A fly-on-the-wall account of a religious cult and its discontents.
Headquartered in the Blue Ridge Mountains of North Carolina, the Word of Faith Fellowship has a long pedigree—and has long attracted the interest of law enforcement, write Associated Press reporters Weiss (The Heart of Hell: The Untold Story of Courage and Sacrifice in the Shadow of Iwo Jima, 2016, etc.) and Mohr. The founder, Jane Whaley, is “a godlike figure who professe[s] to have all the answers,” a woman quick to disappear with the collection plate—and who, the authors charge, was instrumental in the disappearance of an emerald so rare that the Brazilian government has been trying to retrieve it, the consequence of the church’s expansion not just into that country but also in other entrepôts around the world. The authors open with the daring escape, literally, of a church member and his wife, two refugees among 100 or so who have fled from the church and whose testimony provides the basis for this book—in addition to several law enforcement reports. Interestingly and ominously, some of those reports were never filed, and some were never even written thanks to the intercession of officials sympathetic to or supported by the WFF. Whaley, a charismatic leader surrounded by vulnerable followers and strong-arm lieutenants, has since sheltered herself in several ways, including forging political ties to the Trump administration and the Republican hierarchy in North Carolina. Meanwhile, amid such cultlike activities as dictating whom church members are allowed to marry, preaching a doctrine in which “sex is evil and demonic” and only the missionary position is acceptable, administering beatings to suspected apostates, and so forth, Whaley “has amassed millions.” Ominously, the authors note at the end, one church higher-up has lately acquired a license to transport cyanide, the potential recipe for another Jonestown.
A compelling examination of a Christianist cabal whose crimes are evident but whose power seems, for the moment, unbreakable.