An Ungodly Silence

The influential Bishop Gilbert Patterson has a tie to Pastor Sherman Allen, who's been accused of abusing several women. Patterson's executive secretary is married to Allen.

The Church of God in Christ -- one of the oldest, most historically significant Pentecostal denominations in the United States -- has flown well under the radar of the media for decades. Why? Probably because it's mostly black. Probably because it's Pentecostals, who many reporters believe to be on the fringe of Christian belief. (Wrong. They're the mainstream of worldwide evangelicalism today.) So even local media seem to be missing the significance of the allegations against Pastor Sherman Allen of Fort Worth's Shiloh Institutional Church of God in Christ.

As I reported in depth last week, eight women have accused Allen of paddling them and, in some cases, sexually abusing them. One woman, a former church employee named Davina Kelly, has sued Allen, Shiloh and the Church of God in Christ. Shiloh has issued a statement saying that it will fight the allegations in court.

Allen is an up-and-coming figure in the COGIC. He spoke at the Memphis-based denomination's annual convocation a few years ago -- the honor of a lifetime for a COGIC man. He's married to the secretary of Presiding Bishop Gilbert Patterson. He's a vice president of COGIC's International Department of Evangelism. He speaks throughout the country and is renowned for his dynamic preaching and prophetic words. He's buddies with gospel superstars Kirk Franklin and Daryl Coley. Numerous "prophets" traipse in and out of his church during his prophetic conferences, where he's known to hand out fat checks to guest ministers. The biggest name on the black Pentecostal scene, Bishop T.D. Jakes, preached the eulogy at the funeral of Allen's first wife, Edwina.

The allegations against Allen span more than 20 years, and his supposed paddlings of young women have been widely rumored in local COGIC circles for years. Many commenters to Bible Girl have wondered how these accusations could stay secret so long. Well, I've already explained a couple reasons. But another is the culture of the Church of God in Christ itself. The COGIC was founded by an extraordinary man, Bishop Charles Harrison Mason, who preached a message of strict holiness. (Mason is surely the single most neglected figure in American black history. But that's another story.) The church has grown exponentially since Mason's death in the early 1960s and, somewhere along the way, Mason's message of a simple passion for Jesus Christ, prayer and godly living has been lost in many ways as leaders scramble for position and power in what is now a very large and influential organization.

For more insight, and while I continue to develop leads in the Allen story, I turned to writer Cherrie Mackey, who spent many years in the Church of God in Christ. What follows after the jump is her commentary. It's a powerful personal story -- don't miss it. --Julie Lyons

An Ungodly Silence

By Cherrie Mackey

As a born-and-bred (but now former) member of the Church of God In Christ, how do I begin to wade through the quagmire of alleged abuse detailed in the February 23 Bible Girl? What's left to say about a man so obviously sin-sick and possibly even emotionally unstable? I could express my righteous outrage and indignation, but so what. I could verbally tar and feather him, but I'm sure that's already being done. I could try to deconstruct his psyche in an attempt to understand all that has transpired, but I'm afraid that would take more words than I've been allotted.

No, rather than go any of those routes, I just want to ask a question: How in God's literal name did this man ever get away with this?

Based on the allegations--which, by the way, I'm persuaded are true -- how did such a seemingly perverse, delusional and damaged individual violate so many for so long? How did this sin prosper?

Now don't use up any extra brain cells trying to come up with an answer. I already have it: Good men stood by and did nothing.

Clearly blame belongs squarely on Allen's shoulders for his own actions. That's a given. But as a leader in a highly visible, well-respected, organized body of religion, where were the overseers of the overseers? Where were the regulations, reprimands and victims' avenues of recourse?

Where was the discernment? This church was known for its "prophetic summits" -- why didn't any of the "prophets" discern that something was very wrong in the Allen/Shiloh camp? Paul instructs us not even to go to Red Lobster with those who are sexually immoral and call themselves believers. How, then, can you explain the turned heads, averted eyes and coins-over-character mentalities that had to be present?

So I partly blame the denomination. Yes, the grand ol' Church Of God In Christ. I mean, you can't defend a religious institution that shields abusers and criminals, actually providing them a haven of sorts to carry out their sick activities. Just ask the Roman Catholic Church. On the other hand, with a great respect and appreciation for my own roots in the Church of God In Christ and the many family members I have who are still affiliated with it, how can you completely disregard and discount an institution with such an auspicious beginning and rich spiritual history? (Bishop C.H. Mason and the Azusa Street Revival.)

