by Cathy Renna for Faith in America

Faith In America is seeking an explanation as to why YouTube would remove a video that the organization posted as part of its ongoing report about an anti-gay church that allegedly abused a young man because of his sexual orientation.

The video was produced by Faith In America and contained the personal story of Jerry Cooper, who was once a member of Word of Faith Fellowship (WOFF) in Spindale, N.C. In the video, Cooper corroborates allegations of abuse by the church that have been lodged by 22-year-old Michael Lowry, a gay man who says he was confined for four months against his will.

"It is really dumbfounding," said Brent Childers, executive director of the gay advocacy group. "YouTube allows a controversial video that pokes fun at Islam. But here we have a video in which a person is telling his own personal knowledge of how this bizarre Christian church treats gay youth or those suspected of being gay, and they remove the video."

"What YouTube is doing, perhaps inadvertently, in this particular case is giving cover to a church that believes it is OK to harm gay youth and families in the name of religious teaching," Childers said. "In doing so, it is giving cover to a vast number of churches who do the same, whether a small charismatic church in rural North Carolina or a large Methodist church in some American suburb."

Childers said that Google, which owns YouTube, is considered to be a very LGBT-friendly company. In addition, one of Faith In America's own media strategies in 2007 involved the first CNN/YouTube Democratic presidential primary debate. YouTube selected a question from a Faith In America supporter and pastor who asked why is it still OK to use religion to discriminate against gay Americans. It was rated the best question of the debate by a group of youth who had been assembled around the globe by YouTube to rate the questions.

"We have been told that YouTube apparently considers any allegations against a church as somehow stepping on their religious liberty. Considering the wealth of YouTube videos that address controversial religious issues, we find that hard to believe. Unfortunately, YouTube doesn't offer a process to question the removal of a video that has been deemed inappropriate. And they do not give a reason why."

Cooper is scheduled to appear on Friday in a Rutherford County courtroom to face off against four WOFF members who were arrested and charged with stalking and harassing him during an incident in October. Cooper and Lowry in October had returned to Spindale to follow-up on Lowry's original police report when Cooper was surrounded at a public mall by church members reportedly acting as church security personnel. Forest City Police officers were called and arrived to reportedly observe the alleged harassment.

Word of Faith Fellowship has been accused of being a cult because of the way it controls its members. Despite numerous investigations into reports of abuse, the church manages to portray itself as a mainstream church. Its web site has the pastor pictured with several high-ranking government officials, including the Israeli Ambassador to the United States, U.S. Sen. Kay Hagan and former N.C. Lt. Gov. Walton Dalton.

Faith In America in October requested the U.S. Department of Justice to investigate Lowry's case as a possible hate crime. Lowry alleges he was locked away for four months in a church building and suffered other abuse there because of his sexual orientation. The church's web site states that homosexuality is a form of demonic possession.

At least four former church members have stepped forward to say that they either observed or were victims of similar abuse that Michael Lowry alleges occurred. One of those individuals, Ben Carmona, says he experienced similar abuse. He says he was once accused of having "unclean homosexual spirits" because of his friendship with another boy. Carmona, who says he also was confined as Lowry alleges, also fled the church. He is now studying architectural design at a Chicago university.

Lowry was scheduled to appear before a grand jury in December, but the hearing was postponed when Lowry spotted a WOFF member on the grand jury. Lowry does not believe he will get a fair hearing because of the church's influence in Rutherford County.

Cooper agrees. He was told a special prosecutor and special judge had been brought in from neighboring McDowell County to hear his case Friday. He informed the district attorney that a Word of Faith Fellowship a leader in the church serves as a court reporter in McDowell County.

They are asking that the case be heard in another area of the state, beyond the immediate influence of the church. So far, their request has been rebuffed by local court officials.

Faith In America has not been able to determine the status of its request for a hate crimes investigation. After filing the request, Childers received a telephone call from a U.S. Department of Justice official who asked him if he had attempted to dialogue with the church as a means of conflict resolution. 


For more information, or to view the video in question visit FaithandEquality.org .