In what kind of church atmosphere would a woman submit to the unthinkable -- allowing her pastor to paddle her repeatedly in various states of undress, sometimes causing bruises and bleeding? And, after several years of this treatment, accept his rationalizations that it's OK to have sex with him too?
These, of course, are the allegations against Pastor Sherman Allen of Fort Worth's Shiloh Institutional Church of God in Christ. Davina Kelly, 33, a former member and employee of Shiloh, has filed suit against Allen, Shiloh, Allen's denomination and unidentified Church of God in Christ officials that her attorneys plan to name as defendants at a later date. Kelly claims that Allen used Scripture to justify spanking her with a paddle during private counseling sessions for supposed transgressions such as failing to complete assigned Bible readings. She also alleges that he raped her anally in a bathroom at his home in Mansfield.
Allen has filed an initial answer to Kelly's suit denying the allegations.
Since Kelly's suit became public last month, seven other women have come forward with similar claims, according to one of Kelly's attorneys, Stan Broome of the Las Colinas law firm Howie, Broome & Bobo. I interviewed Kelly and another one of these women (I'll be writing more about them in upcoming posts); I also wrote at length two weeks ago about a woman who claims that in 1983 Allen raped her vaginally and anally with a three-foot club, causing internal injuries. The incident resulted in a charge of aggravated rape against Allen that was later dropped.
I've been asking sources to paint a picture of the inner workings at Shiloh, where Allen's alleged predilection for paddling young women was widely known.
WARNING: What follows is not family-friendly.
Sources described Allen, who's 46 and married with children, as an authoritarian pastor who'd call out members of his congregation during a service and publicly expose their misdeeds. At the same time he spoke repeatedly of the importance of character and integrity -- how you lived your life when no one was looking.
Allen lived lavishly, boasting about his tailor and accountant, while paying his staff little or nothing. (His full-time administrator, who's been at the church many years, makes $400 a week, according to Shiloh's bankruptcy filing, and Davina Kelly initially earned $50 a week for cleaning the church, which is located in a former shopping center in the Woodhaven area of Fort Worth. Allen receives $1,000 a week from the church, the bankruptcy filing shows, but that almost certainly doesn't include his income from "love offerings" and outside speaking engagements.) Allen had numerous devoted members who rushed to pick up his children from school, wash his car, retrieve his dry cleaning or wait tables while he entertained guest ministers at his $1.6 million parsonage.
An outsider would obviously wonder why. The answer probably lies in Allen's reputation as a highly anointed prophet of God. He was thought to possess the spiritual gift of prophecy, which is practiced in many Pentecostal and charismatic churches. He'd frequently give personal "words" of prophecy to his members and hosted annual prophetic conferences that featured national speakers. Allen was known to hand out checks as big as $10,000 to those who ministered at his conferences.
Some of his guest ministers would tell the congregation that they were privileged to serve under such a man, and that they didn't really appreciate how great he was -- that he was sought after as a preacher all over and ministered in some of the biggest Church of God in Christ congregations in the country, such as Bishop Charles E. Blake's West Angeles COGIC, where the membership roll includes Magic Johnson and Denzel Washington.
Allen's church wasn't anywhere near as big. A typical Sunday service in recent years might see 400 attendees. But there's no question that Allen hobnobbed with some of the biggest names in black Pentecostalism.
He had the entourage to go along with it, including "armor-bearers"--men who'd cater to his personal needs, performing tasks such as carrying his Bible. Others appeared to act as bodyguards. One such man pulled his jacket back to flash a concealed handgun when my own pastor approached the front of the church to give an offering during a special service some years ago. My pastor's a big guy -- 6-foot-4 -- and the man evidently was trying to send him a message.
Allen would often invite a particular guest minister to the church -- Dr. Al Jones of Norfolk, Virginia -- who'd whip the congregation into an ecstatic frenzy, supposedly to identify the people who were "real" with God. The same source wrote me that Jones, who he described as "one of Allen's crazy preacher friends," would urge the Shiloh members "to scream at the top of our lungs throughout the service" and jump and run around the sanctuary. (Actions similar to these have been observed in revivals since the 18th century at least. But the point is that they're supposed to be spontaneous responses to the Holy Spirit, not some kind of conjured-up display of public devotion.) At one of Allen's "anniversaries" -- in the black church, anniversary services are called to celebrate another year of the pastor's service to his congregation, and "love gifts" or offerings are usually raised for him and his wife -- Jones told all of the men in the congregation to run down to the altar and kiss Allen's feet. "By doing this," the source wrote, "the blessing from Pastor Allen would flow to each men's household." Most of the men present hustled down to the altar and did just as they were told.
"Like a fool I ran up there too," the source wrote in an e-mail. "But when you're blind, you're blind."
A bit of decoding for non-Pentecostals: No, these are not typical practices. But they appear to be based on teachings about what's called the "anointing." Pentecostals believe that, after Jesus' ascension to heaven, he sent his Holy Spirit to believers to supernaturally empower them for ministry -- to be witnesses of Jesus Christ's resurrection "unto the uttermost part of the earth." This happened for the first time at the day of Pentecost, from which the term Pentecostal is derived. This supernatural empowerment for ministry is often called the "anointing," because anointing with oil in the Scriptures usually symbolizes an outpouring of the Holy Spirit. It is common today, for example, to hear a Pentecostal say something like, "Bishop Jakes has such an anointing!" What's meant is that Jakes has an extraordinary empowering by the Holy Spirit to minister as a preacher, prophet, healer or whatever. Some Pentecostals believe that this "anointing" of the Holy Spirit can flow from the minister to the people around him. That's probably why the men flocked to Allen's feet, hoping his anointing would rub off on them.
Among Pentecostals and charismatics, in fact, there are spiritual thrill-seekers who attend conference after conference to hear dynamic guest preachers and to witness supernatural acts of the Holy Spirit, such as people falling down, getting healed, and so on. In my observation, the more flashy and self-important the preacher is, the more likely he'll attract spiritual groupies hoping to get some of his juice and, most coveted of all, a personal prophecy of good tidings.
The same source says that "80 percent" of Allen's sermons would involve sex talk. He says that around May 2002, Allen hosted a marriage-enrichment meeting for couples at Shiloh that devolved into a lengthy sex seminar.
When the couples arrived, the source told me, Allen asked them to fill out an information card requesting specific information about their sex lives, such as whether they were physically satisfied by their spouse. Allen told the couples to provide their names on the cards "so he could take them home to review."
Someone asked the question, "Is it OK to have anal sex in your marriage?" Allen said yes, because the Bible says "the marriage bed is undefiled." Allen, the source wrote, proceeded to offer explicit instructions for anal sex. Use proper lubrication, Allen advised, because "you just can't run it up in there -- you have to be gentle."
"It was some rough stuff," the source wrote me, "but most of the members just thought, 'He's keepin' it real.' We must have talked four hours on nothing but sex. At the time you think he's trying to help you, but looking back now you realize he was always a pervert."
Allen also offered suggestions about oral sex, "jokingly" offering that women should swallow their husband's semen.
Nope, this isn't the usual advice offered in a Church of God in Christ marriage seminar. But Shiloh was in no way your typical church. --Julie Lyons