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Hell houses, judgment houses, etc. at Halloween

News events, 2000 to now

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About Hell houses:

Jerry Falwell first popularized Hell Houses in the 1970's. They became very common at Halloween time during the 1990's and 2000's, mostly at evangelical Christian churches throughout the U.S. Their popularity has continued to the present time.

One of the most notorious Hell Houses recreated the Columbine School shooting only six months after it happened. The theme was that agents of Satan were trying to slaughter all the Christian students. This led to a documentary "Hell House" in 2002 10 which was featured on the TV program Full Frontal with Samatha Bee during 2017:

 11

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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
bullet Bible Way Church in Eldon, MO: Abortion, homosexuality, a teen drug party, and occult scene were 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," ... either again or for the first time. 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 devastation [sic]."


bullet Proposal 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 did not seem to have progressed beyond the discussion stage.

Year 2001 developments:

bullet Arvada, CO: The Abundant Life Christian Center sponsored 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.

Entry 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 for repeat visitors.

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."
 
bullet

Scottsville, KY: Victory Hill Ministries held their Hell House for the fourth consecutive year. It featured scenes illustrating homosexuality and suicide, a terrorist attack, domestic violence, abortion, date rape, and, of course, 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. He said:

"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 shows one of the Hell Houses 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. The 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
 
bullet 2006-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. 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
bullet 2009-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

bullet

2012-OCT: Mark Herman, writing for Pacific Standard, writes about kits costing a few hundred dollars that provide scripts for creating one's own Hell House, He said:

"In most hell houses you'll be scared not by a ghost, but a vision of a woman bleeding to death ... she's terminated a pregnancy, and now presumably pays Satan's price. The anti-gay streak in the Hell House narratives tends to be strong too." 13

New Destiny Christian Center in Colorado sells a basic Hell House kit for $299. At an extra cost, one can buy plug-in modules to handle specific local problems that the church faces. Topics covered include domestic abuse, rave scene, drunk driving, gay wedding, teen suicide, and, of course, portrayals of Heaven and Hell.


bullet

2015-OCT-31: The Guardian newspaper described the Hell House at the Central Baptist Church in Houston TX, called "Unexpected,"12 It is a dramatic portrayal of a local family, including the mother, Carol Endicott, her daughter Abby, and Sarah, a friend of Abby. One scene shows how Sarah persuaded Abby to accept Jesus as her Lord and Savior. Another scene portrays a TV news studio reporting on car accident where Sarah, Abby and Carol are all killed.

The next scene is in a funeral home where Jason, Carol's other child, "... touched their caskets tenderly and looks forward to seeing them again in the afterlife."

Then viewers see the place of Judgment where God -- played by an elderly white man -- sends Abby and Sarah happily, "along with the angels," to Heaven.

However when Carol asks "May I join the girls now," God says:

"I’m sorry, Carol but you will not be allowed to enter Heaven."

Because she had not trusted Jesus before her death, God said that:

”You must now pay for your own sins."

Carol complained that she had volunteered at the soup kitchen and had won awards for her good deeds. But good actions don't count. The sole criterion for attaining Heaven is whether the person trusted Jesus while they were alive. So, she was dragged off to Hell.

Once in Hell, Satan said to her:

"Is this what you expected, Carol? The flames never go out. You can feel your skin melting through our body as the worms burrow though your bones."

The Hell House also provides an "encouragement room" where pastors "... welcome those ready to dedicate or rededicate their lives to Jesus."


bullet

2017-OCT-31: Josiah Hesse, a former evangelical Christian, commented on his visit to a "Hell House 27: No Escape" sponsored by Trinity Church in Dallas, TX.

He wrote:

"There were angry Trump supporters shouting to our left, and enraged Black Lives Matter protesters on our right. A snide demon slithered from one side to the other, proudly exclaiming, 'Welcome to my world, where anyone different from you is a threat, where evil grows and hatred runs deep! It's one of my oldest and most successful tactics!'.

The overarching message of this -- and the countless other hell houses happening this Halloween -- is that every ailment plaguing society today (drug addiction, domestic abuse, sex trafficking, gun violence) is evidence that there are demons around us aiming to seduce us into sin, death, and eternal torment in hell. ... The racial divisions in our current political climate weren't caused by systemic bias, economic injustice, and mass incarceration—they're the result of trickster sprites stirring up trouble on both sides." 10

Pastor John Michael Barajas, director of the Trinity's Hell House in 2017 said:

"Something is out to destroy our kids. We want to shed light on what the enemy is trying to do to our children. Whether you believe in God or not, you can't see the suicide rate, the murder rate, and deny that there is something after our kids." 10

R. Marie Griffith, director of the John C. Danforth Center on Religion and Politics, said:

"Scaring people into salvation has often been a part of the Christian tradition. Dante wrote about it in The Inferno. And the Puritans had their own way of scaring Christians with the afterlife. But the immersive medium of a hell house is a somewhat new way of scaring people into virtue, and it is terrifying." 10


bullet

2018-OCT-16 to 30: The Lesbian Feminist Haunted House is an art exhibit in Toronto, ON, Canada, created by Allyson Mitchell. 9 It is:

"... a direct response to the conventional Halloween 'hell house' stereotype that warns children about the sins of abortion, suicide sex, and same-sex relationships that modern media perpetuates in horror films." 

It is called: "Kill Joy's Kastle," and is located at 303 Landsdowne Avenue.

"Casting the spells of freaky feminist skill sharing and paranormal consciousness raising together with ghouls, bio-engineered monsters, indoctrinators, and avengers, this hell house is designed to pervert, not convert."

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/
  9. "Lesbian Feminist Haunted House," Road Trippers, 2018, at: https://roadtrippers.com/
  10. Josiah Hesse, Evangelical Hell Houses Are Waking Nightmares," Vice, 2017-OCT-31, at: https://www.vice.com/
  11. "Full Frontal's (Hot As) Hell House | October 25, 2017 Act 3," TBS, 2017-OCT-25, at: https://www.youtube.com/
  12. Tom Dart, "Welcome to a Texas hell house, where wayward Christians are scared straight," The Guardian, 2015-OCT-31, at: https://www.theguardian.com/

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Latest update: 2018-OCT-12
Author: B.A. Robinson

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