Reflections on the Case of Rachael Hilyard and Demonic Possession

Toxic Faith and Healthy Faith: Rev. Jeff Gannon on the Wisdom from WibauxYou may have heard the news about Rachael Hilyard.  She admitted to decapitating the 63 year-old woman, Micki Davis, in her garage. She reached out to a local pastor seeking an exorcism. The pastor met with the woman twice before she committed the crime. The pastor said he was trying to determine if the woman was mentally ill or demonically possessed. I will not render my thoughts about the pastor’s decisions here. That would not be appropriate or professional. However, many have asked my opinion of the two articles written in the Eagle about the recent incident in particular and the topic of demonic possession in general.

Mental Illness and demonic possession

There is a difference between mental illness and demonic possession. There are those who believe that what the Bible calls demonic possession is simply what we call mental illness today.  But I am not one who believes they are one and the same. Some people are mentally ill; others struggle with demonic oppression or possession. Occasionally, they confront both.

Many years ago, a person came to see me because she was startled by an experience of waiting in her car for the traffic light to change at 21st and Rock. As she waited, a woman was crossing from one side of the street to the other. She said the “voices” spoke and encouraged her to run the woman over. What do you think I did with that information? Did I send her to a psychiatrist or to an exorcist? Or both?

I got a release from the woman to contact the counselor. I asked the counselor why she had not sent her to a psychiatrist. She obviously needed medication for severe mental illness. Counseling alone without psychiatric intervention is like standing at the gates of hell with a squirt gun. The counselor resisted so I got the woman into psychiatric care. I also prayed with and for the woman because the psychiatrist and I agreed there were other factors at work in her life, namely demonic oppression, which is different than demonic possession.

When I told the “Christian counselor,” as she identified herself, that the psychiatrist and I agreed she needed medical treatment in addition to prayer, I again got resistance. If I may be frank, at the risking of sounding pompous or arrogant, there is a lot of ignorance around the nexus of mental illness and demonic possession/oppression.

The Challenges of True Evil: Too Seriously or Not Seriously Enough?

I am highly influenced by the work of Dr. M. Scott Peck, MD, who wrote the book, “People of the Lie.” The subtitle is “Hope for healing human evil.” The book was written by Peck, a psychiatrist, after his conversion to Christianity. He does a great job of showing how evil is always about lies and deception and there are many manifestations of evil. As C.S. Lewis says in his book, The Screwtape Letters, the challenge Christians face when it comes to evil is to take it too seriously or not seriously enough. Both extremes are unhelpful and unhealthy, in my opinion.

Katherine Burgess is a new reporter for the Wichita Eagle and I appreciate her willingness to bring back some articles on religion. They have been missing since Tom Schaffer retired several years ago. Click here to access the article:

Ms. Burgess tries hard to be fair in the article. But this is only possible to the extent that the persons she interviews speaks accurately. And I take issue with the Methodist pastor who is on staff at Baylor University. His personal bias is blatant in saying the only Christian traditions that have any interest in demonic activity are Roman Catholics and Pentecostals.  Rev. David Lies of the Catholic Diocese of Wichita, on the other hand, does an excellent job in describing the complex nature of this topic and the spirituality that addresses this very real human dilemma. To close, may I be purposefully redundant? When it comes to evil we either take it too seriously or not seriously enough. Finding the middle ground is important as we seek to be faithful in carrying out the mission and ministry of Jesus in our midst.


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