A recent story in Christian Post shares the dire experience of an evangelical church infested, apparently, with demons. Yes, real live demons. In this case, these demons apparently literally came out of their woodwork! And to fix their terrifying problem, the evangelicals in question doused the demons’ vessel in olive oil and set it on fire. You know, just in case. One can’t be too sure or too safe around demons—at least, if one is evangelical. Today, we’ll check out the way that the Satanic Panic lives on—at least, in evangelicals’ hearts.

(From introduction: Poppy Cannon retrospective; a history book chapter about her; another retrospective. Also: Oops, I mispronounced “unguent.” My bad! I know better now.)

(This post first appeared on Patreon on 7/4/2023. Its audio ‘cast lives there too, and should be available by now!)

Demons in the woodwork, literally

Community of Faith (CoF) is a primarily-Black evangelical megachurch in the North Houston suburbs. It’s a stately, golden-domed building (called “the King’s Dome”) set among middle-income single-family homes. Of interest, its original pastor, Jack Henry Yates, was a former slave. He founded the congregation in 1873, and it has grown to impressive size since then. These days, Bishop James Dixon leads the church.

With all that said, I could not tell you for a million years what specific doctrines this church embraces, only that it is obviously evangelical of some kind. If its Facebook account is to be believed, its people have an intense focus on Jesusing to fix all ills and are completely fascinated by spiritual warfare. However, the church also seems to focus intensely on self-improvement and community action, both of which are far better goals for Christians than Jesusing as a substitute for doing real good in real people’s lives.

A week ago, two men broke into the church’s annex building and burglarized it. Then, a couple of days ago, someone discovered a foot-tall statue of the Grim Reaper on the church’s property. It had been tucked into the upper woodwork of their gazebo.

The congregation immediately assumed that the burglars had planted it there. Naturally, then, they took it as a further assault on their church. The burglary had been an attack on their possessions. But the statue was an attack on their very souls and the spiritual sanctuary of their church.

It wasn’t just a silly Grim Reaper statuette. No, it was “a statue of death” that contained literal demons.

And as such, it had to be exorcised to rid their church of the demons it contained.

Segue: When demons aren’t actually demons at all

You can see from the Christian Post story that the statue is really a very simplistic Halloween-style one. It looks like the classical hooded, robed form of Death. (Here’s a screengrab of it from when it was still nestled in the gazebo’s woodwork.) Clad in black, its visible body bits are colored bone-white—as is its scythe. I couldn’t see any kind of writing on the statue, and nobody has mentioned writing on it in any story I’ve found about it.

Further, the Grim Reaper isn’t demonic. It’s the exact opposite, in fact.

The concept of the Grim Reaper could possibly derive from Revelation 6:8, which tells us about the Angel of Death:

I looked, and there before me was a pale horse! Its rider was named Death, and Hades was following close behind him. They were given power over a fourth of the earth to kill by sword, famine and plague, and by the wild beasts of the earth.

It could also possibly represent the last two angels mentioned in Revelation 14:

And I looked and saw a white cloud, and seated on the cloud was One like the Son of Man,c with a golden crown on His head and a sharp sickle in His hand.

Then another angel came out of the temple, crying out in a loud voice to the One seated on the cloud, “Swing Your sickle and reap, because the time has come to harvest; for the crop of the earth is ripe.” So the One seated on the cloud swung His sickle over the earth, and the earth was harvested.

Then another angel came out of the temple in heaven, and he too had a sharp sickle. Still another angel, with authority over the fire, came from the altar and called out in a loud voice to the angel with the sharp sickle, “Swing your sharp sickle and gather the clusters of grapes from the vine of the earth, because its grapes are ripe.”

So the angel swung his sickle over the earth and gathered the grapes of the earth, and he threw them into the great winepress of God’s wrath. And the winepress was trodden outside the city, and the blood that flowed from it rose as high as the bridles of the horses for a distance of 1,600 stadia.

