Category Archives: spiritual abuse

Popcorn + Fishing = Peer Pressure

When I was a kid, one of the things I hated most about church was the Popcorn Testimony period. The way this worked was that the worship leader would give a brief testimony, then say, “I call on [fill in a name here] to give the next testimony.” This would continue until either everyone in the room had been compelled to testify (or openly refuse to do so – which had consequences to be discussed shortly) or time ran out. I used to dread it when my mother led Popcorn Testimonies, because it seemed to me that she always called on either me or my brother. And we, in turn, were compelled to call on other hapless victims.

Looking back on it now, I realize that one of the primary purposes of the Popcorn Testimony ritual was to delineate the saved from the unsaved. After all, anyone who loved Jesus should be willing to say so at a moment’s notice – shyness is not a virtue in the evangelical world. The corollary to that, of course, is that anyone who didn’t want to testify was obviously either an unbeliever or not strong enough in the faith. Both types made juicy targets for “fishing expeditions” in the prayer period that followed the sermon. If one didn’t want to play the role of “fish” later in the meeting, then one made up some bullshit and quickly called on someone else to testify. It was critical for everyone present to know that, ideally, everyone in the room was in good standing with Jesus. If it happened that there was someone present who clearly wasn’t saved, or was suspected of being unsaved or backsliding, then that person would have an opportunity to correct that state of affairs before the meeting was over.

Evangelicals have an assortment of tricks, like Popcorn Testimonies, that they use to force people to publicly identify themselves as either insiders or outsiders. Anyone who’s attended more than 2 or 3 fundogelical church services has certainly been exhorted to “raise your hand if you love Jesus,” or “say amen,” or respond to the phrase, “God is good” with the words, “all the time.” Sometimes hip preachers have the congregation break up into small groups to pray. People who don’t raise their hands, or respond with the group, or pray on command, or give their testimonies when singled out will be identified, and someone will come fishing for them later in the meeting,

And now we get to the fishing expedition. You may be familiar with the Billy Graham-style “mass appeal” to repentance. The preacher invites people to sing a prayer song, and if they feel led to do so, come up to the altar at the front of the church and get right with god. Some evangelicals supplement this mass appeal with direct, one-on-one appeals. Someone will identify a target that he or she thinks needs to pray about something or other, and will go over to that person’s seat and start talking and praying with that person about the state of her or his soul. It’s not unusual for the “fisherman” in these scenarios to ask the “fish” extraordinarily personal questions about his or her life. (The term “fishing” refers to Jesus’ statement that he would make his disciples “fishers of men.” Just in case you’re curious.)

As I look back on all of these practices, I marvel that anyone remains in fundogelical churches upon reaching the age of majority. The peer pressure in such churches is astonishing at times. And yet, many grow up thinking such experiences are normal. Sometimes the peer pressure tactics are given polite names like “accountability.” That terminology is just the fundogelical equivalent of putting lipstick on a pig. Fishing, popcorn testimonies, call-answer chants, small prayer cells and other similar tactics are not really about accountability. What they’re really about is conformity, control and group identity. I don’t know about you, but I’m hard pressed to think of an unholier trinity than that.

— the chaplain


Posted by on February 28, 2011 in religion, spiritual abuse


Evangelistic Ethics

Last night, I attended a performance by an illusionist and his escape artist wife. The show was quite good and I’m sure the sponsors who paid to bring them from Las Vegas to Washington, DC feel that their money was well spent. Toward the end of the show, the illusionist segued into his finale by saying, “I hope you’ve enjoyed the show, that we’ve built a rapport with you, and that we’ve earned your respect so that you’ll listen to what I want to say tonight.” Then, he launched into an evangelical Christian sermonette, following which he concluded the show with two object lessons – illusions that used ordinary objects (a can of Coke and a long piece of thread) to illustrate aspects of the Christian gospel.

