Church joyful as kids return

'They're not going to tell us how to raise our children'

Atlanta Journal-Constitution/May 28, 2001
By Alan Judd

For more than two months, theirs were the voices missing from the House of Prayer.

So on Sunday, an hour into a raucous, four-hour service celebrating their return, about two dozen children came to the front of the sanctuary and sang. Their voices praised God, even for the social workers who took them into protective custody.

He's got the DFCS workers In His hands.

He's got the DFCS workers In His hands.

He's got the whole world In His hands.

It was just one of the many ways in which Sunday's service at the northwest Atlanta church focused on the state Division of Family and Children Services, which on Friday returned 35 of the 49 children it had seized in an abuse investigation.

The House of Prayer's members and their pastor, the Rev. Arthur Allen Jr., described the release of the children, which is expected to be nearly complete by Wednesday, as a victory in their two-month impasse with state child welfare officials.

And they said public support continues to grow for their stands on the use of corporal punishment and on marriages for girls as young as 14. "I don't know when it's going to subside," Allen said during his three-hour sermon. "It's not over yet. The only thing we're asking for is for (officials) to understand what they've done. I want things restored back to the way they were before.

"They're not going to tell us how to raise our children," he continued. "God has already told us."

State Rep. Billy McKinney (D-Atlanta), one of several black legislators who helped negotiate the children's release, said the House of Prayer prevailed because it "stood up to the whole state of Georgia."

"This fight was not about the House of Prayer," McKinney told the congregation. "This fight was about how black people discipline their children. I know how my grandmama disciplined me. It was not out of Dr. Spock's book. White folks cannot tell us how to discipline our children."

McKinney and Rep. Tyrone Brooks (D-Atlanta), who also worked on the release, called on officials to drop criminal charges of cruelty to children against Allen and 10 church members. Two teenagers taken into protective custody also face charges stemming from a scuffle with police officers.

"These charges are invalid," Brooks said. "They must be dismissed. And they're going to be dismissed."

But Allen noted he and his wife, Trina, must appear in court Tuesday for a hearing on whether the state should take their six children into custody.

Someone from the congregation shouted that it won't happen. Allen said he wasn't so sure. "You can think you have things figured out," he said. "But Satan is unpredictable."

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