I'm not sure how to square that all up, but I ask the question because I myself experienced exactly this type of ig'nint-on-purpose behavior by church officials, although it didn't involve the same kind of abuse. I was once married to what is known in the denomination as a "minister of music," and after only a short while in the marriage, he impregnated a fellow choir member while simultaneously being unfaithful with a local pastor's daughter. You read that right. He had a girlfriend in a church down the street while one of his own choir members was carrying his baby -- and his faithful (OK, clueless) wife was sitting at home praying for everybody.

But we've heard this scenario before, haven't we? It's not really new or surprising.

But here's the salt in the already-gaping wound. When these circumstances were brought to the attention of our pastor -- who I had previously admired, trusted and believed in as a man of integrity -- he did nothing. Not only that, he already knew. The same man who had counseled us before we married; whose house we were buying; who had us over for swims in the pool at his new home -- that same good man seemed to take a boys-will-be-boys attitude and, to my knowledge, didn't do a thing to remedy this sad situation.

You have to understand that being removed from ministry or "silenced," especially in the wake of moral turpitude, is or used to be a strict guideline of the Church of God in Christ. As a teenager I can remember many a public testimony being shut down in mid-sentence because of a lifestyle that didn't match what was being said. Yet my ex-husband was allowed to continue to serve not only locally but also in the state jurisdiction. He kept right on tickling the ivories and rocking the organ bench while the aiding-and-abetting pastor kept right on preaching and the enabling saints kept right on shouting (holy-dancing).

You think it had anything to do with the fact that my ex-husband was, indeed, a very talented musician and that hell would freeze over before some Churches of God in Christ would go without their "shouting music"? If you do, then that means some innocent individuals were sacrificed on the altar of the Hammond B-3 just so the saints could keep dancing to the beat.

To my knowledge, the pastor never confronted or counseled my ex-husband. He certainly didn't counsel or comfort me, and I don't know what, if anything, was ever said to the other women. I can almost guarantee it was nothing.

It wasn't just me and my circumstances, either. There were abusers and other marital infidels on his ministerial roster. And he knew it. And in at least one case, I personally know he did nothing.

I remember lying prostrate on my face, getting carpet hairs up my nose many a night. Crying out to God till I was literally hoarse. Putting ice packs on my eyes many mornings just to be presentable at work. But personal pain aside, the thing that haunted me most was that question..."Why didn't he do anything?" After all, the Church of God In Christ was supposed to be the bastion of holiness, the place that put a serious premium on righteous living to the point of legalism. Why didn't my pastor do something?

Lest you think I'm some namby-pamby who goes church-hopping after a tribulation or two -- I wasn't. As a young woman I had always been active in the church, even up to the national level, and I had been approached and almost accosted by other Church of God in Christ men many times. As an attractive young Christian woman with a na�ve earnestness to serve the church and its leaders, I didn't realize I was a goldfish in a barrel of sharks. Traveling evangelists extending hotel-room invites, husbands winking and flirting, pastors passing illicit notes, hugs that lasted too long, leering and lascivious looks--sharks. But I always ignored them, chalked it up to the weakness of a few less-than-committed men, and kept on keeping on in Jesus' name. So I was not without experience or a point of reference when it came to sexual harassment in the church. Put those past experiences together with the illegitimate baby drama, and I simply became sick of the whole patriarchal, bullying bunch of 'em and at that point started writing my own book of "Exodus." After many tears, much praying and not a little anxiety, I unceremoniously left the Church of God In Christ.

So this is the way sin prospers -- because we don't challenge it. We don't question it. We keep our mouths shut in the name of "not doing the prophet any harm." Or we allow ourselves to be intimidated by "you can't judge me." Or the skeletons threatening to break down the door of our own closets have got their bony fingers around our necks in a chokehold.

I must admit, I was hesitant even to submit this commentary. Went so far as to discuss it with my current pastor, because even though my experience was years ago, I didn't want to "out" anybody. I had been conditioned, just as the Allen victims were, not to "put my mouth" on the men and women of God. But again, this is how sin thrives -- when a good woman does nothing.

So let the chips fall where they may. I challenge you to challenge sin. All the time. Every time. Even if you have to start with yourself.

By all means, start with yourself. If we don't, the Sherman Allens of religion -- not just of this particular denomination -- will continue to shipwreck the lives of weak, vulnerable and hurting women.

Note to Bible Girl readers: Keep watching this space. I will be posting more developments in the Sherman Allen story. If you want an alert sent to you for future Bible Girl columns, drop me a line here. Thanks for reading and commenting.

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Julie Lyons
Contact: Julie Lyons