Pentecostal Preacher Sherman Allen Turns Out to Be Reverend Spanky
That stench—horribly foul, like excrement sprinkled with cheap, rosy perfume. It had been 24 years since she smelled it last, but the odor was unmistakable. Someone had spread powder all over Joy's front porch. That's where the odor was coming from.
She refused to touch it. Rain would wash the powder away. But the memories it brought back to her wouldn't go—the fragmented images of a brutal attack.
His black tasseled loafers. His thick glasses. The long wooden objects draped in a red towel he set on the floor.
The way he crept up behind her in her bedroom and touched her on the side, startling her just before he shoved her facedown onto the bed. The excruciating pain as he jammed a 3-foot club into her rectum and asked repeatedly, "Does it feel good? Does it feel good?"
And the stench—that sickening sweet smell that hung around him.
The powder, she suspected, was tied to a voodoo rite.
When Joy saw it on her porch last year she immediately tracked back to a surprise visitor who'd come just a few days earlier. The visit was odd: Joy hadn't seen or heard from this woman in a long time. All of a sudden, she popped up unannounced, not long after Unfair Park, the Dallas Observer blog, reported that Joy—not her real name—claimed she'd been raped by a Fort Worth preacher in 1983. Turns out this woman was dating the preacher's first cousin.
The visitor came with nosy questions. Was Joy going to testify about the attack? No, the visitor reasoned aloud: If you'd wanted to testify, you would have done that a long time ago. Joy just nodded her head.
The preacher was a nobody in May 1983, when Joy told Fort Worth police that he'd drugged or hypnotized her, beaten her with a paddle and raped her anally with a wooden club. Then, she claims, he sodomized her, slapping his hand over her mouth and cursing at her when she tried to cry out to God. When he was finished, Joy says, the preacher propped her up in front of a bathroom mirror, pried her eyes open so she was forced to look at herself and called her a bitch, a whore, a prostitute, a cokehead.
"God told me to do this to you," she recalled him saying.
And there was more. He knew people in high places, he allegedly told her, so no one would ever believe her. But if she was stupid enough to tell, he'd come back and do the same thing to her 4-year-old daughter.
As she hunched naked on a love seat in her apartment after the attack, numb with pain, hating this God he invoked and hoping she would die, the preacher handed her two rolls of toilet tissue.
He kissed her on the forehead and walked out the door.
Now the preacher was somebody.
The year was 2007, and Sherman Clifton Allen was a man of stature in the black Pentecostal church. Allen, senior pastor of Shiloh Institutional Church of God in Christ in Fort Worth, had become known across the country for his bold, eloquent preaching. He spoke in clipped sentences, with an abundance of big words, but he also knew how to stir a Pentecostal congregation, effortlessly weaving ghetto slang with theology. When the spirit was high, he could let loose from the pulpit with a sanctified scream: Ahhhhhhhh!
He seemed to embody the ideal of the neo-Pentecostal preacher: sophisticated, smart and successful, but true to his roots in the humble but impassioned spirituality of black Pentecostalism.
Observers in his denomination, the Church of God in Christ, assumed he was on the fast track to making bishop. He hung out with top-ranking church leaders, such as Charles E. Blake, now the presiding bishop of COGIC, the biggest Pentecostal denomination in the United States. He personally knew Pentecostal luminaries such as T.D. Jakes and Juanita Bynum. When Allen's first wife died, Jakes, perhaps the biggest name in Pentecostalism, delivered the eulogy.
Allen and his followers saw no contradiction between worldly and spiritual success, and the preacher drove a late-model Mercedes and lived in a $1.6 million parsonage in Mansfield. A retinue of bodyguards and "armor-bearers" attended to his needs—often for little or no pay—and members of Shiloh literally raced each other to the altar to present offerings and demonstrate their devotion to this anointed man of God. They hung on his every utterance—especially when he dropped a word of personal prophecy, pronouncing blessings of homes, cars, financial abundance and fame. At his annual Prophetic Summit, he pulled in big-name speakers such as Bynum and Jakes and sent them away with five-figure checks. It was the event that got people in the local black Pentecostal scene buzzing about his ministry in the first place.
But in early 2007, even as Allen, now 46, was increasing his profile in the Church of God in Christ, his past was about to burst into his present.
A former church member, Davina Kelly, had mailed a letter to the 12 bishops of COGIC's ruling body alleging that Allen had beaten her repeatedly with a wooden paddle and ultimately raped her in a relationship that began as marriage counseling. When Kelly got no response from the bishops, she filed suit against Allen, Shiloh and the Church of God in Christ. The suit became public in early February 2007, and a strange thing began to happen. Women started contacting Howie, Broome & Bobo (now just Broome Bobo), the law firm handling Kelly's case, with similar allegations spanning more than 20 years. Kelly's lawyers, in fact, had landed on one of the worst-kept secrets of the local black Pentecostal scene: Allen had a predilection for paddling young women on the rear end as a bizarre form of discipline—a practice that had earned him the nickname "Spanky."
