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Surviving an Exorcism To Cast Out the Gay

Jim Burroway

June 6th, 2010

In this month’s issue of Details magazine, Matt McAllester delved into the practice among some pentecostal and evangelical churches to perform exorcisms on gay people to drive out their gay demons. Peterson Toscano, a co-founder of Beyond Ex-gay, survived three separate exorcisms:

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.”

Highley was one of the activists featured in the 2004 ex-gay promotional video “I Do Exist,” which was released as a counter to National Coming Out Day. [Update: For more on this, see the end of this post] Toscano’s recalls his experience as abusive:

“For a young person, being told that you house evil, that you’re basically a mobile home for evil spirits—that is a very, very damaging concept,” says Toscano. “It’s one of the most extreme manifestations of the anti-gay rhetoric within the church.”

Particularly concerning is the story of 20-year-old Kevin Robinson, who has undergone three exorcisms (one by his mother, another by an uncle who was the pastor at his church), bouts of severe depression, was kicked out of his home by his parents, suffered a severe nervous breakdown, and underwent six month’s treatment at a juvenile psychiatry hospital. He’s out now, living on his own in an apartment and going to college. He is also a bit more comfortable with his sexuality. But not entirely. He’s also back at his same church:

He’s back in the choir, attending practice every Thursday. He hasn’t undergone another deliverance, but the dogma is the same, he says. “They want you to change. It’s just a lot of stuff you can’t do. You can’t do this, you can’t do that. I’m getting overwhelmed—again. It just feels like it’s too much, like today I just felt so overwhelmed. There’s no possible way I can be Mr. Perfect Man.”

I ask Kevin whether he would make himself straight if he could. “Yeah, I would,” he says without hesitation. “I’m not going to lie—I would love to just fit in and be accepted.”

But that doesn’t seem likely. Not long ago, after choir practice ended, another singer—a young man Kevin’s age—took exception to the look of Kevin’s slicked-back hair and effeminate manner and accused him of being “the Devil’s child.”

“I said, ‘I’m not the Devil’s child, I’m one of God’s,’” Kevin says. “He was like, ‘Yeah, right.’”

Update: Grove City College professor Warren Throckmorton, who produced I Do Exist, wrote me to explain that when he included Highley in his video, he didn’t know about Highley’s beliefs in exorcisms:

I want to make it crystal clear that the I Do Exist video never took the perspective that homosexuality is related in any way to demon possession. Ms. Highly did not mention these views when we interviewed her. No one associated with I Do Exist had any knowledge of Highly’s views when we filmed or edited the video.

Comments

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justsearching
June 6th, 2010 | LINK

Some Pentecostals are known for being emotional, uninhibited, pretentious idiots. I’m glad to see they are using their personality traits in tandem with their bigoted beliefs to wreak havoc on vulnerable peoples’ psyches.

Candace
June 7th, 2010 | LINK

The problem is that if you’re in one of these churches, they brainwash you so bad that you will do ANYTHING to please them and god. What’s that you say, even though I’ve been married 22 years and have 3 kids, and am so far in denial that I worked for Anita Bryant’s crusade– I’m a queer? Oh, feel free to go right ahead and throw me on the floor and choke me and scream and yell and pour oil all over me and scream at me to confess my sins of lesbianism (even though I have never done anything lesbian in my entire life) and be sure to carry on, nonstop, for 8 or 9 hours. Leave brusises on my neck where you choked me, twist my arms behind my back, scream in my face while spit flies out of your mouth. Shriek every verse from the bible that mentions the blood of Jesus while the “deliverance team” carries on a near-riot around me on the altar.

And if I don’t let you do that, I will burn in hell forever, not to mention living under a curse on me AND MY CHILDREN for our entire lives?

Yeah, that’s how they get you– either go along with the insanity or your children will pay for your “sins.” Sins bring curses and curses are generational and your gayness has condemned your kids to a life of being tortured by the devil.

You’ll do anything to protect your kids, including allowing your emotional and spiritual serial rapes.

And what should I learn from the torture? That god will love me if I become straight, and not before.

I would love love LOVE to run into one of those people today. My compliant days are long gone. It would be interesting, to say the least.

Neil D
June 7th, 2010 | LINK

I haven’t an ounce of sympathy for “Kevin”. His orientation may not be a choice, but his going back to the same church for more punishment certainly is.

As long as religions try to police the sexual behavior of their adherents, gay people will be their enemy. It is hard to imagine how, for example, the catholic church which argues masturbation is a sin will ever allow homosexual sex.

For it is clear to them that: “Homosexual conduct is categorically closed to the transmission of life, and does not reflect or respect the personal complementarity of man and woman.”

What are we, therefore, to make of those gays and lesbians who claim to be catholic? How can we think their choice is any different from Kevin’s choice?

anteros
June 7th, 2010 | LINK

religion sux.

Richard Rush
June 7th, 2010 | LINK

If you follow the link in Jim’s post to Details you will read this:

“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!”

It’s tough (and perhaps unseemly) to find humor in the midst of all this suffering, but in this case the prophet was unknowingly saying something right.

