01 Jun 2001 A Man of the (Tattered) Cloth, by Michael King
Reprints permitted provided source is credited.
Reverend Arthur Allen is the man at the center of a maelstrom.
Allen is pastor of a 150-member-strong church – The House of Prayer – in Northwest Atlanta. The church is the focus of an ongoing investigation that led Georgia state welfare authorities to remove nearly 50 children from parishioners’ homes between late March and early May. The Fulton County Department of Family and Children’s Services (DFACS) charges that members violently discipline their children, placing them at risk of harm.
It started when children came to school with noticeable bruises. Teachers notified DFACS, which investigated and found The House of Prayer and the Biblical teachings of Allen responsible.
The House of Prayer focuses strongly on the teachings of the Old Testament of the Bible. Allen teaches his flock to remove themselves from the “outside world,” encouraging them to live close to the church in an impoverished area on Atlanta’s northwest side. He teaches that no form of birth control is permitted under Biblical law and that promiscuity outside of wedlock is wrong. Under Allen’s direction, girls as young as 14 travel 60 miles to the west – to Cleburne County, Alabama – where it is legal to marry that young. The girls are then wed to older men within the church in marriages arranged and approved by Allen.
Allen also insists that members’ children be quizzed at the altar, in front of the congregation. If the child has been “bad,” a punishment is administered at Allen’s direction. Members hold the arms and legs of the child, and the parent is directed to beat the child until Allen determines that the punishment is sufficient. Bruises from these beatings prompted the DFACS investigation.
Initially, 41 children were removed from the homes of parishioners, and local Atlanta television caught the screams and wails as the kids were loaded into vans to taken into state custody. Those pictures made their way onto national newscasts as questions were asked of the parents and Allen.
Allen insists his way is the right way, and directed the parents not to allow attorneys to represent them in subsequent court hearings. Fulton County Juvenile Court Judge Sanford Jones told the parents they had to meet several conditions to get their children back during the ongoing investigation. First, others could not discipline their children. Second, spankings were only to be administered by hand – no belts or other items. Finally, young girls were not to be taken to Alabama to be wed.
Incredibly, the parents refused at Allen’s urging. He proclaimed, “God’s going to give back your children when he’s ready.” In response, Judge Jones called The House of Prayer a cult, and compared Allen to infamous People’s Temple founder Jim Jones.
Allen is using every opportunity to get himself in the media during this controversy at the expense of his parishioners. He says families going along with the court are sinning and damned to Hell. He taunts the media with claims that DFACS has a vendetta against The House of Prayer in general and specifically against him.
Further proof of Allen’s true motive is seen in his response when seven children were removed from the home of a House of Prayer member in early May. After Fulton Juvenile Judge George Blau ordered the family to surrender their children, the parents refused, saying officials would have to “come get them yourselves.” Allen contacted the local media to ensure they were present, with cameras rolling. He also insisted on having two personal camcorders inside the home as the children were being removed. Two teenagers began to kick, hit, bite and scratch at DFACS officials, so police officers forcibly removed them and placed them under arrest. Allen personally made certain the footage was given to Atlanta television stations for immediate broadcast.
The footage, however, told a different story. The DFACS workers tried to reason with the teens, but the teens became violent. Officers handcuffed the pair and removed them from the house, with the parents crying and wailing in the background. The teens were charged with simple battery and obstruction of justice.
Reverend Allen doesn’t seem to care about this. He just seems to want his 15 minutes of fame – just like other so-called “men of the cloth” who hide behind the Bible in order to further their own personal agenda. People like him do a disservice to the rich spiritual heritage of the African-American community. Don’t be fooled by the demagoguery of men like Allen – they are not men to be admired. They are men to be despised by all spiritual and righteous people everywhere.
(Michael King is a member of the African-American leadership network Project 21 and an Internet and radio broadcaster in Atlanta, Georgia. He can be reached at [email protected] and http://www.geocities.com/mhking1/.)
Note: New Visions Commentaries reflect the views of their author, and not necessarily those of Project 21.