Do You See What She Sees?

This week: The breadth and depth of the Sherman Allen case; and the blind prophetess

Just how big is the Sherman Allen case? Well, here’s the tally of alleged victims who’ve come forward to date: 35. Many emerged after the Fort Worth Star-Telegram and The Dallas Morning News (which had been sitting on the story for months) reported on the case recently.

Both followed the news -- you read it here first -- that the Church of God in Christ’s presiding bishop had suspended Allen from “all national and local pastoral roles and activities within the Church of God in Christ.”

Thirty-five sounds like a lot of women. But, as Bible Girl has noted several times, Allen’s penchant for whacking young women with a paddle has been the worst-kept secret in the local black Pentecostal scene for many years.

In case you’ve spent the last three months as a desert hermit, Allen is a prominent Church of God in Christ pastor who's accused in a lawsuit of paddling and sexually assaulting a former church member named Davina Kelly, all under the guise of Christian counseling. One of Kelly's attorneys, Stan Broome, says the newest alleged victims include some who say they were brutally paddled in the nude, as well as others who claim Allen sexually abused them.

I suspect there are many more victims we haven’t heard from. I spoke a few weeks ago with a former COGIC pastor who says he’s personally talked to 50 women who claim they were abused by Allen. He says he knows of many more alleged victims -- including some men.

Whenever someone makes a claim like this -- which I couldn't possibly verify -- I test the other pieces of information they give me to see if they’re a truthful and accurate source. (Some people are truthful, for example, but tend to get the facts confused.) This pastor told me the name of one alleged victim who also had insight about Allen’s dabblings in the occult. I called her out of the blue, and sure enough, she was a victim -- one who wasn’t known to the press. Check.

She was extremely reluctant to talk. For me, that was actually a good sign. She hadn’t been primed to give a particular spiel, and she wasn't out for revenge. She just wanted to move past one of the most traumatic events of her life.

No men have come forward to date. The potential for embarrassment is great, of course, and we're dealing already with a church culture that places a premium on secrecy and never criticizing the "man of God" in public.

This is a complex case spanning two decades, though, and we’ve yet to plumb the depths of it. There is much more to tell.

The Blind Prophetess

Many Pentecostals have turned a jaundiced eye to prophecy because they’ve seen too many crazy, inaccurate and biblically unsound practitioners. Here's an example: About a week ago I heard a “prophetess” tell a young man that his “next wife” would be a “good one.” This is so outrageous on so many levels that I will leave it you to list the applicable fallacies. And yes, this young man already had a wife.

For those not attuned to the Pentecostal milieu, here’s a little background: Prophecy is one of the gifts of the Holy Spirit mentioned in Scripture, particularly in Acts and in the Apostle Paul’s first letter to the Corinthians. Pentecostals believe it is a valid spiritual gift for our day and time, whereas many non-Pentecostal evangelicals consider preaching the modern-day expression of prophecy.

Prophecy is often confused with predictions of the future. In Scripture, prophecy usually has a future context, but it is simply God using a human being to convey a specific message--often to the church, and sometimes to individuals.

Prophecy and various high-profile prophets and prophetesses were all the rage in the 1980s and 1990s, when it seemed as though God was restoring this gift to a large swath of the Charismatic and Pentecostal churches.

With this restoration came a lot of baloney. I know I've had my fill of prophets for hire, who only give “words” from God to those who come forward with the appropriate offering in hand. I’m also weary of prophets who stoke the ambitions of misguided believers who can’t even be faithful to a local church for more than a year at a time, filling their heads with visions of “international ministries.”

Why do we keep running after these prophets and all their conferences? Simple. We want our fortunes told. Why do we want our fortunes told? Because it’s too hard to cultivate the disciplines of digging into the Word, praying and waiting for answers from God. Not to mention entrusting our spiritual guidance to a local pastor -- someone who actually knows us, with all of our flaws, and refuses to flatter us.

Two Sundays ago I had the opportunity to witness the real prophetic ministry in action. It looks a lot different from what you see and hear most of the time. But that’s just a minor point of interest. This was, in fact, one of the two or three most incredible messages I’ve ever heard in a church. (Boy, I wish it was captured on tape. But to my knowledge it wasn't.)

