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Hell houses, judgment houses, etc. at Halloween

News events, 2000 to now

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Year 2000 developments:

bulletCurtis Road Church of God, in Champaign, IL: Their Hell House consists of: a young man [who] dies of AIDS; a "botched" abortion; "bodies [that] lie splattered with blood after a school shooting"; "a high school student blows his brains out after he's cut from the football team"; and "a drunken driver lives to watch his family die." 1
bulletBible Way Church in Eldon, MO: Abortion, homosexuality, a teen drug party, and occult scene will be featured. Church officials here claim that almost 40 percent of those who came to its first Hell House in 1999-OCT "received Jesus Christ their Savior before leaving." Their Bible Way website, explains the Hell House as an essential tool to combat the:
"... spiritual battle raging everyday. That battle is for the eternal destiny of our soul, and if we choose to follow the world's path the results will be a very real, eternal hell. Sin and rejection of God's truth always brings destruction and devastion [sic]."
bulletProposal for an "Un-Hell House: As mentioned elsewhere on this web site, the end of October is also the time when Wiccans celebrate their end-of-year festival, Samhain. Wicca is based, in part, on the beliefs, symbols and practices of the ancient Celtic period. Samhain is not the Celtic God of the Dead, as is commonly believed. It is actually the end of summer Sabbat (seasonal day of celebration). It was a time of great feasting. The veil between this world and the next was believed to be at its thinnest at this time of year. The ancient Celts performed divination and hoped that those who have died would return to visit them.

A group in Colorado was hoping to organize a "Samhain House" at Halloween time. Rather than scaring people with a sequence of horrible tableaus designed to create terror and revulsion, they would portray their Wiccan/Celtic ancestors in past settings. One actor in each scene would come forward and explain what was happening during that era. Everyone would then go to a feasting room where they would socialize until a meal was served.

It does not seem to have progressed beyond the discussion stage.

Year 2001 developments:

bulletArvada, CO: The Abundant Life Christian Center will sponsor its  7th annual Halloween Hell House this year. It will feature four scenes which the group feels are consequences of sinful behavior: abortion, a rave party, gay marriage and teen suicide.

Cost will be $7.00 per person. The church is considering a $12.00 admission to an "express line" and a $20.00 personal seasonal pass.

Liberty for Women
, a pro-choice organization, will be holding seven silent protests nearby, in opposition to the Hell House. They will show the names of abortion providers who have been killed by anti-abortion individuals and groups. Executive director Peggy Loonan commented: "It's graphic, yes, but we want to be in their faces." She feels that church members will be "stunned to have their tactics used against them." Associate pastor Keenan Roberts said: "We're just showing the truth. Nobody is going to change what we say or how we say it."
 
bulletScottsville, KY: Victory Hill Ministries will be holding Hell House for the fourth consecutive year. It will feature scenes illustrating homosexuality and suicide, a terrorist attack, domestic violence, abortion, date rape, and Heaven and Hell. In the past, critics have referred to what they call the Hell House's rhetoric of hate. However, Senior Pastor Nathan Oakes said the church message is really one of love. "Sometimes it takes greater love to tell the truth than to accept a lie. I'm willing to risk being hated to tell people that God loves them."
 
bulletVarious locations: Commercial haunted house events -- without significant religious content -- continue this Halloween. However, many have toned down their content, because of the SEP-11 terrorist attacks. A haunted house in Florida has eliminated "a maniacal gun-toting character covered in blood, along with zombies in bloody business attire." The haunted house in Salem, MA, will no longer announce "My victims are ready" when they send customers into rooms with snarling demons. They will now refer to "fearless souls."

More recent events:

bullet A documentary movie titled "Hell House" was released in 2001. It is performed annually at Halloween time by youths from Trinity Church (Assemblies of God) in Cedar Hill, TX, near Dallas. Over 10,000 visitors attend each year. Included in the video are including auditions, construction, scripting, rehearsals, and performances. IMDb website has links to 28 reviews. 2 Some are rather brutal:
 