Sure, the imagery kinda confuses Christians even to this day, but all of the trope’s essential elements are still there. The name “Grim Reaper” itself was first used in English print in 1847 in a book called The Circle of Human Life. In it, August Tholuck described what a Christian’s life was like. Thanks to Wikipedia, we know that the phrase that pays describes the inevitability of death:

All know full well that life cannot last above seventy, or at the most eighty years. If we reach that term without meeting the grim reaper with his scythe, there or there about, meet him we surely shall.

In conclusion, the Grim Reaper and other suchlike personifications of death, as well as death imagery itself (like memento mori), are completely Christian in nature. The entanglement of the Grim Reaper with Christianity is so strong, in fact, that a 2021 paper describes how the use of the Grim Reaper motif in AIDS/HIV awareness campaigns in the 1980s provoked unwanted religious moralizing and bigoted-Christian othering of those who contracted the diseases.

For that matter, death is very much a part of the Christian god and the Christian religion. Some folks like to call Christianity a death cult. The description might be unflattering, but it certainly fits.

It’s like that scene in Animal House. Is it over when burglars plant a demonic statue in our gazebo??? And I can just imagine two listeners looking at each other in confusion: …Demonic? Forget it, he’s rollin’.

Nope, this statuette was the vessel of demons

Nonetheless, this is what Dixon had to say about the statue:

“It’s a statue that announces curses … the curse of death,” Dixon told the news outlet. [. . .]

Finding the statue on church property on the heels of a robbery just a week earlier, Dixon says the confluence of events at the church is a spiritual attack on the ministry that boasts 3,000 members, according to the church’s website.

“Here we are a week later and we’re having to defend ourselves and pray again against the works of the enemy,” he said. [Link]

As I mentioned just a moment ago, I’d quibble mightily with the idea of a death curse, but okay. Let’s assume he’s right.

Demons being imaginary, the battle to defeat them should also be imaginary. And it was: Dixon called his congregation to prayer before destroying it. Then, since these demons used a physical vessel to infest the church with their evil, his complete solution had to involve destruction of that physical vessel.

Exorcising demons is apparently hot, greasy work

And as one does in these situation, the congregation came together as a church, doused the statuette completely in extra-virgin olive oil (EVOO, as Rachel Ray used to say with a perky lilt) and then set it ablaze.

In the Christian Post picture of the statuette’s burning, I noticed printed material there as well. I don’t know the source of that material. It was likely just a newspaper used for kindling. So this congregation’s exorcism ritual must have produced quite a smoky, aromatic spectacle.

EVOO has a low smoke point to begin with, and—as the phrase “smoke point” indicates—it smokes like crazy once it hits that temperature. Worse, oils can give off harmful and irritating fumes when they hit that temperature. That’s in addition to the potentially-dangerous fumes that printed paper can give off.

But these are small prices to pay to indulge in a little demon-exorcising, eh?

Second Segue: A charming pagan custom revived in this exorcism

Long, long ago, humans conceptualized their gods as inhabiting statues. They didn’t think their gods could travel very far away from their statues, either. So when one god needed to visit another, his followers had to physically take his statue to wherever the other god’s statue lived. An entire ancient document, The Marduk Prophecy, describes the travels of Marduk’s sacred statue after it is taken from Babylon, its home city. During its travels, Marduk (who inhabits it) talks about what he sees. While he’s traveling, he’s not in Babylon anymore. He can’t offer Babylon his usual protection and care.

That eons-old belief trope is one of the reasons why the Jews’ disavowal of idols was so remarkable for its time. The Old Testament contains a whole bunch of mockery for idols and idol-worshipers—and condemnation as well:

They have thrown their gods into the fire and destroyed them, for they were not gods but only wood and stone, fashioned by human hands. [2 Kings 19:18]

To whom will you liken God? To what image will you compare Him? To an idol that a craftsman casts and a metalworker overlays with gold and fits with silver chains? [. . .] Do you not know? Have you not heard? Has it not been declared to you from the beginning? Have you not understood since the foundation of the earth? He sits enthroned above the circle of the earth. [Isaiah 40:18-22]

He cuts down cedars or retrieves a cypress or oak. He lets it grow strong among the trees of the forest. He plants a laurel, and the rain makes it grow. It serves as fuel for man. He takes some of it to warm himself, and he kindles a fire and bakes his bread; he even fashions it into a god and worships it; he makes an idol and bows down to it. He burns half of it in the fire, and he roasts meat on that half. He eats the roast and is satisfied. Indeed, he warms himself and says, “Ah! I am warm; I see the fire.” From the rest he makes a god, his graven image. He bows down to it and worships; he prays to it and says, “Save me, for you are my god.” [Isaiah 44:14-17]

For all the gods of the nations are idols, but the LORD made the heavens. [1 Chronicles 16:26]

However, I can’t remember a single New or Old Testament story about demons infesting any objects. Demons might possess people or pigs, but they don’t appear to inhabit objects at all.

