The preacher told his audience that he had "first and last names of six witches that are in our church."

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Over the weekend, Christian hate-preacher Greg Locke, fresh off his book-burning bonfire, began a literal witch hunt at Global Vision Bible Church. He told his congregation that he knew of six witches who were members of his church… and he planned to expose them.

We got first and last names of six witches that are in our church. And you know what’s strange? Three of you are in this room right now… Three of you in the room right now! You better look in my eyeballs. We ain’t afraid of you, ya’ stinkin’ witch! Ya’ devil-worshiping Satanist witch! We cast you OUT in the name of Jesus Christ! We break yo’ spells! We break yo’ curse! We got your first name! We got your last name! We even got an address for one of you!

You so much as cough wrong, and I’ll expose you in front of everybody in this tent, ya’ stinkin’ witch…

You were sent to this church to destroy us. You were sent to this church to lure us in. You were sent to this church to cast a spell. Listen! Some of you been sick ’cause you befriended that witch!…

Two of you in my wife’s—ladies’—Bible study, and you know who you are, and we gon’ ask you to GET OUT or I’ll expose you in front of everybody…

We got all six of their names. All six of them…

Two of them had already been confirmed… First and last name! This chick has been to our church and don’t know none of ya!…

So you got a choice: You can leave with your spells, all by yourself, or I’ll show up next Sunday with a stage full of brooms…

While many online joked about how Locke was laying the groundwork to reject possible allegations that may one day come out against him (for which there’s no evidence), there’s something much more sinister at play here.

Even if you think, as I do, that Locke is just trying to arouse anger in his church members, who need to be perpetually outraged to feel like they’re getting their money’s worth, this particular line of attack is more than just creating a bogeyman.

Locke was essentially reminding church members that they must be obedient to him or else they’re acting against God’s wishes. Dissenters are controlled by Satan. Dissenters have a “Jezebel spirit.” Dissenters must be witches.

It’s not that Locke is going to expose witches. It’s that he’s creating an environment where anyone could be declared a witch. And if you don’t want to become a target, the best path forward is to do anything and everything that Locke says, lest you become a target yourself.

This is how cults operate.

We know this is all an act because Locke had plenty of opportunities to take action on his supposed information… yet he never did. If he knew their names, why didn’t he say them out loud? If witches were trying to infiltrate his church, then why did he let them in? If they’re in a church Bible study, why is Locke trying to kick them out? (Shouldn’t he want to “save” those witches?)

The answer is simple: He’s only interested in stirring the pot, injecting fear into church members, and controlling them as much as possible. Even he must know he’s bullshitting. More importantly, he knows his congregation will never have the courage to call him out on his words. They trusted him when he lied about COVID and face masks, even after at least one member died, and they’ll trust him about the witches.

In response to the viral video I posted, Locke told Bob Smietana of Religion News Service that “his words had been taken out of context in the edited video.” That’s a lie. The context was clear in the full sermon as well, and my editing merely removed fluff and got the video under Twitter’s allowable time limit.

The one piece of “news” Locke offered was that two of the supposed witches were men… which doesn’t actually change anything since he’s still too cowardly to offer up any names. (You would think a man out to hunt witches would want more people aware of who they should avoid.)

Locke also claimed that all six of the witches were “sent here on assignment to disrupt.” But again, he offered no clarifying details. Who sent them? When did any disruptions occur? And why would anyone who opposes him want to visit his maskless, unvaccinated sideshow? His critics, I would gather, are the kinds of people who would typically avoid those situations.

That sermon isn’t really about witches. It’s about a Christian preacher using an imaginary threat to force believers into obedience. It’s about religion writ large.

Locke talks about witches for the same reason most pastors talk about Satan: to scare people into compliance. The scary thing is that his plan may actually work.

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Hemant Mehta is the founder of FriendlyAtheist.com, a YouTube creator, podcast co-host, and author of multiple books about atheism. He can be reached at @HemantMehta.