Metro Weekly

Anti-gay minister goes on trial for beating gay man in attempted exorcism

AP investigation reveals North Carolina religious sect has a pattern of assaulting congregants who step out of line

Matthew Fenner – Photo: Facebook.

A North Carolina minister is on trial for her actions related to the kidnapping and assault of a man in an attempt to exorcise him of “homosexual demons,” reports Raleigh-area NBC affiliate WRAL.

Brooke Covington, a 58-year-old minister at Word of Faith Fellowship in Spindale, N.C., is accused of directing others to beat congregant Matthew Fenner, and participating in the abuse herself. If convicted, she could spend up to two years in prison.

Four other church members, who are also accused of assaulting Fenner, will be tried separately.

Fenner, now 23, says he was leaving a prayer service on Jan. 27, 2013, when nearly two dozen people surrounded him in the church’s sanctuary. Fenner says they slapped, punched, coked, and “blasted” him — a church practice involving intense screaming — for two hours while they tried to expel the “homosexual demons” from him.

Testifying in court, Fenner said Covinton pointed out his sexual orientation and said “God said there is something wrong in your life.” He also testified that he had cancer as a child and had a biopsy one week before the assault. During the assault, he said he thought: “Is my neck going to break, am I going to die?”

But Covington’s lawyer, David Teddy, tried to discredit Fenner’s testimony, noting that he had praised Word of Faith Fellowship in his high school graduation speech and had visited a Brazilian church affiliated with Word of Faith — something that would be unusual if he had any disputes with what the church was teaching.

Teddy also said Fenner never told anyone to stop hitting him. But Fenner claimed he’s the victim of emotional abuse, and that complaining would have made the physical punishment worse.

Teddy tried to paint a different picture of the encounter, saying those assembled held a routine prayer that lasted no longer than 15 or 20 minutes. When the prayer was over, Teddy claims Fenner “hugged everybody and left the church.”

The Associated Press conducted an ongoing, two-year investigation into abuse of congregants of Word of Faith at the hands of church leaders, interviewing four former members who say they witnessed Fenner’s attack. The AP investigation revealed that congregants were regularly punched, smacked, choked, slammed to the floor or thrown through walls in order to “purify” sinners by beating out devils.

The investigation also found that Word of Faith attempts to exercise strict control over its members’ lives, including decisions about whom to marry and whether to have children. Failure to comply with the church’s wishes can result in public humiliation from the pulpit or physical punishment. Members can’t watch television, go to the movies, read newspapers, or eat in restaurants that play music or serve alcohol. And if church leaders believe a congregant has sexual or dirty thoughts, they can be accused of being “unclean” and punished.

Support Metro Weekly’s Journalism

These are challenging times for news organizations. And yet it’s crucial we stay active and provide vital resources and information to both our local readers and the world. So won’t you please take a moment and consider supporting Metro Weekly with a membership? For as little as $5 a month, you can help ensure Metro Weekly magazine and MetroWeekly.com remain free, viable resources as we provide the best, most diverse, culturally-resonant LGBTQ coverage in both the D.C. region and around the world. Memberships come with exclusive perks and discounts, your own personal digital delivery of each week’s magazine (and an archive), access to our Member's Lounge when it launches this fall, and exclusive members-only items like Metro Weekly Membership Mugs and Tote Bags! Check out all our membership levels here and please join us today!

John Riley is the local news reporter for Metro Weekly. He can be reached at jriley@metroweekly.com

Leave a Comment: