Bible Girl enters a Pentecostal firestorm

ShermanAllenThe story is ugly and lurid, packed with the kinds of details that are almost impossible to include in mainstream news coverage.

It is also a story that pivots on the interpretation of Scripture by a powerful, charismatic — in every sense of the word — pastor. This is another topic that mainstream media struggle to cover.

So here is what you can find at the website of NBC’s Channel 5 in Fort Worth-Dallas:

A woman is suing a Fort Worth reverend, saying he physically and sexually abused her. Davina Kelly, 33, said that she worked as a housekeeper at the Shiloh Institutional Church of God and the Rev. Sherman Allen’s home and began seeing Allen for counseling in 2001. She said he spanked her as part of her spiritual counseling and later coerced her into a sexual relationship.

“It was something I had never heard of before, but for the most part, because I trusted him, because I believed him, because I saw him as a man of God, I believe — as odd as it sounded — he was hearing from God and I really didn’t question it because of that,” Kelly said.

Allen was unavailable for comment, but the church issued a statement that indicated Allen had not been served with any court papers as of Friday.

That’s what the story looks like in the mainstream press, at this point in the game.

However, there is also an alternative newspaper in town called the Dallas Observer and that newspaper has massive blog operation called Unfair Park that includes the work of a columnist named Julie Lyons, who is better known to her readers as “Bible Girl.” What makes her work unusual — especially in the more liberal world of alternative urban media — is that Lyons is an articulate, opinionated evangelical Christian who is doing some of the most freewheeling, confessional first-person religion writing I have ever seen.

I am not sure that it is “religion news” in the usual meaning of that term, but it’s very hard to stop reading a Lyons column once you get started. If you have doubts, dig into this early autobiographical offering in which she discusses her own struggles with homosexuality, the growth of her faith, her love for her husband and their 16-year marriage. It is not for the faint of heart on either the cultural left or right.

Now Lyons is taking on the case of Pentecostal superstar Sherman Allen, a major figure in the Memphis-based Church of God in Christ, a 5-million-member Pentecostal denomination at the heart of African-American faith in America. On her listserv, the column began with this notice:

Warning: This column contains a very graphic description of an alleged rape. It is NOT suitable for children.

Lyons notes:

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.

E16nhIn other words, it is going to be hard for the mainstream newspapers and television stations to avoid this story.

The content is painful to read, if you must read it. However, that is not the issue that I want to focus on. In addition to covering some of the sexual details, Lyons also digs into the heart of the story — which is how this powerful minister is alleged to have twisted Scripture in order to command women to do his will. This is territory that Lyons understands, frankly because she understands how language is used in evangelical and Pentecostal subcultures.

If other journalists decide to cover this story, here is the part of this Lyons column that I hope they underline and memorize. Here is the heart of the matter:

… (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.

The only problem I have with that is that this same biblical interpretation is common in white churches as well as black, and in evangelical settings as well as charismatic. The PTL scandal with Jim Bakker leaps to mind. Would abusive priests — in all the liturgical flocks — say something similar?

Sadly, this is a religion story. I hope that the mainstream press does not ignore the biblical issues. Lyons has already marked the trail.

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About tmatt

Terry Mattingly directs the Washington Journalism Center at the Council for Christian Colleges and Universities. He writes a weekly column for the Universal Syndicate.

  • phil hawkins

    i am a bible college graduate and was once part of a team that operated a storefront mission church (we supported ourselves, no salaries). in 30 years since that time my own observation has been that the biggest “occupational hazard” for pastors is pride–nobody (except maybe his wife)has the nerve to shake the preacher’s hand on the way out and tell him his sermon stunk. most end up with an inflated view of their abilities and of their importance. and a large variety of sins can follow in the wake of that pride: sexual misconduct, financial shenanigans, arrogance, you name it, it’s out there somewhere. if you look at what jesus said about leadership among his followers and compare it to the leadership style of the vast majority of pastors, the disconnect is enormous. and most of the people in the pews go along with it and even encourage it.

  • Eric W

    In my experience, I think the verses most often used to discourage people from “touching God’s anointed” are 1 Samuel 24:6, 1 Samuel 26:11, and 1 Samuel 15:23a. We used to be in a church where it was taught that to speak against or disobey the pastor – who was God’s “Delegated Authority” (the title of the pastor’s book and teaching on the subject) – was “to disrespect God,” “to sin against God,” and to be “ruled by the nature of Satan.” So naturally when we had need and cause and reason to raise some issues about the pastor, hardly anyone else in the church said a word. ;^) And to this day, I’m sure many at that church think we were in rebellion against God for what we said and did. C’est la vie.