bulletNathan Rabin of The Onion A.V. Club writes:
"Unencumbered by even the faintest notion of good taste or moral ambiguity, the proprietors of Hell House stage their vignettes in a way that suggests Jack Chick tracts brought to life by the Ned Flanders Players. As sordid and simplistic as pornography, the house's cautionary tales depict a black-and-white moral universe where sobbing sinners with bleeding crotches are taunted by cackling demons, and even the slightest detour from the Lord's path leads directly into the bowels of hell." 3
bulletMaitland McDonagh of TV Guide writes:
"Some of what Ratliff captures is flat-out comical, like clueless church members struggling to get the terminology of secular occultism right, or the sequences in which the self-appointed overseer of a skit about the perils of the rave scene obsessing over every detail of the music and decor. Others verge on the surreal: The audition sequences could depict high school students anywhere trying out for the drama club production of My Fair Lady, except that their monologues begin with confessions of sinfulness and end in histrionics that wouldn't be out of place on a soap opera or The Jerry Springer Show. For anyone unfamiliar with Pentecostal practices in general and theatrical phenomenon of Hell Houses in particular, it's an eye-opener. 4
bullet2002: Charisma News Service reported on negative reaction towards some of the several hundred churches who are running Hell Houses:
bulletThe Victorious Life Church in Waco, TX was criticized for including a 9/11 Ground Zero scene along with others depicting suicide, abortion, and domestic violence. The Waco Tribune-Herald stated that one young visitor gagged at the sight of shelves of jars filled with imitation fetal parts.
 
bulletThe Merced Sun-Star in Merced, CA, criticized a local church: the New Beginning Christian Center for an "unnecessarily brutal and insensitive" event. Pastor Mike Duckworth defended the program, saying: "We're going to scare the hell out of people and, at the end, show them there's a way out--Jesus Christ. We're bringing controversial issues to the forefront and then giving an antidote."
 
bulletA Christian radio station in Fairfield OH pulled ads for Kings Point Church of God's hell house which invited listeners to "... come see the funeral of a homosexual AIDS patient." Other listeners complained that this was "blatant gay bashing." 5
 
bullet2006-OCT:  Matt Bors reported on a visit to an Ohio judgment house to the American Humanist Association. He wrote:
"... instead of ghosts and goblins, Hell houses are filled with actors playing the roles of 'sinners' -- you know, like pregnant teens, homosexuals, aids victims, drug users, adulterers, humanists. The goal of Hell houses is to scare all us 'sinners' out there into changing our lives and getting good with God before our final judgment."

He has a drawn an interesting cartoon of his trip. However, he did not seem to be saved as a result of the experience. 6

bullet2008-OCT-31: Russell D. Moore of the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville, KY  criticized "Judgment house evangelism" in a Baptist Press article. 17 He offered seven reasons why hell houses don't win many people to Jesus:
  1. They do not really portray the horrendous nature of the torture in Hell awaiting the unsaved.
  2. Judgment houses emphasize fear of Hell; they should stress love towards Christ.
  3. The positive message of the Gospel should be given throughout the house, not just at the end.
  4. They isolate judgment from the glory of God.
  5. They promote thrill-seeking and a festive mood, not sorrow and weeping at the fate of the lost.
  6. The Holy Spirit works more effectively through the witness of friends, parents, and preaching, not through Hell Houses.
  7. A more productive way of saving people is through:
    "... Christian people loving them enough to build relationships, invite them to church, share the Gospel and witness to Christ. The problem is that, for many Christians. that's scarier than a haunted house." 7
bullet2009-MAY: The Secular Parent condemned hell houses as: "probably one of the most sick and twisted things that religious organizations use to trick a child into following the tenets of Christ?and they?re gaining in popularity." The webmaster suggested that the portrayal of violence is perceived by children as a form of torture. 8

References used:

The following information sources were used to prepare and update the above essay. The hyperlinks are not necessarily still active today.

  1. Bill Berkowitz, "Christian Right plans holy havoc for Halloween," AlterNet.com, 2000-OCT-16, at: http://www.alternet.org/story.html?StoryID=9937
  2. "External reviews for Hell House," IMDb, at: http://www.imdb.com/
  3. Nathan Rabin, "Hell House," The Onion A.V. Club, at: http://www.avclub.com/
  4. Maitland McDonagh, "Hell House: Review," TV Guide, at: http://movies.tvguide.com/
  5. Andy Butcher, "Halloween 'Hell Houses' come under fire. Christian 'shock evangelism' program criticized for insensitivity," Charisma News Service, 2002, at: http://www.beliefnet.com/
  6. Matt Bors, "Cathartic Comics: Undercover in Hell," American Humanist Association, 2006, at: http://www.americanhumanist.org/
  7. " 'Judgment house' evangelism," Baptist Press, 2008-OCT-31, at: http://www.bpnews.net/
  8. The Secular Parent, "Why Hell Houses Hurt All People of Faith," 2009-MAY-01, at: http://secularparenting.wordpress.com/

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Copyright © 1998 to 2009 by Ontario Consultants on Religious Tolerance
Latest update: 2009-SEP-01
Author: B.A. Robinson

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