Pastor Greg Locke of Global Vision Bible Church in Mt. Juliet, Tennessee, recently drew criticism after claiming that mental health disorders such as obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) and developmental disorders like autism are signs of demonic oppression.
"Don't get mad at me, I'm talking. We say things like this 'well, I just got OCD.' You know why you do things that are out of the ordinary over and over and over, and it ticks you off if it's not done? Because you have a spirit of oppression, that's why. You ain't got OCD," Locke said in a sermon titled "Desperate for Deliverance" on Sunday.
According to Church Leaders, Locke went on to say that people use medical terms instead of biblical terms, like spiritual oppression, because it makes them feel better. He also cited three occasions in the Bible where parents brought their kids to Jesus because they were struggling with epileptic fits, anger issues and outbursts of emotion.
"And because we've called it possession, parents refuse to deal with it," Locke said.
"Are you telling me my kid is possessed," the pastor rhetorically told congregants. "No! I'm telling you your kid could be demonized and attacked, but your doctor calls it autism."
"I don't care if you leave or not," Locke shouted. "I'm telling you there's deliverance in the name of Jesus Christ for your children and their children's children."
Locke argued that no such diagnosis of autism was present in the Bible, arguing that Jesus would, instead, "cast out that oppressing spirit and the child was made whole that very hour."
"There's a lot in the Bible about spirit oppression that we just overlook because it's uncomfortable," he argued. "The Holy Spirit indwells the holy, holy of our body, but there are still demonizing spirits that try to destroy the work of the spirit within us, and because we don't recognize that the church is in a floundering mess of no victory in America."
Last year, Locke was permanently suspended from Twitter in violation of the platform's rules. He often used his account to speak out against COVID-19 protocol, such as mask-wearing and vaccines, and the results of the 2020 presidential election.
A clip of Locke making these comments on autism surfaced on Twitter and was denounced by Tonya Nash, the founder of the Autism Faith Network (AFN).
In a lengthy Twitter thread, Nash called Locke's words "deeply offensive." Nash is a Christian mother of two sons with autism, one of whom also has a "rare form of epilepsy."
I was minding my business last night, reading tweets about the Bills vs Chiefs game when the below tweet caught my attention.— Tonya Nash, MPH, CHES® (@IAmTonyaNash) January 24, 2022
It's been a while since I've done a faith-based Twitter thread, but Greg Locke's comments have compelled me to speak up. Put on your seatbelts! 🧵 1/14 https://t.co/rN85S2pXfQ
"My boys mean EVERYTHING to me. It would be easy to write a post about how amazing they are, assuring everyone that neither one of them has a demon," she wrote.
Instead, Nash highlighted that Locke's remarks reflect what some churches believe about mental illness and disabilities.
"How many churches do you know that have a ministry for those with disabilities and their families? Churches have all kinds of ministries," she wrote. "Singles Ministry, Divorce Ministry, Senior Ministry, Grief Ministry, Prison Ministry—and all of these are important! However, 1 in 4 adults have a disability, 1 in 26 persons will develop #epilepsy, and 1 in 44 children have been diagnosed with #autism."
"With that being the case, why is #disability ministry rare in our churches," Nash asked. "How many churches have disabled persons in prominent places of leadership, such as those who are #deaf or #autistic? It's certainly not because they do not possess the talent or ability to lead."
While churches claim to be accessible to everyone, Nash wondered why that doesn't apply to disabled people. She lamented that disabled persons are often "treated as a nuisance and distraction instead of a child of God that is worthy to be there, just like everyone else."
Additionally, the parents and caregivers of those disabled "are left spiritually homeless, because few #churches are willing to make accommodations so that the ENTIRE family can worship together," she added. "They are shunned in society and also in the house of God."
Nash went on to highlight the "quiet acceptance" in many churches that disabled people "do not belong" and that their condition was "caused by sin or by demons to be prayed away."
"This stigma and ignorance has to stop!" she asserted. "While Greg Locke's comments are abhorrent, they are in lockstep with the inaction of the #church body AS A WHOLE to reach out to and support #disabled persons and their families."
In closing, Nash challenged others to make churches more accessible for individuals with disabilities.
"While we are speaking out on Greg Locke, let's look within and find ways in which we can make our own churches more inclusive for #disabled persons and their families. We have to do better. Let's start today," she concluded.
Locke launched AFN in 2016 to raise autism awareness among places of worship. According to the organization's website, AFN has attended 35 churches, with more than 10,000 people learning more about autism in their respective congregations.
Photo courtesy: ©Getty Images/Thitaree Sarmkasat
Video courtesy: ©Pastor Greg Locke
Milton Quintanilla is a freelance writer and content creator. He is a contributing writer for Christian Headlines and the host of the For Your Soul Podcast, a podcast devoted to sound doctrine and biblical truth. He holds a Masters of Divinity from Alliance Theological Seminary.