Originally published at the Steve Brown, Etc. Guest Room Blog. You also might enjoy “The Great Pumpkin Proposes a Toast,” from deep in the IM archives. Here’s a good post on “How to have a great Catholic Halloween.” No Protestants are harmed. It’s OK.
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As October 31st looms, it’s time for true confessions.
I grew up among Southern Baptist fundamentalist Baptists. The KJV-only, women can’t wear pants, twenty verses of “Just As I Am,” Jerry Falwell, Jack Chick, twice a year revival kind of fundamentalist Baptists.
We were serious about things like beer. By sheer quantity of attention in sermons, drinking beer was the most evil act one could describe. We were serious about movies, cards, and something called “mixed bathing,” which normal people would call “swimming.”
We were serious about the Bible, Sunday School, suits and ties, and walking the aisle to get saved.
And we were big time into Halloween.
No, that’s not a typo. I said we were big time into Halloween.
From the late sixties into the early seventies, the churches I attended and worked for–all fundamentalist Baptists– were all over Halloween like ants on jam. It was a major social activity time in every youth group I was part of from elementary school through high school graduation in 1974.
We had haunted houses. Haunted hikes. Scary movies. (All the old Vincent Price duds.) As a youth minister in the mid to late seventies and early eighties, I created some haunted houses in church education buildings that would win stagecraft awards.
The kids loved it. The parents loved it. The pastors approved. The church paid for it!
No, this wasn’t “Judgment House” or “Hell House” or whatever else evangelicals have done with a similar skill set today. It was fun. Simple, old-fashioned, fun. No one tried to fly a broom or talk to the dead. Everyone tried to have fun. Innocent play in the name of an American custom.
And then, things changed.
Mike Warnke convinced evangelicals that participating in Halloween was worshiping the devil. Later, when we learned that Warnke may have been one of the most skillful of evangelical con-artists, lying about his entire Satanic high priest schtick, the faithful still believed his stories.
Evangelical media began to latch onto Halloween as some form of Satanism or witchcraft, and good Christians were warned that nothing made the other team happier than all those kids going door to door collecting M&Ms.
Evangelical parents decided that their own harmless and fun Halloween experiences were a fluke, and if their kid dressed up as a vampire, he’d probably try to become one. If there was a pumpkin on the porch, you were inviting demons into your home, just like it says in Hezekiah.
A general fear of the occult, manifesting itself in Satanic ritual abuse mythology, crept into evangelicalism and took a deep hold on many churches.
Occult ministries exploited these fears, and ministries like Bob Larson found it was profitable and powerful to make rock music, drug use, occult worship and Halloween one big package.
Today, if you want to split your church, divide your singles group, get a fight started with parents or see the youth minister fired, just find some way to have an old-fashioned Halloween event in your church.
In the ministry where I serve, we can’t have fall festivals. Putting out a pumpkin is risky. Any costume other than dressing up like Billy Graham is taboo.
Halloween experts have proliferated in evangelicalism. Where did these people learn all this stuff? Oh yes, The Onion. That’s right.
Those great, fun, harmless, safe, nostalgic, exciting, slightly scary and completely un-demonic Halloweens of the past? Gone, gone, gone with the evangelical hot air.
Does it bother me? You bet it does. It bothers me that we fall for such lame, ridiculous manipulators as the crowd that made all of those Halloweens past into satanic events.
It bothers me that any lie, exaggeration or fiction will find thousands of eager believers to pass it along.
It bothers me that the Biblical message about Satan would be co-opted by the fear-mongering and manipulation of the hucksters. (Read The Screwtape Letters for some real Satanism.)
It bothers me that such a wonderful part of my childhood and of American life has been turned into an example of evangelical paranoia and gullibility. We ruined something good, and everyone knows it but us.
I know all about the sophisticated responses thoughtful Christians have about Reformation day and All Saints Day. That’s fine, but it’s not the same. I just want my grandkids to be able to dress up in cute outfits and trick or treat without the local church designating them for exorcism.
Shame on those of us–evangelicals–who allowed Halloween to be taken away from families and many communities, all because we prefer to believe that life is a Frank Peretti novel.
Boo. I hope I scared you.