Religious Grooming

A story which leapt out at me this morning in the Times concerns a GP who is facing a hearing at the General Medical Council in Manchester. Dr Thomas O’Brien allegedly told a patient that he could heal her pain without medication and that she was to submit to an exorcism. It was only after Dr O’Brien was reported to the GMC by the patient’s psychiatrist that the case came to light. The present hearing that is ongoing brings to the fore a number of issues relevant to this blog.

During the course of the hearing which began yesterday (Tuesday) the expression ‘religious grooming’ was used. This expression, as far as I know, has no place in law but the fact of its use in a quasi-legal setting may be of importance for the future. The pre-exorcism religious grooming included taking the patient to a local Pentecostal church, meeting the minister over lunch and giving her a copy of a book Doctor O’Brien and his wife had written, an Occult Checklist. This type of checklist, in favour among a certain genre of Christian, has been around since the 80s and it lists all the forms of behaviour that have the potential for allowing an individual to be demonically possessed. The lists are comprehensive and indeed anyone reading such a checklist will find at least one experience or situation that has made them susceptible to ‘Satanic influence’. I cannot imagine that many people have never once read their horoscope while sitting in a dentist’s waiting room and that activity open up the individual to demonic infestation. I encountered the influence of these types of checklists in the 90s when researching my book, Ungodly Fear. One vulnerable woman was told to destroy all her possessions after a group of Christians had persuaded her that she was possessed through having worked as a nurse at a Masonic Hospital in London. Fortunately she did not oblige. The checklist will mention the demonic power of elephants (pictures or models) because elephants are sacred to Hinduism. All adopted children are likely to be possessed because the act of their conception was performed out of wedlock. Needless to say, gay sex and any sexual activity outside marriage is taking the perpetrator straight to Hell. I used to have such a checklist but its contents were so disturbing and unsettling that the book was destroyed. The purpose of the book seems to have been to terrify the reader into cutting themselves off from any influences that might challenge the power of the religious leader under whose authority they have placed themselves.

The occult checklist culture in the UK reached a peak in the early 90s with the scares connected with satanic ritual abuse. I have discussed this issue in a previous blog post. I can say in summary that the demonic paranoia that was rampant among Pentecostal and other evangelical groups has mercifully subsided. One hoped that enough people had seen the horrendous harm caused to vulnerable individuals by such teaching. Clearly, as the present hearing shows, this is not universally the case. For one highly educated person, such as Dr O’Brien to hold on to such medieval and harmful beliefs, there needs to be a supporting culture of books, theological teaching and convinced individuals. People do not wake up one morning with all these beliefs in their head fully formed. They have to learn them in a church and the church has a minister who has learnt these ideas from an institution of some kind. As I have said on a previous blog post, there is a time for appropriate ministry to deal with paranormal and occult issues. But the exorcism as practised by Dr and Mrs O’Brien seems to have been laced with bad pastoral practice, weak theology and abusive assumptions. This kind of practice needs to be named and shamed.

Out of this sad episode, which is as yet unresolved, may come two positive results. One is that the expression ‘religious grooming’ may slip from its use in the General Medical Council to become a category understood by lawyers and courts generally. It would be a tremendous boost to the cause of helping vulnerable and damaged people who have been further abused by religious leaders if their plight could be understood by the courts. The second thing that gives me hope is the need for churches generally to have to consider where they stand in responding to this particular case. Some, no doubt, will claim that Dr O’Brien is a poor persecuted Christian who is suffering for his beliefs. Others, and I hope the majority, will declare that Christians of any kind have no business in making the suffering of an individual worse by the application of a type of Christianity which is clearly abusive. Any discussion in Christian circles, and I hope there is a lot, will help Christian people to see that certain beliefs can and do harm people. The unravelling of all the moral issues in this case may well help the cause of a greater self-awareness among Christians who sincerely want to apply biblical truths to the issues of people’s lives but need to be taught to do it with tact, intelligence and sensitivity. The battle against abuse by Christians of Christians has to go on. This is the task of this blog and your interest and support will help and encourage my very small role in this struggle.

About Stephen Parsons

Stephen is a retired Anglican priest living at present in Northumberland. He has taken a special interest in the issues around health and healing in the Church but also when the Church is a place of harm and abuse. He has published books on both these issues and is at present particularly interested in understanding the psychological aspects of leadership and follower-ship in the Church. He is always interested in making contact with others who are concerned with these issues.

7 thoughts on “Religious Grooming

  1. Religious grooming is a very useful phrase. It is of course what the Moonies do, for example, and the Witnesses. It would be nice to think that this concept could be properly explored and perhaps become a recognised offence. But I can see that that might be difficult. And you wouldn’t want a normal loving and caring church to be charged with grooming vulnerable people because a widow for example has been taken out for lunch a few times, and then taken to church functions.

