Raleigh – Lieutenant Governor Forest’s launch for governor raised fresh questions about his ties to a violent, radical group in Rutherford County. In response to The Daily Courier, Forest “would not respond to questions about the lieutenant governor’s relationship with or thoughts on Word of Faith.” Why is Dan Forest standing with a group whose former members have offered stark detailed allegations of abuse, manipulation, fraud, obstruction of justice and unpaid labor?
The Daily Courier: NC Dems criticize Lt. Gov.’s Word of Faith ties
By Mackenzie Wicker
February 1, 2019
RALEIGH— As Republican Lt. Gov. Dan Forest considers a 2020 gubernatorial run, the state Democratic Party is criticizing his ties to Word of Faith Fellowship and the controversy that surrounds the church.
Democrats responded to Forest’s announcement that he had formed an “exploratory” committee to seek the GOP nomination in a press release issued Monday. The first item on a list of their concerns about Forest accused him of “shaking hands with an abusive, radical group,” drawing attention to a 2017 fundraiser for the lieutenant governor that was attended by Word of Faith leaders.
Democratic spokesperson Robert Howard told The Daily Courier in an email he is concerned about former church members’ accusations against the church regarding child abuse, systematic separation of families and “scamming the state.”
“The alleged abuses are many and disturbing,” wrote Howard. “Yet when asked whether he condemns this violent group, Dan Forest refused. Every North Carolinian should be concerned by an elected official who wants to represent our state yet defends and courts a group that has been accused of abusing children.”
In recent years, Word of Faith made national news through a series of Associated Press investigative reports in which former church members detailed allegations of various types of abuse, manipulation, fraud, obstruction of justice and unpaid labor among Brazilian congregants of the church.
Forest — a socially conservative former architect from Wake County — was first elected in 2012. A spokesperson for his campaign, Jamey Falkenbury, would not respond to questions about the lieutenant governor’s relationship with or thoughts on Word of Faith.
Campaign finance records show that Forest accepted at least $900 in donations from Word of Faith members in 2017, including a $100 contribution from church leader Pastor Jane Whaley and another $100 from Jason Gross, a minister who pleaded guilty to federal wire fraud last year. The Daily Courier could not identify any donations from church members in 2018.
The NC Democrats’ press release also linked to a Raleigh News & Observer story from 2017 titled “Leader of church at center of scandal attends fundraiser for Lt. Gov. Forest.” The story includes a photo of Forest and Word of Faith minister Robin Webster — Whaley’s daughter — at a fundraiser event in Forest City. That photo and an invitation to the event it features were also provided to The Daily Courier. The invitation requests contributions between $50 and $2,500.
In a secretly recorded phone conversation that was sent to The Daily Courier last fall, Republican lobbyist Mike Hager said the local GOP is concerned about Word of Faith’s role in the party. GOP Chair Ron Chapman told The Daily Courier at the time he had never heard about these concerns and that the church’s role in the party has been “overblown.” Two members of the approximately 40 on the Rutherford County Republican Party’s executive committee are members of Word of Faith.
Along with its comments on Forest’s Word of Faith ties, in Monday’s press release, the state Democratic Party accused Forest of promoting division, citing in part his support for the state’s now partially-repealed “bathroom bill.”