At Halloween, a haunted Christian debate

I’m munching on a jack-o-lantern-shaped Butterfinger as I type this, so I suppose I’m not one of those “conservative and fundamentalist Christians” who think “Halloween is a celebration of evil and has no place in the life of a believer.”

Either that, or I just really love chocolate.

Seriously, the above description of how some Christians view Halloween came from a CNN report with this headline:

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

Now, my first thought when I saw the headline was this: Pity the poor reporter forced to cover that breaking news. Your GetReligionistas certainly sympathize with journalists challenged with finding a fresh angle to the same ole annual occurrence.

That said, this particular story falls a few goblins short of the high journalistic quality that frequently characterizes CNN’s Belief Blog. For one thing, there’s no actual debate. Rather, there are three pastors quoted, identified as a conservative, a fundamentalist and a mainline Protestant. In fact, a reliance on vague labels haunts the piece throughout, with the terms conservative, fundamentalist and mainline appearing seven times.

From the “conservative” side:

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.

Not mentioned are the thousands of churches — conservative and otherwise — nationwide that host “trunk-or-treat” events in their parking lots, fully embracing the Halloween holiday if not the pagan past. This certainly appears to be a growing trend that might add a fresh angle to the story. Of course, it would require a bit of journalistic digging to see if there’s any hard data to back up my suspicion.

From the “fundamentalist” side:

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.

Now, Christian hell houses have been making headline for 15 to 20 years. I wrote an Associated Press story nearly a decade old on the concept, including the milder “Judgement Houses” — which remain in the news. Unfortunately, CNN provides no context at all to understand whether this not-so-new development is still the rage or a flickering approach.

From the “mainline” side:

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

Is there a source on this? Is there any survey data? Is Halloween really an issue for most, or even many, evangelical Christians in 2011? What about Roman Catholics? Why no mention of such a large contingent of Christians in a report such as this?

Another unexplored angle: trick-or-treating as a time for evangelicals to hand out salvation tracts.

Meanwhile, my Butterfinger has disappeared. Next on the agenda: a fun-size Snickers.

Halloween image via Shutterstock.

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About Bobby Ross Jr.

Bobby Ross Jr. is an award-winning reporter and editor with a quarter-century of professional experience. A former religion editor for The Oklahoman and religion writer for The Associated Press, Ross serves as chief correspondent for the The Christian Chronicle. He has reported from 47 states and 11 countries and was honored as the Religion Newswriters Association's 2013 Magazine Reporter of the Year.

  • Jerry

    I think the best approach to annual events such as this is a “teaching” story unless something new really happens. Too often stories are not rooted in history. So we hear about the Pagans versus the Christians or whatever. But the historical roots of the current environment are ignored. I know this is not an MSM news story and I did not personally fact check it, but it illustrates the kind of thing I have in mind:

    10 Things To Know About The History, Origin Of Halloween

  • Dave

    MSM efforts to cover this perennial “news” can get bypassed by interested parties. As someone in touch with the Pagan blogosphere I can go to sites that will offer me direct links of those steeped in fury or fear about Halloween. It’s good for at least an annual giggle, tinged with a bit of concern that there’s a large potential audience for such posturing.

  • sari

    Bobby, I’ve often wondered why no one covers the non-Christian response to Halloween. Do parents from India and China, two huge ethnic groups that are mainly non-Christian, allow their children to participate and, if they do, what do they know about the holiday and its origins? Ditto Muslims and Jews of varying degrees of observance. My Rabbi ignores the holiday altogether and advocates that others do the same, but we allowed our kids to trick or treat within boundaries we set(non-kosher candy in the trash, costumes limited to certain topics).

  • Bobby

    Thanks, Jerry, Dave and sari, for the comments.

    Interesting questions, sari. I believe that angle would add to a story such as this or even make for a compelling piece on its own.

  • Asshur

    just about the link you provide. Fixing All Hallows on November,1 (and thus it’s Eve) camee from the mediterranean bassin (Rome or, most probably further East), as almost all the liturgical calendar; a tiny little detail which makes most of those “Halloween origin” theories basically impossible (BTW it’s the kind of detail i won’t expect at any MSM)

  • SouthCoast

    “Keenan Roberts, who says he is the inventor of the hell house, ” For the record, however, some ancient Chinese Taoist temples had minatory galleries of horrors in them, depicting the torments of the wicked in the afterlife. Nuthin’ new under the sun, or under the moon, for that matter.

  • Steve Hayes

    The Brandon Patch article “10 things to know about the history, origin of Halloween” is full of the usual disinformation and urban legends.

    Check this one: Who stole Hallowe’en?