Christian Groups Defend Abusive Ex-Gay “Exorcism”

Jim Burroway

June 26th, 2009

This video documents severe abuse, pure and simple:

It shows church members standing the youth on his feet by holding him under his arms, and people shouting as organ music plays. “Come out of his belly,” someone commands. “It’s in the belly — push.” Later, the teenager is back on the floor, breathing heavily. Then he’s coughing and apparently vomiting into a bag. “Get another bag,” a participant says. “Make sure you have your gloves.”

Manifested Glory Ministries in Bridgeport, Connecticut, posted a twenty-minute video on YouTube, but took it down amid mounting criticism of its abuse of the sixteen-year-old boy. (Other copies of that video are now available on YouTube.) This sort of abuse is not that uncommon:

It’s nearly impossible to say how often similar exercises occur in churches nationwide. But Kamora Herrington, who runs a mentoring program at True Colors and has worked with the youth, said she believes it’s fairly common. “This happens all the time,” she said. “This is not isolated.”

Robin McHaelin, executive director of True Colors, an advocacy group for gay youths, said her organization is aware of five cases in recent years in which youths in her program were threatened with exorcism.

At least one Christian dominionist group, Gary Cass’ Christian Anti-Defamation Commission pulls the religious exemption card — along with the race card — on this abuse, saying  that no church should be “maligned” for abusing teens. Exodus International gave its classic non-condemning response:

Exodus International, a Christian group that believes gays can become straight through prayer and counseling, does not advocate the church’s approach, said Jeff Buchanan, director of church equipping.

There are a lot of things I don’t “advocate” either, but that’s a very far cry from condemning that which is clearly in the wrong. This really shouldn’t be difficult, but then I thought that about Exodus’ refusal to address their board member’s active association with a known Holocaust revisionist and hate-group leader Scott Lively. There was a time, believe it or not, when Exodus was able to provide a measure of responsibility on those areas which were obviously dangerous and abusive, but those times appear to be long gone.

Update: According to Rod 2.0: “A minister and trusted source of Rod 2.0 reports the 16-year-old boy no longer attends the church and has found an LGBT ‘inclusive and affirming’ church.”

Timothy Kincaid

June 26th, 2009

I would caution against thinking that this is a case of “abuse”.

It is highly likely that the boy went into the exorcism voluntarily and that he did not object to the actions or words of others. Nor is it likely that he perceived their shouting to be directed at him as a person but rather towards the demon that they (and he) believed to have invaded him.

Exorcisms – whether Catholic or pentecostal – tend to look a bit crazy. And, if involuntary, would indeed probably be extremely unpleasant and perhaps abusive.

I find some forms of S&M to be peculiar and (for me) unpleasant, I do not confuse voluntary engagement with abuse.

Similarly, the voluntary practice of ones faith, even if odd or peculiar to outsiders, is not the same as being subjected to abuse. That the boy chose to undergo an exorcism is not the same as an attack upon him.

Christopher Waldrop

June 26th, 2009

This goes well beyond the practice of faith. This is subjecting someone to physical abuse. And let’s not jump to conclusions that the young man’s submission to this was “voluntary” either. If you’re going to claim that this religious practice is somehow okay because a teenager has agreed to go through with it, let’s make sure we have all the facts and can confirm that his participation really was voluntary. The fact that he’s left the church that did this to him suggests that, possibly, he didn’t want to be put through this.

And I find the comparison to S&M to be illogical. You’re comparing what consenting adults do with each other to what adults are doing to a teenager. Are you suggesting that it would be okay for adults to involve a teenager in S&M activities if his or her participation was voluntary?

Mike Airhart

June 26th, 2009

The attack consisted of battering the youth’s abdomen until he vomited.

The so-called ministers should be arrested and charged with assault as well as whatever laws apply to the physical abuse of minors.

Youths cannot consent to abuse.


June 26th, 2009

Even if he volunteered for an exorcism, I doubt he thought it would involving physically assaulting him until he vomits.

That’s not religion. That’s a crime. They belong in jail.

