- Associated Press - Monday, April 6, 2015

SPINDALE, N.C. (AP) - Jewish leaders in Florida say they’re pulling their support for a Holocaust exhibit because of its association with a North Carolina church where five members have been indicted on charges that they kidnapped and beat a man because he’s gay.

Students at Word of Faith Fellowship church in Spindale created art commemorating Holocaust victims. Ron Shelton, a retired pastor in Cocoa, Florida, is helping bring the exhibition to the Space Coast Convention Center.

But David Pelzman, president of the Temple Beth Shalom, said Monday that he’s troubled by the church’s past. So are others who say they didn’t know about the charges before the event was announced in January.

Sixteen Jewish and community leaders signed an “open letter” to let people in Brevard County know their concerns. The five-day exhibition opens April 19.

They said the decision was made after they recently learned that “several members within the Word of Faith church have been indicted on some very serious and very disturbing charges. … The abuse and persecution of anyone based on race, sexual orientation or religion is not acceptable to us.”

Telephone messages left for Word of Faith leaders were not immediately returned Monday. Shelton also didn’t return messages.

The December indictment grew out of a complaint filed by Matthew Fenner, whose parents are members of the church. Fenner, a University of North Carolina student, says he was beaten two years ago in the church after a service. He says it was part of the church’s way of trying to cure him of being gay.

This is the latest controversy to surround the church. It was investigated twice in the late 1990s for its treatment of children but was cleared of any wrongdoing.

In recent years, national gay rights groups have criticized Word of Faith after several young men - whose parents are church members - claimed they were abused because they are gay.

Jane Whaley has told The Associated Press that she created the Children’s Holocaust Museum to show their solidarity with Jews killed by the Nazis during World War II. She said her church has been persecuted, too, citing the criminal investigations.

Pelzman said learning about the Holocaust is important.

“But we could not separate the work of this church - their ideology and their actions - from this school because it’s all the same people,” he said. “We won’t support it. We won’t advocate for it. We won’t be a ticket repository. We won’t do any of those things.”

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