I was particularly struck by the phrases “earned your respect” and “what I want to say.” The first phrase indicated that the speaker hoped that we in the audience would be so impressed with his skill as an illusionist that we would lap up uncritically whatever he had to say about something completely unrelated to conjuring tricks. This is a variation on a logical fallacy known as appeal to authority. The second phrase indicated that the Illusion/Escape show was a hook, a means of capturing the audience’s interest so that the performers could then do something akin to a bait and switch. The audience members went to the show to see a performance, not hear a sermon (the show’s sponsors, of course, knew that the show would include a sermon). This wasn’t a pure bait and switch, because the audience members did, in fact, see a show. But, they also got a bonus that they may not have expected or wanted.

This is typical evangelical methodology. I’ve been in musical groups that functioned much as this duo did: put on a good show and hook the audience, then hit ‘em between the eyes with the gospel. It’s also a methodology that is used by some Christian charities. One blogger, speaking of one of the world’s largest Christian charitable organizations, wrote,

God did not send his Son that people might have clothes on their backs, or food in their bellies, or a roof over their head.

Addressing such social and emotional needs only earns us the right to share with them the prime reason God sent his Son…that they might have eternal life.

Did you catch that phrase, “earns us the right?” Compare that with the illusionist’s “earned your respect.” In both cases, someone is providing a service that he or she is using as a stepping stone toward accomplishing another agenda.

In the case of the illusionist/escape artist duo, the show is a means to the end of preaching the gospel (as well as earning a living, which is certainly important). In the case of the Christian charity blogger meeting people’s material needs is a means to the same ends – preaching the gospel (and earning his living). My response to both of these cases is not identical. In the case of the performers, someone pays them for a service that includes illusions, escapes and preaching. And, they get what they pay for. My quibble is that, in some cases, there are audience members who are not aware that the show will include a sermon. In those situations, questions of the ethical integrity of appealing to false authority and baiting & switching arise.

My response to the Christian charity blogger is stronger. When people are receiving food, clothing and shelter, they often don’t have much choice about what they are getting and who they are getting it from. Attending a magic show is a voluntary event – a luxury that is often eagerly anticipated. Receiving charitable aid is often a sad necessity, not a choice undertaken with enthusiasm. The people who receive Christian assistance for the necessities of life are, in important ways, more vulnerable than the people who attend Christian entertainment events.

Not all Christian services are obscure about the way they operate. Clients who enter long-term programs sponsored by Christian organizations often know from the start that the program includes a religious component. The degree to which entry into such programs is voluntary may be debatable at times, but at least clients know, before they begin, what’s going to happen – religious expectations will be part of the package. These cases are somewhat different from those in which starving people go to soup kitchens and food banks for immediate, much-needed relief, or survivors of such disasters as fires, hurricanes and floods require food, clothing, shelter and other goods as soon as possible. In all cases, however, one would hope that Christians would be satisfied with helping people in need simply because it’s the right, humane thing to do – not so that they can “earn the right” to preach at them.

Oh, yes, I know the evangelical Christian response to my objection: we preach at them for their own good – they really need Jesus, they just don’t know it. My response to them is this: have enough respect for your fellow humans to honor their judgment about what they need. If they choose to talk with you about Jesus – in circumstances of social equality rather than the socially unequal giver-recipient relationship of charity – then have at it. Preaching at people in dire need from a position of power – you have something they need and they won’t get it until you’ve had your say – is not an earned right. It’s bullying. And that is most un-Christian. At least, it should be. If it’s not – if it is, in fact, standard operating procedure – then your dogma is not nearly as enlightened as you think it is.

— the chaplain


Deliverance Is Evil

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


Helloween is Almost Here

Here in the northern hemisphere, the colorful, falling leaves of late October remind fundogelicals to put on their holy underwear armor and fight the forces that corrupt our culture every year with the wickedest holiday of all – Halloween! Offhand, I can think of three tactics that fundies employ to protest this evil evening.

1. Some people refuse to participate in any Halloween events at all. They don’t dress in costumes and they don’t distribute treats to neighborhood children. They either lock their doors, turn off their lights and pretend they’re not home, or they arrange to be somewhere else (such as church – I kid you not) on Halloween night. They also refuse to let their children participate, even going so far as to keep them home from school, lest the little tykes be tainted or tempted by Halloween festivities in those secular (read: sinful) environs.

