A burp or a yawn? Either might signal an exiting demon.
So say Larry and Marion Pollard, the subjects of a 4,400-word D Magazine profile with the provocative title “The Exorcists Next Door.”
Let’s start at the top:
The trees and rolling hills lend a warm, suburban vibe to Marion and Larry Pollard’s West Arlington neighborhood. Shouts of children from a nearby elementary school waft in on waves of heat as you step inside the foyer of their comfortable ranch home, where you’re surrounded by portraits of the grandkids—eight of them, ranging in age from 5 to 22.
To the right is the Pollards’ office, looking like any pastor’s study, with a desk, a trio of chairs, and bookshelves lined with Bible commentaries. A box of tissues sits discreetly beside one chair. A football-sized terrier named Bella bounces in and nestles behind you when you take a seat.
You won’t hear bland Bible homilies in this place, however. The Pollards are exorcists, practitioners of an ancient specialty mostly lost since the early days of the church, and their job is to cast out demons. The demons come out through gagging and coughing and shaking and yawning, with minimal histrionics, because Larry “binds” the theatrical antics of demons, such as flinging bodies across a room. They call it gentle deliverance.
Pastors and Christian mental-health professionals from all over the country quietly refer clients they just can’t help to the Pollards, after trying everything. In the 15 years or so since the Pollards started their ministry, there has been no shortage of tortured souls.
For the next four hours, I will witness an exorcism—or, as they prefer to call it, “deliverance session”—and it will blow my mind. Not because I haven’t seen a deliverance before. I have, but it was while on Christian church missions in Nigeria and Botswana. I’ve never seen this: the juxtaposition of these plainspoken, ordinary West Texans and the Dantean drama that plays out in front of us, via the soft frame of a 38-year-old suburban mom we’ll call Ruth.
Writer Julie Lyons, whom Dreher describes as “a friend from my Dallas days and a heck of a writer,” approaches her subject with seriousness and respect — and even allows herself to become a part of the story (don’t miss the twist at the end!).
She complements her detailed narrative of what she witnesses inside the Pollards’ house with historical background and modern-day insight from theologians:
Scott Horrell, a professor of theological studies at Dallas Theological Seminary, explains why you’ll seldom hear mention of the demonic in American churches today. “Because we are rationalists, we are of the Enlightenment,” he says. One well-known Christian authority went so far as to tell Horrell, “I’ve never seen a demon possession that a pill could not cure.” But Horrell observed otherwise during 18 years of ministry and teaching in Brazil, where a syncretic religion called Umbanda—a mix of African tribal religions, indigenous Indian religions, elements of Roman Catholicism, and Kardecian Spiritism from Europe—is widely practiced among all strata of society. Demonic oppression “is reality in other parts of the world,” Horrell says, “and I’m quite convinced it’s reality here. And there are probably many in our psych hospitals who are medicated to suppress what appear to be the outcroppings of possession, and the spiritual dimension is never addressed. It’s just never even looked at.”
Given my personal background (Church of Christ all my life), I found Lyons’ description of the Pollards’ upbringing intriguing:
Growing up in Lubbock in the super-conservative Church of Christ, Larry and Marion heard little about the supernatural. “Golly, there was none of that,” Larry says. “With my background, Baptists would seem liberal.” Sure, Jesus cast out demons—in fact, demons take up a surprisingly large part of the four gospel narratives—but no one expected to find any of them in West Texas, and certainly not in the Church of Christ. Here, the Pollards married young and eventually moved to the Dallas area, where they lived the best they knew how, working hard, going to church, and raising four kids. Larry earned master licenses in plumbing and HVAC, Marion sold real estate, and together they pulled in a six-figure income.
I’m not certain “super-conservative” is the adjective I’d use to describe Churches of Christ, although I’ll admit chuckling at the “Baptists would seem liberal” quote. I can attest that casting out demons is not a subject discussed frequently in Churches of Christ.
In general, I prefer third-person reporting — without the writer inserting herself into the narrative. Then again, one could argue that it takes someone with Lyons’ background, expertise and interest in this subject to tell this story.
Another quibble: I understand the rationale behind giving an assumed name to the woman in the lede, but I am not a fan of stories that rely on pseudonyms.
Those personal preferences notwithstanding, Lyons and her D Magazine editors deserve kudos for producing a compelling, enlightening piece of journalism.
By all means, read it all — but maybe not right before bedtime.
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