FORT WORTH — The Rev. Sherman Clifton Allen, a Fort Worth pastor accused of paddling several women — physical abuse that some say turned sexual — is no longer in the pulpit.
He has been suspended by the Church of God in Christ, the Memphis-based parent of his Shiloh Institutional Church of God in Christ.
“The Church of God in Christ does not condone inappropriate behavior from any of its representatives and does not comment on pending litigation brought against the Church or its representatives until a case has been brought to trial and an official ruling has been made,” Presiding Bishop Charles E. Blake of Los Angeles said in a statement e-mailed to the Star-Telegram on Monday. “Until then, pastor Sherman Allen has been suspended from all national and local pastoral roles and activities within the Church of God in Christ.
“This is Church policy and we will honor this policy for the case against Allen.”
The official statement by the church — which says on its Web site that many consider it to be the largest and fastest-growing Pentecostal denomination in the world — is the first it has made since it was sued, along with Allen and Shiloh.
Davina Kelly, 33, a former member of Allen’s church, filed the lawsuit in January. She said that Allen, who she believed was an anointed man of God, began to paddle her after she turned to him for spiritual counseling.
First, he paddled her with her pants on, and later with them off. She said she was punished for not reading assigned Scriptures, for disobeying orders and for other transgressions.
She said Allen also made her exercise to the point of exhaustion, running laps around the church sanctuary or doing lunges across the living room of his Mansfield home.
Finally, she said, the abuse turned sexual.
After Kelly filed the lawsuit and began speaking publicly about Allen, at least eight other women contacted her attorneys, Matthew Bobo and Stan Broome, with similar accusations of abuse. Two have said they also plan to sue.
A second woman, now 41, asserts that she met Allen when she was an adolescent and became a member of Allen Memorial Spiritual Pentecostal Church on Fitzhugh Avenue in Fort Worth. She said that if her room was messy or she made a bad grade, her mother, a devout follower, would tell Allen. When the paddling began, she said, Allen made her hold her dress tight. Later, he ordered her to drop her panties. Finally, he made her lie nude on the bed, she said.
She says that she went to church elders when she was in her 20s but that they did nothing.
A third woman, now 45, said she was never a member of Allen’s church but met him in 1983 at a candle shop, where he kept an office and provided spiritual guidance. She said that when he stopped by her apartment one day, she invited him in because she believed he was there to help her become “saved.” She says he paddled her 16 times, sexually assaulted her with a club and then raped her.
Allen was arrested and indicted, but the case was dismissed in 1984 after he passed a polygraph and the woman refused to cooperate with prosecutors. The woman said she was afraid of Allen, who she said threatened to do the same thing to her daughter.
The woman, whose daughter is now grown, and her attorneys plan to set up a meeting soon with the district attorney’s office to discuss whether Allen can face criminal charges now.
With the exception of Kelly, who asked to be identified in hopes of empowering others, the Star-Telegram is not identifying the women because of the alleged sexual nature of the paddlings.
Attorneys Bobo and Broome are working with Atlanta attorney Louis Levenson and plan to file lawsuits on behalf of both women, but they are currently unable to do so. After Kelly filed her lawsuit, Allen’s church filed for bankruptcy, which automatically stays, or stops, civil litigation. Last week, the attorneys asked a judge to lift the stay so they can proceed with the additional lawsuits; the matter is scheduled for a hearing May 24.
“We interpret [the Church of God in Christ’s] recent decision to remove Sherman Allen from the pulpit as acknowledgement that Sherman Allen has been engaged in the physical, mental and sexual abuse of members in the church over many years,” Bobo said. “We hope that COGIC’s recent decision will prevent the abuse of church members in the future.”
Allen, who has not been charged with a crime, has issued a general denial regarding Kelly’s lawsuit but otherwise isn’t talking.
In February, church administrative assistant Laura Cobb issued a statement on behalf of Allen and the church saying that they would address the matter in court, not in the media.
Since then, phone calls and e-mails have gone unreturned, including two Monday. It’s unclear who is filling in for Allen at Shiloh, 1270 E. Woodhaven Blvd.