What Do Christians Do With Halloween?

I was going to write on this subject Monday, the day of Halloween, but a blog entry on CNN.com today caught my attention. I have a lot more to write but here’s the gist of the article: Christians are all over the map in how they view Halloween. Some see it as the devil’s holiday and something to be avoided at all cost. For example, think of a small group holding a prayer meeting on Halloween night to ward off the demonic forces they believed were roaming the streets. Some churches hold “harvest festivals” as “safe” alternatives to trick-or-treating. For years, my church held a Wednesday night Octoberfest festival that was run by our children’s ministry. This year we’re not doing anything, though. In every city there is at least one church that tries to use Halloween to fight Halloween, kind of like a preemptive forest burn. They have “hell houses,” which are meant to scare young people (heck, anyone who wants to enter the thing) into believing in Jesus Christ. They “up the gore” to try to reach the desensitized youth of today. I remember going to such a house as a kid, put on by our church near Houston. It freaked me out. Other churches are more open to all holidays and their traditions, including Halloween. Kids dress up in whatever costumes they desire and go trick or treating. There may even be skeletons and tomb stones in the front yard.

This CNN Belief Blog entry briefly covers all of these viewpoints.

A Christian debate over Halloween: Counter, co-opt, or embrace it?

Editor’s note: Listen to the CNN Radio broadcast about the debate: By Jim Roope, CNN

Los Angeles (CNN) – For many American Christians, Halloween is innocent, harmless and fun, and they trick-or-treat, carve pumpkins and don costumes with gusto.

For others, though – especially for some conservative and fundamentalist Christians – Halloween is a celebration of evil and has no place in the life of a believer.

Over-the-top jack-o’-lanterns

“We don’t endorse that or we don’t celebrate that,” said Joe Hernandez, pastor of Worshipwalk Church in Los Angeles, which belongs to the conservative Pentecostal tradition. “People are celebrating the devil’s holiday.”

Halloween’s roots are believed to date back 1,400 years, to the Irish-pagan New Year’s celebration. The Celtic New Year began on November 1. People would light bonfires and wear costumes to ward off roaming ghosts and evil spirits.

Movies that scare the people who scare us

Some Christians, like Hernandez, believe Halloween’s pagan roots can open the door to evil. That’s why Worshipwalk is hosting a harvest festival in its church parking lot on Monday, with kids’ games and face painting.

Hernandez calls it harvesting hearts for God.

Some conservative churches go a step further, attempting to co-opt the holiday with haunted houses – called “hell houses” – that are designed to give a glimpse of eternal damnation in hopes of strengthening faith.

“There’s Satan’s lies and there’s Jesus’ redemption and there’s a message that will change your life,” said Keenan Roberts, who says he is the inventor of the hell house, which people walk or call through, just as they would a haunted house.

I was a zombie movie extra

“It’s designed to reach the ‘sight and sound’ age,” said Roberts. “The message is sacred but the method is not.”

Hell houses can be graphic. In Roberts’ hell house – which he markets through his Hell House Ministries – live actors depict scenes of abortion, rape, suicide and murder, though the journey through the house culminates in scenes of redemption through Jesus.

Pastor of the fundamentalist New Destiny church near Denver, Colorado, Roberts said that his ministry has received a lot of criticism for what critics say is “going too far.”

But he said today’s kids are so desensitized that he will do whatever it takes to get the message of salvation to take root.

Avoiding sexy costumes for kids

Mainline Protestants tend to take a much softer line on Halloween, with some mainline churches embracing it.

“Halloween for me is a time to have fun,” said Wayne Walters, pastor at the First United Methodist Church in Burbank, California. “I remember growing up – on Halloween I went trick-or-treating. I was in it for the candy.”

“And at Christmas I put out cookies and milk for Santa Claus, who always took time to sit down and enjoy them,” he continued. “None of those I think had a negative influence, destroyed or diminished my faith, he said.”

Walters says that many non-religious traditions associated with Christian holidays, including Santa Claus and the Easter Bunny, hardly mean those holidays are non-Christian.

Where do I stand on Halloween? I don’t celebrate it, personally. Not for some fundamentalist reason but instead because of its constant focus on fear and death — and I hate fear and death. Especially fear. So I don’t celebrate it. However… I DO celebrate the day after Halloween, which is a major day on the traditional Church calendar. According to the calendar, the day after Halloween is All Saints Day, a day to celebrate the lives of those who have walked in faith before us. It remembers those who are no longer with us. In the Catholic Church, the Saints are celebrated on Nov. 1st. For me, I celebrate all who have walked and died in faith, especially those who have, through their lives and writings, impacted my own faith. So I say a prayer of thanks to God for Athanasius and Augustine, Francis and Zwingli, Knox and Nicholas. I’d much rather focus on those men than on fearful things.

I DO like the candy, though.

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