Three months ago, another alleged victim and former Shiloh member, Carrie Drake, filed suit against Allen, accusing him of "severely beating her with a paddle and physically assaulting her." The beatings began with her mother's permission when she was 13, Drake told the Observer, and she was frequently forced to undress. Drake says she miscarried after one such attack. Allen has denied all of the allegations in a response to the lawsuit; he has not responded to the Observer's requests for interviews. His lawyer in the Kelly and Drake suits, Frank Hill, has declined comment.
Matthew Bobo, one of Kelly's lawyers, says he and his partner, Stan Broome, have talked to more than 20 women who say they were paddled by Allen. "We've heard from several of the women that there were corresponding threats," Broome says. "That's the remarkable thing about almost every woman we've talked to: The story is exactly the same. The setup, the punishment, the beatings, the threats."
Allen, Bobo says, "holds himself out as being a deliverer of punishment from God"—a spiritual father. "It's always someone that he develops some sort of authority relationship with."
In a three-hour deposition in December, Allen "pleaded the Fifth to everything we asked" and declined to answer, Bobo says. What most churchgoers didn't realize, however, was that the talk of adult whuppings represented the milder side of the accusations against Allen. The Observer spoke with three other alleged victims, including Joy, as well as several ministers and former church members who worked alongside Allen. They claim Allen pulled off an incredible charade. While pastor of a morally strict Pentecostal church, he:
• Lived "in sin" with a young female church member for years.
• Engaged in voodoo, which is abhorrent to Pentecostals, but managed to launder his past in the voodoo-influenced "Spiritualist" church when he joined the Church of God in Christ in the early 1980s.
• Solicited permission slips from parents to paddle minor girls and young female members of his church. Some of the paddlings caused severe bruising and even broken bones.
• Paddled dozens of girls and young women—and even some men—under the guise of spiritual counseling.
• Threatened several of the women he paddled and sexually abused, including Joy, who stopped cooperating with prosecutors.
• Punched in the face a woman who'd questioned him.
• Threatened to expose misdeeds among his leaders in the Church of God in Christ if they disciplined him.
The allegations cover more than two decades. During that time, numerous women and men informed local leaders in the Church of God in Christ about Allen's behavior. These complaints—which many local COGIC pastors heard firsthand from the women in secret meetings—accomplished nothing. Allen's bishop in the Church of God in Christ, J. Neaul Haynes of Dallas, knew about the paddling allegations for at least 17 years but did little or nothing to stop it. He implored two alleged victims simply to "forgive" Allen, according to a former Shiloh member who was present at one of the meetings with Haynes.
Why did the paddlings, beatings and alleged sexual abuse go on unchecked for so many years when so many people knew about it? To answer that question, one has to delve into the black Pentecostal subculture, where churchgoers are continually warned to "keep your mouth off the man of God," regardless of what kind of life he lives. God will rebuke him, the teaching goes; all you should do is pray.
Nonetheless, over the years, quite a few people—from pastors to lay members—have tried to stop Allen. Their attempts screeched to a halt at Bishop Haynes.
Haynes, like all COGIC jurisdictional bishops, was saddled with a heavy financial responsibility to his denomination. (Haynes did not respond to several requests for interviews.) Allen, one of Haynes' prized spiritual "sons," was a proven fund-raiser. "In the Church of God in Christ, if you can preach and raise money, basically everything else is erased," says one former Shiloh member.
This woman—"Veronica"—lived with Allen for years and studied him closely: how he pitted women against each other, bought off his critics with big offerings and charmed his members with a prosperous image, an affable manner and smooth talk. "I'll never forget what he said to me one day: 'I'm smarter than everybody else,'" Veronica says. "And I really believe him. But one person said it best: 'He ain't fooling everybody.'
"At the end of the day," she says, "the truth always prevails. People do not really understand the psyche of Sherman Allen. When all is said and done, it will be every psychologist's case study. He's methodical. He knows what he's doing."
When Veronica first saw him in 1982, he didn't seem like much, just the friendly neighborhood warlock. Sherman Allen was tiny and round-faced, "no bigger than a coffee cup," as one minister put it, with thick glasses that gave him a nerdy vibe. He held court from behind a beaded curtain in a South Fort Worth candle shop, surrounded by incense, crystal balls, tarot cards and candles. All manner of candles.
Veronica—not her real name—remembers one that particularly creeped her out: It bore a picture of a dancing marionette and the ominous word "Control." Others were labeled "Prosperity" and "Money." They burned 24/7 in the home Allen shared with his mother and in the little church he inherited from his stepfather.
Though Allen, in his early 20s, carried the title bishop, an honored position in the black church, his business cards revealed the more profitable enterprise: voodoo. "We don't do the do, we undo the do," his cards read. 'Do, as in voodoo. His was the modern-day warlock's creed: to employ the black arts, but only in the service of good.
