Readers looking for titillating new details about the Word of Faith Fellowship (WoFF) from the Associated Press reporters and authors Mitch Weiss and Holbrook Mohr may be disappointed. The book is a well written timeline of a snapshot of the Cooper family (former members of the WoFF) and sources John Huddle and Nancy Burnette with their relationships with Pastor Jane Whaley and Word of Faith Fellowship. Many of these stories are entertaining rewrites of the same TV show, magazine, court testimonies and news stories heard, published and broadcast over the last few years.
However the book has several omissions and errors. By relying on the select memory of only a few people, the book misleads the readers on facts. For example, an initial meeting with the District Attorney by Matthew Fenner and his entourage never mentions that a prominent local media representative was present. While the source has admitted to forgetting this detail, it is the omission and other errors of fact that our records show to be disturbing. How many other things were forgotten?
While reading the advance copy of Broken Faith, I was reminded of the decades old Ladies Home Journal’s (LHJ) column “Can this marriage be saved?” The column presented a voyeuristic view into a marriage that is similar to the voyeuristic portal into a select number of ex-members. However, the greatest difference between Broken Faith and the LHJ column is that there is no attempt to present the other side or to question the motives or accounts of the self-identified victims. RC Catalyst asked Word of Faith Fellowship attorney Josh Farmer for a comment on the book (they also had an advance copy of the book):
Mitch Weiss’s book Broken Faith is a continuation of the campaign of vitriol and lies by Weiss and certain members of the Cooper family against our church. This is another attempt to commercialize their concerted smear campaign after their failed attempt with the cancelled A&E series.
We have repeatedly reached out to Weiss and the publisher of this book. They have continually rejected our attempts to address their inaccuracies.
Despite the fact that the cases brought about by Matthew Fenner’s blasting session in 2013 STILL have not had a verdict in courtroom, Broken Faith states in their well-documented supporting notes that Fenner was beaten by the named defendants. From page 281 in Broken Faith:
“Sarah slapped him hard in the face, leaving four red fingerprints on his cheek.”
” Adam Bartley stood behind Mathhew “with his hands wrapped around his neck,” shaking hard.
The quotes around many statements in the book indicate to the average reader this is what was said exactly. Many reporters use tape recordings to get such exact quotes; no reporters were know to be at that event. So much for innocent until proven guilty.
Further in comparing court testimony to a national magazine article, there are significant changes in the stories.
Another error in the book is the existence of a dangerous chemical transport permit obtained by a local trucking company that happen to be members of the WoFF. RCCatalyst was the discoverer of the existence of such a permit online and provided that info to Burnette who evidently also shared it with Weiss and Mohr. The authors write that a minister had bragged about the obtainment of the permit and make a reference the tragic Jonestown cult tragedy of its members all taking poison.
“No one wants another Jonestown-where 913 cult members drank a cyanide-laced drink when faced with the end of their church.”
The trucking firm did not renew this permit that they had originally obtained for a client.
While many will find the book an easy compilation of all the former stories, they will also find strange new claims that if provable could have been heard in a court of law. According to the publisher’s release to the media, Weis and Mohr claim that:
- Pastor Jane Whaley stole a multi-million dollar Brazilian emerald to fund a new church sanctuary (p. 382-3)
- The late and former Clerk of Court Robynn Spence was the target for a murder-for-hire, (There is no record of any report of such an incident in the RC Sheriff department.) On page 405:
“On the tape (between Sheriff Chris Francis and Robynn Spence’s father), the sheriff said a man was hired to “harass” Spence, not kill her.”
The Associated Press attorneys would not approve the article on the death of Robynn Spence for publication according to a conversation with Weiss. Whether buying the book for the publicity hype is worth it is up to the reader. There is very little in the book about these incidents.
One interesting note is the discussion of the Word of Faith Fellowship member who was seated on the grand jury when then District Attorney Brad Greenway sought the original indictments in the Fenner cases. When Ted Bell took over the DA office weeks later he re-did the indictments.
While the secondary title of Broken Faith is “Inside the Word of Faith Fellowship, One of America’s Most Dangerous Cults,” what seems more dangerous is how a small group of people could effectively seduce, deceive and manipulate the media without questioning. Verbal and written attacks have been made on persons, businesses, and family of the Word of Faith Fellowship due to theses stories. If the ex-members stories were all true, why have not the courts, DSS, and law enforcement aggressively pursued these allegations? The FBI was called in when an attack on the church and pastor Jane Whaley during services was made as a result of these widely reported stories.
Throughout my weeks of sitting through court cases, I’ve learned that justice is an elusive goal. Resolution is often the outcome that only can be attained. Yet, the truth often lies in the middle of opposing stories. Maybe one day the full truth may be known.