Editor's note: Exorcism has been the topic of many conversations in the metro area after a Satanist group announced its plans to host an event at Civic Center Music Hall that will include a parody of the Roman Catholic rite of exorcism. The Oklahoman recently interviewed three ministers and one professor who have studied exorcism. Read on for their beliefs.
Bill Jordan has received more than 1,000 e-mails from people wondering whether someone they know has been possessed by the devil.
Typically, they describe lots of disturbing behavior that stops just short of the eye-popping stunts of the possessed girl characterized in "The Exorcist," a 1973 horror movie classic.
An ordained Christian minister, Jordan said he replies to each and every correspondence because he is an exorcist — a person who exorcises or says he exorcises demons from people.
He is co-founder and president of the Bible-based American Association of Exorcists, based in Choctaw.
Jordan, 58, said he and a friend, now deceased, formed the Christian association in 2003 when they realized that the number of Roman Catholic priests who perform exorcisms was dwindling in America.
Contacted by The Oklahoman, the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops declined to comment on the matter. Loutitia Eason, chancellor for the Archdiocese of Oklahoma City, said some Catholic dioceses have exorcists, but the Oklahoma City archdiocese does not.
Jordan said he estimates that the number of American priests who perform the Catholic rite of exorcism has decreased from about 23 to six in the past 10 years or so.
That, he said, is not enough these days.
Although Jordan said he has yet to perform an exorcism on a person (though he said he exorcised demons from a house in Missouri several years ago), he said a surge in interest in the occult could mean more exorcists will be needed. Jordan, who is married and works as a registered nurse, said Jesus Christ's imminent return also may trigger an increase in demonic activity.
"I felt a long time ago that the closer we get to the end that there would be more demonic activity bursting loose. That's scriptural," he said.
Jordan said his ministry as an exorcist stems from his desire to help people — much like his call to the nursing field. He said he and his previous ministry partner (he now has another, a Roman Catholic who wished to remain anonymous) developed a curriculum to train people to cast out demons, and a handful of people have received that training. He said he has never advertised the ministry and believes more people will be interested in the program once they find out about it.
"I can't think of anything worse than for a person to be possessed by a demon and have no one to help them."
Fighting evil by the Book
The word "exorcism" often conjures up creepy, hard-to-believe images from various movies such as "The Exorcist."
Jordan said many Christians call exorcism by a different and seemingly more palatable term: deliverance.
Everett Cox, 70, an Oklahoma City resident who founded Deliverance Ministries Inc., and the Rev. John Benefiel, senior pastor of the Charismatic congregation at Church on the Rock, 1780 W Memorial, shared similar sentiments.
"The man on the street doesn't know what deliverance is, but everybody knows about exorcism, because that's the secular understanding of it," Cox said.
He added that Christians affiliated with the Pentecostal or Charismatic (full-gospel) movements may be more familiar with the deliverance term.
Benefiel said he uses the word "deliverance" to speak about the exorcism of unclean spirits because it is a biblical word related to spiritual warfare. And he said he realizes that some people are highly skeptical of the need for exorcism or deliverance.
"Some people believe, some people don't, but that's the same thing with Christianity," he said.
Benefiel said that, in the Bible, Jesus talked about the need for believers to cast out unclean spirits. That is what legitimizes the practice in his eyes, Benefiel said.
"If Jesus said it, I better learn about it. I've seen lots of people over the years helped tremendously," he said.
Though Jordan said he has educated himself about the practice of exorcism but never conducted one on a person, Cox said his ministry hosts deliverance services in which people are freed from demonic and unclean spirits every Monday evening at Citychurch, 136 NW 10. Cox, a University of Oklahoma graduate, former Navy officer and retired commercial pilot, said he was ordained for ministry at Citychurch, but his nonprofit deliverance organization is independent of the Charismatic church.
"I've been performing exorcisms for years. We did 13 cases this last Monday," Cox said.
Cox said deliverance involves praying in Jesus' name that a person be freed from what is oppressing them.
