RIO DE JANEIRO (AP) — One of Word of Faith Fellowship's two churches in Brazil has rejected claims made by former members that they were subjected to physical and verbal abuse at the hands of ministers and that young congregants were sent to the mother church in North Carolina and forced to work without pay.
The allegations were detailed in investigative stories published by The Associated Press this week.
In a statement released late Wednesday, pastors of the Ministerio Evangelico Comunidade Rhema church in Franco da Rocha, Brazil, called the former members' accusations "many lies and distorted facts."
The statement, published in the Folha de S. Paulo newspaper, said the church had maintained a strong relationship with pastors at the Word of Faith Fellowship in Spindale, North Carolina, for 30 years. "They are good people, they live God's love and in trying to help people they have been slandered," it read.
The statement also said the church in Brazil did "not tolerate or permit any form of abuse in our ministry."
Word of Faith Fellowship is an evangelical church founded in North Carolina in 1979 by Jane Whaley, a former math teacher, and her husband, Sam. It has branches in Brazil and Ghana, along with affiliations in other countries.
This week's AP stories — based on accounts of dozens of former members, a review of police reports and interviews with authorities in Brazil and the United States — also detailed how the North Carolina church took over its two Brazilian congregations over the course of many years, instilling its rigid doctrine in Ministerio Evangelico Comunidade Rhema and Ministerio Verbo Vivo church in Sao Joaquim de Bicas.
Many former members said they were beaten during sessions aimed at expunging devils, suffered psychological domination by pastors and were cut off from family members upon leaving the church.
Leaders of the Word of Faith Fellowship and both churches in Brazil did not respond to numerous requests for comment made by the AP before publication of the stories.