With his calm voice and steady eyes, Neal Lozano is a quiet commander. It’s important in his unusual calling — casting out evil spirits.
Spirits, as in satanic forces.
During stops around the world, and often right in his living room in Ardmore, Pa., Lozano helps Christian clients isolate and ritually exorcise their demonic “bondages” in a sort of spiritual purging. He said he had done this several hundred times in the past decade, for free, with his wife, Janet.
Now, he’s written a handbook, “Unbound: A Practical Guide to Deliverance From Evil Spirits,” that spells out the “safe and simple” method he practices.
Lozano, a Catholic layman, has what evangelical Christians call a deliverance ministry. While these grass-roots operations may be little known to the general public, hundreds are believed to exist in this country, treating tens of thousands of Christians for sins great and small.
“Most believers will admit that certain areas of their lives are not submitted to Christ,” Lozano writes in “Unbound” (Chosen Books, $12.99). “They are holding something back. In these areas the devil is still able to exert his influence and hold people in bondage.”
Deliverance work has a long history in Christianity, he said, and is based on Gospel accounts of deliverance and passages such as Mark 16:17, in which Jesus says of believers, “By using my name they will cast out demons.”
Does Lozano’s Heart of the Father Ministries perform exorcisms? In a way, yes, though he avoids the word.
As a Catholic layman, he said, he doesn’t want his work confused with the Roman Catholic Church’s Rite of Exorcism, a formal liturgy reserved for the most extreme cases and conducted only by designated priests.
Also, Lozano knows that such activity suggests pitched showdowns between satanic spirits and gunslinger ministers. It’s a heated approach that has led to occasional debacles, such as the death last month in Milwaukee of an autistic boy, asphyxiated during a Pentecostal church’s marathon session to force evil spirits out of him.
Showdowns only exacerbate demonic “manifestations” — the shrieking, cursing, vomiting and other dramatics made notorious in “The Exorcist” — that traumatize the afflicted and are unnecessary, Lozano said in an interview.
“I’ve found that if you expect manifestations, you get them,” he said. “They are real manifestations, but you can either stir them up by focusing on the devil, or you can focus on the person and help them take responsibility, through Christ.”
Belief in demonic forces is not far-fetched, according to a Gallup poll released in March. Fully 68 percent of Americans believe in the devil, it found, while 20 percent do not, and 12 percent are unsure.
Though the Gallup finding applied across religious, educational and regional lines, devil-focus is most pronounced in Pentecostal and charismatic Christianity.
Many charismatics claim “heightened spiritual sensitivities” as “humanity’s advance guard into the spirit world,” said Michael Cuneo, a Fordham University sociologist and author of a book on the subject, “American Exorcism: Expelling Demons in the Land of Plenty.”
In researching his 2001 book, Cuneo found that there are at least 600 deliverance ministries in the United States, and there could be triple that number.
Cuneo, a skeptic, found that the Pentecostal and charismatic world fell into “demonomania” in the 1970s and 1980s, inspired in part by “The Exorcist,” the 1973 film said to dramatize a Catholic exorcism.
Those were the early boom years of the charismatic movement, and zealous exorcism and deliverance ministries were common, Cuneo said. But in time, he said, the marathon “puke and rebuke” sessions, and occasional medical emergencies, caused a backlash. A competing method emerged that aimed to simply “bind the demons.”
Cuneo’s book explains the thinking: “Demons needed to be kept in their place, the subjects of deliverance needed to be restrained from acting out, and it was the responsibility of deliverance ministers to ensure that proceedings were conducted in a dignified manner.”
Cuneo did not talk to Lozano in his research, but he could have been describing the domesticated method Lozano practices and teaches.
Lozano, 54, has theological training and long experience in the charismatic movement. While a churchgoing member of St. Colman’s Parish in Ardmore, Pa., he founded an independent, ecumenical praise-and-worship fellowship in 1974 and remains its salaried leader.
The fellowship, known as the House of God’s Light, is Lozano’s base of operations as he expands deliverance ministry. He said he learned his “patchwork” method from experienced practitioners, particularly Argentinian Pentecostals who are renowned in the field.
The Lozanos discussed their work in an interview last month, three days after returning from Sudan and Kenya, where several Catholic parishes had invited them to lead deliverance seminars.
According to Lozano, most Christians could benefit from deliverance for a host of possible bondages. His list is voluminous: hatred, resentment, envy, pride, vengeance, bitterness, unforgiveness, fear, traumas, fixations, complexes, insecurities, phobias.
As a conservative Christian, Lozano adds homosexuality, infidelity, pornography, masturbation and involvement with horoscopes and other “occult” practices. All, he says, are “entryways” Satan can exploit.
Lozano said he and his wife, a nurse, interview each subject about his life, faith and concerns. If the person is under a doctor’s care, they see that that continues; if he seems psychotic, they halt the process, Lozano said.
Sessions can be short or take hours. Through prayer and inner discernment, the Lozanos help the person isolate areas of bondage, one by one. If they include emotional scars caused by parents, a common issue, the person utters forgiveness of the parent. Then, Lozano said, the person renounces each bondage and repents of it.
At that point, Lozano commands the spirits to leave, in Jesus’ name. “We must say it out loud, because we are not merely performing a human ritual; we are actually speaking to demons,” he writes.
The goal is to “seal the entryways” against Satan’s return. To be sure that happens, Lozano observes the person’s demeanor.
Once he is convinced the person is unbound, Lozano “fills the void” with a final prayer of blessing, because “the love of God needs to be released into the area that has been bound.”
Ann Stevens, 32, of Ardmore, said that she had long felt like “an emotional cripple,” and that the Lozanos’ discernment isolated the cause: She had, she said, “withdrawn my heart” from family members because of past hurts.
She forgave them, renounced, repented, and has felt unbound since that moment six years ago, she said.
Cuneo, the Fordham sociologist, said he talked to many people who claimed relief through deliverance. While not dismissing them all outright, he said he believed many apparent cures resulted from “auto-suggestion” or as a placebo effect, in which the mere act of being treated provides relief.
John Bettler, director of the Christian Counseling and Educational Foundation in Glenside, Pa., said a few people had come to him saying they had undergone deliverance and found “after a few weeks, the old problems came back. They were disappointed and confused.” That didn’t surprise Bettler, a Reformed Protestant who’s “not too excited about some formulaic way of casting out evil.”
St. Paul wrote about “spiritual darkness in high places, which was demonic activity,” he said. “But he said the ways to deal with it are very ordinary: praying, believing, reading Scripture, just living out a Christian life.”