In her autobiography Undivided, Vicky Beeching writes her account of asking for prayer at a Christian camp because she was gay. She wanted to live for Jesus and to be rid of her same-sex attractions, so went to the front of a meeting to seek support. A group of people were brought together to pray for her. According to Vicky, one ‘said loudly, “We command the demons inside her to go. We bind the demons of homosexuality.” Another woman shouted, “Satan, get out of her. Let her go. Release your grip on her life.”’ This continued for some time. ‘By the time it was finally over, I was hunched on the floor, shaking and wishing the ground would swallow me up' 1 she records.
The book goes on to record Vicky’s change of position to becoming one of the leading advocates of same-sex marriage. Her story is far from unique. Others have trod the same path – same-sex attracted Christians who have faced attempts at exorcism and ended up abandoning a biblical position on sexuality. 2 Now, the overwhelming majority of churches won't respond to those who are gay or same-sex attracted with arttempts at exorcism. At times, I have sought prayer as I have lived with same-sex attraction and have never had anything close to Vicky’s experience. But, given that there may still be exceptions to this, we thought it would be useful to pose this question – are attempts at exorcism ever an appropriate response to same-sex attraction?
It is worth saying that I believe in the reality of the devil. Our visible world can only be explained by invisible forces. The beauty and order of the world around us and the nature of our own personalities can only ultimately be explained by an invisible God who is good and powerful. And yet, we also see so much evil around us – there are unseen forces, who largely work behind the scenes to drag the world away from its Creator and his good plan. In the coming of Jesus, the invisible becomes visible – God walks around on the earth. It’s no surprise that during Jesus’ life, Satan responds by himself becoming increasingly visible, often people to dehumanise them (e.g. Mark 5:1-20) and oppose Jesus. Wonderfully, the Gospels record Jesus triumphing – good and evil are not equal forces. But the final victory has not yet taken place – the devil is still prowling around (often unseen) seeking Christians to devour (1 Peter 5:8).
Satan and same-sex attraction?
How does this impact same-sex attraction? Christians should be alert to the devil’s schemes – and there are ways in which the devil can attack those of us who are same-sex attracted. As I see the way he works in the Bible, there are two lines of attack that are worth noting.
Satan does seek to cause believers to question the goodness of God’s plan. That’s as old as creation. We read of Satan’s strategies to tempt the first people – ‘Did God really say, “You must not eat from any tree in the garden?”’ (Genesis 3:1). Satan misquotes God, who hadn’t forbidden the man and the woman to eat from any tree – he had only forbidden eating from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. Satan is, therefore, suggesting that God is restrictive rather than generous. He seeks to distort God’s good plan in creation. There are parallels here with issues of sexuality. It is at this time in the Bible’s story that God establishes the context for sex as a life-long male-female relationship within marriage, which is subsequently reaffirmed by Jesus (e.g. Matthew 19:4-6). So, where there are questions about this being true or good, it is not hard to see that as being very similar to Satan’s very first attack. The Christian who is beginning to move away from the Bible’s sexual ethic may be wise to consider whether Satan is at work. He is the deceiver after all, described by Jesus as the ‘father of lies’ (John 8:44).
Tragically, Satan uses the same-sex attraction of some Christians to accuse them of being unworthy of God’s love and acceptance.
But as well as the deceiver, he is also the accuser. Zechariah 3 is a pastorally vital but relatively unknown passage. Satan comes alongside Joshua, the high priest to accuse him. Presumably he is seeking to point out Joshua’s various sins and shortcomings, thus making him feel inadequate for his role as high priest. God responds by affirming Joshua, giving him clean clothes to wear and assuring him that his sin has been removed (Zechariah 3:4). That dynamic continues today. In Revelation 12:10, Satan is described as the accuser of the brothers and sisters. As you look at his work, Satan can be totally inconsistent. At one moment, he can encourage people to disobey God’s Word and assures them there will be no consequences. But at the next moment, he can spin 180 degrees and accuse people of sin, suggesting that God no longer loves them. Tragically, Satan uses the same-sex attraction of some Christians to accuse them of being unworthy of God’s love and acceptance and mire them in shame. As I read Vicky Beeching’s story, I ended up wishing that those counselling her at the time had spotted that and assured her of the Lord’s kindness rather than unwittingly adding to Satan’s accusation.
The pastorally wise approach to same-sex attraction, therefore, is to be conscious that Satan can use it both to deceive people about God’s plan for sexuality and also to accuse them, such that they question God’s love and the sufficiency of Jesus’ work on the cross.
But should we, therefore, be carrying out exorcisms? No – for at least three reasons.
First, somebody who is same-sex attracted and is asking for help to live for Christ is in a completely different position from the person who is demon possessed in the New Testament. In those cases, Satan has worked to cause deep antagonism to Jesus and his message. ‘What do you want with us, Jesus of Nazareth?’ they cry (Mark 1:24). That is just nowhere near the situation of somebody who is coming to Jesus looking for help. Exorcism is, therefore, completely the wrong response.
Consistency for those carrying out exorcisms in connection with homosexuality would demand attempts to exorcise most of the congregation most weeks.
Second, all that I have said about Satan using same-sex attraction would apply to any form of temptation. It would be true of heterosexual attraction outside marriage. Satan suggests to people that giving into lust will be the pathway to happiness and then accuses them of being unforgiveable if they give way. The same could be said of cowardice, laziness, pride and much else besides. Given that Satan’s final defeat will only be when Jesus returns and so temptation will be part of our experience until that point, consistency for those carrying out exorcisms in connection with homosexuality would demand attempts to exorcise most of the congregation most weeks. That doesn’t appear to be the normal practice of the New Testament church. The same would apply where temptation has actually led to sin. The right response is repentance by the power of the Spirit (who is greater than Satan- 1 John 4:4) and trusting that Jesus’ death means that all our sins are forgiven, rather than exorcism.
Finally, the response to Satan’s normal attacks on the believer isn’t exorcism. ‘Resist him, standing firm in the faith’, Peter says (1 Peter 5:9). We are called to stand firm. Praise God – we are on the winning side. We are those who are joined to Christ. The command is not to get into a new position but to stand in the one we already have.
So, how would I want to counsel somebody coming to me with same-sex attraction and who is worried about the devil? I would say – ‘The devil may use this to deceive you away from God’s good plan. But you are in a good place right now, so stand firm. And the devil may suggest to you that God doesn’t love you because of your same-sex attraction. That’s nonsense – Jesus loves you deeply and you can stand firm in that.’ I might even then offer to pray that the Lord would help them to do that, but it would feel very different from Vicky Beeching’s experience.
I remember years ago asking somebody at a church to pray for me. I don’t think I mentioned same-sex attraction specifically, but I did talk vaguely about sexuality struggles. The person prayed that I would know the sympathy of the Lord Jesus for those who are struggling. And I left thankful for that – and more distant from the grip of Satan as a result, far more than if he had attempted to exorcise me.
- Vicky Beeching, Undivided: Coming Out, Becoming Whole, and Living Free from Shame (William Collins, 2018), pp.39-40
- For example, ‘Jas’ story – Please. Be. Kind.’, ViaMedia.News.