Allen was steeped in the stuff. His stepfather was a bishop in the Spiritualist church, an amalgam of Roman Catholicism and voodoo and Protestant Christianity, with saints and hexes and root powders and worship services that rocked with the exuberance and intensity of the Pentecostal faith. Ask the people in Stop Six, a black working-class neighborhood in Fort Worth, and they'd describe Allen's little wood-frame church, Allen Memorial Spiritual Pentecostal Temple, as the voodoo church.
Allen's parents were seen as peculiar people. Their home was cold—"like a mausoleum" or something out of The Addams Family, Veronica says, with the ever-burning candles and statues of saints. It got even spookier. Allen's mother, Clarice Warren Allen, talked about "passing" a long black snake through her bowels, the apparent result of a hex. When Bishop E.E. Allen and Clarice had sex, Clarice told Veronica, they got down on their knees afterward and begged God to forgive them.
By the time Veronica met Sherman Allen, Bishop E.E. Allen was dead. But, as Sherman Allen notes in the acknowledgements in one of his self-published books, E.E. Allen had passed on a spiritual legacy: He "trained me in the prophetic and taught me to be sensitive to the voice of God."
Allen, a bright student, attended Davidson College in North Carolina and TCU. When his stepfather died, he took over the Spiritualist congregation. Back then, there were only a handful of members—maybe 15, Veronica says. They would embark on road trips to Louisiana, E.E. Allen's home state and a stronghold of the "Spiritual" church—as it was usually called in black communities—that led them to the lavish homes of spiritual readers, including one in a flowing Egyptian gown. "We open this door," Veronica says, "and this was the most palatial thing I've seen in my life. I'm talking about pure gold fixtures, marble floors—it's like when you watch fantasy movies." Here, both Sherman Allen and his mother would consult seers.
Though she met him in a strange place for a supposed man of God—a candle shop, where he sat at a table giving spiritual readings with a crystal ball in front of him—she rationalized that attending his church was OK, even though her mother cautioned her that Spiritualists engaged in all kinds of forbidden practices. Veronica drew a line at seeking spiritual readings from Allen herself, but she had a pressing matter in her life: She was pregnant, and she desperately needed a place to stay. Allen opened his door to her.
But she wasn't beyond questioning. She asked Allen's mother why they burned candles and incense and displayed statues of Mary at the church. Clarice Allen insisted that these were biblical practices—though the next time Veronica visited the church, every single candle had disappeared. Allen, however, would still advise his members to buy voodoo paraphernalia to tackle the problems in their lives, Veronica says.
The Spiritual churches, which are few in number today, embrace a laissez-faire attitude toward life's pleasures: They believe in living the good life, whether it involves dancing, drinking, extramarital sex or playing the numbers. They are also more accepting of women and gays in ministry roles. But then there is the occultic element. Anthropologist Hans A. Baer of the University of Melbourne in Australia, who has studied the black Spiritual churches in the United States extensively, says that most of the Spiritual pastors he encountered in his field research in the '70s and '80s drew their primary income from spiritual readings. "These spiritual advisors are basically mediums," Baer says. While séances, once a major part of Spiritualist practice, "have kind of gone by the wayside," Baer says, spiritual advisors—often called prophets—would conduct "bless services," where instead of a sermon, the pastor or traveling evangelist would "pick out certain people from the congregation and begin to read them." These public readings often led to private consultations for a fee.
Most Spiritual leaders, Baer says, insisted to him that their source of divine insight was the Holy Spirit, which sounds Pentecostal. Pentecostals, however, "are quite different from Spiritual people," Baer points out, with Pentecostals insisting that believers in Jesus Christ must live a holy life, calling on God's power to avoid anything the Scriptures identify as sin. The Spiritual churches barely had a concept of sin, and they dabbled in voodoo practices, which Pentecostals considered antithetical to Christianity. Through the use of root powders, potions and ritual, the Spiritualists attempted to control supernatural powers.
Soon enough, Veronica would run smack against Sherman Allen's concept of spiritual control.
At first, she says, she wasn't attracted to Allen, though many other women were. "The reality is, Allen has thousands of women running after him," Veronica says. "But if he were in the club, he'd probably still be standing there. At the end of the day, he is all of about 4 feet tall." Veronica had a steady man in her life—her children's father—and he told her he didn't appreciate how this pint-size preacher "looks at your behind." When Allen declared one day that God had told him she would be his wife, Veronica says she yelled and cried in pain. But she also believed this revelation came from God. She dutifully pushed away her boyfriend, "the man I loved."
Though she had been living in Allen's home, it took a while for the relationship to turn sexual. Veronica says Allen took pains to conceal this from his members and associates in ministry. After all, by this time—around 1983—Allen had joined the Memphis-based Church of God in Christ. COGIC was a "Holiness" church, demanding that its members abstain from sexual immorality.