Jordan said his exorcism ritual consists of Bible Scripture, holy water (water that has been prayed over), a cross and a Bible. All these elements are taken from the Catholic rite of exorcism, Jordan said.
Like Benefiel, both Jordan and Cox said the Bible includes references to exorcism, and skeptics must take up the issue with that holy text since it is what their respective organizations are founded upon.
"People who don't want to believe in (demonic) possession need to talk to Christ," Jordan said.
"It's actually normal Christianity. All churches should be doing this, but they skip around it. Jesus told us to do it, and we have this power from Jesus Christ and the cross," he said.
Meanwhile, Jordan said he considers himself Southern Baptist although he doesn't have a church home. He said he has been ordained through two ministerial associations: Victory New Testament Fellowship in Mesquite, Texas, and St. Luke's Christian Ministerial Association in Georgia. He said he attended two different theological seminaries and was never taught anything about fighting evil forces such as demons.
He said he conducted research on his own and deduced that there were several ways people open themselves to demonic possession.
One way is dabbling in the occult, which could be anything from Ouija boards to participating in fantasy role-playing games, Jordan said. He said this also could include movies and books such as "Harry Potter," which feature the occult prominently or glorify evil and violence in some way. Other ways include sexual immorality and illicit drugs, Jordan said.
Jordan said out of more than 1,000 e-mails about possible demonic possession, he determined that only one seemed to be a clear-cut case of possession.
He said many people mistake severe depression and its symptoms for demonic possession. But he said he tells people to look for several signs of demonic possession or demonic presence including supernatural or paranormal happenings such as levitation. Jordan said another sign of possession is some action that is impossible according to the laws of the universe, a la the spinning head of the young girl character in "The Exorcist" movie.
By contrast, Cox said he's seen nothing that compares to the scenes in "The Exorcist" during his deliverance sessions. He said there is an occasional outburst from someone his prayer leaders are praying for, but "we haven't seen a person's head rotate 360 degrees."
Cox said his ministry teaches that signs of a person under the influence of an unclean spirit could be things such as rage, self-hate, hate, pornography/sexual addiction, hoarding and other things he has placed on a "problem list."
"The root of some of these problems is spiritual," he said.
Movies: Help or hindrance?
Jordan said he is aware of the public's curiosity about exorcism.
The movie "The Exorcist" with then-child actor Linda Blair was followed by other similar films, and Hollywood's propensity for stories about exorcism continues today. In recent years, exorcism has been the subject of such films as 2005's "The Exorcism of Emily Rose" and a movie that premiered this past August called "The Last Exorcism."
Jordan said the movies appear to draw audiences because of the mystery that surrounds exorcism.
He said the movies hinder his ministry and Christianity when they show the devil having more power than God.
"They portray Christ as inferior to Satan, and I don't like that," Jordan said.
Finding middle of two extremes
The Rev. Bobby Kelly, the Ruth Dickenson Professor of Bible at Oklahoma Baptist University, said he thinks there is a tendency for people to go to one of two extremes when it comes to the subject of exorcism.
One extreme is the denial of demonic activity, and the other is "finding demons everywhere," Kelly said.
Kelly, a Southern Baptist, said what people want to believe is up to them, but the Bible does reference exorcism. He said one example can be found in Mark 5:1-19, which describes Jesus casting "legion" or numerous unclean spirits out of a man into a herd of swine. In another instance, Mark 1:23-27, Jesus rebukes an unclean spirit in the synagogue and casts it out of a man.
"If Jesus did anything in His day-to-day ministry, He cast out demons and unclean spirits," Kelly said.
Kelly said Western culture does not easily recognize demonic activity because people want evidence of it.
Kelly said he does not reject the idea of demonic activity because of the biblical references, but he said he would caution anyone from the tendency to find "a demon under every rock."
Denying that it exists also could be problematic.
"On the other hand, there are forces in the world that are set against what is good. To deny the existence of those forces is to allow them to gain the upper hand."
Kelly said he can appreciate Jordan, whom he has never met, for attempting to open up a discussion about "something that is clearly a danger (evil) in our world today."