So much for Unca Pat Robertson and his demon sweaters from Goodwill! Even Got Questions knew better than he did there. But a total lack of biblical support has never stopped evangelicals from embracing something that makes them feel like they’re winning. In this case, they have embraced something humans have believed for far longer than Yahweh or Jesus have even existed: supernatural beings inhabiting inanimate objects.

To defeat the supernatural beings, then, all the congregation of Community of Life had to do was destroy the beings’ habitation: in this case, that Grim Reaper statuette. First, they doused it first in the unguent their god preferred, EVOO. Then, they set it on fire, which is of course the long-accepted way to destroy supernatural things and sacrifices. Even Yahweh likes that.

Really, this story is just so deliciously pagan in its details.

Demons make good scapegoats for everything Christians don’t like

As I also mentioned, nobody knows if the church’s earlier burglars put the statuette in the gazebo’s woodwork. It was found there shortly afterward, yes. However, we have no idea how long it could have been there. As various city-dwelling superheroes could tell them, very few people look upwards as they go about their days. But after a burglary, people would naturally be on the lookout for things that are out of place or unusual in general.

I’m tickled pink at the thought of a pair of churchgoing teens giving each other very guilty glances as they hear the news of the exorcism. Or a pair of goth heathens laughing as their months-old prank bearing fruit at last. Or heck, why not both? It might sound like a bar joke: A pair of churchgoing goth teenagers walk into a gazebo…

At this point, it doesn’t even matter who really put the statuette there. What matters is the effect it had on the congregation.

Just as Bluto’s misstatement got his fraternity on board with his desire to wreak revenge, Dixon’s mischaracterization of the statuette certainly got his church on board with getting a little of their own back after their church’s burglary. They might not have caught the burglars yet, but they did defeat the demons that those burglars totally set upon them in the process.

How demons help Christians feel better

This story illustrates an enduring truth about modern Christians, particularly modern evangelicals. These days, such Christians need demons to feel victorious in life. Lately, life offers them very few Ws. Even though they are winning some truly frightening victories in terms of judicial and temporal power, they’re still losing at the only metrics they insist matter to them: membership growth and cultural clout. Year by year, Christians become more and more culturally irrelevant.

I suspect that’s why we’re seeing a resurgence of some of the themes of the Satanic Panic—like in articles like this that seek to stoke fears of demons. Another story published by Christian Post on June 22nd reveals the shocking existence of a college course in Texas that would have taught students about witchcraft. Yes, witchcraft!

Here’s the course description from Texas Tech:

WGS [Women’s and Gender Studies] 4301 Special Topics: Witches, Bruxas, & Black Magic
Section D02, CRN 43121

This course introduces the study of beliefs and practices, past and present, associated with magic, witchcraft, spirituality, magical realism, and religion. Topics discussed include ritual, symbolism, mythology, altered states of consciousness, and healing, as well as syncretism, change, and the social roles of these beliefs and practices.

One term used in the course title, “Bruxas,” is defined by the Christian Post writer as “a pre-Christian female witch figure from Portugal during the Middle Ages and is considered a type of vampire entity known for ‘bloodsucking attacks on infants.'”

And right out of the gate, the story’s writer gets their facts wrong. Christianity infested Portugal while it was still part of the Roman Empire. From the moment it became an actual country called Portugal, it was Christian. There were no pre-Christian witches in Portugal, ever. What there were instead were Christian women in Portugal using witchcraft techniques. The same exact situation can be found in countless other Christian countries from the Dark Ages onwards. Witches were not only fully Christian, but they also used extremely Christian-flavored magic.

