Surveying COGIC's justice system

Part two of a special GCM Watch report on clergy sexual crimes in the Church of God in Christ. Read part 1. Also see our new archive of clergy sexual abuse articles.

Is COGIC justice blind or biased? Many a member has found out (unfortunately too late) that seeking justice within the framework of the nation’s largest pentecostal denomination is not unlike being a blind man in a maze.

The Church of God in Christ apparently has it down on paper —and it looks good— but the denomination’s leaders often fail to follow what they claim are church law and procedures. Following articles by GCM Watch exposing numerous incidences of sexual abuse crimes committed by its clergy, COGIC posted a quartet of anonymously assembled articles on sexual abuse filed under its Office of Legal Counsel. The articles appear to be little more than that of the cut and paste sort, citing information from other sources, but nothing originally from the church itself. Response to the articles has been mixed. Despite the articles, a glaring question remains: has COGIC consistently practiced reporting sexual abusers as the law requires? GCM Watch will review each article in our next report.

And despite the lukewarm web response from the church, mounting sexual abuse and sexual misconduct cases among its clergy continue to attract closer scrutiny of COGIC’s internal system of justice.

According to a May 2007 press statement issued by Presiding Bishop Blake, COGIC operates from a position of zero response.

“The Church of God in Christ does not condone any inappropriate behavior from any of its representatives, and does not comment on pending litigation against the Church or its representatives until a case has been brought to trial and an official ruling has been made. 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.”

In other words, if your son, daughter or wife is treated inappropriately victimized by a COGIC clergy although they don’t condone the actions, you probably won’t hear anything from them until its forced out in a court of law. Now, some lawsuits, particularly that against the former Vice President of COGIC Evangelism, Rev. Sherman Allen, are trying even that position.

Several individuals and a justice board form the nucleus of COGIC’s justice system. Described as a cross pollinated congregational-presbyter style federation with top heavy authority, COGIC has typically fortified its internal will with silence, delay, strong-arming and legal manipulations.  In fact,  navigating a complaint through a system reportedly full of loopholes benefiting offenders may be a daunting task few, if any, will see the end of. In a Kansas case, it took five years from the time the church filed its first complaint to the final judgment rendered by the judicial board. Much of the delay was attributed to various church leaders never responding to complaints.

Does COGIC need a “special investigator”?
Although there was no external formal or public announcement we could find, Bishop Blake created a new Investigative Service Department for COGIC. Think church CIA. The man placed in charge of the job is Elder Gerald Harris of Gilroy, CA who doubles as the “National Church Chief of Security” since 2001. According to Harris’ website he is also an advisor for the United States Department of Justice.

Since there was no announcement nor information released publicly about what the newly created Investigative Service Department does or does not do, COGIC members can only speculate as to whether the new department includes elements of secrecy. Shouldn’t members know if they could possibly be under investigation?

Here come da judges: COGIC’s “Supreme Court”
COGIC’s website says its highest judicial body is modeled after the balance of power in the US government. The court’s mission, it says, is to review and render final decisions on cases referred from lower tribunals of the church.

As the final authority of questions of ecclesiastical constitutional doctrine, it maintains balance between the Legislative (General Assembly) and Executive Branch (General Board). The Judiciary Board is also the final appellate forum of the COGIC for disputes, except in cases that have been appealed to the Presiding Prelate for executive clemency (i.e. Pastoral and Bishops removals and Church disorganization).

The denomination’s Judicial Board is comprised of nine members, seven men and two women: Dr. Joseph Clemmons (CT), Bishop F. E. Perry (OH), Elder Thomas Hammonds (VA), Dr. Valda Slack (FL), Supt. Thomas Jackson (IL), Supt. Talbot Swan (MA), Bishop Samuel P. Nesbitt (FL), Bishop A. LaDell Thomas (TX) and Attorney B.J. Warren McKinney (CA).

In recent times, the judiciary’s most notable case to date was not one trying sexual immorality but a dispute over power, control and leadership. See a chronological report of Gilkey vs Emmanuel COGIC.

In 2001, and in another case of power struggles, Blake, a key witness in the legal battle which erupted between Rev. Derrick Hutchins and then Presiding Bishop CD Owens, testified in court that Owens’s actions were not in line with the denomination’s rules. “Constitutionally, you cannot remove a pastor unless he is charged with some kind of impropriety,” he said. [source]

Sounds good on paper or when someone like Blake  stood to benefit from Hutchins’ political support against Owens. But Larry Weems of Mississippi was certainly charged with an impropriety. According to witnesses, even after clear evidence against Weems , he retained all his previous offices and was even promoted by his bishop.


The legal department of COGIC: pro-member or pro-establishment?

