Founded in 1979 by Whaley, a former math teacher, and her husband, Sam, the church has grown to a congregation of nearly 750 people in rural Spindale with hundreds more followers extending to Brazil, Ghana and other countries.
Jane Whaley is the unquestioned leader, presenting herself as a prophet.
But despite allegations of abuse spanning two decades, authorities have done little to intervene.
And though he thought his life couldn’t get any worse, it did.When he was 14, Anderson said, Jane Whaley called a mandatory church meeting, on a weekday.In 2003, he said, the church forced him to sign an affidavit saying he had not been abused and that “church discipline” was “God’s mercy on my life.”Anderson was about 4 years old when his mother joined Word of Faith.He describes his childhood as nothing short of hell.As with most punishments at the secretive Christian church, Anderson said, it was prompted by some vague accusation: He had sin in his heart, or he had given in to the “unclean.” The attacks could last for hours until he confessed to something, anything, and cried out to Jesus, he said. Then, Anderson said, he would be locked in a dark place he called the “green room,” where he would bang his head against the brick wall, wanting to die.“I just wanted it to end,” he recalled in a series of interviews with The Associated Press. He fled the secretive evangelical church when he was 18, but he is not free.
“Of course, they told us that killing yourself is the unforgivable sin.”Today, Anderson is a 29-year-old handsome, articulate attorney with a quick wit and a sarcastic side. More than a decade later, he still struggles to find his footing in a world that he doesn’t understand, having been raised, as he puts it, in a “cult.”Night terrors jolt him awake.He said Whaley even refused to let him attend the funeral of his grandfather, the most important male figure in his childhood, and that he was omitted from the list of family members in the obituary. Whaley, but also by members of the church,” he said.He is free and yet, he said, he cannot escape the church’s reach. He is speaking out now, he said, because “I want to make sure that kids there, they know that there’s a better way to live. That they’re not going to mistreat you.”Noell Tin, an attorney for Whaley, denied Anderson had been mistreated. To understand what Anderson lived through, it is necessary to understand Word of Faith.Waiting in the sanctuary that day in early 2002, “we knew it couldn’t be good,” he said.When Whaley arrived, she pointed to Anderson and a group of “troublemakers” she called the “five boys.” For two hours, he said, Whaley screamed and shamed them.Worst of all is the suffocating anguish that rushes in when he looks back on the beatings and isolation.“There were times that mentally you just feel broken,” he said.