How Allen managed to get into COGIC is a mystery in itself. He came out of the Spiritualist church, a sect that Bishop Charles Harrison Mason, the revered founder of COGIC, railed against and fought vigorously in his time because of its involvement in the occult. Bishop Chandler D. Owens of Marietta, Georgia, a former presiding bishop of COGIC, says that for Allen to enter the COGIC fold, he would have had to renounce and repent from his Spiritualist past. Whether he did or didn't, Allen, who'd been ordained as a minister when he was 12, now had an avenue for his ambitions in ministry: one of the oldest, most respected Pentecostal denominations in the world, where the title of bishop really meant something.
Pretty soon all of the voodoo trappings would be shoved in a back room.
Veronica stepped into a side door at the church and heard Clarice Allen screaming at the top of her lungs. "You better keep your hands off these women," she screeched at Sherman Allen. "You whipping these women is gonna be the death of you!"
It was either 1982 or 1983; Veronica isn't sure. She didn't know what Clarice was talking about; a physical whipping never crossed her mind.
Oh, but it would later. There were Sherman Allen's strange sexual appetites to contend with. Veronica is reluctant to talk about it, but when she heard Davina Kelly's account of a relationship with Allen many years later—paddling, anal sex, enemas, a weird exercise regimen—she says she instantly judged it all to be true. (Veronica says she has never met or spoken with Kelly.) "I always felt his sexuality was a question mark," Veronica says. "It was past freaky." Some things Allen demanded were so degrading, she says, she will never talk about it, but she claims that he beat her with a range of paddles, including some inscribed with "KA," for Kappa Alpha, the college fraternity. Sex for him always involved control, she says. When she didn't do as he asked, she claims, he would punish her by refusing to speak to her. The freakiest thing, she says, was when "he wanted me to defecate in a toilet, and he wanted me to drink the water," Veronica says. "And I was like, you have got to be kidding me. I think more than anything it's the control factor—like, can I make you do something? I said no, and he didn't speak to me for maybe three weeks."
Veronica noted something else that seemed highly unusual to her. She spent a lot of time at Allen's church—by this time, in the mid-1980s, renamed Shiloh Institutional Church of God in Christ, located on Rosedale Street—and throughout the week she would observe young women trooping in and out of Allen's private office for counseling. Afterward, she would often see the woman slumped at the altar in the sanctuary, crying out to God in a despairing voice.
Allen and Shiloh were fixated on demons and darkness, Veronica says. Allen was always casting out demons, and it seemed like everyone had them. Jesus cast out demons to set the captives free, Veronica says, but at Shiloh no one ever seemed to get free. One layer of demons would be peeled back to reveal another layer.
Elder Bill Thompson, a pastor who used to attend Shiloh in the mid-1980s, described an atmosphere of pandemonium during services, with Allen in hot pursuit of demons. "They'd just be up there dancing, dancing," Thompson says of Shiloh's congregation. "He's speaking in tongues and screaming out loud—he screams. Sometimes he would just literally stand there and scream. And scream. And scream. Then he'd take his glasses and throw 'em. He'd just throw 'em in the sanctuary. He finally stopped throwing his glasses when they started costing him more."
The demon expulsions often were accompanied by vomiting, Thompson says. "Some people just go crazy during the service. Convulsing. Headaches. I have literally seen people go through vomiting spells. Stuff you wouldn't believe. You'd have to look at Discovery Channel to find this stuff overseas somewhere."
The real demon, Veronica says, was Sherman Allen. One day she saw her pastor punch a female member in the face when she questioned him about something. The woman is still a member of Shiloh, Veronica says.
Today Veronica shakes her head when she thinks about why she stayed with Allen and his church for nine years. The truth about Allen is so "surreal," if she ever wrote about it, she says, she'd have to label it fiction because no one would believe her. "He is almost diabolical," Veronica says. "And people can't understand that, because at the same time he's a very likable person. He really is. If you sat down and talked with him, you'd probably be just as blind as everybody else.
"He had a huge percent of control over me," she admits. "He did. I don't even know how."
Joy sat in her pastor's office, surrounded by elderly "mothers" of the church, who'd console her when she broke down and quietly pass tissues from hand to thick hand. For the first time, Joy was telling her story publicly, and though the incidents she recounted took place 24 years earlier, the emotions and sensations seemed unbearably fresh.
Joy had contacted the lawyers when Davina Kelly's suit made the news. At times Joy's account was cut off by wailing: "Oh God, oh God, oh God..." she'd repeat.
A Fort Worth police report says Joy had run into Allen at the candle shop, where she'd consulted him about voodoo. Joy offers a different account: She'd asked him how to get saved because a friend of hers had gotten saved and had turned her life around. Allen said he'd explain everything to her in a private appointment at her home, but first she had to clean her floors in what her lawyers believe was some sort of ritual cleansing. Allen showed up at her door on May 25, 1983, wearing a black shirt with a white clerical collar and carrying a briefcase and two objects draped in a red towel, which he set down on the floor in her living room.
