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John Ensign Linked To "Do-it-Yourself Exorcism" Movement

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Beyond the obvious hypocrisy inherent in GOP Senator and Promise Keepers member John Ensign's recently disclosed extramarital sexual affair, there's another notable aspect to Ensign's religious affiliations that has so far escaped public notice: exorcism.

Senator John Ensign belongs to a Pentecostal denomination, the International Church of the Foursquare Gospel, that promotes a new health care paradigm in which both physical and psychological maladies can be cured through the casting out of demons. In the new approach, individuals can even heal themselves by exorcising their own demons, through a process that a 2003 Associated Press story characterized as "do it yourself exorcism".

From John Ensign's college introduction to the Promise Keepers movement, through the Senator's current membership in a Las Vegas church within the International Church of the Foursquare Gospel denomination, to his current residence in a house owned by Youth With a Mission, a parachurch evangelical organization founded in 1960 by Loren Cunningham -- who espouses a doctrine of Christian infiltration of key societal sectors, Senator Ensign has throughout his political career associated with charismatic Christian religious entities in the forefront of promoting a radical and new approach that is redefining Christian evangelism, which now includes a heavy emphasis on the exorcism of demons as a key to a healthy, productive, and moral life.

In the vanguard of the now international demon-deliverance movement is pastor Jack Hayford, who co-authored the 1997 book "Loving Your City Into the Kingdom" together with former National Association of Evangelicals head Ted Haggard. According to Journalist Max Blumenthal, writing for The Daily Beast, Ensign is a confident of Jack Hayford, and other evidence substantiates John Ensign's strong ties to the denomination, which Hayford has headed for five years.

In 2003 the International Church of the Foursquare Gospel paid for Senator Ensign to travel to Philadelphia, where Ensign addressed the Foursquare denomination's yearly convention. In 2006, Ensign addressed the Foursquare Gospel yearly convention via a videotaped speech.
Ensign's connection to Hayford is further underlined through the mutual involvement of the two men in The Promise Keepers, a movement that during the 1990's drew crowds of hundreds of thousands of men to Christian rallies. According to the Las Vegas Review-Journal, Ensign addressed a 2003 Las Vegas Promise Keepers rally, and Jack Hayford has played a substantial  role in the Promise Keepers movement. GOP Senator Ensign's recent disclosure of an extramarital affair is particularly damaging because Ensign has campaigned on a family values platform, and the Promise Keepers seven vows include the following:

"A Promise Keeper is committed to practicing spiritual, moral, ethical and sexual purity.
A Promise Keeper is committed to building strong marriages and families through love, protection and Biblical values."

A lesser-known aspect of the Promise Keepers is the ministry's promotion of charismatic doctrines, as evidenced in its promotion of Dove Ministry founder Bill Subritzky, who teaches demon deliverance practices.

In late June 2009, a YouTube video from a Bridgeport, Connecticut black evangelical church, showing an attempt to exorcise a "homosexual demon" from a sixteen-year old teenager sparked national controversy, as well as condemnation from the left and from gay rights advocates.
But at least one report suggests that a program which seeks to exorcise gay demons was during the 1990's institutionalized at Ted Haggard's Colorado Springs New Life Church. Beyond promoting dubious attempts to banish homosexual demons, former head of the National Association of evangelicals Ted Haggard and current president of the 5-10 million member strong (estimates vary) International Church of the Foursquare Gospel Jack Hayford have each promoted exorcism, nationally and worldwide as well.

As reporter Richard N. Ostling described, in a May 9, 2003 Associated Press story, Cleansing Stream Ministries originated at Jack Hayford's Van Nuys, California Church on The Way, and Hayford still presides over the entity - which is part of a controversial but growing "demon deliverance" movement  (sometimes just referred to as "deliverance"), that, according to Ostling, teaches "do-it-yourself exorcism" methods. Ostling's AP story described controversy within the American evangelical community that new "spiritual warfare" doctrines were provoking in the early part of the current decade:

"Evangelical Protestants, who generate many of American religion's notable innovations, are at war over one of them, known as "spiritual warfare."

This expanding movement believes that Christians regularly become captive to indwelling demons, which are often said to specialize in particular sins, geographic locations, objects or age groups.

The believer is taught to rebuke the demon and command its departure in Jesus' name, sort of a do-it-yourself exorcism....

Spiritual warfare proponents include the international Cleansing Stream Ministries, at the Church on the Way in Van Nuys, Calif..."

