A controversial church in Rutherford County, that has been accused of abuse by former members, received a loan through the federal government’s small business relief program, records released this week show.
The Word of Faith Fellowship, a church based in Spindale, obtained between $150,000 and $350,000 through the Paycheck Protection Program, Small Business Administration data show. Spindale is about 70 miles west of Charlotte.
The PPP was designed to provide assistance to small businesses amid COVID-19 shutdowns. The SBA guaranteed nearly 122,000 of the loans for North Carolina businesses since April.
Word of Faith attorney and church leader Josh Farmer refused to address 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 for between $2 million and $5 million, according to the SBA’s data.
Word of Faith, which sits on a gated road patrolled by a church security force, has been a source of controversy across the Foothills for decades.
Critics dominates all aspects of its members’ lives, and uses sometimes brutal spiritual practices to dispel sinful demons – including those causing 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 heightened tensions in Rutherford County over whether the secretive congregation was hiding an outbreak of the coronavirus.
In late April, Farmer told the Observer that three church members had died from the illness.
Around that time, a former church member who had expressed concerns for the safety of relatives who still belong to Word of Faith and might be exposed to the disease was arrested and charged with breaking into the home of a church leader while carrying a gun.
“If anything happens to my family that is still in there so help me,” Stephen Cordes of Raleigh had written in a Facebook post earlier in April. He was charged with breaking and entering to terrorize and injure, along with two drug offenses.
Farmer did not respond this week to a request for updated figures of the church’s COVID-19 related deaths and infections. Most sites, including churches, are not required to disclose such information.
Farmer did issue 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 and qualified for the Payroll Protection Plan loan through its local bank in the same manner presumably used by nearly 700,000 other businesses and non-profit entities around the country,” Farmer’s statement read.
“Any support for President Trump by certain of the church’s members had nothing to do with the church’s qualification for this broad-based pandemic relief program. To suggest otherwise is absurd.”
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