Now Evangelist Diane Eddington is a very good friend of mine; I wrote about another message she gave last year. Evangelist Eddington doesn't call herself a prophetess; most people, in fact, with genuine ministries are happy with or without the titles. But that's exactly what she is. A prophetess. A blind prophetess.

Evangelist E. lost her eyesight when she was in her late teens and is legally blind, which, I tell her, isn’t always a bad thing, because she never has to see the frowns and sour looks when she’s pressing up hard against that truth button.

I see all of it, though, and I watched very closely as she preached a few Sundays ago in a small local Church of God in Christ filled to the brim with church mothers and missionaries in stately hats, several visiting pastors and elders, a few quiet young people and a handful of crack musicians. (You just can’t beat COGIC when it comes to music -- they practically invented the modern gospel scene.)

No sooner had I sat down than I felt something drop on my head. I looked at the person next to me and saw that we’d been showered with bits of plaster, as though the building’s foundation were shifting. “The sky is falling,” I said to no one in particular. Oh, yes, it was.

Evangelist E. looked at the pews full of lovely COGIC ladies in their Sunday best -- she can make out shapes and colors and light -- and talked for a while about young Christian women, and how it wasn't enough to be a virgin, because "a virgin could end up with an idiot." Don't send them out ignorant, she exhorted the older women; teach them wisdom. Then maybe they can avoid the dumb mistakes you made.

Then, as she often does, Evangelist E. felt the wind of the Holy Spirit and took it in a whole 'nother direction.

She didn't know any of the people in that church, but she discerned there was "adultery in here." How did she know? The Holy Ghost told her.

Her text came from Matthew 7: "Not everyone who says to me, 'Lord, Lord,' will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only he who does the will of my Father who is in heaven. Many will say to me on that day, 'Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and in your name drive out demons and perform many miracles?' Then I will tell them plainly, 'I never knew you. Away from me, you evildoers!'"

She talked about believers mired in unforgiveness, about the men and women sitting quietly in these very pews who'd been molested as children, even by church folk, but had never said a word to anyone.

There were preachers whose girlfriends were sitting on one side of church, she said, right across from the preacher's wife, and no one dared tell. (Did she know this for fact? No. She knew it in the Spirit. But we found out later it was literally true that day.)

"Don’t you know that when you keep a secret like that for your husband, you're helping him go straight to hell?" she said. "His very soul is at stake."

She upended the old saw "touch not mine anointed," a fragment of a biblical verse that's ripped out of context and used by too many church leaders to deflect attention from their misdeeds. "Every born-again believer here is God's anointed," she said. "You are God's anointed."

I kept watching the ministers and elders from my perch in the second pew. There was a whole lot of nervous fidgeting going on. One man in particular kept thrusting his chin up in the air, trying to look solemn and dignified and failing miserably. Another man sat motionless, staring blankly at the wall.

Now maybe you’re used to sitting in your pew like Sunday-morning road kill, but folks don’t do that at COGIC services. No, ma'am. If they’re with the preacher, they express it with strategically placed "amens," "yes, Lords," "hallelujahs" and "tell its" or evocative waggles of hands, heads and fingers.

"When I was coming up," Evangelist E. said, continuing, "they always said you better keep yourself up, you better look after your weight, or Sally down the street is gonna come and take your husband.

"Now," she said, "Sally is sitting right next to you in church."

Some of the ladies were with her now. Looking around, though, I saw more dropped jaws and wide-eyed looks. Can she say that? And lots of older women in lacy hats, faces frozen somewhere between shock and a scowl. Kind of like they'd been Tasered in the Spirit.

I glanced to the back of the church once and saw the daughter of a prominent COGIC pastor on her feet, holding down the Amen corner. She was eating it up.

And I saw the stern visage of Bishop C.H. Mason, the great Southern holy man and founder of the Church of God in Christ, in a portrait on the back wall.

Right in front of me was a young minister with an anguished look, tears forming in his eyes. The woman beside him kept shaking her head and slapping the top of the pew.

At the end of it all, a dozen or so people formed a crooked line seeking prayer from the evangelist and her husband, including the young minister and the lady next to him.

A few broke down in repentance. The music drowned out their weeping.

The ministers and elders just sat there with stony faces, stirring to life only when the evangelist took her seat.

Prophecy: Speaking God's truth by the power of the Holy Spirit, even when people hate you for it.

Heard much of that lately?

Yeah, I already know the answer. --Julie Lyons