Timothy Kincaid

June 26th, 2009

Was there “physical abuse”? What was it?

Was his stomach battered? I did not read that.

If there was battering or physical abuse then I’m comfortable with the term “abuse”.

For those unfamiliar with charismatic practice, “the laying on of hands” as part of prayer is generally limited to the front of finger tips with fingers extended. Usually this touch in on the forehead but can also be directed to a point where prayer is localized (e.g. if praying for an arm, the arm may be touched).

Prayer, including the rare efforts at exorcism, never (to my knowledge) includes hitting, battering, or punching.

I’d caution that we not let our own ignorance of a religious tradition interpret it in ways that make sense to us but which do not reflect the situation.

Bill S

June 26th, 2009

It’s awfully careless of the all-knowing, all-seeing, all-powerful God to allow demons to enter people’s bodies, isn’t it?

Mike Airhart

June 26th, 2009

This is where I got the impression that the youth was being made to vomit. I may have misinterpreted the level of physical abuse, but I still consider this physically abusive:


[The video] shows church members standing the youth on his feet by holding him under his arms, and people shouting as organ music plays.

“Come out of his belly,” someone commands. “It’s in the belly — push.”

Later, the teenager is back on the floor, breathing heavily. Then he’s coughing and apparently vomiting into a bag.

“Get another bag,” a participant says. “Make sure you have your gloves.”


June 26th, 2009

Timothy, I think you are over analyzing this and are missing the important picture here. Several years ago I voluntarily accepted a similar form of exorcism for myself with a man who practiced “Empyrian Re-Birthing”. He had joined the Mormon Church and due to much of his charisma he brought several followers of his group (the Regenesis Institute) with him when he moved to New York City. He started doing “rebirthing” breathwork with me in a much more health oriented and more therapeutic approach at first but my inner conflict between my church and my orientation was something I was trying to resolve and I brought it up to him. He was very prejudiced about being gay. He himself was dealing with it as I learned several years later. He simply was projecting his immense homophobia onto his work and felt some sort of accomplishment in trying to “help” people overcome their homosexuality. It was a very twisted experience I allowed myself to go through.

He was very insidious in the approach he took. Several of the later sessions that happened after I moved from New York to Lake City became intense forms of exorcism wherein I was told to shout into a pillow and tell Satan “Satan I know who you are and you are not going to affect me with homosexuality any longer” and other similar phrases. Those events and experiences with him created immense anxiety for me to the point that I had to start going to a reputable therapist who told me that what I had been through was dangerous and only intensified my conflict which eventually resulted in depression.

I finally realized that what this man was leading me through was manipulative and total b.s. (I spent thousands of dollars on this “rebirthing”)and I became incredibly angry. Timothy think about how damaging it is spiritually, mentally and emotionally to be brainwashed into believing that a very important core part of who you are is “evil” or “Demonic”. That is incredibly damaging in many ways and takes years to heal from. Some people never recover.

Lynn David

June 26th, 2009

We need Peterson Toscano’s insight on this, didn’t he go through an exorcism?

Christopher Waldrop

June 27th, 2009

I’d caution that we not let our own ignorance of a religious tradition interpret it in ways that make sense to us but which do not reflect the situation.

I’d caution that we not let religion be a justification for almost any behavior or belief. While the First Amendment includes a specific prohibition against the regulation of religion, that’s not a magic shield that protects all religious practices. Otherwise any behavior could be justified by simply invoking religious tradition.


June 27th, 2009

I consider it emotional abuse and spiritual terrorism. I grew up in the Christian and Missionary Alliance and was taught that homosexuality was an abomination and that gay people go to Hell. My pastor would say that homosexuality was the most disgusting sin and he would brag about telling mothers that their gay sons would be going to Hell.

Being gay and also being raised to believe that I was condemned to Hell caused me to develop serious social anxiety as well as depression. I contemplated suicide throughout my youth.

When I finally got the courage to accept myself and come out, my sister laid hands on me to cast out the homosexual demon (similar to what was shown on that video).

