A North Carolina man claims he was held in captivity for four months by members of his former church because they learned he is gay.
Michael Lowry, 22, says he was physically and emotionally abused by members of the World of Faith Fellowship Church, the Charlotte Observer reports. He claims he was held in a "dorm-like facility" from Aug. 1 to Nov. 19, 2011.
ABC News has more details:
Lowry told ABC News affiliate WLOS that he was knocked unconscious by church members in Aug., 2011, as they read him scripture because of his sexuality.
"The pastor said to find out what my darkest secret was, and I was like, 'I'm never telling,' Lowry told WLOS. "They hit my head with fists and I was out on the floor, they held my hands and feet down and were pushing on my chest and I could barely breathe."
The Word of Faith Church was investigated for child abuse and founder Jane Whaley was convicted of abusing a congregant. The conviction was later overturned. The church also sued North Carolina's Department of Social Services in the 1990s over the child abuse charges, obtaining a $300,000 award and having the child abuse charges expunged, according to court records.
ABC News has more:
Lowry's former pastor, Jane Whaley said Sunday that all of his claims are "lies." She says Lowry was not confined or beaten and claims the church only found out that he was gay when his family did, after seeing a news report by an Asheville, N.C. TV station on Thursday.
However, Jerry Cooper, a former member of the church, told WLOS that World of Faith was "definitely a cult."
"I've witnessed it," he said. "I've witnessed the paddlings, I've witnesses the people held down…I've witnessed all of it."
The case is currently being investigated by the Rutherford County District Attorney's office.
Brent Childers, executive director of Faith in America, said if Lowry's accusations are proven true, they would certainly amount to a hate crime.