Joy immediately noticed something different about the friendly man she'd met at the candle shop. "His face changed," she says. "He had a different look."
A nasty stench hung around him too—like that of excrement splashed with the cheap perfume found in scented tampons. "The house smelled real foul," she says. He gave her a glass of water, she says, and the same odor wafted from it.
Then her eyes fixed on the covered objects. "I didn't know that it was a paddle," she says. "It was like a club. I was like, God, I knew I was a sinner, but I didn't know I was that bad." Joy, 21 at the time, admits she was naïve. "I didn't know how simple getting saved really was."
Allen asked her if she had a Bible, and she went to her bedroom to fetch it. Meanwhile, Joy says, Allen sent away her 4-year-old daughter with money to get something from the ice cream truck. Her recollections are hazy, she says; she believes Allen might have drugged her.
While Joy was in her bedroom, she says, Allen crept up behind her and touched her. The police report describes what followed in unadorned language: "[Joy] ran toward her bedroom door in an attempt to escape. However, Bishop Allen caught [Joy], threw her facedown on the bed, and struck her with the...paddle across her buttocks 16 times. Bishop Allen counted each blow aloud..."
Allen ordered Joy to remove her shorts, the report says. Then he held her down on the bed, braced a 3-foot black wooden club against his stomach and drove the smaller end into her rectum. Joy fell from the bed onto the floor in excruciating pain. She tried to scream but couldn't, she says; she thought about jumping out the second-story window. Allen unzipped his pants and sodomized her, the police report says.
"I remember lying on the bed, and the next thing I know I'm really crying out, asking God to help me...I was really afraid. And I remember next lying on the floor...seeing his shoe beside me, and I remember looking back so I could see him. He was pushing this stick into my rectum..."
She tried to pray, she says, "and I remember trying to say 'Jesus.' I remember him putting his hand on my mouth and cussing me." He called her a whore, she says. "You ain't nothing but a bitch. You gonna be a prostitute. You gonna be a cokehead."
After the attack, he stood her up in front of the bathroom mirror, she says. He demanded that she look at herself. "'This is what God told me to do to you,'" she says he told her. "I remember him holding my eyes open, making me look in the mirror.
"I didn't want to look," she says. "I didn't want to live. I didn't want God. I didn't want nothing. I just wanted to die."
At the end of the ordeal, Joy slumped naked in a love seat while Allen washed up, she says. She was bleeding and black and blue. Later that day, she would be in too much pain to sit down, she says, and she suffered internal injuries.
Joy reported the attack to police but only after leaving town for several days to hide out in her grandmother's house. She was terrified that Allen would return. Police filed an aggravated rape charge against Allen, and Joy picked him out of a live lineup. Allen began lurking around her home and following her in his mint green Mercedes, she says. Fearing for her daughter, she abruptly stopped cooperating with prosecutors, and the charge was dropped.
Joy, now 45, called Kelly's lawyers soon after the suit became public. She is deciding whether to file suit on her own. "I've been living alive in hell," Joy says. "Couldn't even be married. My daughter became my mother."
Carrie Drake spent her teenage years in Allen's church, going all the way back to his Spiritualist days; she recalls seeing a statue of Mary "fade in and out" of view during a service, "crazy stuff," she says. Today, she claims she is shunned by the Shiloh faithful, including her mother. When she took her account of alleged abuse to COGIC leaders, Drake says, Allen booted her out of Shiloh "because of all the confusion" she'd caused. She remembers running into a Shiloh member at the supermarket who abruptly wheeled her cart around and went the other way.
In the early days of Allen's ministry, mothers would sometimes cede discipline of their children to Allen, who assumed the role of a spiritual father, Drake says. She claims her mother gave Allen a permission slip allowing him to whip her. In counseling sessions for supposed problems such as bad grades, an ornery attitude or hanging with the wrong crowd, Allen would beat her with a wooden paddle to the point where her buttocks became hard as a callus, Drake says. The paddling allegations are raised in a lawsuit that Drake, now 42, filed in late November against Allen, Shiloh, the Church of God in Christ and unidentified church officials.
Drake was 13 when the beatings started, she says; Allen would have only been in his late teens, though he was already ministering. Allen, she says, always found some excuse to discipline her: Her mother often acted as informant.
She'd grab her ankles and bend over, she says, then hold down her dress and brace herself. Later on, he began ordering her to disrobe first, the lawsuit claims. "I would almost be sick," she says of the beatings, "but that didn't make any difference to him...It took forever and a day for me to be able to actually sit down."
In church, she says, Allen would sometimes sidle up to her and ask, "Is your bottom still sore?" He suggested she soak herself in Epsom salts.
In the lawsuit Drake says the beatings continued until she was in her 20s. The last time he paddled her in his office at the church, Drake says, she was three months' pregnant. Allen, she says, accused her of being rebellious. "He started this crying act—'I love you, I love you, I love you,'" Drake claims. "I was like, yeah, I love you too, but you're not gonna hit me. And we started wrestling and tussling."