  2. What do you think of these true examples? Had friends who were newly saved, didn’t understand awful church politics; they brought their parents who were unsaved into the church and these wonderful pious self-righteous Christians told them not to bring their parents here because they had demons. Meaning these people could see they had demons, but not get them delivered? Really; obviously they forgot Luke 15:7-10. Can you imagine, being a visitor to a church/conference and some idiot yells, you have snakes all over, around, in you EVERYONE heard and stupid leadership allowed (she who was a gossip whoremonger and astral projected and bragged who/what she knew (important). What if this person wasn’t a believer and would think of all this? Then as much as I think John Paul Jackson’s, 90 minute tape teaching and Noel Alexander’s, 60 minute on Jezebel Spirit is EXCELLENT and Tim Davis’s Ahab/Jezebel Role teaching in the home. Pastor’s thought they could go up to Women and call them Jezebel’s based on these very unhealed men with hatred of women and suspicion, operating in fear, and paranoia, worse competition (James 3:14-16); did SO much damage with the aligning with the Accuser (book: by David Alsobrook). Not bringing out the best in people or encouraging them in gifts/callings and seeing as God sees them by their heart. Noted, where they would do this mainly to gifted apostolic/prophetic men/women which would cause an offence that would stunt their growth, waylaying their gift/calling. Told heads of church leadership, items like this were going to go public, if you abused people and names were going to get named. Worse, you might make someone’s book or the news. Some movements (so-called churches) thought they were better than everyone else or SPECIAL and had the patent right on the prophetic when they were actually pathetic and became worse than every church we all came out of. Hideous was to have spy system to report back to their chosen frozen ( more like called them the warlock council), chew people up with their gossip fodder. That’s why, say, if your going through one hellish item one after another and a lot of car accidents you might want to rethink your church; it might be operating more like warlocks/witches THAN CHRISTIAN. Concentrate/live Glory and Love of GOD THE FATHER.
    More later.

  3. Wow the example you give from the States are far more vivid and dramatic than the examples we have in the UK. I have seen stuff similar to what you are describing on Youtube clips. What I feel about this sort of craziness is that you can’t tackle the excesses of the charismatic everytime it appears. You have to try to find out who is teaching this kind of stuff and challenge the writers of the books, the teachers in the colleges. Not that I personally can do that. As I said in my comment about Dr O’Brien, there has to be a church and a whole structure of teaching and ideas around him for him to have produced the paranoid checklist for demons. Paranoid impressionable people that you describe in the churches are not, I repeat, the ones to be challenged. We need to go after the crazy theology that undergirds all this stuff and identify with the people who are already doing this challenging. This is why the internet is so useful.

    1. Stephen: Not sure if the people involved went to college, all the dogma mentioned comes from Denomination (demonization). Very unhealed people that the church takes their tithes and doesn’t heal them up.

  4. Your friend needs to find another church! Seriously. Nice people do exist. And it isn’t given to other human beings to know who is saved. That’s up to God. I hope this situation resolves itself. Don’t try to do it all yourself. Just support those who have been hurt.

  5. By the way The Pentecostal movement along with Charismatic Movement HAS a lot to ANSWER for. The Assassins (Assemblies) of God, Foursquare (having grown up in both these movements SORRY to say) there had to be mental illness in your family to be raised in either, something was really awry to show up sing, give gifts, alms, offerings and tithe and NOT question you could have sat your entire life in either movement and they would have NEVER gone through Bible completely once. People are content to sit in a a #%*?&%# country club that carries a Bible” by an over 80 yr. old that read nothing but his Bible. Not to question there is no strong teaching on Holiness, Righteousness, Fasting, Prayer, Healthy Families, Glory, Apostolic and Prophetic, let alone Morals/Character let alone Modeled. But, these evil men who think they have/know God, want your money to be kept in their hideous extravegent lifestyle. People have corrected, been sent in every Generation, Decade and worse these so-called leadership and people (like TBN invoking Staff and one Evil pastor his radio listeners and emails to pray for anyone to die that corrects him, and calling his minions to pray for major leader to die in U.S.=Google Imprecatory Prayers and see all the pastors that are doing that). Look at Mike Bickle; all the Post/Grievances and the people that were sent to correct and he hasn’t heeded anything, he’s calling them crazy and some one is coercing, strong-arm (that would be satanism) items to get removed off of Blogs (seen it, experienced it, so what is he hiding and afraid o. Cult, one definition, “a complete and utter disdain for correction”. In my over 20 years of being sent, or written; NOT ONE has been correctable (that’s why would call D. Wilkerson to deal with and created Report Church Abuse List). Later I’ll write about book list that might help you of why O’Brien and so many others are doing what they are doing. Thanks for your insight, wisdom and feedback in above paragraph.

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