2. Some churches launch a counteroffensive in the form of Hell Houses. Rather than corrupting children’s minds with the obviously fake, fun and funny “terrifying” sights and sounds of Haunted Houses, fundogelical churches opt to – literally, they hope – scare the hell out of kids with their own twisted spectacles of horror.

Hell Houses are a relatively new evangelistic technique used by many hundreds of fundamentalist and other evangelical churches in North America. One intent is to proselytize the unsaved public. Another is to promote certain conservative Christian beliefs, such as:

  • That abortions kill human persons;
  • That sexual orientation is a matter of choice, is changeable, and that God hates same-sex behavior;
  • That everyone who is not saved will go to Hell when they die. They will then be eternally tortured without any hope of mercy or release;
  • That underground Satanic cults engage in widespread sacrifice of humans.

Some hell houses are disguised to resemble conventional secular haunted houses. The customer only realizes that they have a religious theme after they have bought their ticket and gone part of the way through the scenes.

Typical scenes are:

  • A phoney reenactment of the murder of Cassie Bernall, a teenager victim at the Columbine High School in 1999-APR. She was allegedly asked whether she believed in God, answered yes, and was murdered on the spot. The incident never happened. But the story has taken on a life of its own. She is frequently referred to in conservative Christian magazines, books, and radio programs as a Christian martyr.
  • A person being sacrificed during a Satanic ritual. The Christian Broadcasting Network (CBN) web site warned of Wiccan rituals and stated “… evidence persists that some Satanists and voodoo groups offer sacrifices — usual animals, but, possibly, human babies” at this time. Satanic Ritual Abuse was a widespread hoax that was commonly believed during the 1980s and early 1990s.
  • Women undergoing very bloody late-term abortions, complete with screaming, lots of blood, and particularly insensitive, uncaring health providers. Some of these scenes have been partly abandoned in recent years in favor of a portrayal of guilt and depression arising from Post Abortion Syndrome.
  • Gays and lesbians being tortured in hell for all eternity because of their same-sex behavior while they were alive on earth.
  • The dangers of “dabbling” in the occult and becoming demon possessed.
  • Personal tragedies arising from pre-marital sex.
  • Disastrous tragedies and loss of life resulting from drunk driving.
  • A man having an argument with his wife and is later seduced by his secretary.
  • Witches pressuring a depressed teen to murder his fellow students.
  • A 9/11 ground zero scene.

Look at the bright side. Once Halloween is over, the Fundie PR machine automatically switches over from the Scare the Hell Out of Kids message to the Peace on Earth, Good Will toward Men message. We and our children just have to get through one more week with our wits intact. We can do it!

3. Some people skip the expense and bother of Hell Houses and just tell kids straight up that, if they celebrate Halloween, they’ll go to Hell. That message, which was circulated in the UK recently, is more direct than this one, which I saw this morning:


The sign is not about Halloween, but its message is compatible with Hell House pageants and You’re Going to Hell flyers.

Churches! They steal sheep from each other so that they, rather than their competitors, can have the privilege of scaring them senseless. In the meantime, I’m sitting on the sidelines trying to figure out whether this stuff is sordid or sidesplitting. Right now, I’m thinking it’s a little bit of both.

UPDATE: A good old-fashioned book burning may be tactic #4, if it’s not a POE. Does anyone know if this is serious? The holy rollers at Amazing Grace Baptist Church in Canton, North Carolina, will counter Halloween’s evil effects by burning lots of non-King James Version Bibles, as well as “Satan’s music,” and “Satan’s books,” which were written by heretics like Rick Warren, Billy Graham, Charles Swindoll, James Dobson…. On the one hand, this smells like a POE, but, on the other hand, the church’s belief statements look like true-blue, far-right, wacko Christian fundamentalism, minus snake-handling and poison kool-aid (as far as I can tell).

– the chaplain


Posted by on October 25, 2009 in religion, society, spiritual abuse


Couldn’t Have Said It Better

TXlife Got this via James Moore, at Huffington Post (go read his piece, it’s really quite good).

This, my friends, is fundogelicalism in a nutshell.

– the chaplain


Posted by on September 11, 2009 in humor, indoctrination, religion, sex, spiritual abuse


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