Longform

Pentecostal Preacher Sherman Allen Turns Out to Be Reverend Spanky

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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."

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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.

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Julie Lyons
Contact: Julie Lyons