A gay man says he was physically and verbally abused by members of his North Carolina church while being detained for several months in a church dormitory.
Michael Lowry, 22, told ABC News that he was approached by a leader from the Word of Faith Fellowship Church, who asked him what his deepest secret was. When Lowry replied, "I'm never telling," he said he was knocked unconscious and then kept in a church dormitory from August to November 2011 with other young men who were having problems at home.
“The doors were locked, it was jail,” he said to the Charlotte Observer. “You weren’t allowed to speak to your family. Many of the men had wives and children, but they weren’t able to communicate with them.” He eventually told church leaders that he wanted to leave, and they let him go.
Jane Whaley, the church's former pastor, said Lowry's allegations were "lies" and that he was free to leave at any time. She said Lowry was not held or beaten, but then added that she only learned about what happened to Lowry after he spoke to news outlets about the attacks.
Lowry first came out as a teenager to his family and church members, but that led to a steady stream of harassment. Despite this, Lowry wanted to be a minister, and remained active in the church. Still, Lowry said church members had previously tried to exorcise "demons" from him, which they believed caused his homosexuality. During his time in the dormitory, Lowry said church members used the method of "blasting," which requires hands-on, high-pitched, screaming prayer.
The Word of Faith church has previously been investigated for its treatment of children.
After he was able to leave the church dormitory, Lowry fled to Michigan to live with other family members. He then returned to North Carolina to file a complaint against the church in February, and now Rutherford County district attorney Brad Greenway is leading an investigation. He told the Charlotte Observer that it was too soon to tell whether the case could reach a grand jury.