Even though at that point I had rejected those types of religious beliefs it was still a horrible and traumatic experience. Just to know that my sister and other family members considered me to be demonic was horrifying.

My family has never accepted that I am gay. They have refused to accept or acknowledge it since the day that I came out. They talk to me as if I am straight and will eventually marry a woman. They still say homophobic things about gay people right to my face.

Religion can seriously mess people up.

Timothy Kincaid

June 27th, 2009

Benjamin and Josh,

Thank you both for sharing your very personal stories and for adding your perspective.

Rev. Loush

June 27th, 2009

as a Christan and someone who is also of alternative sexual persuaision, i have to say that while i absolutly disagree with that churchs rediculous notion that there is such a thing as a gay demon or that homosexulaity is cuased by demonic possesion or influence; i saw no abuse in the video. i myself have had to perform excorcisms on people and what the general public fails to understand is that it is dangerous work for both the person doing the excorcism and the person getting the excorcism. most of the time the person getting the excorcism hurts themselves duirng the ritual. i saw no one stepping on him. i saw no one hitting him. exactly where is the abuse cuase i didn’t see it. holding someone down counts as abuse now? as a survivor of child abuse that notion is stupid to me. generally in an excorcism a person is held down so as not to hurt themselves. like i said while i wholeheartedly disagree with the churchs stance on homosexulaity, i find it even more disturbing that this video is being called abuse. its more what i would call poor taste. my main issue with this video is that there is a video. excorcisms are private matters and to broadcast them is just plain wrong!

Jim Burroway

June 27th, 2009

Rev. Loush, with all due respect, I used the word “abusive” to describe the video, and I stand behind that characterization as strongly — if not more strongly as I think about it more — as I ever have.

I am deeply disturbed that I should be asked to exempt what we see here from being called out as abusive just because it is part of a religious tradition, or that I should accord someone the right to do what they’re doing because they think they see a devil lurking in there somewhere.

The abusive conditions we’ve documented from the Memphis-based ex-gay residential program Love In Action are often justified because they are founded upon a religious tradition. In fact, LIA now makes a special point of that in order to avoid being regulated by the state of Tennessee. And besides, their practices certainly can’t be blamed on legitimate therapy, as the APA will have nothing to do with it.

LIA calls themselves a ministry, and all of the “clients” at Love In Action are there voluntarily — all the moreso because they have paid thousands upon thousands of dollars to be there. Almost all of them are there out of religious conviction, and many with the direct support of their pastors. And as far as I am aware, there have been no allegations of physical abuse of any kind.

And yet how can we describe their “Friends and Family Weekend” as anything other than abusive? Even though it could easily be justified as being based upon the early Christian tradition of confessing publicly one’s sins? As far as I know, they don’t make that claim. But just because they label it with a pseudo-psychological spin of cataloging one’s “personal inventory” for “accountability” purposes makes the outcome no different than if they had justified it as part of a long Christian tradition.

If what Manifested Glory Ministries did isn’t abusive then how can we go about setting a standard for abuse? Can we still describe Richard Cohen’s techniques as abusive? Does abuse only count if it’s physical?

But here’s the thing that really bothers me more than anything, and it’s the point that really weighed on my mind all day today. What if this video hadn’t been of a exorcism in a church? What if it had been a group therapy session led by a psychiatrist? Would we hesitate to call that abusive? What if it had been a teacher leading that student’s classmates through a supportive session to “drive out his homosexuality.” Would we not howl about the abuse? What if it had been a video taken in the young man’s living room with relatives all around? Wouldn’t’ we want child protective services to intervene?

I would no more give a teacher, counselor, or family member a pass than I would a pastor. If there is a teaching method, therapeutic method, or theory of family dynamics that someone could point to in order to justify their actions, I would still oppose it. And if there is a pastor somewhere who thinks they know the mind of their very small god and uses that as justification, then I will loudly oppose that just as well.

And I would do that for one very simply reason: There are far too many people who have been “exorcized” or otherwise prayed-over who have never made it to adulthood. And there are so many others who have, but who have gone on to live horribly messed-up lives. That’s the best evidence for abuse that I can think of.