Allen grabbed for a paddle, and Drake tried to shove him away and push toward the door, she says. Allen held onto her, she says, while she hollered "Let me go!" He managed to whack her one time on her rear end, then she bolted out the door and ran down the street.
Two hours later at home, she says, she miscarried.
Drake says she told police about the beatings. It was after that, she claims, that Allen showed up at her home and threatened her. "He told me if I ever tried to ruin him he would come back for me," she says.
In 1989 or 1990, Drake and two other young women who claimed they'd been beaten took their complaints about Allen to Superintendent Edward Battles, who presided over Allen's district in COGIC. Battles set up a meeting with Bishop J. Neaul Haynes and several other COGIC leaders, Drake says. While Haynes listened sympathetically to the allegations, she says, he didn't take any action against Allen, as far as she knows. One of the women spoke at the meeting of Allen's bad habit of paddling his young female members.
Haynes' response, according to Drake: "Old habits die hard."
Could Haynes have disciplined Allen? As his jurisdictional bishop, Haynes outranked Allen, a pastor. The Kelly and Drake lawsuits accuse COGIC of being negligent in their dealings with Allen, since church officials had known about the paddling allegations for many years. But several COGIC sources who spoke to the Observer said Haynes' authority, in reality, was limited. COGIC pastors have considerable autonomy in their own churches. The COGIC Official Manual allows Haynes to call a "trial" for Allen, but only if a majority of the members of his church document wrongdoing and "file charges" against him with his bishop. The meeting with Drake and two other meetings the Observer learned about appear to resemble the trial procedure outlined in the manual. If any action was taken against Allen, however, it did not involve removing him from the pulpit. Bishop Owens, the former COGIC presiding bishop, says Haynes never brought the allegations to the denomination's general board, of which Haynes is a member.
Many more women would allege that Allen abused them before COGIC's presiding bishop finally suspended the pastor in 2007.
"Chris" was furious. He jumped in his truck and drove from Fort Worth to Dallas to confront Sherman Allen, who was attending a COGIC function at Bishop Haynes' Saintsville Church of God in Christ in South Oak Cliff. Chris (not his real name) found the diminutive preacher in the church hallway and got right up in his face, nose to nose.
"Leave the young lady alone!" Chris shouted. "If you want to threaten somebody, here I am."
Allen backed away. "He was scared," Chris says. "Like a little girl."
Two musicians—Elder Bill Thompson and a bass player—ended up restraining Chris. "Bill stopped me, matter of fact, from putting my foot in Sherman Allen's brain," Chris says of the incident in 1987 or 1988. "Bill told me not to hit him in church."
Chris pauses a moment. "I should have hit him."
Chris was one of the many men and women who personally knew one of Allen's alleged victims and tried to do something about it. A teenage girl—a Shiloh member—had confided to Chris and his wife that Allen allegedly was beating and sexually abusing her. The teenager's father wanted to kill Allen, Chris says. "I said man, look, it's not worth it," Chris says. "Don't go to jail for this guy."
The teenager and a young woman would end up voicing their accusations in a private meeting attended by Chris and his wife, from whom he's now divorced; Bishop Haynes; Allen; a parent of one of the alleged victims and three other COGIC officials, including Superintendent Battles. (District superintendents, who rank above pastors, report to a bishop in COGIC.)
"They told the same story everyone else is telling," Chris says of the two girls. "[Allen] started off counseling them about 'you should read your Bible,' then the mother took the child to him a couple times for spanking, because of grades. Then it turned into a more deviant-type thing, a sexual thing...just unthinkable."
After hearing the girls' stories, Chris says Haynes asked, "Can't y'all just forgive him?"
Chris says he sat back in his chair in disbelief.
Allen, he says, was "arrogant, combative" throughout the meeting. He denied everything. But one comment is etched in Chris' memory. "If I go down," Chris says Allen told his bishop, "you all go down with me."
Nothing became of the meeting, Chris says, though the proceedings were recorded on audiotape. Superintendent Battles, who set up the meeting, was extremely discouraged by the outcome, Chris says. "Oh, man, Battles was brokenhearted," he says. "He couldn't believe that Bishop Haynes did nothing." (Battles is no longer alive.)
Chris claims that Allen continued to harass the teenager, and that's why he drove to Dallas to confront him. Disgusted with Haynes' seeming inaction, Chris would eventually leave the Church of God in Christ. "All of these women that followed them, they didn't have to be hurt," Chris says. "Because it could have been stopped."
A prominent COGIC pastor tells about another secret meeting in the mid-1990s that sounds remarkably similar. Allen, the pastor says, was cocky and sat in a chair wiggling a leg constantly; Haynes tried to be conciliatory. Several other COGIC sources confirmed that this meeting took place. A single woman and a married woman, who came with her husband, accused Allen of paddling them. The single woman, the pastor says, alleged that she was forced to undress and was beaten so hard she was left with scars. She claimed Allen sexually assaulted her, and she tumbled down a flight of stairs trying to get away from him.
