Eight women have now come forward alleging that Pastor Sherman Allen of Fort Worth beat them with a wooden paddle and, in several cases, sexually abused them, according to Stan Broome, one of the lawyers involved in a suit against Allen, his church and the Pentecostal denomination to which Allen belongs.
Davina Kelly, a 33-year-old married mother of three and a former member and employee of Allen's Shiloh Institutional Church of God in Christ, filed suit against Allen on January 30, alleging that the prominent pastor and speaker paddled her numerous times over a four-year span for supposed transgressions such as failing to read assigned Scriptures. Kelly began seeing Allen in 2001 for counseling about her spiritual life, she says. At their very first meeting, Allen asked her to read Bible verses in Proverbs about physically disciplining a child. At a second meeting a week later, Allen ordered her to bend over and grasp her ankles, and he paddled her on the rear end for failing to complete a Bible-reading assignment he'd given her. Later, Kelly says, the paddlings and counseling sessions became sexual in nature. Kelly claimed in her suit and in an extensive interview with Unfair Park that in 2005 Allen raped her at his $1.6 million parsonage in Mansfield. One of Kelly's responsibilities as a church employee was to clean Allen's home.
Neither Allen nor his church has responded to the allegations other than to say they will fight them in court.
Kelly, the daughter of a Church of God in Christ pastor from California, says she accepted the beatings from Allen because he persuaded her that they were necessary for her spiritual growth. She trusted Allen, who calls himself a prophet and is known throughout black Pentecostal circles for his popular prophetic conferences, and deferred to his pastoral judgment because she was in awe of his knowledge and reputation as a man of God.
Since KXAS-Channel 5 broke the news of Kelly's lawsuit, seven other women have contacted the Las Colinas law firm of Howie, Broome & Bobo with remarkably similar allegations against Allen. One woman, whose story is detailed below, filed a charge of aggravated rape against Allen in 1983 that was later dropped. The woman has told lawyers that she stopped cooperating with prosecutors because Allen threatened to do the "same thing" to her young daughter.
Another woman, who I interviewed at length, claims Allen began paddling her at the age of 13. The beatings -- which the woman's mother agreed to in writing with Allen via a permission slip -- continued until she was in her early 20s and caused the skin of her buttocks to become hard as a callus, she says. During one of her last encounters with Allen, while she was three months pregnant, she claims she fought strenuously with him as he reached for a paddle in his church office. She managed to escape by running out of the church. Two hours later, she says, she had a miscarriage. This woman's story will be told in detail in upcoming Bible Girl posts.
Both of these women, who don't want their names used, also say Allen is involved in the occult, employing such tactics as hypnosis, magic or illusions and the use of healing potions.
Stan Broome and partner Matthew Bobo hope to add these women to the lawsuit against Allen. Though their cases are several years old, Broome cites the exceptions made to the statute of limitations for victims of sexual abuse in the Roman Catholic Church. In those cases, Broome says, judges made exceptions because the defendants threatened their victims, and the church participated in an official cover-up. Both of these elements exist in the Allen case, he says.
Kelly's suit, in fact, will send shock waves all the way to the top of the Memphis-based Church of God in Christ, believed to be the largest Pentecostal denomination in the United States, with some 5 million members. COGIC is known for its strict teachings on holiness, and Allen, I'm told, is one of the ministers who privately counseled Bishop Terry Hornbuckle about his sexual indiscretions before the Arlington pastor was publicly accused of drugging and raping several young women. Last year Hornbuckle was convicted of sexual assaults involving three women and sentenced to 15 years in prison.
One of Allen's alleged victims says COGIC leaders knew about paddling incidents involving Allen as early as 1990. Allen's bishop, Dallas' J. Neaul Haynes, was among several church officials present at a meeting in 1989 or 1990 where the paddling allegations were made, Broome says. Haynes apparently took no action against Allen. (Haynes had not responded to a faxed letter requesting comment by the time this story was posted.)
WARNING: What follows is in no way family-friendly.
Allen's practice of paddling adults has been widely known in local COGIC circles for years, but a common teaching in black Pentecostalism is that a church member should never make an accusation against a man of God. Instead, he or she should pray privately that God deals with the minister's sin. The two women I interviewed, in fact, each cited this teaching, which is apparently based on a biblical statement, "Touch not mine anointed, and do my prophets no harm," that is mentioned twice in the Old Testament.
This application of these verses, in my opinion, is an egregious perversion of the biblical intent. "Touch not mine anointed" comes from Old Testament passages where King David is recalling how God protected the people of Israel in their wanderings, even rebuking kings to preserve them. It can in no way be applied to the act of criticizing a prophet or pastor, or accusing him of wrongdoing. Again, in my opinion, this false teaching arose because church leaders saw a need to conceal the widespread sexual immorality in their own ranks. "Touch not mine anointed" is often repeated alongside the Apostle Paul's statement that "the gifts and calling of God are without repentance." The latter verse, from Romans, is used to rationalize how a minister can lead a completely dissipated life and still display genuine gifts of God such as the ability to preach or prophesy. The misuse of these verses has done tremendous damage within the Pentecostal-charismatic tradition.
