Two hours later, little Terrance lay dead, wrapped in a sweat-soaked sheet, while his mother and several church members frantically attempted to revive him. The coroner's report: suffocation.
The boy's mother, Patricia Cooper, later told investigators that the minister had held Terrance on the floor, with one hand on the boy's head and with his knee pressed into the boy's chest. The mother and another woman had each held one of his legs, while a third woman lay across his torso.
The disturbing nature of this tragedy has led many to question the methods of those who practice deliverance ministry. Will there come a time when legitimate exorcisms are viewed by the secular world in the same way the snake-handling sessions of the early 20th century were?
Because of an irresponsible few, will legal limitations be placed on churches that only wish to follow the biblical model of freeing people from demonic influence?
DAZED AND CONFUSED
"This boy's death is a wake-up call," says Kim Daniels, author of Clean House, Strong House: A Practical Guide to Spiritual Warfare, Demonic Strongholds and Deliverance (Charisma House). The pastor of Spoken Word Ministries, in Jacksonville, Florida, believes that undisciplined deliverance ministry could lead to public examination and eventual prohibition of that which is desperately needed in the church: "The enemy wants to put a bullet in us and make us back up."
Deliverance minister Eddie Smith thinks that in too many situations passion has outweighed discernment, and the results have been disastrous. Co-founder (with his wife, Alice) of the U.S. Center for Prayer in Houston, the Southern Baptist has been involved in deliverance ministry for more than 30 years.
The facts would indicate that Smith's concerns reflect a growing crisis. A September 2001 ABC News online report by Oliver Libaw, titled "Exorcism in America," highlighted several notable exorcisms-gone-bad:
In 1995, Pentecostal ministers in San Francisco pummeled a woman to death, attempting to drive out demons.
In 1997, a Korean Christian woman was trampled to death in Glendale, California, in an exorcism.
In 1997, a 5-year-old girl died after being forced to swallow a mixture of ammonia and vinegar, in an attempt to drive out an evil spirit.
In 1998, a 17-year-old girl in Sayville, New York, was suffocated with a plastic bag, while her mother tried to destroy a demon inside her.
While clearly isolated events, these tragedies reveal an ongoing state of confusion in the church regarding who the devil is, what he does and how he can be stopped.
This is confirmed by the Barna Research Group (BRG), which recently noted that six out of 10 Americans (59 percent) reject the existence of Satan, indicating that he is merely "a symbol of evil." As BRG notes, the rejection of Satan's existence seems to conflict with the fact that a slight majority (54 percent) also contends that "a human being can be under the control or the influence of spiritual forces such as demons."
Similarly, American media culture reflects a simultaneous obsession with and resistance to all things supernatural.
Where else can one tune in to TV programs devoted to a modern-day version of necromancy--discerning messages from "the other side"--sitcoms which assume that both demons and angels walk the earth and interact with its inhabitants or straight-faced explanations of how aliens built the pyramids?
Within a few channels, however, one might find equally earnest programs attempting to debunk the resurrection of Christ, the existence of a creator God or the possibility of divine healing.
Much of this confusion likely finds its root in the challenges of explaining the unexplained--answering general questions such as, "How do I understand those things that science can't explain?" and specific questions such as, "Where do mental illness and demonic influence intersect?"
For everyone involved in deliverance ministry, there is a different opinion of how Satan manifests himself and where the line should be drawn between psychological disorders and demonization.
"We're diagnosing what we should be casting out," Kim Daniels says. She believes that the pendulum has swung too far to the side of psychology. "We have redefined things," Daniels suggests of such conditions as epilepsy and autism. "Jesus said the boy with fits was demon-possessed, but we've got another name for it."
Daniels describes her ministry to a woman suffering from panic attacks: "This was very real. Her symptoms were real. Her diagnosis was real." However, Daniels addressed the problem from a spiritual perspective, pulling the woman out of bed, speaking words of encouragement to her and rebuking the lies that she believes led to the condition.
After several weeks of continued ministry, Daniels says the woman was perfectly normal. "Confirmation is the fruit," she says. "God wants to show us what the problem is and what to do with it."
Similarly, Eddie Smith believes that many psychological disorders are demonic in origin. He contends that clinical diagnoses are often merely smoke screens for a lack of spiritual understanding on the part of the physician. "Multiple Personality Disorder (MPD) is actually multiple personality deception," Smith says.
He argues that emotional or physical trauma in a person's life can lead to the entrance of demonic spirits that manifest themselves as distinct personalities. "The soul splinters into multiple pieces to deal with it," Smith explains. "Evil spirits attach themselves to the soul, resulting in what is called MPD."
In contrast, Linda Mintle, a marriage and family therapist, believes that deliverance is often seen as an easy fix for biochemical problems. "Whenever I have any mental health case, I consider the organic, chemical etiology, as well as the spiritual," she says. "To do one and not the other is equivalent to malpractice."
