Pastor Greg Locke has made a number of controversial statements. Recently, he was claiming autism is demonic. This is ridiculous. I will cover three things: summarizing his claim, and referring to why this is not demonic in three aspects: another person’s rebuke, some of my prior writings, and then further from rules for determining demonic presence in the Church.
The Crazy Preaching of Greg Locke
I saw this in Christian Headlines:
[Locke:] “Don’t get mad at me, I’m talking. We say things like this ‘well, I just got OCD.’ You know why you do things that are out of the ordinary over and over and over, and it ticks you off if it’s not done? Because you have a spirit of oppression, that’s why. You ain’t got OCD,” Locke said in a sermon titled “Desperate for Deliverance” on Sunday.
According to Church Leaders, Locke went on to say that people use medical terms instead of biblical terms, like spiritual oppression, because it makes them feel better. He also cited three occasions in the Bible where parents brought their kids to Jesus because they were struggling with epileptic fits, anger issues and outbursts of emotion.
“And because we’ve called it possession, parents refuse to deal with it,” Locke said.
“Are you telling me my kid is possessed,” the pastor rhetorically told congregants. “No! I’m telling you your kid could be demonized and attacked, but your doctor calls it autism.”
“I don’t care if you leave or not,” Locke shouted. “I’m telling you there’s deliverance in the name of Jesus Christ for your children and their children’s children.”
Locke argued that no such diagnosis of autism was present in the Bible, arguing that Jesus would, instead, “cast out that oppressing spirit and the child was made whole that very hour.”
Read the rest there.
Tonya Nash’s Response
Tonya Nash is the director of the Autism Faith Network. She shared a video including some of the lines above to rebuke it.
Nash began her thread:
Nash also noted, “Greg Locke’s comments are… HIGHLY OFFENSIVE to me as a Christian AND mom of TWO sons with autism, with one that also has a rare form of epilepsy.”
She realizes some may think it unnecessary to respond, “Some may say, ‘That man is known for controversial statements. Just ignore him.’ That may be true. However, he said out aloud what some Christians secretly think, which is reinforced from pulpits all over the world.”
Then, she asks about our commitment as a Church to minsitry with the disabled, “How many churches do you know that have a ministry for those with disabilities and their families? Churches have all kinds of ministries…Singles Ministry, Divorce Ministry, Senior Ministry, Grief Ministry, Prison Ministry…and all of these are important!… How many churches have disabled persons in prominent places of leadership, such as those who are deaf or autistic?… How many churches have accessible seating, entryways and bathrooms? If church is for everyone, shouldn’t it be accessible for everyone, regardless of ability?”
My Writings that Condemn Locke
I have written about others claiming autism had a demonic origin before.
At Jesus’ time and throughout history, some have argued for a direct connection between personal sin and personal illness. However, Jesus and the Church both renounce this. Sickness came into the world with original sin, but that doesn’t imply personal sin directly causes personal sickness.
In John 9:3, Jesus makes this clear, saying, “It was not that this man sinned, or his parents, but that the works of God might be made manifest in him.” […]
It is true that an unstable home life, parental neglect or abuse can underlie a lot of psychological conditions. Depression, anxiety, and PTSD rates increase in those cases. However, this does not seem to apply to autism.
Science says autism is 60-90% genetic. Sometimes it runs in families and other times it originates with new (de novo) mutations. Scientists suspect hundreds of different genes increase susceptibility to autism. As the current model has the interactions of various genes as the main way autism happens genetically, genetics does not imply either parent is autistic. Part of the cause may be epigenetic such as hormones activating genes.
In my upcoming book on autistic prayer, I have a chapter on what autistic prayer is not which includes a section rebuking this idea of a demonic origin. I have more to share there.
Chekc for Natural Cause Before Exorcism
Locke is claiming autism is some kind of “demonization.” I assume he means something akin to possession. However, before declaring someone possessed the Church first eliminates natural causes. It would be imprudent to assume demons when a natural cause is more likely.
How does an exorcist determine “with moral certitude” (ERS, no. 16) that the one to be exorcized is truly possessed by demonic forces, and not merely suffering from physical ailments or psychological issues?
Moral certitude is achieved through the examination of proofs which are weighed in accordance with the conscience of the one passing judgment. Therefore, the exorcist must utilize whatever resources are available to him when investigating a claim of demonic possession along with input from medical and mental health professionals.
The exorcist is instructed to employ the “utmost circumspection and prudence” before proceeding to the rite (ERS, no. 14). Throughout his ministry, an exorcist must establish a balance within his own mind between not believing too easily that the devil is responsible for what is manifesting, and attributing all possible manifestations solely to a natural, organic source.
Do afflicted members of the faithful undergo medical or psychological examination prior to the use of exorcism?
As part of the evaluation process (which can be established in a diocesan protocol), the afflicted member of the faithful should avail himself/herself of a thorough medical and psychological/psychiatric evaluation. Frequently, individuals present themselves claiming to be afflicted in any number of ways. Historically, however, the Church has exercised caution when evaluating such individuals for fear of unnecessarily drawing attention to the machinations of the devil or giving credit where no credit is due.
The old rite of solemn exorcism similarly said (no link: I got a page scan from a priest-friend more involved in this ministry):
He [the exorcist] should not believe too readily that a person is possessed by an evil spirit; but he ought to ascertain the signs by which a person possessed can be distinguished from one who is suffering from melancholy or some other illness. Signs of possession are the following: ability to speak with some facility in a strange tongue or to understand it when spoken by another; the faculty of divulging future and hidden events; display of powers which are beyond the subject’s age and natural condition; and various other indications which, when taken together as a whole, pile up the evidence.
Pastor Greg Locke makes claims that demons cause autism. As I noted before, there is no evidence that demons cause autism. In fact, both theological and scientific evidence points directly away from it. On top of that, as Tonya Nash points out, stating things like this is antithetical to a Christian response to autism. It makes the Church look ridiculous. Finally, Locke goes against the prudent advice the Church gives before exorcisms. Locke’s claim fails spectacularly. I hope Locke stops preaching like as it inhibits Christian outreach to autistics.
Ah, the old “it’s not in the Bible, therefore…” thing. That’s so tired. But if that’s the measure of things, guess what else isn’t in the Bible–youth group, church governing board, annual fundraising campaign, organ, bake sales, etc. etc. This guy’s take on autism is irresponsible and heartless.
Excellent article. I love the line from the USCCB (the catechism maybe?) that the Church does not to give attention to the devil or give credit where no credit is due. Every Christian should memorize what true possession looks and sounds like as taught in the Old Rite above: speaking or understanding a strange tongue, divulging hidden or current events, display of powers beyond someone’s age or condition. Does not sound like autism to me.
Our church has an autistic choirmistress (me). The now-retired choirmistress who taught me, and whose sidekick I was for almost 30 years, is also autistic.
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