Davina Kelly, the plaintiff in the lawsuit against Allen, says she mailed a letter detailing her allegations to all 12 members of the COGIC's General Board of Bishops in late 2005, including Haynes and Gilbert Patterson, the denomination's presiding bishop. To Kelly's knowledge, no action against Allen was taken, and she says she was never interviewed in any depth about her claims by COGIC officials.
Allen and his church have made no public statements about Kelly's suit. His church administrator says only that Shiloh will fight the allegations in court. Shiloh, however, a church with hundreds of active members that receives monthly contributions of $35,000, filed for bankruptcy on February 5. Allen, who is married to Bishop Patterson's secretary and has two children from his first marriage (his wife died of a rare skin disease several years ago), is reportedly in the Bahamas now, where he maintains some kind of ministry.
The allegations against Allen span at least 24 years and four church moves; Allen founded his ministry in 1983, when he was in his early 20s, according to Shiloh's Web site.
Early in his ministry, Allen adopted the title bishop. When he joined the Church of God in Christ denomination sometime in the 1980s, he had to relinquish the title. Few men attain the rank of bishop in the COGIC. Throughout his affiliation with the COGIC, Allen has been within the jurisdictional "state" of Dallas' Bishop Haynes, who has a large church in South Oak Cliff and is the No. 3-ranking bishop in the entire COGIC. (The COGIC, one of the oldest Pentecostal bodies in the United States, with roots in the Azusa Revival that birthed the worldwide Pentecostal movement, is organized by districts and states. Bishops preside over a state, which doesn't necessarily correspond to a geographical state; Texas, in fact, has several COGIC states. A state in the COGIC consists of several districts, which are overseen by district superintendents. Pastors of churches within the districts go by the title of elder or pastor.)
The first public allegations against Allen surfaced while he was 22 and pastor of Allen Memorial Spiritual Pentecostal Church on Fitzhugh Avenue in Fort Worth. A 21-year-old woman who, according to a Fort Worth police offense report, had consulted Allen about voodoo, alleged she was brutally raped by the minister in her apartment on May 25, 1983. The report says that "Bishop Allen knocked on the [woman's] door" carrying a wooden paddle and a three-foot club concealed in a red towel. Before the meeting, the report says, Allen had instructed the woman to bathe in a particular way, using some sort of "antidote." The report continues:
"The [woman] and Bishop Allen were sitting in the living room talking. This is the last the [woman] remembers before she again remembers being in her bedroom with Bishop Allen. [The woman] stated that throughout this entire incident she believes she was hypnotized or drugged. The following incident, which occurred in the [woman's] bedroom, was related to [Officer] Jennings in a very unsure, unstable manner by the [woman]:
The [woman] observed Bishop Allen exhibit the above weapons from beneath the towel. The [woman] then ran toward her bedroom door in an attempt to escape. However, Bishop Allen caught the [woman], threw her face down on the bed, and struck her with the...paddle across the buttocks 16 times. Bishop Allen counted each blow aloud to the [woman]. After the 16th blow, Bishop Allen instructed the [woman] to remove a pair of blue zipup shorts she was wearing. The [woman] refused to do so, at which time Bishop Allen forcibly removed the [woman's] blue shorts. Bishop Allen then held the [woman] down on the bed, placed the smaller end of the round club at the opening of her anus, then drove the club into the [woman's] anus by placing the club to and against his own stomach area. The [woman] stated at this time she was completely off the bed onto the floor, still face down. The [woman] related that at this time Bishop Allen unzipped and lowered his pants. Bishop Allen then placed his penis inside [the woman's] anus. Bishop Allen ejaculated then placed his penis inside the [woman's] vagina; however, was interrupted by a knock at the door. Bishop Allen then dressed himself, told the [woman] to dress herself and instructed the [woman] to hide the paddles under the bed...According to the [woman], throughout the entire incident she screamed and yelled when there was pain, attempted to get away several times, but apparently each time Bishop Allen called the [woman] by name...She responded but could not leave the presence of Bishop Allen..."
The woman, now 44, contacted lawyers shortly after Davina Kelly's allegations surfaced. Attorney Stan Broome says he met with her--she'd only speak in the presence of her female pastor and two female church friends--and interviewed her, and he supplied a copy of the interview tape to me. The interview is extraordinary. The woman's narrative of the alleged assault is punctuated several times by screams as she recalls certain details. The woman admits her life was a mess in the years following the incident, and only recently has she made positive steps through her church.
I don't know the woman's identity, and her name is redacted from the police report. I asked Stan Broome how he authenticated that she was indeed the complainant in the 1983 offense report, and he says he did this two ways: through her date of birth, which matches the date in the offense report, and through her narrative of the incident. I can vouch that all of the critical details of the alleged attack that she offers in the interview match the offense report, and it's unlikely that she ever possessed a copy of the offense report and its various supplements.
In the interview, though, the woman doesn't cite voodoo as the reason she requested a meeting with Allen. She says one of her buddies got "saved," and she saw a remarkable change in her "friend girl's" life. "I saw her life change from being bad to she was carrying her Bible, reading her Bible...and I wanted to be like that," the woman says. She decided to talk to Bishop Allen, who she met at a candle shop, so she could learn how to be saved, she says. All of the alleged details that follow come from the interview tape and attorney Broome.
