November 25, 2006
Chasing out demons in DC
The Dark Ages come to 21st-century Washington:
The stores on 14th Street are the usual. There’s a McDonald’s and a Taco Bell, a post office and a Salvadoran restaurant between U and T. There’s a shoe store, a dry cleaner and a thrift shop. And right in the middle is the Universal Church of the Kingdom of God, a storefront Pentecostal church with a plastic marquee.
This is the place where 17 people are having their souls saved this night.
Soul-saving happens here for an hour every Thursday and Sunday.
The Universal Church of the Kingdom of God is part of a Brazilian-originated faith that has 10 million members in more than 90 countries. It was the subject of controversy in Brazil in 1995 when a pastor approached a statue of the country’s patron saint on national television and kicked it repeatedly. The “Kicking of the Saint,” as it came to be known, earned the church the condemnation of Roman Catholic officials.
At the church on 14th Street, there is no saint-kicking, just an open room with white linoleum floors and rows of red chairs facing a platform.
Plus some very strange people:
The pastor, Sergio Medina, wears a blue shirt with a white collar. His four assistants are dressed like caterers, in black pants and white shirts. One assistant passes out programs, which list various demonic curses that may afflict parishioners: hereditary, word of mouth and witchcraft. The hereditary curse, passed from generation to generation, is said to last 200 years, more or less.
Tonight, Pastor Medina invites the 17 people being saved to the front of the room to pray. One of his assistants hits “play” on a tape recorder, and reedy oboe music fills the room.
Parishioners put their hands over their hearts, close their eyes and repeat a Bible verse from the Book of Matthew. Medina asks them to raise their hands in the air, then to place them on their heads.
People start speaking in tongues.
In movies when people speak in tongues, the sound is guttural, lots of “Lllll” and “Gggg” sounds. But this has sharp S’s and T’s, like Harry Potter Parseltongue.
… [O]ne woman appears to harbor a particularly troublesome demon. Medina clutches her head with his left hand while grasping the microphone with his right. “Come out, demon!” he shouts. “You will come out now!”
The demon apparently is too powerful, so Medina instructs parishioners to put aside their own exorcisms and lay hands on the afflicted woman.
Fifteen and a half pairs of arms reach out; one man’s right arm is in a sling so he reaches out only with his left. A mass of groping arms tangle together as they attempt to call out the devil.
… Once the woman has crumpled to the floor, Medina pronounces her cured. He asks if she’s all right. She primly says she’s fine.
But a few dollars lighter than she was earlier:
Parishioners are encouraged to give money, $33, the number equaling Christ’s age when he died. Medina informs them that the more they give, the better their returns will be. If they give money, they can receive a blessing. After nearly everyone has dropped something into the collection bag, Medina adds that even if people weren’t able to give, they can still receive a blessing.
The Universal Church of the Kingdom of God is (inevitably) yet another money-grabbing religious sect: go visit Rick Ross and Wikipedia to find out about the Latin American media conglomerate that those DC parishioners are helping to pay for. And more on that charming “Kicking of the Saint” incident.
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