The pastor says he sat right next to Allen, who showed no emotion as the women spoke. After hearing the women's stories, the pastor says, Haynes commented that he hadn't heard anything "concrete." He left the meeting for another engagement. A district superintendent took over, and he asked Allen if the allegations were true.
Allen's response, according to the pastor: "Some of the charges are true, and some charges are not."
The pastor turned to Allen and pressed: "Which are true, and which are not true?"
"I don't have to answer to you," Allen replied.
"You are a disgrace," the pastor responded. And sooner or later, he added, "You're going to be brought to justice."
Elder Thompson told the Observer that he has counseled dozens of women who claimed Allen had paddled them. "There are a lot of people that have been destroyed," he says. "I noticed he preyed on weak people. Anybody in a weaker state is looking for somebody strong. And the weaker state you're in, you're more vulnerable to deception.
"A lot of people were excited over what they thought was a very strong sense of spirituality. 'He's so spiritual.' And yes, he's spiritual. Because he comes out of the Spiritualist church. When they see this wild stuff [he engages in], they think he's cool. He's on the cutting edge."
After joining the Church of God in Christ and plugging into its huge network of congregations in the Dallas-Fort Worth area, Allen's ministry began to grow on the strength of his authoritative preaching and people-pleasing manner. Veronica would see it swell from 15 to 1,500 before she left in 1991. The prosperity gospel was coming into vogue in the Pentecostal-charismatic world, and Allen made it his own. Image was everything to him, Veronica says, even if the image was a fraud.
She recalls driving around in Allen's Mercedes in the heat of a Texas summer with the windows rolled all the way up and the air-conditioning broken. Allen, she says, endangered her children's lives so he could hide the fact that he couldn't afford to get his car fixed. Veronica noticed other hypocrisies too. If Allen were ministering at the church of a righteous-living COGIC pastor, Allen would fast and pray and make pious talk. But in private, Veronica says, Allen wasn't even remotely devout. He didn't pray. He didn't fast. He didn't talk about the Word of God. Yet his prodigious mind and oratorical gift kicked in every Sunday morning; he preached like a virtuoso.
Veronica says she asked him once, "How do you sleep at night?"
Allen didn't miss a beat. "Like a baby."
Veronica's departure from Shiloh came on the heels of another woman—Edwina Cunningham, who would become Allen's wife in 1991. Cunningham was married when she came to Shiloh, Veronica says, but dumped her husband in the course of receiving counseling from Allen. The preacher wooed her while Veronica was still living in his home.
Veronica left. Outrage was welling up inside of her. He had made a fool out of her, she says. She took her complaints to a high-ranking COGIC official, spilling about the butt-whuppings, the sexual shenanigans. She won't identify the official publicly. His response, according to Veronica? "If you want to keep working in this church, you better keep quiet."
These were sobering words, but the rage still found an outlet.
One Sunday morning in 1991, Veronica was at Shiloh. She'd warned Allen never to creep up behind her, but he did it anyway.
What followed was a blur—Veronica says she hardly remembers a thing—but this much is confirmed: "I went berserk on him."
Next thing she knew, Veronica says, Allen was lying on his back on the church floor with a bloody nose and one of his shirt sleeves ripped off cleanly.
The service abruptly ended.
The prophetess was freaked out. Juanita Bynum told the people she'd never experienced anything like this since she'd first been saved: The previous night in her hotel room, she said, 14 sex demons held her down and licked her all over.
You need to get on your knees and repent, she told the crowd at Shiloh. I don't know what you're doing, she said, but if it doesn't stop, some of those standing in the crowd this very day will be dead within a year.
A spiritual shockwave rolled through the packed sanctuary, and soon there were 75 or more men and women on their knees at the altar, crying out to God. "Boy, she tore that place up," says Elder Thompson, who attended the special service in late 2000.
Bynum pledged to stay there all night if necessary while people repented. The prophetess was already one of the biggest names on the Pentecostal scene, and she'd come to Texas to preach for her friend, Sherman Allen.
Prophecy was the new wave in the Pentecostal and charismatic churches, but it was old hat for Allen. Now he positioned himself at the vanguard of the trend through his annual Prophetic Summits, which featured national speakers.
While anguished men and women surged toward Bynum at the front of the church, Allen made a move of his own. He walked out of the sanctuary and shut himself in his private office.
Pentecostal prophets would come and go all the time at Shiloh, taking the pulpit while Allen was traveling or presiding over special services. Did they discern anything unusual about the man who blessed them with fat checks? Former Shiloh members say some did, like Bynum, and they didn't appear again. Though Allen was probably at the height of his influence, hosting his popular prophetic conferences and hanging out with some of the biggest names in the Pentecostal world, everything was not as it seemed. His wife Edwina was unhappy, several sources say. She would die in 2003 of complications from scleroderma, a disease that causes the skin to harden and crack.
