I was around twelve years old and for lack of a better term, I was a violent little shit. Years of anger and frustration culminated in explosive rage pretty much anytime someone set me off. I set fires, beat up other kids and was generally a bad kid. In pretty much any other family this would have resulted in my parents drinking more and maybe a short bid in juvenile hall. Unluckily for me, my parents are pentecostal. Instead of being sent off or getting the beating of my life, I was dragged to church.
It was Sunday night. At my mom’s church, Sunday night services were reserved for faith healings and the occasional exorcism. As the pastor stood tall over the crowd shouting about God at the top of his lungs, it became apparent that I hadn’t been dragged along for a faith healing. I had seen it happen once or twice but I had never been subject to such a thing. Pentecostal exorcisms can get violent. You have big men holding you down and a preacher shouting about the name of Jesus at the top of his lungs.
Around the time that Pastor Chuck started in about spiritual warfare and Satan’s hold on youth it became clear that I wasn’t safe in that room. I slipped past my parents and towards the back of the auditorium when I heard Pastor Chuck shout, “Just where do you think you’re going Devil!?!”
I froze dead in my tracks and turned around to see the entire congregation staring at me. Fight or flight kicked in and I had no intention of fighting a room of around a hundred adults. I broke into a dead sprint for the door only to find it locked. As I beat against the hard wooden door I could feel the tears coming from my eyes as I felt this massive hand grab me by the arm.
First one hand, and then two. Brother Jim and Brother Dave were built like linebackers and they had grabbed me up by the arms. As I fought and kicked they dragged me to the front of the church where Pastor Chuck stood with a bible in one hand and a prayer cloth in the other. Jim and Dave pinned my shoulders to the floor and two more men pinned my legs. As I lay there prone and unable to move Pastor Chuck pour oil onto my forehead. Some of it got into my eyes and it burned like mace. I struggled and tried to kick loose and Pastor Chuck shouted to the congregate,* “This demon doesn’t seem to like God’s anointed oil!”* I screamed gibberish as I tried to compose words through the pain.
Pastor Chuck spoke up again, “Listen to the demon struggling under the power of our Lord!”
Chuck wasn’t a small man. He stood about six foot four and could easily fill a door frame. As the other men held me down he pounced on top of me as Brother Dave and Brother Jim used their free hands to hold the prayer cloth over my mouth. Pastor Chuck shouted out, “Demon! In the name of the Lord Jesus Christ I command you to leave this child!” I was already hyperventilating and the cloth was making it hard to breathe. At that moment Pastor Chuck reached for a cup containing holy water and poured it over my face, soaking the cloth. It became impossible to breathe at this point. My lungs burned and I started to black out. There on the precipice of losing consciousness the cloth was removed and I was able to take a long deep breath.
Pastor Chuck started into his “Prayer Language” which is to say he shouted gibberish and claimed it was the Holy Spirit speaking through him in tongues. This was supposed to scare the demon out of me. I wasn’t aware of any demon, but I was so scared at this point that it had effective drained my bladder and voided my bowels. Laying there with those men on top of me shouting as I struggled to breathe with this large man sitting on my chest I started shouting “No!” repeatedly as the cloth was put back over my mouth and more holy water was poured over my mouth.
There was another long period where I couldn’t breathe as the men shouted. The lights got blurry and the room went black. The pain and suffering of the moment faded away and I was pleasantly unconscious. Pastor Chuck wasn’t having this, I woke with a sharp pain in my nose as he pulled away the smelling salts. I don’t know how much time had passed but my nostrils burned from the ammonia and they rest of my body ached from the struggle. I looked up at Pastor Chuck and his eyes were wild. I couldn’t tell if he was going to kill me or hand me a bagel. Crazy is an understatement when describing those eyes. They were simultaneously hollow and filled with anger. He shouted, “Devil! I command you to leave in the name of Jesus!” Brother Dave and Brother Jim let off my shoulders as did them men holding my feet. Pastor Chuck rose up off of me and I laid there barely able to move.
Maybe it was the glow of the light or just exhaustion from the ordeal, but looking up at Pastor Chuck with the light behind his head, it made his eyes look darker than normal. The same could be said for the men assisting him. They eyes, if only for a moment, looked like dark sunken in things. As I tried to stumble to my feet Pastor Chuck put a hand on my shoulder and asked me in front of the crowd, “How do you feel, Son?”
I struggled to speak and eventually I said, “I-I feel like I was hit by a truck.”
Pastor Chuck shouted to the crowd,* “Ya hear that folks? The power of our Lord likened to getting hit by a truck.”* I was led back to my parents and I sat there in my soiled pants as he continued the sermon and eventually took to laying hands on the sick. When the service was over my parents tried to rationalize the event by telling me that I had a dark spirit in me and that Pastor Chuck had fought it out of me with the power of God. I didn’t argue. I was done arguing for a long while.
I didn’t act out much after that. Pretty much every decision I made after that was prefaced with the question of whether or not it would lead to another exorcism. My grades declined. I became withdrawn and quiet. Months passed, then years. Eventually, I went off to college and while there I got into counseling. My therapist tells me I have PTSD. My response to that was a rather sarcastic, “Ya think?”
I don’t go to church anymore, but my parents do. Just last week they were telling me that my father had assisted Pastor Chuck with an exorcism. I hung up the phone. I didn’t want to imagine someone else going through that kind of torment. To this day I can’t hear a southern preacher shouting to a crowd without a cold chill running down my spine. The worst part of all of this is that it still happens, all over the country, and no one does anything about it. Everyone talks about freedom of religion. At this point I am starting to think people need freedom from religion.