According to a mythology wiki that seems well-cited, these women would likely have been more appropriately called feiticeira. Actual Bruxas were more like demonic and vampiric entities. Oh, and in The Witcher franchise, a Bruxa is a blood-drinking vampire enemy.

Well, this course obviously represented an attempt by demons to infiltrate students’ minds! It had to go!

Demons offer impressive wins—in evangelicals’ minds at least

Either way, evangelicals felt very gratified indeed when Texas Tech withdrew the course. Their complaints and possible prayers had mattered! However, one site still griped about the existence of other witchy/supernatural-flavored courses at Texas universities. Sure, its writer was dead wrong about at least one of those courses being on current offer. Forget it, he was rollin’.

Then, having made his point about encroaching demons, he complained about these universities getting taxpayer money when they teach such heretical ideas as the historical practices and cultural significance of people who are mostly long dead. ZOMG, won’t anyone THINK of the (adult) CHILDREN?!?

In reality, as another source reports, the school was likely going to cancel the course anyway due to low enrollment. That doesn’t surprise me. It ran as a “special topic,” which is Texas college-speak for a tenured professor wanting to explore a topic they’d gotten a wild hair up their ass about. These weren’t regular classes at all, but more like explorations of topics related to specific pursuits within a degree. And every degree program has special topics classes. They tend to be higher level courses for upperclassmen and graduate students.

(In college, we used to joke about “Special Topics in Applied Feline Aerodynamics.”)

As an example, here’s the list for biology at Texas Tech in 2018. One covers various nuclear accidents, including the one in Japan in 2011. Another explores the flora and fauna of the Andes Mountains in South America.

As you can see, special topics are extremely niche-oriented. Often, they relate to current news or cultural trends. Unless they draw a lot of attention, or unless the professor has a lot of power on-campus to weather a lack of attention, they risk cancellation right up until the first day of class. The witchy class was a one-off from the Women’s and Gender Studies department at a school best known for its hard science research and majors, so I’m guessing it was likely fated to be a fairly low-attention draw.

But evangelicals gonna evangelical, I suppose. They protested, and the university listened! Hooray Team Jesus!

And now, we come to Greg Locke and his newest grift

Our third story also comes from Christian Post, this time from July 1st (page 2; page 3). Greg Locke, an evangelical gadfly, culture warrior, and all-around angry, hypocritical embarrassment, held some sort of revival in Dallas this past Saturday. I reckon since he got booted from YouTube (in 2022) and Twitter (in 2021), he’s been flailing around in search of a new money-making grift. And well, I guess he found one: deliverance ministry. In this grand age of Christian membership and cultural-power declines, deliverance ministry is now a booming late-stage industry.

To indulge in this ministry, an evangelical grifter pretends to cast demons out of people, ideologies, movements, and—of course—things. In a literal sense, they are delivering the objects of their attention from demonic control, much like how an army might deliver a captured town from enemy control. Once thus delivered, in theory, whatever problems those demons caused will now be easily solved and managed.

Locke calls this grift “the number one ministry of Jesus.” After years of criticizing deliverance ministry, he now embraces it:

“You have to understand that I am a man that was against all of this,” he said. “I was against deliverance; I was against miracles, tongues, signs, wonders, baptism of the Holy Spirit, supernatural healings,” he said.

“I preached the Gospel, the death, the burial, the resurrection. But you need to know something about Greg Locke: for 30 years, I preached cute sermons with really no power and deliverance changed everything about my life. Deliverance changed our church.”

Sure, the timing might seem a bit fortuitous. But to Locke, that’s all just part of the divine mystery. He thinks that this age of declines is the work of demons.

“I know all the arguments against why we’re supposed to be here today. I know all the arguments against healing and laying hands on the sick and casting out demons and the foolish argument, ‘Can Christians be afflicted by demons?’” he said.

“Of course they can be afflicted by demons,” added Locke. “The Church has been demonized and can be set free by the power of the name of Jesus, but the problem is the pastors themselves have never submitted their life to personal deliverance, and if you have a leader that’s never been delivered, you’ll have a church full of people that are bound in their religion.