Sherman Allen agreed to meet with her at her home, she says, but first told her to clean her apartment with a certain kind of soap and bathe in a particular way. When he visited her at about 6 p.m., she says, he "asked me had I ever been hypnotized." She said no and laughed about it, and then he pulled out a pocket watch on a long chain, which he swung in front of her, counting and saying some things she no longer remembers.
Allen, she says, gave her a glass of water with a "foul smell." He also gave the woman's young daughter some change to go down the street to buy a snow cone. Then he asked if she had a Bible, and she claims she was attacked some time after she went to her bedroom to get it. "Somewhere...in there," she says, "I couldn't see...I started getting real bleary. I couldn't find my way out of the house. I couldn't find my way out of my bedroom...I'm saying to myself, I'm gonna jump out the window."
Her mother, in fact, lived in an apartment below her, and during the alleged attack, she thought about leaping out of her bedroom window onto her mother's porch.
In the bedroom, the woman says, Allen pulled out a wooden paddle inscribed with some writing in red, forced her onto the bed face down and began beating her on the rear end with the paddle. She fumbled around for a knife she kept at the side of her bed but didn't pull it out for fear he'd kill her, she says. "I remember screaming, and I don't know why my mother didn't hear me," she says. "But I was screaming...and he was hitting me with the paddle and started counting. And he kept telling me to shut up and start cussing me out, and every time I'd try to pray he'd cover my mouth."
At this point in the interview, the woman starts sobbing and cries out, "Oh God, oh God, oh God..."
When she calms down, she continues. "He was counting off, and the last number I remember was 16, and I remember being pushed face-down on the bed...I remember when I turned around I knew he was standing up over me, because I saw his shoe...my shorts was off at the time -- I don't know how they got off. He was...cussing me out, he was calling me names, he was telling me I was gonna be a drug addict, I was gonna be a whore, a prostitute, and all this stuff he's telling me.
"So I turned around and asked why is you doing this to me, and I knew that wasn't God. But he wouldn't let me look at his face. He said turn around, don't look at my face. And I remember he asked was I a virgin, and he knew I had the daughter."
Her voice starts shaking. "I remember him forcing that stick in my rectum -- God! No, God! He was pushing that stick, whatever it was, in my rectum, and he's asking me, did it feel good to me? And I said no and he started cursing me. He kept cursing me and I kept trying to pray...I just remember 'the Lord is my shepherd.' Oh, God...and I remember 'Our Father...'"
The woman screams at this point.
After a few moments, she continues, saying that he covered her mouth every time she tried to cry out "Jesus." He climbed on her back, she says, and began having sex with her anally, repeatedly asking, "Does that feel good to you?" Finally she said yes, she says, hoping he'd stop. (At some point during the incident, the daughter knocked on her mother's door, then walked down to her grandmother's apartment.)
Afterward, she says, he stood her up in front of a mirror in the bathroom and told her to open her eyes. "I didn't want to look in the mirror," she says. "I didn't want to see myself...and he told me to look.
"He told me this is what God told me to do to you."
She later sat down in a chair naked, while she could hear the sounds of Allen washing up in the bathroom. "I'm just sitting in the chair, and I didn't try to run. I didn't care anymore. 'Cause I wanted to die. And I hated God because I didn't understand why God would tell him to do that to me..."
While she was putting her clothes on, she says, Allen told her that "nobody was gonna believe me" if she revealed what had happened. "Because by then," she says he told her, "I'd be nothing but a whore, I'd be on cocaine. I didn't even know what cocaine was. He said, you going to stand up against me? They're not going to believe a word you said, and if you tell anybody, I'll do the same thing to your daughter."
The woman says, in fact, it took a few days before she told anyone what happened. After the attack, she went down to her mother's apartment and showered "for hours and hours." In the coming days she couldn't sit down, she says, "because my bottom was tore up," and she had "black marks all over my butt and my legs" from the paddling. (The police report mentions that she had "possible vaginal and anal injuries" as well as "abrasions on buttocks.") She was so traumatized, she says, she couldn't be alone anywhere and wouldn't return to her apartment. She lived at her grandmother's house for a while, and also left town at various times with her daughter.
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Police would eventually arrest Allen and charge him with aggravated rape, but not before he returned to the woman's home one day. Police responded that day but couldn't find a warrant for Allen. They questioned him, though, and he "stated that he had been counseling with the [woman] over some personal problems that she was having," according to a supplemental police report.
The woman recalls testifying about the incident in court one day--possibly during a grand jury proceeding--but changed her mind about cooperating with prosecutors because she knew Allen was powerful and didn't think anyone would believe her, plus she feared for her daughter's safety. The charge against Allen was dropped. --Julie Lyons
Dallas Observer Editorial Assistant Kaitlin Ingram contributed to the reporting for this story.
Note to Bible Girl readers: I expect to post reports on other developments in the Sherman Allen case in the coming days.