  • Ken

    Amon Carter would die to hear Channel 5 referred to as a “Dallas station”. It was originally in Fort Worth with the call letters “WBAP”. I have no idea where their studios are now, but for their news content, they might as well be in Dallas.

    How the mighty have fallen.

  • B.RUEBEN JEYAPAUL

    I am a pastor(self supported) working among very poor people in India. I completly agree with the views publish in this column and mostly pastors are in pride as if they are unquestionable. But God expects a simple and humble person who can have His purpose in his life and in church. it inclueds his private and personal life. If a pastor is not trust worthy in God’s sight then he is unworthy to be called as pastor. My prayer is that we particularly I should be God’s worthy and simple in my life style and ministry.

  • http://www.tmatt.net tmatt

    KEN:

    Thanks for the correction.

    You would not believe how hard it is to find that information on the station’s website.

  • who, me?

    “…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.” A bit like the Council of Trent, i’n’t it? Religious institutions almost inevitably impose something like this, otherwise the efficacy and reliability of what’s going on becomes up for grabs. Then, of course the next step is clericalism and the next, running amok like this if the exempt-from-criticism one is so inclined.

    I don’t know what the solution is, except shepherding believers into the emotional maturity that won’t put up with clerical misbehavior, or will take responsibility for succumbing to it. Frankly, I trust my pastor to administer the traditional sacraments as divinely-promised vehicles of the grace of God, and to refrain from deliberately mis-stating the key doctrines taught by the Church. Anything past that, I’m on my own with God.

  • Minister J.W. Brown

    I have never seen your site before, but I applaud you! I am both a minister and a studied journalist. This site is very helpful. I agree with your comments about the way the author handled this story and the scripture references. Understanding the framework in which this type of abuse occurs will help any journalist who covers this story in the future give balance to their coverage.

  • Pastor J

    From: Pastor J.

    To All Readers:

    Greetings in the precious name of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. I am sorry about the news of alleged illicit actions by my brother in Christ, Pastor Sherman Allen. These allegations, if true, deserve the utmost attention of both civil and criminal authorities; let everyone be mindful, however, that we live in a democratic society where we take pride in our justice system, which holds that every accused is presumed innocent until proven guilty in a “Court of Law” and not necessarily in the “Court of Public Opinions.”

    This is no time to use the opportunity to wage a religious or denominational warfare against any church denominations, for the simple fact that we’re humans, and in whatever social gatherings some humans will do the unthinkable.

    While respecting the opinions of all and sympathizing with any who may have fallen victim (if the allegations are true) to the violation of their sacred trust, I ask you to first consider yourself and pose the question to yourself, what would Jesus do? While you think on this question, in the book of John 8:1-11 there was brought to Jesus a woman that was caught in the “very act of adultery, and Moses, in the law commanded that such a one should be stoned…” Would you please take some time out and read Jesus’ response to the inquirers?

    Has any been accused, tried by a jury of their peers, and convicted for a crime that they did not commit? Why? Because the prosecutors and witnesses were so convincing that the jury believed them and handed down a conviction, which they soon after regretted.

    I certainly appreciate the godly indignation by which many of you respond to the articles and documentary that brought to light such allegations, helping the Church to awake from sleep, watching and praying just as Jesus teaches us to do. Furthermore, I am glad to see as many of you interested in the sanctity of religion, demanding “ACCOUNTABILITY” of all of us who are entrusted with the sacredness of delivering the messages believed to come from God for the benefits of all mankind. I urge all not to forget or ignore the fact that there are millions of men and women who truly care for the people, who are not handling the word of God with craftiness or deceitfulness, and the misbehaviors of a few should not obliterate the honorable state in which others have served. I further urge the staff writers to be fair and diligent in their reporting.

    To those of you who have evidence of these allegations, I urge to be honorable citizens and share them with the proper authorities who will use our rules of law to benefit our society, giving closure to the victims, and stopping the lynch mob. May God bring healing to all wounded hearts in Jesus’ name! Amen.

    Thank you for reading my post.

    Love in Jesus – Pastor J – Indiana.


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