force, has been a source of controversy in Foothills for decades.
Critics dominate all aspects of their members’ lives and sometimes use brutal spiritual practices to dispel sinful demons, including those that cause homosexuality.
The church says it follows God’s will and teachings, contributes generously to the surrounding community, and wants to be allowed to worship as it sees fit.
Earlier this year, Word of Faith was at the center of intense tensions in Rutherford County over whether the secretive congregation was hiding a coronavirus outbreak.
In late April, Farmer told the Observer that three church members had died from the disease.
Around that time, a former church member who had expressed concern for the safety of family members who still belong to Word of Faith and may be exposed to the disease was arrested and charged with breaking into the home of a leader of the church. church while carrying a gun.
“If something happens to my family that is still there, help me,” Stephen Cordes of Raleigh had written in a Facebook post in early April. He was charged with trespassing to terrorize and injure, along with two drug-related offenses.
Farmer did not respond this week to a request for updated figures on COVID-19-related deaths and infections from the church. Most sites, including churches, are not required to release such information.
Farmer issued a brief statement when asked if the church’s support for Republican candidates, including President Donald Trump, had been a factor in Word of Faith receiving the relief money.
“The church applied for and qualified for the Payroll Protection Plan loan through its local bank in the same way that presumably nearly 700,000 other businesses and nonprofits use across the country,” reads the statement from Farmer.
“Any support for President Trump by some of the church members had nothing to do with the church’s qualification for this broad pandemic relief program. To suggest otherwise is absurd. “