Longform

The Devil and Doyle Davidson

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I received this revelation of the activities of a Jezebel from the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. He taught me from I Kings about Jezebel, Ahab's wife, how she walked in witchcraft, how she controlled Ahab's activities, and how she accomplished things through witchcraft that Ahab could not...

This should explain to you how much the Jezebel hates a prophet of God. Lisa, this should also make you consider what spirit is in you and what made you do the things against me that you have... --From Doyle Davidson's Web site, March 27, 2006

The front of the Water of Life sanctuary is draped in swaths of royal blue. On a blue-carpeted stage sit two blue chairs and a coffee table with silk flowers. An idyllic scene of green grass, trees and pink azaleas completes the backdrop.

Two cameras flank the stage, and another is positioned in the center aisle. Wearing a well-cut suit and blue tie, Davidson paces, repeating "hallelujah, hallelujah," as if to himself. As a cameraman counts down with his fingers, Davidson steps into the pulpit and opens the 10 a.m. Sunday service with a prayer.

He's trim and tan, still a handsome man at 73. He talks about walking many miles or riding his bike around Plano, praying, binding witchcraft spirits and demonic powers as he goes.

But he's not much of a speaker, which at first makes it difficult to understand his appeal. His raspy voice is hard to understand, and he rambles. Big segments are taken up by Davidson pulling the Bible close to his face and reading straight from Scripture. "I just preach the Bible," Davidson is fond of saying. "I don't interpret it. That's why the world hates me."

Forty to 50 people sit in the audience. Every now and then there's an "amen" or "glory," most often from son-in-law Terry Mai, whose rich bass leads the singing with Davidson's daughter Kathy. The Mais are accompanied by one of their daughters on piano; their other two girls play horn and sax. But the church seems subdued for what some people might call a "holy roller" meeting. There's no singing at the beginning, nothing to get the people clapping and raising their hands in praise.

Just Doyle, as he prefers to be called.

He speaks about 45 to 50 minutes, and then the worship team takes over for a while. Davidson is back at the top of the hour and gives another sermon. He repeats this on Sunday evenings at 6 p.m. What's clear after watching a few sermons is this: Davidson's preaching is mesmerizing only because you wonder what bizarre thing he's going to say next.

In Davidson's early sermons, he didn't sound that much different from other "Spirit-filled" fundamentalists: He preached salvation through the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ and the necessity of receiving the Holy Spirit, which was evidenced by speaking in tongues or other spiritual gifts. But he dubbed himself an "apostle," a prophet specifically sent by God to Plano to rid the city of its ruling spirit: Jezebel. And he began to confuse himself with God, claiming in one sermon he was without sin and would never die. He has said that God, in 1974, told him to study the life of Christ "and he would give me a ministry like his Son's" and that his ministry would "cover the earth." Davidson will lose his train of thought in the middle of a sermon, then say with a smirk, "Well, whatever I was going to say, it's of God." Davidson recently told his viewers that God told him to get rid of all his tapes and writings from the '80s and '90s. "If you are keeping them," he said, "you need to throw them away or you're committing sin."

Demons are a central theme in Davidson's sermons. The belief in a spirit world populated by angels and demons isn't unusual; Catholicism has an exorcism ceremony for priests to follow when confronted by evil spirits, and Pentecostal churches have long practiced "deliverance" from demons. But Davidson teaches that Christians and nonbelievers alike can be possessed by spirits. On testimonial pages linked to Davidson's Web site, followers blame everything from multiple sclerosis to kidney stones on witchcraft and demons of rejection, fear, rebellion and lust. When he lays hands on sufferers, sometimes the demon leaves and pain subsides. But other spirits don't come out so willingly.

After experiencing an exorcism, one churchgoer wrote that when the demon left her it felt "as though an ice pick was plunged through my head." Longtime member Jack Small described a devil's departure like a tearing of the flesh. Terry Mai, who also preaches, wrote that when Davidson put his hands on his shoulders to deliver him from sorcery and witchcraft, they felt like branding irons. "I felt in my chest like flesh was literally tearing away from my ribs." Another said it was like "a covey of quail" flying out of his belly.

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Glenna Whitley