Captives in the Shadows
Social justice and deliverance ministry in the Baptist church
By Revd Jayne Irlam, RN, MA, Project Lead, Baptist Deliverance Study Group and co-minister of Church Without Walls, Manchester.
Jennifer turns off the TV and looks nervously at the clock. She’s tired and needs to go to sleep, but she’s afraid. What was it the lady at the church said about praying? She has been trying to do so but it doesn’t come easy. She can’t overcome the belief that God cannot be interested in her.
She picks her way through the piles of junk on the stairs and creeps up to bed. Her mind recalls a memory from the past. Her mother’s voice drifting up to where she and her brother sat listening to the adults downstairs. Telling her latest ‘Dad’ how she wishes she was free of the burden of her children. How she winced at the words, as if they were a blow to the tiny thin girl she was then. And she remembered how she had prayed then, too.
In her room, Jennifer takes the bible and places it under the pillow. That makes her feel safer. She doesn’t read too well but the lady at the church said there was power in these words. She wants to go to church but doesn’t feel comfortable there. Everyone seems so successful, so well dressed, and so articulate. Jennifer doesn’t know how to ask for help and she doesn’t know what love is unless it means all the things her Dads made her do. As she pulls the dirty covers up around her neck, she whispers to God, asking Him to please make it stop. Make these things which come in the night stop.
Jennifer is typical of the average person who presents to the church looking for ‘deliverance’. Since the onset of austerity, the poor and marginalised have suffered in many ways. For whatever reason, they are also the most likely to request deliverance ministry from the church. We have long known that deliverance ministry needs are intimately bound up with emotional trauma, and if you are poor you are likely to have more trauma; or at least, to have fewer resources to address it, and the education which brings the self-confidence to ask for help.
Some say these traumas provide gateways for malevolent entities to latch on to the human heart; others see only psychological issues. Whether you believe that the strange things in the night are demonic entities or demons of the mind, episodes of another world punching a hole through into ours or part of an as yet unexplored faculty of the mind, the result is the same. Precious people, loved by Christ, held captive in suffering. Bearing not just their temporal trials but additional, possibly preternatural, ones too.
If these people were in temporal captivity, we would be marching for their release. But because they suffer in silence, in strange, mysterious ways which defy their abilities to describe, and ours to understand, we can look away.
It’s time the Baptist church rose up and developed some holy anger, some critical determination to meet this need head on and not wait for an unholy crisis. As numbers seeking deliverance grow across all denominations, it becomes increasingly difficult for ministers to avoid being drawn in. The Baptist Deliverance Study Group was set up as a pilot under the oversight of the North West Baptist Association some two years ago with the vision of walking alongside the ministers who walk alongside people like Jennifer. Since its inception, it has attracted pleas for help from Baptist ministers across the United Kingdom and beyond. It works closely with Anglican colleagues and health professionals to provide balanced, informed and accountable practice fit for purpose in the 21st century whilst firmly grounded in ageless scriptural truths.
The Baptist Deliverance Study Group believe that this ministry plays to the strengths of the Baptist church because, ultimately, this is a justice issue. Discussion about the nature of spiritual realities may be necessary, but the victims are not interested in theology but in freedom.
If Christ came to set the captives free, then we need to think about all the captives and all forms of captivity because a God of love would not come for one and not another. In John’s Gospel we read that Christ Himself said that He came to destroy the works of the evil one, and he gave this task to the early church, and to all generations of believers since. So let us stand on these truths of scripture and the passion for justice which has always been one of the greatest jewels in the Baptist crown, and take on these demons of the mind, these bondages, these strange and hidden sorrows of the poor.
The Baptist Deliverance Study Group can be contacted at: firstname.lastname@example.org