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#AskKinship: What About Demon Possession?

Can anyone explain why some parents believe that if their children are gay they are "demon possessed"?

The claim that LGBTI people are "demon possessed" has a long history, but has really thrived in the last century among conservative and charismatic Christians. It's partly because this community fell on the wrong side of some churches' theology and partly just bad timing.  

Caught up in Moral Panic

LGBTI Christians in several denominations began to step out of invisibility and share their stories during the same time that several churches were developing their demonology (their theories about demons). The general public was also increasingly susceptible to stories about devilish oppression. In the 1980s, for example, the United States news was full of scare tales about satanic rituals & devil worship, and several devil-themed films premiered between the 1970s and 1980s. The mix of theology, allegations, and entertainment created what sociologists call a "moral panic." This panic wrecked a lot of lives, and turned out to be based on a string of hoaxes. Some members of the Seventh-day Adventist community were also caught up in the paranoia, and people with depression and mental illnesses have suffered a great deal because of it. 

There are Christians who think and speak altogether too much about the power of Satan. They think of their adversary, they pray about him, they talk about him, and he looms up greater and greater in their imagination. It is true that Satan is a powerful being; but, thank God, we have a mighty Saviour, who cast the evil one from heaven. Satan is pleased when we magnify his power. Why not talk of Jesus? Why not magnify His power and His love? —Ellen G. White, Desire of Ages

Role of the Medical Professions

Another thing to remember is that for most of the 20th Century, medical professionals treated non-heterosexual people as if their orientation was in itself a kind of mental illness. So for decades homosexuality and bisexuality both appeared in psychiatrists' Diagnostic and Statistic Manual for Mental Disorders. That started to change with studies like Evelyn Hooker's, which showed that psychiatrists and psychopathologists who looked at homosexuals' and heterosexuals' psychological reports couldn’t distinguish them if not told their orientation ahead of time.

Even today, in 2014, some Christian groups still teach & believe that demons actively "possess" or "oppress" folks with mental illness. The rise of the Christian Religious Right wing and so-called "reparative therapy" 1960s-80s jumbled all these religious and medical beliefs about gay people together. Early Christian reparative therapy and re-orientation books and "experts" recommended exorcism & aversive treatments, and blamed Satan for deceiving affirming people and affirming churches. Some Kinship members—even those born in the 1980s and 1990s!—were also sent or told to go to demonizing "therapies" like that. It's devastatingly harmful.

So Why Do Some People Still Believe in Demonizing LGBTI People?

Some people—parents, pastors, and teachers—still believe in demonizing LGBTI people because it's what they’ve been taught. It’s an old human trick to blame devils for differences we don't understand, believe are wrong, or are frightened by, and it's one of the tools we use to cope when we worry we might be wrong. Two thousand years ago, religious people played the demon card with Jesus! And the Church has done it too over the centuries, from the 4th-6th Century in Europe through to this year in several African countries and the United States. Other historical targets of religious "demon" rhetoric have included Jews, enslaved Africans and their colonized descendants, left-handed people, and women with leadership skills.

But it was never true of these groups, and it isn't true about LGBTI people either. Some parents are shocked or scared when their children come out, and so they’re especially vulnerable to claims like this. In the Adventist context, unfortunately, parents are still being taught that their children are LGBTI because of abuse or neglect, but there are other stories too: listen to Kathy’s and Fedalma’s stories on the WeAreSDAs website.

If you know any parents who need to discuss this with someone, please let us or our friends and family coordinator know! And if you have a question you’d like to us to answer in this column, tweet us @SDAKinship using the hashtag #AskKinship, or send an email to Cette adresse e-mail est protégée contre les robots spammeurs. Vous devez activer le JavaScript pour la visualiser.. We’ll select questions to respond to in future posts.

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JOURNEY Chapter 25