FORT WORTH – She believed he was a prophet, a man who received instructions from God.
Because of that, Davina Kelly said, she thought the punishment administered by the Rev. Sherman Clifton Allen was justified.
Kelly said Allen began paddling her — first with pants on, and later with them off — for not reading assigned Scriptures or for disobeying orders. Later, she said, Allen 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.
“There are certain types of figures you trust,” Kelly said. “I gave that trust to him as my pastor. I honestly thought of him as a spiritual father.”
Last week, Kelly filed suit against Allen, 45, founder and senior pastor of the Shiloh Institutional Church of God in the Woodhaven area. The suit seeks unspecified damages for physical and psychological pain.
Kelly has not contacted law enforcement officials, and no criminal charges have been filed against Allen.
On Thursday afternoon, Laura Cobb, the church’s administrative assistant, issued a statement on behalf of Allen and the church at 1270 E. Woodhaven Blvd., which is also named in the suit.
“We understand that a lawsuit has been filed alleging sexual and other improprieties on the part of Pastor Allen,” Cobb wrote in an e-mail. “Neither the Church nor Pastor Allen has been served with any court papers at this time. If court papers are served, then legal counsel will be consulted and we will address this matter in the courts, rather than the media.”
A message left at the legal department at the Church of God in Christ Inc. in Tennessee was not returned. The organization was also named in the suit.
A woman who answered the phone at Allen’s Mansfield residence Friday declined to take a message, referring all questions to the church. At 5 p.m. Friday, the voice mailbox at the church was full.
On Friday afternoon, with her husband and attorney nearby, Kelly talked about Allen from her bed in a hospital, where she had just given birth to her third child.
In November 2001, Kelly said, she went to Allen for spiritual counseling, and he directed her to different Scriptures. She said he focused on ones dealing with spanking, such as “Spare the rod, spoil the child.”
Later, when Allen learned that she had not read the assigned Scriptures, she said he ordered her to hold her ankles while he spanked her with a paddle.
At the time, she said, she equated it with a principal punishing a child and believed it was for disobeying or not being faithful to God.
“I really looked up to him, really trusted him, really believed in him as far as a very anointed man of God,” Kelly said. “I believed God was speaking to him like I’m speaking to you.”
At a different meeting, Kelly said, when Allen learned that she had spoken to someone he had forbidden her to talk to, he ordered her to pull her pants down and spanked her in her underwear.
“The third time and on, it was with nothing on,” she said.
At some point, Kelly started volunteering at the church, cleaning up after services. The job soon became a paid position. By 2003, she said, Allen began paying her to clean his house.
Soon, she said, Allen began punishing her for not washing dirty dishes or other small transgressions.
“It got to a point where he was kind of making up stuff,” she said.
Kelly said Allen ordered her to do strenuous exercises: 100 push-ups, crunches or sit-ups. Sometimes it was at his house, other times at the church. She said he ordered her to run laps around the sanctuary.
“He would have me do it until he could tell I was hurting,” she said.
By 2005, Kelly said, the punishment turned sexual.
Kelly said Allen once put his hands around her throat and said that “if I ever told anyone or ever hurt him, I didn’t want to know what he would do.”
Kelly said she was raped several times, once for not holding her legs in the air long enough during an exercise.
Kelly said she eventually contacted her sister in New York and moved there with her children for a couple of months. At the time, she said, she was too afraid to tell her husband, Darian Kelly, what had happened, so she told him she was stressed and needed time away.
Kelly eventually moved back to Fort Worth. Recently, her husband contacted Louis Levenson, an Atlanta attorney, after seeing him on CNN talking about abuse in churches. Levenson’s office, in turn, contacted Matthew Bobo, a civil attorney in Las Colinas.
Bobo said Kelly was afraid to go to law enforcement and felt more comfortable with a civil attorney. Another former church member has since contacted his office after seeing a TV news report about Allen last week, Bobo said.
He said that woman said she also turned to Allen for spiritual counseling in the 1990s and that he abused her with a paddle. She left the church before the abuse became sexual, Bobo said.
“In these types of case, they find their way to a civil attorney,” Bobo said. “We file suit, and the story gets out.” He said that they will probably arrange a meeting with law enforcement officials soon.
Allen has been accused of sexual abuse before, according to police and court records, but the case was dismissed.
In 1983, according to a police report, Allen was arrested after a woman accused him of sexual assault. The woman said she believed that she was hypnotized or drugged. The woman told police that Allen threw her facedown on her bed and struck her buttocks with a paddle 16 times, counting each swat out loud.
Afterward, she told police, Allen sexually assaulted her. Allen was charged with aggravated sexual abuse, but the case was dismissed in March 1984 after Allen passed a polygraph, according to court documents. Prosecutors also left several messages for the woman and sent her letters, but she never responded, the documents said.
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