I offer a very heartfelt congratulations to the many who have experienced these things and survived intact, but we can only guess at the type of abuse one recently-deceased singer went through as a child. We cannot turn a blind eye and give an abuser a pass for any reason, even if it’s because they follow a self-confirming “god” through the choosing of their God-given free will.

Rev. Loush

June 28th, 2009

as a survivor of child abuse i saw no abuse what so ever and i stand behind that. thanks to democrates, republicans, and athiests we are losseing more of our rights everyday. i thank God we have a few left. i see this as nothing but an attack by the gay community on the christian religion, and on the freedom of religion in general. some one commented earlier that we should not have the right to use religion as an excuse for anything. well that is just rediculous. we should be able to use it as a reason for any behaviour that does not violate the free will of another person. has anyone asked this boy what he feels about it. no they have not. if he felt it was right for him then it was. no one not even the gay community has the right to tell other people how to live, what to blieve, and what rituals they have the right to practice and participate in, as long as no one is being hurt. i hear all this psudeo bable about abuse when there was none in the video. as a survivor of child abuse i am outraged that the word abuse is even being used in connection to the ritual of excorcism. you don’t like the christian religion so this seems a justified way to attack it. but lets not make this about abuse cuse there was none. it was a free will choice on the part of the boy as far as you know. lets just call a spade a spade shall we? this is aobut the fact that the gay community is bitter against the christian religion, and is finding new ways to attack it everyday. now the gay community should know better then to partake in this kind of hypocracy. it is bcoming no better then the modern american church that tries to tell everyone else the only right and proper way to live. this is just nonsense! the bill of rights which i hold dear guaranties us all the right and freedom to practice whatever religion we choose for ourself and our offspring. beyond that it is our basic human God given right to live how we think is best! other peoples opinions don’t amount to much. other people have tried to tell me what i can and can not do, say, think, and believe, and who i can and can not love all of my life. well i am sick of it. i didn’t take kindly to it as a child and i don’t take it at all now. i watched the video and there was no abuse. if there was abuse it was of a psychological nature and only the boy gets to say if it was indeed abusive. now while i think there idea that homosexuality is caused by evil is beyond stupid, and illogical, that is irelavent here. you are trying to tell someone else how to live. he should only live by what he thinks is right when it comes to himself. i am getting so tired of this nation. i may leave it for good one day. maybe a third party will finnaly be elected to the presidency soon, and the children of today will grow up and take over because they understand the concept of freedom! i hope this will happen. it is unscriptual and silly to think that demons have sexual preferences. however if this boy fills that evil was inside of him making him act in a way that is contrary to his natural and authentic sexual identity then that is his decision to make not anyone elses. however if he comes foreward and says he was forced to do this against his will then let the sueing begin. this ritual should only be done on the willing. and despite earlier comments a child has as much divine and political right to choose what religion suits them best. a child should be able to ask for an excorcism and get one whether or not their parents or society at large thinks about it. children are sentient beings and souls every bit as much as their adult counterparts. when it comes to religion everyone should back off the kids and let them make up their own minds about it. and i can already hear the silly comments coming well “i guess you think a child should have the right to choose to have sex or that we should all just have the right to kill someone if we think its best”. no i do not think that children under the age of thirteen should have the right to legally have sex, nor do i think that this country should give the people any rights that would make this place a free for all. neither do i think this country should embrace communists ideologies. and that is exactly what is being espoused here. you are saying that we as a society should have the right to dictate what parts of religion are and are not acceptable. well unless we are talking about murder, rape, or abuse then we do not and should not have any right to tell people anything about their religion. again i watched the video and as someone of alternative sexual persuasion, as a christan, as a minister, and as a survivor of abuse i can say that there was no abuse shown in the video. now is there another version of the video that shows the boy getting beaten or kicked or punched, or overly slapped? if so then tell me where to go watch it. because on the video i watched there was not a single sign of abuse or people standing on him, or any of the stuff that was claimed on this thread earlier!:)

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