Oklahoma, where the “corn is as high as an elephant’s eye,” has become the unlikely center of a controversy over Satanism.

Unlikely, because the image of the Sooner State is one of homespun frontier folk where farmers and cowhands can be friends. Black-robed, hooded occultists mumbling their mumbo jumbo and worshiping Satan clashes with the hearty, wholesome middle America that Oklahoma represents.

This is the heartland, where folks cling proudly to their religion and their guns. Are they really clinging to pentagrams and daggers instead?

The fuss started a few years ago, when some Satanists objected to a monument to the Ten Commandments standing outside the Oklahoma state capitol. The Satan worshipers commissioned a statue of Satan under one of his classic guises, Baphomet, and demanded equal space.

The Satan statue was rejected by the powers that be, and, in response to protests about separation of church and state, the monument to the Ten Commandments was also removed.

Not content with that small victory, a group of Satanists from the Dakhma of Angra Mainyu held a Black Mass this week in Oklahoma City’s Civic Center Music Hall. The Black Mass is an inversion of the Catholic Mass where Satan is worshiped by, if possible, desecrating a consecrated host.

Adam Daniels, the leader of the Satan-worshiping sect holds a public event each year. Last year on Christmas Eve they desecrated a statue of the Blessed Virgin Mary, and this year’s event was scheduled as a mockery of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary into Heaven.

Attendance at the Black Mass was low, and it was probably more of a publicity stunt and protest than anything else. If it was designed to get publicity for the obscure sect of Satanists, however, it was successful.

As the Black Mass was going on, hundreds of Catholics gathered on the lawn outside for a public celebration of Mass, and later in the day there was an ecumenical prayer march across the city in protest which drew thousands of Christians from every denomination.

A Catholic priest, Father William Novak, representing Bishop Paul Coakley, told the crowd: “We are all brothers and sisters unified in peace and in prayer. It is why we are here today to stand against evil.”

The Christian response to the Black Mass in Oklahoma was robust, but what is Satanism, and is it really a threat to traditional Christianity? If so, in what way?

Modern Satanism is an American phenomenon which has developed from the leadership of Anton LaVey in the 1960s. There are two forms of Satanism: atheistic and theistic.

The atheists don’t believe in a real, personal devil and use the Satanism platform to promote atheism and protest what they perceive as violations of the doctrine of separation of church and state. Theist Satanists, on the other hand, do believe in supernatural malevolent beings, and they worship them.

Satanists draw their beliefs and practices from a wide range of ancient gnostic writings, pagan religions and the occult practices of witchcraft and voodoo. There is a range of Satanic sects, ranging from the atheist protest group the Satanic Temple to the theist Temple of Set and the older Our Lady of Endor Coven.

That’s a summary of who they are, but the question remains—are they a danger to Christianity, or are they a harmless group of weirdos playing an extended game of Dungeons and Dragons? Are they dangerous evil people, or just sad losers who live in their mother’s basement watching horror movies and collecting plastic figurines from fantasy films?

On the one hand, the influence and extent of Satanism should not be exaggerated. Their numbers are few, and their proponents are anything but attractive in either demeanor or expression. Their philosophy is junk and their public appeal is yuck.

When I was an Anglican priest in England, there was a coven of witches in the town and the self-proclaimed King of the Witches was a lecherous old drunk who not only looked bad, but smelled worse. Very often those who go in for this sort of thing are misfit adolescent losers trying very hard to be rebellious and important, and worshiping Satan has become their last resort.

On the other hand, they openly profess to quite horrible beliefs and practices, and they are a genuine danger in two ways.

Firstly, they are a danger to children and young people. The King of the Witches I knew in England may have been a lecherous old drunk, but he was also well known for successfully seducing teenage girls. The statue of Baphomet that the Oklahoma Satanists wanted to erect has a little boy and girl standing at his feet, gazing up at the monster lovingly.

This is creepy stuff, and anybody who is concerned about the welfare of children should look closely and critically at Satanists’ intentions for children.

The threat is not simply one of gross immorality, but there is also a genuine spiritual danger. C.S.Lewis said, “If you summon up a demon, don’t be surprised if he turns up.”

In other words, the world of the occult is not a playground. Demons are very real, and they are very evil. They hate Christians and will torment, infest and possess vulnerable people if they can. The fact that Satanists particularly target children and young people is most distressing, because it is children and young teenagers who are most psychically and spiritually vulnerable.

Anyone who has worked in the area of mental illness will affirm the disastrous effect of occult involvement on the mental and spiritual health of a vulnerable person. If the individual does not actually become demon-possessed, they can certainly suffer long term mental, emotional and spiritual disturbance and disability.

A certain amount of common sense is required. Are Satanists a great threat? Not really. Numerically speaking, in the face of the overwhelming numbers of Christians worldwide, they are a gnat on an elephant.

On the other hand, they should not be ignored. There is evidence that their toxic religion is growing, and there should also be no question that Satanism is evil. Theistic Satanists affirm that they worship devils and that they have given themselves to evil, while atheist Satanists are openly opposed to Christ and his church.

We should take them at their word: They are our enemies.

We should keep their threat in perspective, but we should also remember the warnings of St. Peter in the New Testament, “Be alert and vigilant because your adversary the devil stalks about like a roaring lion seeking whom he may devour.”

The response of Oklahoma’s Christians was just right.

In the face of the dark ugliness of Satanism, we respond with the beauty, truth and goodness of the Christian witness. If the Satanists stage a public event, Christians should stage a larger one to remind the world that the darkness can never overcome the light.