I came across a harrowing post at Thoughts in a Haystack the other day, and followed John’s link to an even more harrowing item. You’ll be thrilled to learn that Pentecostals can no longer be regarded as a one-trick pony. No, sirree, Bob. Not by a long shot. Now, in addition to speaking in tongues, Pentecostals have a lock on the ministry of deliverance: exorcising demons. Unlike speaking in tongues, though, which any spirit-filled believer can do, deliverance requires special training in a field called Spiritual Warfare.
Where and how, exactly, do Spiritual Warfare and Deliverance education take place? Is such education available via correspondence or online courses, or is on-campus class participation required? Are such courses offered by Pentecostal Bible colleges? At all of them, or just a select few? Or – here’s another possibility – are courses in Spiritual Warfare and/or Deliverance offered in weekend seminars held in church basements? When a candidate completes the training course (can it be done in one course, or are multiple courses required?), does he or she receive a certificate or degree? Can one get certified in Deliverance only, or must one be certified in the field of Spiritual Warfare in general?
How does one become a Spiritual Warfare and/or Deliverance educator? Are instructors certified? Do they hold collegiate or advanced degrees in these fields? Are there entire degree programs devoted to the field of Spiritual Warfare? Is Deliverance a sub-field of Spiritual Warfare, or a discipline in its own right? Can you imagine attending college and enrolling in the Deliverance program because what you want to do for the rest of your life, more than anything else, is exorcise Homosexual-Causing Demons from gay people? My God, is that the stuff dreams are made of or what? Quick, show me where to sign my name!
This deliverance stuff would be hilarious if people weren’t being hurt by it. Unfortunately, some lunatics who take these ideas and rituals very seriously are tormenting others. Consider Kevin Robinson’s story:
The prophet placed her hands on Kevin and began to pray over him. “Come out, come out!” she shouted. “In the name of Jesus, I command you to come out! You gonna free him right now!”
Kevin closed his eyes, thinking to himself, “There’s something wrong with me; I need to change.” A part of him believed this prophet could do what no one else had been able to do during previous deliverance attempts—make him heterosexual. But the prophet was loud and she looked at him with disgust and contempt as her chants became more and more belligerent. Even now Kevin can’t bring himself to repeat the most hurtful things she said. He soon began to cry. And then, with the prophet still exhorting the demons in him to depart, he blacked out and collapsed. When he regained consciousness, he stood up and returned to his seat. His shame was turning to rage. He searched his mind and thoughts and found he was unchanged—he was still attracted to men. In the past it had been family members—his mother, his aunt, or his uncle, the church’s pastor—who performed deliverance on him. This time it was a stranger, and she had pushed him beyond the breaking point. Never again, he decided, would he allow himself to be treated this way.
It was, by Kevin’s count, at least the 10th time since he was 16 that he’d subjected himself to gay exorcism.
Every time I read that passage, I can’t decide whether I want to cry or cuss out the stupid “prophets” who tortured Kevin. If you have a queasy stomach, you may want to skip Peterson Toscano’s account:
Peterson Toscano, a gay Christian activist, underwent three exorcisms before coming to terms with his sexuality. One took place in the Greenpoint section of Brooklyn, another in an apartment on the West Side of Manhattan owned by Joanne Highley, who runs L.I.F.E. Ministry. During the latter exorcism, Highley had him lie down on her bed, then she sat beside him and began to press on his body, commanding the demons to exit through his mouth and rectum. Before the rite was complete, Toscano, who says he felt increasingly violated by Highley’s actions, stopped the ritual and left her apartment. Highley did not respond to requests to be interviewed, but she has previously stated that her process is to “cleanse and bind demonic powers . . . out of genitals, of course out of anal canals, out of intestines, out of throats and mouths if there’s been ungodly deposit of semen in those areas—we cleanse with the blood of Jesus, and we cast out the demonic powers.” Some practitioners of deliverance believe that a demon has a physical as well as a spiritual form and can be purged through the orifices—thus an exorcism can be judged successful if the subject vomits, coughs up sputum, or, in rare cases, evacuates his bowels.
These are rituals that require specialized training? How does this work? Does one complete supervised professional internships in verbally berating and physically assaulting people in order to be acknowledged and/or certified as a Deliverer or Spiritual Warrior? Can one who is especially skilled at this continue on to post-graduate studies? The mind boggles.
Is behavior like this any more civilized than that of African witch-hunters? I think not. Is it coincidental that many of the Africans labeled as witches and many of the Americans undergoing deliverance are minors? I think not. Minors are emotionally, psychologically and intellectually vulnerable, often physically weaker than their tormentors, and easily victimized; they’re easy pickings for bullies. American exorcists may wear silk instead of cotton, but they’re just as deluded as their witch-hunting counterparts in Africa. All of them are equally willing and eager to take out their fears on those who are least able to resist them.
Defenders and practitioners of deliverance insist that the ritual is an act of “love and care” aimed at delivering gays “from the clutches of the Devil.” But some people, including some Pentecostals, wonder if deliverance rituals cross the line into abusive behavior. Duh! Gee, ya think? There haven’t been any cases “challenging gay exorcism in the United States to date, nor, apparently, has there been any research into the psychological impact of the practice, without which prosecution remains unlikely.” All that’s a convoluted way of saying that, until someone formally studies Deliverance and issues a scholarly declaration that it may be problematic, religious nuts will continue getting free passes on activities that would be deemed unacceptable, and probably illegal, in non-religious circumstances. Given the USA’s traditional kowtowing stance toward Christianity, authorities won’t pay any attention to this stuff unless people start dying during or shortly after deliverance rituals. Even then, it would probably take multiple deaths to spur any action; one death would simply be dismissed as a tragic anomaly. In the meantime, people like Kevin Robinson and Peterson Toscano will continue suffering at the hands of those who are supposed to love them the most.
– the chaplain