And who better to fix that problem than someone leading a deliverance ministry? Who better than Locke himself?

Overcoming objections 101, then closing the sale

Regarding Locke’s claim about “the number one ministry of Jesus,” Got Questions says otherwise:

There is certainly quite a bit in Scripture about Satan and his horde of demons. There is little said about deliverance from them, and nothing said about deliverance as a “ministry.” [. . .] The ability to cast out demons is not listed as a spiritual gift or a ministerial duty. [. . .]

We are told to resist the devil (James 4:7) and not give him room in our lives (Ephesians 4:27). However, we are not told how to cast him or his demons out of others, or that we should even consider doing so.

That site also notes that Jesus never gave his followers any specific instructions about how to cast out demons. He also told his followers not to rejoice about their power over demons, but rather to rejoice that they were going to Heaven (Luke 10:20).

But forget it, Locke’s rollin’.

Don’t ever get between an evangelical grifter and his newest money-maker.

And this one has potential to make Locke a whole lot of money. The end of the Christian Post story describes the end of his so-called revival. After a bunch of very iffy-looking magical healings, Locke’s “apostle” Bible Davids calls out for donations:

Once things tapered off, Davids emotionally prepared the crowd to take an offering to cover an event cost which he said totaled as much as “hundreds of thousands” of dollars. [. . .]

“How many Christians here want to have this same anointing and this same encounter next month again?” he asked. “We need urgently to cover the expense for the event that runs into hundreds of thousands and the ministry that’s just six months old.

“Step out by faith, be moved by God. If the Lord said to you, ‘I want you to step in and partner with this movement with ten thousand dollars,’ run to the altar. Run, run, run.”

Whoever wrote that Christian Post article clearly doesn’t think very highly of Locke, Davids, or this new grift. And they shouldn’t. This revival is clearly just Locke’s new money-maker now that he’s been denied his lucrative social-media accounts.

That said, though, the evangelicals who attended clearly got a lot out of the day. The story tells us many times about people getting way into the festivities: fainting, screaming, crying, convulsing (<– that guy was probably pretending to be possessed), and getting into close contact with Locke himself: a person they mistakenly think is extremely close to Jesus himself.

Locke’s new victories are imaginary, however. His previous ones were culture-war based. His videos had the potential to affect voting patterns and behavior. Thus, they related to the real world. In the absence of real-world victories, though, he’ll gladly push for imaginary ones.

Demons are a substitute for meaningful victories

These three stories illustrate the importance of demons in evangelicalism. And they are very important indeed.

Evangelicals need opposition to exist. It’s how they define themselves as a group. They’re not like their opposition. No, they’re better and stronger and wiser by far!

That said, it has to be a certain kind of opposition. It has to be opposition they can easily conquer.

As authoritarians, they don’t just lose fights whenever they lose. They lose face, too. Lost face can result in lost power very easily, as their followers and peers melt away to join groups that are actually winning their fights. If evangelicals can’t constantly claim victories, then they will face those repercussions of loss just like any other authoritarian groups would.

Once upon an all-too-recent time, evangelicals reveled in victories in the real world, at least in America. Their leaders controlled vast swathes of politics, culture, and everyday life. They met with the heads of state and set schemes in motion with the leaders of America’s biggest political parties. Presidents and (most) big business leaders stepped lightly around them. Their witless, evidence-free conspiracy theories destroyed real people’s lives and dictated how millions of American young adults could (and could not) spend their free time.

But most of those real-world powers have faded since evangelicals’ glory days (the 1990s-2000s). Evangelicals certainly want all of them back, don’t get me wrong. Until then, they can fight demons—and be assured of victory.

Just as Jesusing is the substitute for doing the stuff Jesus told Christians to do, fighting demons is the substitute Christians can do in place of scoring actual victories.

May they spend much, much more of their finite and nonrenewable resource of time on purely imaginary victories!

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Captain Cassidy

Captain Cassidy is a Gen-X ex-Christian and writer. She writes about how people engage with science, religion, art, and each other. She lives in Idaho with her husband, Mr. Captain, and their squawky orange tabby cat, Princess Bother Pretty Toes. And at any given time, she is running out of bookcase space.


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