At age 16, Matthew Fenner sensed that stability and acceptance in his life were missing.
As a teen he’d come out as gay, and his mother didn’t accept it. She’d also lost her job and struggled with the onset of multiple sclerosis. His parents had divorced; there were financial problems at home.
That summer of 2010, when contacted by a leader of the World of Faith Fellowship, a Spindale, North Carolina, church that his family occasionally had visited, he accepted the invitation to talk.
“I kind of had a moment where someone was actually just listening to what I was saying,” he says. He enrolled in the private church school for his senior year, and his mother and brother officially became church members with him. “I liked the idea of a fresh start,” he says
But his dream of a new beginning would become a nightmare. Begun in 1979, Word of Faith was a secretive sect that embraced a traditional evangelical doctrine — and its founder and pastor, Jane Whaley, saw demons everywhere. “If you have a cold, it’s because you have a demon,” Paul Ditz, an attorney familiar with abuse allegations against the church, says in People Magazine Investigates: Cults, which airs Monday, July 8 at 8 p.m. ET on Investigation Discovery. “If you are questioning Jane, it’s because you have a demon.”