Richard Ostling's story focused on criticism of the new demon-centric approach to health care from conservative evangelical Christian Hank Hanegraaff, a Christian Research Institute member popularly known as the "Bible Answer Man", who charged the new approach derived from secular pop-culture:

Hanegraaff charges that the "deliverance industry" mimics secular pop culture. He says major Christian emphasis on demons and deliverance emerged only after the 1973 movie "The Exorcist" and other entertainment vehicles."

Demon deliverance ideas have been widely promoted in a range of contexts that include a Christian approach to mental health known as "Theophostic Ministry." According to a 2001 Christianity Today article one of the key proponents of the demon-based mental health paradigm, Ed Smith, founder of Theophostic Ministries, teaches that, "demons, sometimes numbering in the hundreds, may inhabit and influence even a Christian's mind. These demons often work to keep people enslaved to what Smith calls the "lie-based thinking" causing their pain. He teaches that these demons have to be expelled for a client to see full relief."

Megachurch pastor Jack Hayford has contributed chapters to, and co-written with, a number of books by top leaders in C. Peter Wagner's New Apostolic Reformation (such as the 1997 Loving Your City Into The Kingdom, which Hayford co-wrote with Wagner's close working associate Ted Haggard). Hayford currently provides a booklet, available for free download from Hayford's personal website, that advocates the contemporary practice of exorcism (link to PDF file of 19 page booklet).

As explained in Hayford's booklet, "The Finger of God",

This matter is not "some new doctrine," nor is it a fringe area of arcane preoccupation. The doctrine of exorcism is as old as the Scriptures and the ministry thereof as ancient as the Church. That sectors of the Church have largely neglected or denied this ministry certainly should not be accepted as an argument against its place or validity. Church history reveals that there has always been an ecclesiastical inclination to retreat from the most demanding realms of spiritual pursuit; such as the passion of prayer, the evangelistic spread of the Gospel, the welcome of the Holy Spirit's fullness for all ministry, the acceptance of the gifts of the Spirit, the expectation of signs and wonders--and as well, the willingness to confront the dark powers of hell oppressing a believer.

"The Finger of God" booklet is derived from a book by Jack Hayford by that name, and the booklet serves as part of the "Cleansing Stream" ministry empire Hayford has developed over the last two decades, which has many hundreds of "Cleansing Stream" ministry nodes worldwide, including in Hong Kong, The Netherlands, Canada, and Germany.

Cleansing Stream ministries is now pastored by one of C. Peter Wagner's International Coalition of Apostles apostles, Chris Hayward and concerns, as Jack Hayford explained in his 1993 booklet, "deliverance" from demonic possession:

"...it is a peculiar fact that hosts of pastor-shepherds withdraw from, or choose disbelief toward, the ministry of confronting the demonic in either prayer's spiritual warfare or in the personal ministry of deliverance, usually as much due to fear of professional criticism as to doubts about the need of these ministries... There is a definite potential of losing status in the eyes of ecclesiastical critics or of fellow-servants, who are so trapped by the materialistic mind-set of a non-discerning, demon denying society that such ministry is deemed archaic or superstitious."

Hayford then goes on to elaborate some of the obstacles which have stood in the way of the proliferation of Christian ministries based on casting out demons from believing Christians:

  • Deliverance ministry is too seldom defined clearly.
  • Demonic matters seem to incite some to fanaticism.
  • The nature of "spiritual bondage" is often confused and poorly expressed.
  • The means to spiritual freedom from demonic oppression are too often stereotyped in a way that removes many leaders from even imagining their own involvement.
  • There too often arises a preoccupation with this aspect of ministry as a "cure all," or as being "superior" to other ministry areas, or as being only the ministry of a "gifted few."

As described on the Cleansing Streams Australia website which provides professionally designed materials, such as trifold flyers, promoting the ministry, Cleansing Streams Australia is implemented through a 12 week course that provides intense small-group therapy. The description, below, avoids mentioning the basic premise - of expelling demons which, per the name of the ministry, are like dirt to be washed off, or from, participants:

"When we commence our journey as children of God we carry with us hurts of the past, bondages and burdens. These can hinder us in living the life that God has planned for us and being effective in serving Christ. Cleansing Stream is a 12 week course that empowers, encourages and releases believers into the fullness of their kingdom inheritance. It takes place in a small group setting. The course includes 5 video sessions (45 mins), with workbook, audio teachings and reading material. An essential part of the Cleansing Stream course is a weekend retreat (Friday night and Saturday) where believers can experience and apply the truths they have been investigating."

