Police have arrested a former member of a North Carolina cult known for its ex-gay conversion therapy.
Residents discovered 23-year-old Stephen Cordes holed up in a closet in the home of Brooke Covington, a leader of the Word of Faith Fellowship in Rutherford County, NC. At the time, Cordes had armed himself with a Glock pistol. He also had a shotgun in the trunk of his car.
Cordes claimed to be under the influence of drugs at the time. He had once attended Word of Faith Fellowship with his family, who still attend the church. Police charged him with breaking and entering, as well as possession of marijuana and methamphetamine.
“He’s going through a really tough period right now as a result of the way he grew up,” Cordes’ sister Danielle said in a statement.
Church leaders told reporters that Cordes felt compelled to break into the home of Covington following reports of an outbreak of COVID-19 in the church. Leaders of Word of Faith Fellowship have admitted that three congregants have died of the virus, and do not know if anyone else within the church is infected. Police also discovered a Facebook page belonging to Cordes which contained a post referring to the outbreak, and to fears that his family could be infected.
Word of Faith Fellowship has attracted criticism following a 2013 scandal in which Covington and other members of the church were accused of torturing Matthew Fenner, in hopes of “curing” his sexuality. Covington continues to face charges of kidnapping and assault related to the case after an initial trial resulted in a mistrial. Various investigations by journalists and the TV program Inside Edition have also uncovered further allegations of physical and psychological abuse within the church.