For most Americans, Halloween means trick-or-treating, watching horror movies or at worst stringing toilet paper in trees. For many fundamentalist churches, however, ’tis the season for hellfire and brimstone, with dramatic presentations modeled after haunted houses aimed at scaring people into accepting Christ.
For many fundamentalist churches, however, ’tis the season for hellfire and brimstone, with dramatic presentations modeled after haunted houses aimed at scaring people into accepting Christ.<?xml:namespace prefix = o ns = “urn:schemas-microsoft-com:office:office” />
Some Christians, as well as some Muslims and Jews, do not observe Halloween because they view its pagan origins as conflicting with their faith. But others see it as an opportunity for evangelism.
Christian-themed haunted houses have been around since the 1970s and were popularized by prominent preachers including Jerry Falwell. These outreach efforts focus not on ghosts and goblins, but rather on Bible verses about heaven and hell.
Tom Hudgins, youth pastor of <?xml:namespace prefix = st1 ns = “urn:schemas-microsoft-com:office:smarttags” />CalvaryBaptistChurch in Clearwater, Fla., created the first Judgement House in 1983 as a “Christian alternative” to Halloween. Today, churches use his New Creation Evangelism Judgement House kits year-round.
Last year, Hudgins said on his Web site, 265,000 people heard the gospel presented in Judgement Houses in 27 states and three foreign countries. Nearly 45,000, he said, made decisions to be saved or rededicate their life.
Judgement House features a series of 5-7 minute scenes where a story progresses about everyone needing to make a decision whether to accept or reject Christ. Following a scene in heaven, guests go to a decision room, where they are invited to pray to receive Christ or offer rededication.
A similar ministry, called Hell House, is familiar enough to be subject of an award-winning documentary in 2002 and parodied on the satire Web site LandoverBaptist.org.
The real Hell House, created by 40-year-old Keenan Roberts, pastor DestinyChurch of the Assemblies of God in Broomfield, Colo., sells for $299 on the church Web site. Last year Roberts told the Washington Post the kit had been sold to 555 churches in 46 states and 13 countries since he created it in 1995.
The “Hell House Outreach” kit includes a manual, DVD and special-effects soundtrack on CD.
Hell House, according to the Web site, takes visitors on a seven-scene journey portraying the consequences of sinful choices. Capitalizing on interest in the Halloween season, the theatrical outreach event depicts “the hell and devastation that Satan and this world can bestow on those who choose not to serve Jesus Christ.”
Scenes include condemnation of homosexuality, abortion, suicide, drunk driving and Satanism. Lessons include that no one is born gay, abortion is murder and that reading books like Goosebumps and Harry Potter can lead to devil worship.
The final two scenes portray heaven and hell.
The church also sells “additional resources” including individual-scene packages spoofing the “Blair Witch Project” movie from several years ago, a gay wedding and a featured item, “Mother’s Womb Abortion Scene and Heavenly Resurrection Scene Package.”
The average cost to present a Judgement House is $3,000 to $3,500, according to the Web site. It involves 10-12 weeks of preparation, eight to nine rooms and 50-75 people. Churches are required to attend training before presenting Judgement House for the first time.
Another drama, “Heaven’s Gates and Hell’s Flames,” departs from the tableau format and can be performed in a church sanctuary. It is sponsored by Sunshine Evangelistic Association, whose best-known affiliate is Pentecostal preacher Rex Humbard.
Critics of the technique decry the use of scare tactics to try to get people to convert. They say the shock value of such presentations wears off quickly in a society saturated by violence and that they distort facts by implying most abortions are late term and that sexual orientation is a choice.
The dramas have been criticized for grisly portrayals of social issues, such as using pieces of meat placed in a glass bowl to look like an aborted fetus and large amounts of theatrical blood.
If fact, Hollywood producer Maggie Rowe obtained a Hell House script and found it so over the top that she produced it as a light parody. “Hollywood Hell House,” featuring Bill Maher as Satan and Andy Richter as Jesus, sold out shows in California last year.
Rowe, who grew up as a fundamentalist Christian, told National Public Radio that she didn’t intend for the show to demean Christianity, but only to challenge a literalistic reading of Scripture that she termed “laughable.”
Hell House author Roberts, who saw the premier of “Hollywood Hell House,” commented, “I wonder if while they are in hell, if they will still be telling people there is no hell.”
Bob Allen is managing editor of EthicsDaily.com.