In rural Spindale, North Carolina, the charismatic Jane Whaley has built the Word of Faith Fellowship into a virtual kingdom, not just drawing followers to Sunday services but also extending the group’s influence overseas and to businesses run by WFF members. WFF also forged links to police and courts who tend to look benignly on the group’s practices, particularly “blasting,” shouting and pounding for hours on members perceived to have done wrong or had so much as an “unclean” thought.
In the telling of Associated Press reporters Weiss and Mohr, WFF is a classic religious cult, drawing in the wounded of spirit, people questing for a new direction in life, others recovering from drugs or alcohol and seeking a new path, or those searching for unambiguous answers to life’s fundamental questions. WFF founder Jane Whaley becomes their confidante, a conduit to God’s plan for them and gradually, their absolute ruler.
As do other religious groups, WFF ministers engage selective use of Biblical verses and interpret these passages to suit their goals, infusing holiness shrouded in control of members’ lives in every way.
Given the growth of non-denominational churches in America and abroad, “Broken Faith” - which began as a series of AP stories - offers an important and carefully sourced rendering of how founders of religious sects can become tyrants, ruling by fear and threats of eternal hellfire for those who disobey.
If “Broken Faith” has a flaw, it’s the length. You’ll need a notebook to keep track of all the characters. And the reporting is so meticulous that a quarter of the way into the book, the reader reaches a “guilty” verdict on WFF. It’s painful reading at times. Weiss and Mohr have carefully reconstructed scenes and dialog in “blasting” sessions that leave WFF members perceived to have strayed feeling degraded, broken and spiritually and emotionally inert.
The book reads like a thriller, spinning from one jarring scene to the next, especially when members try to escape the clutches of the group and the numbing, pulverizing insanity of a religion gone mad.
So what has the WFF’s response been to the AP reporting that led to this book? On the home page of the organization’s website, a pull-down tab is called “Response to media lies,” testimonials from church members about how good WFF has been for them.