Part three of a series exploring COGIC and its policies, practices and entanglements with clergy sexual abuse. Parts 1 and 2 can be read here.
GCM Watch has obtained a copy of the 2008 court deposition of Church of God in Christ top “legal counsel” Enoch Perry who testified under oath that COGIC has virtually no control over its ministers or churches. But that admission quickly caught the former judge in a series of exchanges where he was less than truthful. The deposition occured in early September 2008, almost a year prior to the approaching sexual abuse trial of Rev. Sherman Allen, a former top COGIC church official.
Perry has operated as the church’s chief legal counsel since 1996. His department is part of the national church triumvirate of “judicial” power which we briefly examined here. Perry also stated he was author of a “Sexual Misconduct Policy” which was allegedly disseminated in 2002.
After reviewing the 91 page document, one picture almost immediately surfaces. According to the sworn testimony of Perry, COGIC is not the organization loyal members perceive it to be. Perry sparingly painted a picture of a church divided: with member churches on their own and a “national church” which operates in a religious vacuum. Particularly, as it relates to leadership carrying out its paper rules, the Church of God in Christ is in disarray. Reading the document, something else emerges: Perry is well equipped at corporate lie-telling and evasion of truthful discovery.
Perry, who said he pastors a 50 member church, was on the stand as the official representative of COGIC and as such authorized to speak for the denomination. Under questioning from lawyers for the plaintiff, Perry testified the denomination doesn’t have a national sexual abuse policy. Perry told the plaintiff’s lawyers the policy was suggested to its member jurisdictions and only intended to be used as a guideline. The policy allegedly in place only applies to the 70 odd employees at COGIC headquarters.
In a stunning admission, Perry told lawyers that COGIC national has no power to make member churches or pastors obey its rules. The reason: “everything in COGIC is voluntary”. Perry said all dues, tithes, fees, reports and financial stipulations on bishops, superintendents, national office holders, licensed ministers, missionaries, local church reports, jurisdictional reports and the likes are all voluntary and nothing was mandatory. Perry said the church has no ability to enforce dues assessed to its members. The only possible repercussion he said is that “credentials are not lost, just not renewed” (pg 46). So, my COGIC credentials are still good and I didn’t know it. Well, so are Sherman Allen’s for that matter.
The attorney asked, “If everything is so voluntary then why does the local church have to get approval from the National Council to get out?”
Perry realized he had said something which was at best, contradictory. But he couldnt take it back. It was on record.
The judge is a terrible witness
For much of the roughly two hours of deposition Perry talked in proverbial circles. It reminded me of trying to catch a real liar in a lie. The liar tells one lie to cover the first, then tells another to escape the previous one. At one point, Perry when backed into a corner on one of his admissions fell silent while COGIC’s lawyers (the non-volunteer ones) repeatedly interrupted with client-attorney privilege objections.
The deposition is too lengthy to discuss in depth here, but some of the more interesting admissions made by Perry include:
(1) He did not know that Sherman Allen was Vice President of Evangelism for COGIC.
“It’s not like we go around asking people can we see your credentials to make sure they are who they say they are, because we over 15,000 churches in our denomination,” he said.
But later when asked if he knew Allen was an adjutant to Bishop Haynes in the early 90s, Perry replied “I dont recall him serving in that capacity”. (pg 37). In the next sentence, Perry says “Seems like Ive known him [Allen] forever.”
Isn’t it strange that a man you have “known forever” and know that he didnt serve in a low level assistant job almost 20 years ago, yet you don’t know the same person is serving as in a high level, visible office of the same church where you also serve in a high level, visible office?
(2) COGIC was forced to deal with the Allen case only because of articles which appeared in the Dallas Observer. Perry repeatedly referred to the Observer and blogs mentioning the case as “rag sheets”. In his opinion, blogs were nothing but cheap gossip rags not deserving of legitimacy. The series of articles on the case written by former DO editor Julie Lyons apparently attracted so much public attention, COGIC was forced to reopen the case. The so-called investigators closed the case because they alleged after six months they couldn’t contact the plaintiff. COGIC thought it was all over.
Perry: “All of the hoopla that transpired from the rag sheets or the blogs or whatever you want to call it, that whole media blitz that was all over the world, if you would that’s what caused the church to look at that again, and that’s what transpired.”
Attorney: So your testimony Judge, is that it was the rag sheets hype that was published in the media that caused COGIC, through it national organization, specifically Charles Blake, Presiding Bishop, to provide some authority for the termination —
Attorney: excuse me. For the suspension of Pastor Allen?
Perry refused to admit that’s what he’d just said. The implication is that had not Lyons written the stories, COGIC would have treated Allen’s victim like others they have done in the past: either ignore them or quietly settle out of court.
(3) Identified Elder Gerald Harris and Elder Melvin Williams as the sole members of COGIC’s “National Sexual Misconduct Committee”. Later, he said the men were members of the “National Review Board”. (pg 22)
I admit I laughed at the “national sexual misconduct committee”, it just sounded bizarre. Seriously, it appears the two investigators violated COGIC’s policy which stipulates that there must be at a minimum 5 individuals on an investigating committee of this sort. It also requires that a “detailed report” be filed with the Office of the General Secretary within 6 months of a case being closed. Perry declined to answer if this had been done in the Sherman Allen case. He called the two “investigators” highly skilled in what they do, but Allen under oath said he was never interviewed by either of the two men.
Finally, to add to the layers of confusion going on within COGIC, its rules, the Allen case and the general counsel is the strange parenthetical story of Attorney BJ Warren. Warren, a female, was a member of Allen’s local church and while there handled many of his legal affairs. Its unclear when but some point during or after the revelation of Allen’s crimes, Warren married a high ranking COGIC bishop, was appointed to the church’s judiciary (supreme court) and signed on as a staff lawyer under Enoch Perry. Coincidental or is something being covered up?