Don’t be fooled,  there’s little evidence COGIC’s Office of General Counsel is member friendly. As far as we can tell, it operates solely to defend the denomination’s image, assets and interests, not member concerns. One pastor said church head lawyer Enoch Perry was non responsive to a request for help in a legal wrangle with a local Virginia municipality. The city wanted him to move his church but Perry did not respond to his requests for help.
Perry is COGIC’s point man with a legal fist. Perry has a reputation for not responding to member’s  requests for information. We even sent an email inquiring about nonexistent policy pdfs on the website, but it immediately came back unknown.

COGIC has on its staff  April Forbes whose legal specialties include “defending religious entities in connection with sexual misconduct claims/suits and ecclesiastical disputes.”
I have no legal background whatsoever but I found Forbes inclusion somewhat contradictory to the COGIC’s mission statement which purports to “protect its members…from sexual misconduct”. If both sexual offender and victim are members, which one will the organization “protect”?  That has occurred before and each time COGIC sided with the offender. Would COGIC take the side of a victim in court against an offender even if that offender was a member of its clergy?

Bishop Blake’s press statement citing COGIC policy of silence is nothing new. Its been an effective weapon wielded against its own faithful members and their families for decades. Gwen Fox, whose father was a prominent COGIC church planter in Georgia found out in 1991 that COGIC leadership had little value for the victims of its clergy sex predators.

When Fox found out that her 15 year son had been sexually molested by COGIC General Board member John D. Husband, she sent certified letters to each member of the church’s General Board (Blake was a member). Not one of them responded to her. After none of the members of the board responded, Fox went to Memphis to hand deliver a letter to then Presiding Bishop Louis Ford.  The molestation occurred in 1981, but Fox, a single mother, was told by officials not to take the church to court (using 1 Cor 6) . Delays, anonymous death threats, refusals to respond and health issues brought on by the stress of the molestation of her son weighed down justice. When Fox finally found the strength to seek outside legal redress, the statue of limitations had run out.

She believes church leaders intentionally stalled, lied and prolonged meetings with her to delay justice in her favor.

In a letter released to church members June 1991— six months after Husband was removed from office— Ford declared the matter over. The letter never mentions any of the crimes  Husband committed. Instead it only notes them as “charges” and “actions”. Even more egregious, the letter makes no apology, restitution or acknowledgement to the string of devastated families whose sons were molested. [See entire letter]

Ignoring his victims, COGIC promises to restore Husband.

“In its restorative capacity, the church has forgiven Bishop Husband, recommended that he undergo psychological treatment after which his situation would be reevaluated.”

In another letter, the church promised to help pay for Husband’s “psychological care”. Husband died later that year.

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13 thoughts on “Surveying COGIC's justice system

  1. COGIC…like any overweight man made and man handled organization is bloated with its own importance and hierarchy of achievers who are not in those positions to rock the boat…much less the church! They are there to move up the ladder and “be somebody”.
    When the victims of these molestations seek “justice” through the established means set up by COGIC and nothing happens, they are not bound to remain silent but to seek legal redress since COGIC
    is showing by their acts that they do not intend to do the right thing and are not behaving in a Christ like manner.
    Regrettably, a few good lawsuits in which millions of dollars in damages are paid out will, like a miracle, cause COGIC to really
    clean house and behave like they are suppose to.
    Until then, the victims will get the usual stall tactics and the
    perps will be hidden under a ruse of…”don’t touch my anoint…
    nonsense and business goes on as usual.
    It is amazing what a few well placed lawsuits will do to clean up one’s act!
    If the allegations against Sherman Allen are proven, I hope that a jury socks it to COGIC for a large monetary judgment. Then and only then will Bishop Blake & Company start acting contrite and start issuing PR releases indicating any type of remorse and their pledges to clean up the protected and known molesters in the COGIC churches.

  2. True that. Its just a bottom of the barrel shame you have to say that about a church which claims to be the “greatest church in the world.”

  3. I don’t know if you all notice but even when you go to COGIC’s redesign website to make a comment under the “Sexual Misconduct” article, COGIC deletes your message if it criticizes the church sexual abuse policy. I’ve written about 3 comments over the past week and notice a day or so later my comments has been deleted by the It’s not just me but I’ve notice other comments have been deleted by others that criticize COGIC as well with this “window dressing” sexual abuse policy.
    COGIC only allows the message that gives them praise about their sexual abuse article remains on their websites. It seems to me if COGIC wants true dialogue then they should allow people to speak freely about their article on Sexual Misconduct. When I posted a comment about the Sherman Allen trial starting next month that messages was quickly erased from their site. So it seems like they’re still trying to keep the members in the dark and blind as to what’s going on in the church. And to be honest it’s not even a Sexual Misconduct policy but just a bunch of articles crumpled together to appear as if COGIC is taking stance on clergy sexual misconduct, but it’s only a half-baked article.

    DL call me I left a message for you.