"We are too quick to attribute issues of mental illness to demonic influence, when there are perfectly legitimate--and medically provable--reasons for the disorders," says Mintle, who holds a Ph.D. in urban health and clinical psychology.
"To attribute [autism] to demons is ignorant and arrogant, in my mind," she says. "Do I believe in deliverance? Absolutely. But do I think deliverance is applied to circumstances that aren't demonic-based? Yes."
Mintle believes that such conditions are clearly linked to physiological disorders. "Autism, for example, is a pervasive developmental disorder, believed to be inherited and related to irregular brain structure," she says.
Like Mintle, some involved in deliverance ministry address mental illness in much the same way they would physical illness. "All of these diseases are diagnosable," says Wayde Goodall, the pastor of First Assembly in Winston-Salem, North Carolina, a church that provides a professional counseling center for people struggling with issues such as homosexuality, drug addiction and depression.
A trained counselor, Goodall notes that the similarity in symptoms of demonic activity and mental illness require acute discernment, and there is no default setting for dealing with them. "When we do an interview with someone struggling with mental illness, we often discover that they've been involved in the occult--even Christians," he says. "Behaviors such as this can be a breeding ground for demonic activity."
"However, if we say that everyone who has a mental problem is demon-possessed, we are going to eliminate our ability to reach them for Christ," Goodall says. "You can cast all the demons you want out of a schizophrenic, and they'll still be schizophrenic."
THE STRONG MAN
Confronting Satan was a key aspect of Jesus' ministry, as He invaded spiritual territory inhabited by evil forces and established His kingdom on earth. However, Jesus' method of casting out demons was characterized by the same simplicity that marked His healings--a firm command, a gentle touch and a candid word of instruction.
Apart from Jesus' and the apostles' example, however, an often-frustrating lack of specific biblical instructions for deliverance ministry has led to a divergence of opinion on how, exactly, demons should be cast out.
Few in deliverance ministry would claim that their methods and theology are derived strictly from Scripture. "Sometimes we let our experience determine our theology," Eddie Smith admits. "But it's better than letting our lack of experience determine our theology."
And the Smiths' experiences are often strange enough to make the stodgiest scholar rethink his doctrine: a beautiful Latvian woman expelling demons through flatulence, an American pastor's son with Tourette's syndrome, a woman with 197 personalities.
They have traveled to locales as exotic as Pakistan and as mundane as their hometown of Houston. But the problems are the same: unforgiveness, rejection, witchcraft, and so on.
Deliverance ministers sometimes hang large sections of their theology on tenuous threads of Scripture. For instance, the Smith's interpret the "strong man" mentioned in Matthew 12:29 as a powerful evil spirit who controls lesser spirits in a demonized person. They identify this understanding of the "strong man" as one of the key facets of their ministry.
However, most biblical scholars, observing the immediate context of the passage, believe the verse is an allusion to Isaiah 49:24-25, that the "strong man" refers to Satan and that the one robbing his house is Jesus.
Smith admits that, although the passage is not specifically referring to demonized individuals, it is analogous to the way evil spirits operate. "I see its practical outworking," he says. "It reflects a principle that I think Jesus is talking about here."
Similarly, Kim Daniels attributes many issues in her deliverance ministry to two key factors, or "big dogs," as she calls them: sympathetic magic and charismatic witchcraft. "If I'm praying for a child, and it's crying, 'Mommy, no, I'm hurting.' That's the demon playing on my emotions--sympathetic magic."
While Daniels admits that there is no direct reference to sympathetic magic in Scripture, she says: "Everything can't be put to Scripture. It's got to be rhema [a specific word], not logos [a general word]. Napoleon sailed across the water, but you can't find that in the Word."
"When you continue to operate in the gifts of the Spirit without the power of God, that's charismatic witchcraft," Daniels says. "Praying for people when you're mad at them, praying with the wrong heart--you'll tap into the wrong spirit. The spirit of God leaves, but the gift isn't going anywhere."
Daniels argues for her understanding of charismatic witchcraft from Romans 11:29: "For God's gifts and His call are irrevocable" (NIV). However, this is a passage typically believed to be referring to God's eternal choice of Israel as His people.
Her experiences with witches, warlocks and other occult practitioners have shaped much of Daniels' understanding of the spirit realm. She also attributes knowledge to special revelations that God has shown her.
For instance, she describes a vision she had where she saw a praying mantis standing over a city. Daniels discovered that the word "mantis" means divinator, and she believes that the vision describes "intercessors praying divinating prayers." Whether they are believers or not, Daniels believes that people can tap into the spirit world, where they can gain supernatural information.
Wayde Goodall, on the other hand, tends to be a minimalist in his interpretation of texts related to demonic activity. "Jesus is referred to 250 times in the book of Acts. The devil is only mentioned four times," he says. "Clearly, the early church's obsession was Jesus, not the devil."