But on a serious note: If so many people can be immersed so deeply in delusion and superstition in 2010, just imagine how deeply immersed people were during the period the Bible was written.

Ben in Oakland
June 7th, 2010 | LINK

Blood O’ Jesus to clean out your anal canal? Is that one of them thar special cleanin’ solutions that only real professionals, like Miss Trixie down at the quickeemart, uses?

They are literally mired in superstition. Or maybe they’ve stuck their heads up to many of other people’s a$$holes. I don’t know.

I suspect that it’s really nothing more than plain old fashioned megalomania.

“Lookee me. Lookee meeeee! I got da blood o’ jesus. I’m the harry potter fo the meideval set! Buddy Jesus! Yahoo! I’m special.”

Not special, just sick.

And I agree with Neil. Kevin is in an abusive relationship, and he keeps going back to get slugged again. I feel sorry for him, but if he is enjoying his ill health, I’d rather spend my time on someone who wants a better spouse.

Swampfox
June 7th, 2010 | LINK

Kevin needs to go another church. He has a long life ahead, I wish him well.

Darlene Bogle
June 7th, 2010 | LINK

I am a lesbian and also a pentecostal christian. Over 40 years ago, I was subjected to my “first deliverance” session from a famous deliverance minister. It didn’t work! I have had folks trying to cast the demon of homosexuallity out of me for years! It doesn’t work because WHO I am cannot be a demon, or cast out! I know Peterson, and the experiences he has endured, and I’m sure there are hundreds of other who have been subject to this treatment. The desire for acceptance by God and the church has led to great abuse, verbally and with the laying on of hands. I pray for Kevin, that He will come to know that he, as a christian cannot be demon possessed, and that God loves Him unconditionally!

Timothy (TRiG)
June 7th, 2010 | LINK

Religion is such a great force for evil in this world.

TRiG.

Candace
June 7th, 2010 | LINK

Darlene– those who have never been in anything charismatic or pentecostal, have NO IDEA of what Armenian theology requires of a person: salvation is never guaranteed or accomplished, but must be worked out daily, hourly, & by the minute. Any sin could be the one that dooms you to hell. Stay prayed up. Seek forgiveness daily– better yet, constantly. Get saved over and over and over. Your leaders know more than you do, and if they “discern” you have demons, they are right. There are demons everywhere and in everybody. If you laugh in their face at the stupidity, it is just proof of how strong your demons are.

And they convince you by mixing in JUST ENOUGH truth that you’re not sure– and when the fate of your family is thrown into the mix, you become overwhelmed.

I walked out of that mess 10 years ago, but I still have concern for those who don’t have the means or courage to do that. People don’t understand how strong the hold is, unless they’ve been there.

Richard Rush
June 7th, 2010 | LINK

Darlene, I have to wonder, do you (as a pentecostal) still believe in the existence of demons? Or just not in the specific case of homosexuality?

Assuming that belief in demons is an integral part of pentecostal belief, and that you then personally experience evidence that they do not exist, doesn’t that make you wonder how many of the other beliefs are also just superstitious nonsense?

dan
June 7th, 2010 | LINK

Kevin probably needs to get out of town. If he’s still at the same church it is likely that it and churches like it dominate the religious and social lives of the residence. And sometimes the social life outside the church world in small towns is even less accepting than inside church walls. When the economy gets back on track, find a job in a bigger city, Kevin, and make a new circle of friends.

dan
June 7th, 2010 | LINK

Oops — I meant ‘lives of the residents’.

Darlene Bogle
June 7th, 2010 | LINK

Richard:
I do beleive in the demonic. I belelive that Satan was a demon who was kicked out of heaven. I beleive hell is reserved for all demons, that are fallen angels. I do not, however, beleive that a Christian can be demon possessed. I have seen people under demonic influence. I don’t beleive that there is a demon of homosexuallity that needs to be “cast out.” I think we are who God created us to be, as his LGBT kids. That said, there is a lot of religious superstitious nonsense that is proclaimed in the name of God, and we need to discern what is truth.
I think what people fear or don’t understand is often attributed to the demonic…I prefer to trust that Greater is the holy one inside me, than the evil one in the world.

Candace
June 7th, 2010 | LINK

I always just loved it when some deliverance minister would call out a “demon of tobacco” or a “demon of anger,” like bad habits could be scared away by anointing oil.

Darlene still believes in demons and I don’t believe a word of any of it. The sun revolving around the earth (which stands on 4 pillars in the sky) was pretty much the last nail in that coffin. Not to mention insects having 4 legs, the bat is a bird, and all the animals on earth lived within walking distance of Noah’s home in the desert. Oh, and the ark had 3 stories and millions of animals on board (and every pathogen and disease incubating in the bodies of the animals and people) but only had a single foot-square window for ventilation.

Unbelief is so refreshing! I’ll take it any day over the loon-bin I attended for church(es).

Regan DuCasse
June 8th, 2010 | LINK

Hey, Dr. Throckmorton,
You can’t un ring that bell by saying you didn’t think bells ring.

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