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A Cult Survivor’s Fight for Justice

MATTHEW FENNER SAYS FOLLOWERS OF THE CONTROVERSIAL WORD OF FAITH CHURCH BEAT HIM FOR BEING GAY. NOW HE AND FORMER MEMBER DANIELLE CORDES HOPE TO SAVE OTHERS BY SPEAKING OUT

Matthew Fenner can still hear the screams in his face, feel the blows to his stomach, the fingers clasped around his throat. “You’re a liar!” someone shouted, before delivering a hard slap across his cheek. The then-19-year-old was in the sanctuary of the Word of Faith Fellowship, a secretive Spindale, N.C., church, surrounded by his fellow church members who were trying to exorcise his “homosexual demons” in a beating that he says went on for more than two hours. “I could sense the rage and see the anger and hate in their eyes,” says Fenner of the assault he says took place after a usual Sunday service in 2013. “When people were putting their hands on my throat and choking me, that’s when I knew it was getting too dangerous. I knew something extremely bad was going to happen if I didn’t figure out a way to get out.”

Fenner did escape—and went public with his

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