The first evangelical exorcism I personally attended took place in the cozy basement lounge of a snowbound seminary in the Midwest. Excluding myself, six people were present for the occasion: three female divinity students who had previously undergone deliverance themselves and were now hoping to learn more about the procedure from a pastoral counseling standpoint; a young man from Montreal named Jean-Guy, who was the subject of the evening's session, and Jean-Guy's wife, Sheila, both of whom were also divinity students; and a fifty-five-year-old theology professor named Dr. Donald Graves.
The session opened with some hymn-singing and Bible-reading, and then Dr. Graves asked Jean-Guy to discuss as frankly as possible why he thought he might be demonized. Jean-Guy, trim and handsome and soft-spoken, said that he had converted to evangelical Christianity just two years earlier through a chance encounter with Sheila, who had been visiting Montreal with a church group. After getting married, the couple decided to attend seminary together, but for several months now Jean-Guy had been experiencing difficulty fully committing his life to Christ. He sometimes felt there was something inside him holding him back. At the same time, he had also been experiencing periodic anger and resentment toward Sheila. He would sometimes yell at her when things didn't run smoothly in their student apartment or when he was struggling with an overdue course paper. It was after one of his more recent outbursts of temper that Sheila suggested he might need deliverance.
Dr. Graves told Jean-Guy that we were now ready for the testing, or diagnostic, phase of the procedure. Lowering his head, he prayed that God would permit Jean-Guy to serve as a reporter or voice box for any evil spirits that might be residing in him.
Dr. Graves: I command you in the name of Jesus Christ, and by the authority of the Lord
Jesus, any spirits in Jean-Guy, identify yourselves.
Dr. Graves: By the authority of the Lord Jesus, identify yourselves.
Dr. Graves: Clare. Is that the name of an evil spirit? Truth before God.
Dr. Graves: Are there any others?
Jean-Guy: Yes. Pom.
Dr. Graves: Pom, are you an evil spirit? Tell me, truth before God.
Dr. Graves: Clare, when did you enter Jean-Guy? I command you by the authority of the Lord Jesus Christ, tell me.
Jean-Guy: When he was fifteen years old.
Dr. Graves: Fifteen years old? You entered him then? Tell me, truth before God.
Dr. Graves: Who is it?
Dr. Graves: Clare, truth before God, what hold do you have over Jean-Guy?
Jean-Guy: I provide him comfort.
Dr. Graves: But hasn't Jean-Guy been renouncing you?
Jean-Guy: He's too weak. I'm still here in him.
Dr. Graves: What other hold do you have over Jean-Guy?
Dr. Graves: Clare, are there any other spirits with you?
At this point Jean-Guy (or Clare) identified four additional evil spirits that had entered Jean-Guy at various stages of his life. Dr. Graves calmly interrogated each one ("Truth before God; by the authority of Jesus Christ"), trying to get a fix on their distinctive missions and rankings. The spirits generally responded in Jean-Guy's natural voice, though sometimes their timbre shifted somewhat, becoming slightly higher.
Dr. Graves called for a short break and invited everyone to help themselves to hot chocolate, cookies, and potato chips. He told me that he personally prefers a low-key approach to deliverance.
"A lot of evangelicals go in for a blast-'em method, but I don't think this really works," he said. "You have to take your time and find the grounds for why the demons are there. You have to eliminate these grounds, the hold they have on the person, before you can cast them out. Otherwise they'll stay. This is the case even for someone such as Jean-Guy, who seems definitely to be demonized, but not to a very great extent-about a two, I'd say, on a demonization scale of ten."
I asked Jean-Guy how he was feeling. He said that so far he'd found the process "physically and spiritually exhausting." He added that he was fully aware of the spirits speaking through him, and that they tended to communicate "in broken phrases and verbal gestures."
Dr. Graves requested that we take our seats so we could get started on the second major phase of the deliverance, the identification phase, which involved ascertaining the precise names, points of entry, and purposes of all of Jean-Guy's indwelling demons. He said that we had already gotten a good start on this prior to the break and that he anticipated a pretty smooth ride.
Just as calmly as before, without the least hint of theatrics, Dr. Graves asked the demons individually whom they served, how they had infiltrated Jean-Guy, and what their intentions were. Jean-Guy sat motionless, eyes shut tightly, his face wrapped in a grimace of concentration. After fifteen minutes of question and response, Dr. Graves broke off the interrogation and said that Jean-Guy was afflicted by four separate demons. One of these was an ancestral spirit that had entered Jean-Guy before he was born through a curse placed on him by his paternal grandfather. The others had gained entry through Jean-Guy's intermittent anger, laziness, and frustration, his sexual vanity, and his jealousy of his wife's superior course grades.
This accomplished, Dr. Graves asked the spirits individually whether they had "any grounds for staying in Jean-Guy." Each spirit answered no. He then said to Jean-Guy, "Do you think that was the full complement? Did we miss any?"
"I think we got them all," Jean-Guy said.
Dr. Graves checked that the door was locked and pulled the drapes shut on the basement room's lone window. He said that the time had arrived to expel Jean-Guy's demons once and for all.
"By the authority of Jesus Christ, I cast you out," he said in a loud and forceful voice to each demon by name. "By the authority of Jesus Christ, I cast you into the abyss. I expel you."
He asked Jean-Guy how he felt. Jean-Guy said that he felt fine and that he'd had a vision of the demons leaving him.
The actual deliverance was now concluded, but Dr. Graves still had stern words of advice for Jean-Guy.
Okay, Jean-Guy, he said, these demons are now expelled. They are out of your life. They no longer have grounds for infesting you. But your attitudes of anger and resentment and vanity are long-standing. They have become habitual. So you still have a lot of work to do. You could easily fall back into these habitual patterns of behavior. But this wouldn't be the work of evil spirits; it would be sinful habit. Remember that Satan and his demons are masters of the lie. If you find yourself falling back into this rut, you may be tempted by Satan to believe that the demons weren't expelled tonight and that you're still enslaved to them. But this would be a satanic deception. You have been freed, but now you have to work on this habitual behavior. You need the help of a supportive Christian community and a regular prayer group. It could take a long while.
These reservations aside, the deliverance itself was an impressively civilized affair. Dr. Graves-cool, unflappable, a seasoned pro-ran things very much like a college seminar, occasionally pausing to field questions and jot notes on a legal pad. Even if demons weren't involved, there's a good chance Jean-Guy benefited from undergoing the procedure. In psychodynamic terms the deliverance may have been a galvanizing event, helping him clarify some of his personal anxieties and confusions and prodding him into more constructive behavior.
Afterward Dr. Graves told me that he's been conducting weekly deliverance sessions at the seminary for several years, but lately he's been having trouble keeping up with the demand.
"I've got a big backlog," he said. "I might have to go to twice a week for a while just to catch up. This is something that a lot of our students really want."
I didn't find this especially surprising. Deliverance ministries such as Dr. Graves's, which aren't uncommon in evangelical colleges and seminaries these days, provide a relatively safe and nonjudgmental forum for students to sort out difficult (and potentially embarrassing) problems that might otherwise be left to fester. Sexual anxiety, suicidal ideation, marital conflict-no problem is too sensitive or too personal to be given a full airing. After all, it isn't the students themselves but rather their indwelling demons that stand in need of correction. In the hands of someone as pastorally adroit as Dr. Graves, moreover, deliverance may serve as a kind of functional equivalent to the Roman Catholic sacrament of confession, providing relief not only from tension and anxiety but also from an accumulated sense of personal guilt.