  4. V, I agree with you. They are terrified of this Sherman Allen trial becoming a public relations nightmare. And it very well maybe but as Jeremiah Wright said the chickens do come home to roost. I wouldnt put it past them if they have lawyers who are trained to downplay or even shut down media attention.

    Allen’s trial (with them as co-defendants) is a watershed moment. Heretofore COGIC have avoided widespread public scrutiny through less than honest methods, but this woman really is a hero for not taking the money to go away and be quiet.

    That makes this very unique. There is a caveat though, the liberal, white-guilt media has played kid gloves with black churches and thus tend to under report things like this. It may occur on a local level but with COGIC being a self touted international entity, it should be national news.

  5. GCM, given the gravity of what has and is still transpiring here, have you contemplated altering one or two national outlets regarding these sex scandals? Although the potential audience for this site has the propensity to be very large, the traffic for “mainstream” news sites, cnn.com, etc. has a very large, sustained number of people that hit that site daily.

  6. Hey, thats a good idea. I dont solicit attention for this blog, but it has gotten much attention. I think once that trial breaks there will be a lot of COGIC members looking to find out what is happenening with their church. I think Bishop Blake has shot himself in the foot by evoking the silence rule because when the constituency starts looking for information, they wont find it at COGIC or from their leaders. Hopefully, they can see the truth here.

  7. Investigative service dept.? What is that?…I know you addressed it in the article but there is already a “supposed” investigate board by “constitutional law” that is in every jurisdiction. That board is the one who “supposedly” investigates allegations of misconduct etc.

    How does the Presiding Bishop institute new dept.’s and heads, that take over duties outlined by the constitution without approval of the General Assembly?

    What is that???

  8. I know that comment doesn’t address the abuse issue specifically, I think you’re doing an excellent job in that regard…I focus on the mishandling of all of this situations and sins from the top. It’s traggic and it only seems to be more obfuscation.

  9. Bishop Blake did the same thing with the UDIHR situation. Actions without prior approval of the General Assembly. That’s why when we raised this issue, he basically went and retroactively got approval of the board and assembly. Its very interesting that when Chandler Owens said that he had that power, Blake went to court to testify against it. But now, he’s doing the same thing. In fact, he was adamant that the PB did not have that type of power.

    Re the Investigative Department, from what I have read this seems to be is another sham (sorry have to be honest) church junket set up to obfuscate and hinder real discovery when criminal activity occurs.

    Like I said, there was no external announcement so it reminded me of a church CIA covert-type.

    So much for transparency and integrity.

  10. People: The fact that the COGIC website would delete comments that are not in their best interest shows that they are about image and public relations. Cares and concerns about the molested or abused is secondary.
    Regrettably, there is not a Court TV series on this Sherman Allen trial. The world needs to see this perp and hear from the actual
    witnesses.
    I have no patience with these man made doctrines and titles and
    protocols which have the effect of covering up wrongdoing and yet on Sundays these same charlatans will be the loudest praising God in the sanctuary!
    Judgement begins at the house of God and COGIC needs a major spanking and house cleaning and repentance.
    When churches become crusty with the sins of the flesh and those sins are not corrected by those who have the job of overseer, it is time for that entity to crumble.
    People who are in these assemblies and you know that abuse is happening, be it against a fellow believer or financial shenanigans or serious doctrinal error, you need to come out and find another place of fellowship and get away from that religious
    spirit that will corrupt you since you are being warned but yet you delay because you want the fellowship of the saints. God can provide fellowship anywhere but especially with Him. You do not need fellowship to maintain your salvation. Stay attached to the Head and the body will thrive!

  11. Isn’t it a sin for somebody in the assembly to know that somebody is being molested but won’t say anything? Isn’t there something about being a stumbling block to someone? I am so tired of these people not standing up to these so called leaders.

  12. Yes, Mercedes…it is a sin of omission. Regretably, too many “saints” want to find a church home to rest in and not rock the boat. The sense of fellowship is so strong to many that they will overlook glaring error and sin because they want a place that they can call their “church home”.
    That is too sad that they will turn a blind eye to evil in the camp because they want someone to “like them” and they want to
    feel accepted. Both are not Biblical concepts for fellowship but rather is a desire of the flesh to be with others and even at the expense of accommodating sin. That is not of the Holy Spirit and until we mature and understand that fellowship with God is the only thing you need and that He alone can keep you, we will continue to have their exposes of sin in the camp because the “saints” of God will not take a stand and say NO!…because they value the applause and smiles of men and women more than person conscience and integrity!
    You do not need a spiritual renegade approving you as a person or as a child of God. You do not need the “right hand of fellowship”
    in order to be in God’s kingdom.
    You do not need the bishop or the pastor to smile upon you and grant you favor. God does that! So, when evil is in the camp…what now is your excuse for turning a blind eye and walking away? You certainly are not pleasing God but man.

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