Boooo! One-side story praising Halloween evangelism?

It would be hard to imagine anything more controversial, in the American of 2012, than the concept that certain sinful lifestyle behaviors can lead to people being condemned by God to spend eternity in hell. For starters, this would mean that the word “sin” can be applied to behaviors other than those judged intolerant by the editorial page board at The New York Times.

So, try to imagine my shock when I opened up my copy of The Baltimore Sun (the newspaper that lands in my front yard) and, lo and behold, there was a story on A2 about one of those “fright house” ministries that some conservative Christian ministries operate, for clearly evangelistic purposes, every Halloween. (Stop and think about this for a minute. Has anyone ever heard of a doctrinally liberal “fright house” operation? If there is one somewhere, that would be worth some coverage. I mean, what would the scary sins be in a Universalistic “fright house” ministry?)

So here is the shocker: This story was totally one-sided and biased.

What? What is so shocking about the Sun doing a biased story about a conservative Christian ministry?

I hear you. What’s interesting, this time around, is that the story was completely biased in favor of the ministry. This news report focused on a very controversial subject and (a) I would bet the bank that it omitted some of the most controversial details of this operation and (b) it contained not a shred of evidence that there are religious believers and nonbelievers who oppose this type of thing because they consider it — with good cause from their theological point of view — offensive and judgmental.

So this story offered a low-key version of the conservative side of a story linked to a very controversial doctrinal statement, in this day and age. It would have been a much better report if it had included the views of liberal Christians, unbelievers and, in this season, pagans.

What does this look like in print? Here’s the opening of this unusual public-relations piece:

Instead of a traditional Halloween haunted house filled with fog and ghoulish scenes, an outreach ministry in East Baltimore is offering stark glimpses into real-life issues, messages of hope and firm promises of help. The images portrayed at Reality House can be as haunting as any in a tale of horror, mostly because they are based on actual situations.

Within a 46-foot-long tent pitched behind the Patterson Park Library, visitors can check out scenes that depict social ills like drug addiction, suicide and teen pregnancy. The portrayals shed light on the consequences of poor decision making, according to Teen Challenge of Baltimore, a faith-based ministry that organized the program.

“This is about reality, which really can be scarier than any horror movie,” said Kenny Rogers, outreach coordinator of Teen Challenge. “This is the stuff kids live with in a society that is really scary for them. It doesn’t go away, like when you walk out of the movie.”

So what are the sins that are on display? There’s a seance. There are images of substance abuse, including references to alcohol and marijuana, and the tough life of a teen-aged single mother. There’s a row of graves “each marked with the deceased’s cause of death.” I would imagine there are some controversial social/political issues linked to those tombstones.

And the final message of hope? It would offend many, many Sun readers:

After about a 20-minute walk through the scenes, visitors exit the tent to see three crosses — emblems of Calvary — and to hear brief words from Scripture.

During a dress rehearsal Thursday, several neighborhood children approached the costumed actors, asking if they were real. … Belainta Crawford, 7, tugged on Christ’s beard and tried on a demon’s frightful mask before he matter-of-factly assured his 5-year-old sister, “He’s God and he’s the devil.”

Seriously, I wonder if anyone opposed this ministry operating this close to a public library. Is it on public land?

Before some readers freak out, I am not saying that it is always wrong for this kind of event to be held in a public place. What I am saying is that this is a topic that would — in many communities, and especially liberal Baltimore — cause fierce debates. So where is the rest of this story?

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About tmatt

Terry Mattingly directs the Washington Journalism Center at the Council for Christian Colleges and Universities. He writes a weekly column for the Universal Syndicate.

  • Will

    Clearly, this post is itself shocking to many. Or perhaps it is a figment of my imagination, since commenters have told us again and again that GR is devoted solely to promoting a “conservative” viewpoint.

  • FW Ken

    The bias might be due to the fact that Teen Challenge is a real life ministry doing real life rescue work for 50+ years now. I suspect their real life experience quells a certain amount of criticism.

  • Bobby Ross Jr.

    I did a “hell house” story for The Associated Press in ’02. I did include both sides (and I didn’t even know tmatt back then!).

  • tmatt

    WILL:

    We always invite critics who say that to send us the URL for a post in which we did anything other than argue for balanced and accurate coverage of the key, representative voices on both sides of the issue at hand. People never come up with URLs that show us doing anything other than pushing traditional journalism standards. So we promote coverage of both sides of hot-button issues. Guilty.

    • Mike

      It would be nice to see posts ths where liberalism and the religious left wasn’t mocked or treated with snark. You snarled on the NYT, the Baltimore Sun, and the UUs in a single post. Conservatives and traditionalists are never treated this dismissively. At least there wasn’t an obligatory slap at the Episcopal Church, although the UUs were a stand in.

  • http:/www.samueljhoward.us Samuel J. Howard

    Hah, I actually was part of a haunted house put on several years by our Unitarian-Universalist Church youth group several years in the early 1990′s. I recall that it was intended to raise money, but not what the money went to. It had no ideological or religious agenda. There was at one point a chain-saw murderer tableau if I remember correctly, but it was more of a “guy jumps out and shouts boo in a dark basement” nature. I remember, at the time, discussion of boy scout troops putting on similar events without ideological or religious agenda. (And of course, here in New York City, we have today commercial haunted house experiences.)

  • Chuck

    I wonder if kids actually want to go to that thing or they put up with to make the old folks happy.

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