Allen, left with two children, was heartbroken, a family friend says. The competition to be the next Mrs. Allen, however, began anew.
Meanwhile, a woman had joined Shiloh who would end up telling the entire church world about Allen's alleged abuse. She was Davina Kelly, daughter of a California COGIC pastor. While others had become discouraged seeking justice through private channels, Kelly would take her fight to court.
Kelly was raised COGIC, and her leaders instilled in her the biblical saw many churchgoers cited to the Observer: "Touch not mine anointed, and do my prophets no harm." So, the teaching goes, one should never rebuke a man or woman of God who's caught in wrongdoing; leave it to God. While this Scripture is arguably ripped out of context, the interpretation is still widespread.
"It's not for us to say or do anything about it," Kelly says. "God will take care of him...he'll punish him."
Kelly, however, would throw off that teaching after allegedly enduring months of abuse from Allen, her former pastor and employer, starting in 2001. Kelly, 34 and a married mother of three, claims in her lawsuit that Allen coerced her into a sexual relationship; paddled her repeatedly during private counseling sessions, causing severe bruising and even bleeding; and forcibly sodomized her. Allen has denied all of the allegations in a court filing and in statements from the pulpit, calling his accusers liars.
Kelly and her husband joined Shiloh in 2001, and not long afterward Kelly began cleaning the church and then Allen's home. She also sought marriage counseling from Allen, whom she admired as a man of God.
The counseling sessions, most of which took place in Allen's private office at Shiloh, followed an unusual course. They began with Allen asking her to read several Scriptures about disciplining children. Allen would ask, "What does that mean to you?" If Kelly didn't get the drift, he'd steer her there.
"After reading all of the Scriptures, I saw that it wasn't about my children," Kelly says. It crossed her mind that he was talking about disciplining her, but she thought, no way. "I'd never heard of that—it sounded silly. Pastors don't spank their members. He's got to mean something else, something spiritual."
He didn't. He meant butt-whuppings, Kelly says.
Allen gave Kelly several assignments—reading and memorizing numerous Scriptures—and starting with the second meeting, he began paddling her for failing to complete her assignments, being late for work and other transgressions, according to the lawsuit. That first time, she says, Allen stood poised with a paddle and asked her, "What are you going to learn how to do? Are you gonna learn to obey?"
"I'm gonna learn to obey," she replied. "I'm sorry. I didn't mean to break the rules."
The paddlings started out with her clothed; they progressed to where she'd be partially or completely disrobed. No actual counseling ever took place, she says.
Why did Kelly put up with it? "I really felt like he was doing what God told him," she says. "He was so spiritual, so he was really deep. The way he prophesies—God speaks to him and tells him things.
"I just trusted him," she says. "I never seriously stopped to question. I just believed him. I kind of went along with what he said."
Kelly claims her meetings with Allen took an overt sexual turn after he threatened her one day in 2005 while she was cleaning his home. "He put his hand on my throat," Kelly says, and he asked, "Did I know what he would do if I ever told or hurt him? And I said no. He said, 'You don't want to know.'" Kelly says she was "terrified."
From that point, she says, their meetings included sex. Sometimes, she claims, "The anal sex—that became part of the punishment."
Allen was already remarried, she says, when he allegedly forced himself on her at his home in August 2005. That's when Kelly says she planned her escape. She scooped up her kids, got on a plane and traveled to New York, where her sister lived. Though she feared what Allen would do to her, she'd had enough.
Two weeks ago, Sherman Allen and Shiloh hosted another Prophetic Summit like nothing had ever happened. This time, though, there weren't any preachers and prophets as renowned as names from the past such as Bynum and Jakes. Shiloh, located these days in a strip shopping center in the Woodhaven area of Fort Worth, has dwindled to about 200 attendees on a Sunday and is in the midst of bankruptcy proceedings. Allen shows up to services hand-in-hand with his wife.
The preacher no longer hobnobs with national COGIC leaders. The new presiding bishop, Charles E. Blake, suspended him from all pastoral duties last year shortly after taking office. Allen didn't put up with the suspension for long; according to Charisma magazine, he produced documents showing that his church had never been officially chartered as a COGIC congregation. Therefore, he informed Blake, he is not subject to COGIC discipline.
Allen is dealing with two lawsuits, Kelly's and Drake's, as well as Shiloh's bankruptcy. Both suits are in the discovery stage.
In his heyday, Allen would often speak from the pulpit about the prophet's lonely calling. He would liken himself to David, Israel's prophet-king: David was chosen from among his brothers to receive a special anointing, and then they rejected him.
David would go on to slay Goliath and become Israel's greatest king.
But Davina Kelly had taken on a giant of her own. She had resolved to let a court of law decide what to do with God's "anointed."
Get the This Week's Top Stories Newsletter
Every week we collect the latest news, music and arts stories — along with film and food reviews and the best things to do this week — so that you'll never miss Observer's biggest stories.