Goodall cautions against formulating elaborate theology and methods from isolated passages of Scripture. While he admits that the Bible offers scant instructions for carrying out deliverance, Goodall contends, "Acts gives us all we need to run on, without adding to it."
Of course, some would argue that counselors such as Goodall depart from the Scriptures by relying too heavily on the research of secular experts on psychology. Goodall admits that this is a possibility. "But the Word of God draws us to all truth, so if any secular book contradicts the Bible, the book is wrong," he says. "Anything that we learn in secular universities and colleges needs to be balanced by the Word of God."
After all, he adds, "'Counselor,' or parakletos, is the name given the Holy Spirit. How a Christian becomes aware of demonic issues and the discerning of the two is through listening to the Holy Spirit, the gift of discernment in their life and knowing what the Word says."
AREAS OF AGREEMENT
In spite of the variety of opinions, most in deliverance ministry agree that discernment is key, casting out demons is not a cure-all and a steady walk with Christ will remedy many of the problems attributed to the devil and his minions.
For instance, Kim Daniels argues that deliverance has become a crutch for people who don't want to invest the effort to become disciples. "You can't use deliverance like a revolving door or a gas station," she says. "I've been preaching on victorious living lately, because I saw the same people coming to the altars every time--hooked on milk and not teaching. That's putrid in God's nostrils."
Deliverance should not be difficult, Eddie Smith says. "The Holy Spirit knows the will of the Father," he explains. "So we ask Him to put His finger on whatever He wants us to deal with, rather than trying to stir things up ourselves."
Smith believes that too many deliverance ministries complicate matters by focusing on goals other than bringing God glory. "God's not here for us, we're here for Him. The majority of people who do deliverance are people-centered and need-driven. The most important thing for them is to get people free," he explains. "The purpose of deliverance is not just for freedom. It's for God's glory."
Wayde Goodall questions why deliverance ministry must become a practice only for the elite in the kingdom. "I don't scream or yell. It doesn't take a really long time," he says. "I trust God and the authority of His Word." However, Goodall admits that some situations require additional preparation in prayer and fasting.
Daniels agrees. "It's not spooky or scary," she says. One's spiritual discernment will be sharpened through time with God. As Daniels says: "It ain't Greek, and it ain't Hebrew. But I guess it takes an ex-prostitute and drug addict to see it."
After 500 years, the wall of Wartburg Castle is still stained where Martin Luther reportedly threw an inkwell at the devil. Spiritual warfare is nothing new, but many would argue that it's time to re-evaluate how deliverance ministry is carried out. *KID CARE
An attorney advises caution when praying for children.
As churches get bigger, they're no longer considered off limits for lawsuits," says David Middlebrook, a Christian attorney in Irving, Texas. In fact, he says, "They are a more lucrative target for a potential suit." The author of The Guardian System, a resource which helps organizations prevent child abuse, Middlebrook is an expert on legal issues affecting nonprofit and faith-based organizations.
"Churches need more training in the appropriate ways to touch congregants, especially children," Middlebrook told Ministries Today, citing a case in Austin, Texas, in which a pastor received a 20-year sentence for aggravated assault for performing corporal punishment on a disobedient child in Sunday school.
Even with proper training, Middlebrook suggests that, when dealing with children, "the more tender the subject, the more tender the touch." He explains that the law does not view children as having the capacity to give their consent to certain actions. Therefore, when a release of liability has been signed by parents, ministers should still be cautious.
While Middlebrook believes that it would be difficult for the legislature to pass laws restricting practices such as exorcisms, he won't put it past the judicial system to get involved via lawsuits, therefore, setting legal precedent that others will follow.
Common sense should rule, Middlebrook argues. "There should be no touching, absent the gentle laying on of hands," he says. "There is not biblical precedent for actions that place a congregant in physical danger, and those who are involved in such ministry should take extra care to respect the physical boundaries of persons they are ministering to."
The following are some guidelines Middlebrook suggests be used in ministry:
**All physical contact should occur in reference to the needs of the child or adult--not the needs of the worker or volunteer.
**All physical contact should take place in public. Never behind closed doors, in private or secret.
**All physical contact should be age-appropriate. Putting a toddler on your lap may be suitable, while having a 14-year-old sit on your lap would be inappropriate.
**Physical contact with an adult or child that could be construed as sexually stimulating is absolutely forbidden.
**Physical contact shall not be harsh, cruel or unusual in treatment.
**Children shall not be shaken, hit or receive threats of being shaken or hit.
**Children shall not be humiliated, yelled at or rejected.
**Children shall not be subjected any form corporal punishment or threats of corporal punishment.
For more information on The Guardian System, visit www.charismahouse.com or call Charisma House at 1-800-599-5750.