From that description it would seem that the actual exorcisms happen during the weekend retreat. The course description raises a number of questions -- is this a form of medical practice? Or group therapy? Is it "psychic surgery"? Are there any specific, concrete claims made as to the beneficial results of the therapy? And, if so, should "Cleansing Streams" practitioners be licensed by the state?

The proliferation of the practice of exorcism is not unique to the International Church of The Foursquare Gospel -- as Rolling Stone writer Matt Taibbi described, in his 2008 Rolling Stone Magazine story "Jesus Made Me Puke", John Hagee's San Antonio Cornerstone Church features a retreat program, shorter but apparently analogous to Jack Hayford's "Cleansing Streams" ministry - in which participants go through a weekend of group-therapy self-discovery and, at the end, are coached on vomiting up their personal demons: into paper bags.

As with Hayford's Cleansing Streams approach, Hagee's weekend retreats teach specific techniques to facilitate demon-expulsion:

Throughout the whole weekend, Fortenberry had been setting himself up as an athletic conqueror of demons. Now, on the final morning, he looked like a quarterback about to take the field before a big game. The life coaches assembled around the edges of the chapel, carrying anointing oil and bundles of small paper bags.

Fortenberry began to issue instructions. He told us that under no circumstances should we pray during the Deliverance.

"When the word of God is in your mouth," he said, "the demons can't come out of your body. You have to keep a path clear for the demon to come up through your throat. So under no circumstances pray to God. You can't have God in your mouth. You can cough, you might even want to vomit, but don't pray."

The crowd nodded along solemnly. Fortenberry then explained that he was going to read from an extremely long list of demons and cast them out individually. As he did so, we were supposed to breathe out, keep our mouths open and let the demons out.

As Taibbi details in his story, these demons include demons of sexual incest, lust, astrology, cancer, handwriting analysis, intellect, philosophy, and "anal fissures"; "It was nearly an hour and a half before Fortenberry was done. He had cast out the demons of every ailment, crime, domestic problem and intellectual discipline on the face of the Earth. He cast out horoscopes, false gods, witches, intellectual pride, nearsightedness, everything, it seemed to me, except maybe E. coli and John Updike novels."

Behind the demon-haunted world of John Hagee's church described in Matt Taibbi's story is a newly emergent Christian end-time theological system which proposes that Christians can purify the Earth, and bring about a worldly utopia, by ridding the planet of demons and unbelievers thought to be under demon influence. One of the most influential books that has helped propel the new demon-haunted worldview was Youth With a Mission president John Dawson's 1989 book, Taking Our Cities for God".

In my April 2009 Religion Dispatches story, Fighting Demons, Raising the Dead, and Taking Over the World, I described the role of Ted Haggard's New Life Church as one of the key launching points for the new demon-deliverance paradigm which, as noted in an October 25, 2008 New York Times story by reporter Laurie Goodstein, extended to Sarah Palin's most significant Alaska church, the Wasilla Asembly of God.

As a 1997 episode of This American Life, by radio journalist Alix Spiegel described, members of Ted Haggard's church were, during the late 1990's, maintaining a 24-7 prayer shield, day and night, to prevent demons from infiltrating Colorado Springs, home of Haggard's New Life Church.

During the late 1990's, Haggard's church exported the new demon-haunted evangelizing paradigm internationally. In 1996 a team from New Life Church went to Africa, to Mali, and sprayed, or 'anointed', entire towns in that country, such as Timbuktu, with cooking oil, in an effort to ward off demons.

Such practices led Dutch missionary Rene' Holvast, working with his wife in Mali at the time, to interrupt his evangelizing career and write a substantial dissertation exploring the theological views behind such seemingly inexplicable practices: "Spiritual Mapping: The Turbulent Career of a Contested Missionary Paradigm, 1989-2005". [ PDF file of 300-plus page dissertation]

Rene's Holvast's 2005 dissertation, written for the University of Utrecht, was published in book form in late 2008, by Brill Publishing, as Spiritual Mapping in the United States and Argentina, 1989-2005: A Geography of Fear

In the late 1990's while Dutch missionary Holvast was working in Mali, Haggard's New Life Church team, as well as teams from Youth With a Mission, came to Africa, and Mali, bringing the new "Spiritual Warfare" and "Spiritual Mapping" doctrines covered in a 1999 article by The Christian Science Monitor's Jane Lampman.

