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.