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."