In "Targeting Cities With 'Spiritual Mapping', Prayer", Lampman explored the new paradigm promoted by Ted Haggard, C. Peter Wagner, George Otis Jr., and other leaders who (not discussed in Lampman's article) had worked closely with John Dawson, Jack Hayford and other renegade evangelicals in developing the new religious ideology. As Lampman's article succinctly described the new vision for Christian evangelizing,

C. Peter Wagner, head of Global Harvest Ministries in Colorado Springs, Colo., is in the vanguard of the movement. He defines three levels of spiritual warfare: "Ground-level" involves casting demons out of individuals; "occult-level warfare" involves more organized "powers of darkness" [They target here New Age thought, Tibetan Buddhism, Freemasonry, etc.]; and "strategic-level warfare" directly "confronts 'territorial spirits' assigned by Satan to coordinate activities over a geographical area."

...its influence is growing in the United States, along with spiritual mapping

Jane Lampman's Christian Science Monitor article noted that another significant figure promoting the new "demon deliverance" paradigm was Kenyan evangelist Thomas Muthee. Muthee became briefly notorious during the 2008 US presidential election when footage from a church GOP vice presidential candidate Sarah Palin had attended for over two decades, since she was a teenager, The Wasilla Assembly of God, surfaced on the Internet even though the church had removed the footage from its Internet-accessible video archive. But, media almost without exception missed the context of the strange video footage.

That footage, from an October 2005 ceremony held shortly before Palin launched her successful campaign to become Alaska governor, showed Thomas Muthee exhorting his Wasilla church audience to embrace what clearly was the "Seven Mountains" strategy also promoted by founder of the entity which currently owns US Senator John Ensign's "C Street House", Loren Cunningham. Muthee then blessed Sarah Palin against "every spirit of witchcraft."

In his short speech, Muthee claimed that "the Israelites" controlled the world economy and exhorted Christian listeners to follow the alleged example and "infiltrate" key sectors of society including government, media, education, entertainment and, especially, business.
During the late 1990's, Thomas Muthee served on the board of The World Prayer Center, which was housed in a building adjacent to Ted Haggard's New Life Church, built on church property and developed as a joint project between Haggard and missiologist C. Peter Wagner who, as Haggard writes in his book "The Life Giving Church", Haggard was instructed in the early 1990's to materially support.

For over a decade in the 1990's and into the current decade, the World Prayer Center was the leading entity promoting a rapidly growing, international world-prayer movement that by the late 1990's was harnessing tens of millions of Christians worldwide in synchronous prayer. Over the last decade, the movement has achieved prayer events boasting the participation of hundreds of millions of Christians globally.

Behind the world prayer movement were ideological pioneers such as Ted Haggard, Peter Wagner, Loren Cunningham, Thomas Muthee, Jack Hayford and others who have fashioned and promoted a religious ideology and religious practices that comprise a totalistic world view in which Christians seek to redeem society both spiritually but also materially, by driving out demons.

As detailed in an October 25, 2008 AP story by investigative reporter Garance Burke, Sarah Palin's Wasilla mayoral records contain a thank-you note, from Palin to a former Wasilla Assembly of God pastor who in 2000 had lent Palin a 1999 pseudo-documentary, "Transformations", featuring Thomas Muthee.

In the video, Muthee claimed that he and his church members drove a witch out of Kiambu, a suburb of Nairobi, Kenya; after the witch fled, claimed Muthee, the crime rate plummeted, rates of substance abuse such as alcohol addiction fell precipitously, and most of the residents of Kiambu joined churches.

There is little evidence to support such claims but the video mentioned in Sarah Palin's thank-you note has made Thomas Muthee an international celebrity among Christian adherents to the new demon-expulsion paradigm promoted in the video. In the new paradigm, all non-Christians, even all Christians who are not charismatic, are portrayed as being under demonic influence.

In his 1998 book "The Life Giving Church", on page 30, Ted Haggard describes a vision he had, which the future National Association of Evangelicals head claimed was from God. In the vision, Haggard described the fate of new babies born to unbelievers, non-Christians: "If the parents were not believers, demons would enter into the child and integrate into his or her personality."

Ted Haggard described four divine visions he had, and as he also wrote on page 30 of The Life Giving Church, former college football coach Bill McCartney's organization The Promise Keepers was the fulfillment of Haggard's first divine vision:

"The first vision was fulfilled when coach Bill McCartney received the same idea about 10 years later as he was driving through Colorado Springs. That ministry is the Promise Keepers."

(note: for additional reading on this subject, see here)