Halloween: trick or treat for Christians?

YouTube Preview ImageIn yet another case of liberal bias by GetReligion, tmatt screamed “Boooo!” the other day at a one-sided story praising Halloween evangelism.

I chimed in with a comment noting that in my Associated Press days I did a “hell house” story and included both sides — long before GR-style ghostbusting became a ghastly gleam in the Internet’s eye.

Since it’s Halloween, I thought I’d highlight a couple of stories reporting on how some Christians deal with the holiday’s pagan roots. Before I do, I want to be sure to give a hat tip — pumpkin hat, that is — to Religion News Service for the above video, which RNS included in its daily e-mail today.

The first story was written by Taya Flores, a reporter for the Journal & Courier in Lafayette, Ind. Flores does a nice job of taking what could be a yawner of an annual story and making it interesting reading. The top of the story:

Heather Salemink of Lafayette has celebrated Halloween since childhood. She can recall dressing in costume and her dad decorating the house.

So even as a Christian, she never questioned whether her children would celebrate the holiday, too.

“Kids need opportunities to imagine themselves in different worlds,” said Salemink, 34. “It’s really kind of fun to watch them explore different parts of the world through their imagination. In Christianity, there is so much that requires belief in things that you can’t see.”

But not all religious groups approach Halloween with such ease and excitement. Controversy still surrounds the holiday, which has origins in ancient Celtic spiritualism.

Honestly, I’m not a big fan of anecdotal ledes that start with someone who does not fit the theme of the story. In other words, if the story is about people who don’t approach Halloween with ease and excitement, begin the story with one of them, not with somebody who has no problem with Halloween.

Nonetheless, there’s much to like about this story. The writer provides historical background, quotes experts and pastors and even includes other faiths besides Christianity:

Other religions may shy away from the holiday as well. Traditionally, Muslims do not approve of Halloween either.

“Halloween, because it has pagan roots and traditions, is not something Islam will approve for its followers,” said Aurangzeb, president of the Purdue Muslim Student Association.

There’s variance among Jewish believers. Daniel Frank, director of the Jewish Studies Program and professor of philosophy at Purdue University, said from a traditional point of view, Jews are not supposed to celebrate non-Jewish festivals, whether it be pagan or Christian.

However, some conservative and reformed Jews may celebrate Halloween as a cultural holiday.

“Orthodox Jews as a typical rule don’t celebrate Halloween,” said Nora Rubel, assistant professor of religion at the University of Rochester in New York. “Conservative and reformed Jews can, but it’s left to the individual family. It’s not just the pagan roots that bother Orthodox Jews but also the Christian roots.”

No pagans are quoted, however.

The other story was written by Tim Townsend, religion writer for the St. Louis Post-Dispatch. Townsend’s piece focuses on St. Louis-area churches using Halloween’s pagan roots to grow their flocks. The top of the story:

DES PERES — Jason and Stacey Leeker grew up going door to door on Halloween night, collecting candy in costumes. But after the couple dedicated their lives to their Christian faith, they decided they would shield their own children from Halloween’s pagan roots.

Last Saturday evening, the Leekers and their three children ventured out to Faith Des Peres Presbyterian Church’s trunk-or-treat party.

Trunk-or-treats — Halloween tailgating parties, with kids going from car trunk to car trunk — are an increasingly popular alternative for schools, churches and community groups to traditional doorbell trick-or-treating.

For the Leekers, the church atmosphere provided a safe Halloween outing where they could give their 5- and 3-year-old a taste of the holiday’s fun.

Like the Indiana story, the Post-Dispatch report provides historical context:

Jack Santino, a professor of folklore at Bowling Green State University in Ohio, has written that Halloween has its origins in a pastoral festival called Samhain (pronounced sah-ween). Throughout Europe, it was the biggest festival of the Celtic calendar, and a celebration of the end of harvest and the beginning of winter.

The Celtic people believed that during Samhain, the souls of those who had died during the year “traveled into the otherworld,” Santino wrote, and “their ghosts were able to mingle with the living.”

They lit bonfires to honor the dead, “to aid them on their journey and to keep them away from the living.” Early missionaries appropriated many pagan rituals and subtly transformed them into Christian rituals.

Like a trick-or-treat bag full of candy, Townsend’s story brims with specific details from trunk-or-treat events that he obviously visited firsthand.

If the story lacks anything, it’s a perspective on how mainstream Halloween has become in churches and whether many still resist the holiday. That’s a minor criticism, however, because I think the report’s strong focus on a specific phenomenon — trunk-or-treats — gives it a newsy, journalistic edge.

Your turn, GetReligion readers: Any insights on the stories mentioned? Any links to other Halloween-related religion stories that you’ve come across and your thoughts on them?

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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