Christian Right Plans Holy Havoc for Halloween
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Halloween is in the air and I'm wondering what costume my eight-year old granddaughter will be wearing this year when I take her out "trick or treating." Other folks may be just starting to stack-up bags of candy to pass out to the legions of kids in costumes, or carving up pumpkins, throwing up some decorations and, the most ambitious among us, are finalizing plans for turning their garage or front lawns into a mini-haunted house.
For some fundamentalist Christians, the coming of Halloween either signals another dart to the heart of traditional values, or it offers an opportunity to scare the living daylights out of teenagers. Take the good folks in Warren County, Ohio. There, the Rev. Randy Ballard, pastor of the Kings Point Church of God, has put together his demented adaptation of a "Hell House," which is set to run for two weekends beginning in mid-October.
The Associated Press reports that the Rev. Ballard claims that his "Hell House" is "meant to show teens the effects of sin. It involves a tour through five scenes in hell, including the funeral of a gay man who has died of AIDS; a young woman who has had an abortion; a teen who has committed suicide; a drug overdose at a party; and a car crash involving a drunken father and his children."
Unlike Topeka, Kansas' infamous Rev. Fred Phelps whose Westboro Baptist Church has set the standard for anti-gay remonstrations, the Rev. Ballard takes pains to explain, "we are not saying all homosexuals with AIDS die in hell. We are showing the effects of sin -- what happens when, in a hypothetical situation, a homosexual has AIDS and dies and has not repented their sins."
The Rev. Ballard's "Hell House" was roundly criticized by Doreen Cudnik, executive director of Stonewall Cincinnati, who said that the Rev. Ballard's church "is out of touch with AIDS in the year 2000. To say gay equals AIDS equals burning in hell has the dangerous potential to lead to hate crimes against the gay community." In addition, Vern Baldwin, general manager of WNLT in Fairfield, Ohio, said radio spots placed by the church that have been running on the station will be put on hold until he has an opportunity to review them. "We're not out to offend anyone," says Baldwin.
For years some Christian parents have raised well, holy hell, over the celebration of Halloween -- particularly at public schools that allow the young kids to parade around the school yard in their costumes, play a few games, and have some juice and cookies at the end of the day. These kinds of celebrations don't sit well with, admittedly a small number, of fundamentalist Christian parents. To them, Halloween has religious overtones and is steeped in pagan rituals, celebrating icons that could be identified with witchcraft and possibly satanic cults. Thus, for Halloween and Halloween only, fundamentalists support the separation of church and state -- with demands that Halloween celebrations be banned from the public schools.
Fundamentalists have also taken the battle to the nation's supermarkets, convincing several supermarket chains, including Publix in most of Florida and south Georgia, not to mention the "H" word in its television or print ads. Since "H" has become one of the three biggest holidays of the year for retailers, dropping the mention of "H" in favor of warm and fuzzy sounding terms like "Oktoberfest" or "Fall Festival" was a considerable concession. However, Publix hasn't gone totally anti-"H" -- it still uses the word in ads in Miami and Atlanta city markets.
Scaring Teens Straight
What's happening in Warren County represents only the tip of the "Hell House" iceberg. "Hell House" events are being readied for local churches all across the country. The "Hell House" concept gives Christian parents an alternative activity for their children, and in most cases kids have to be at least 10 years or older, and often must be accompanied by an adult. At its core, the Christian Right's worst cultural nightmares are presented as macabre public displays or "spiritually-based adventures" during which the goal is to scare kids straight.
The Abundant Life Christian Center (ALCC) in Arvada, Colorado is ground zero for "Hell House" activity. And the Rev. Keenan Roberts, associate pastor of the church, is the man with the plan -- he essentially initiated the "Hell House" effort several years back. The Rev. Roberts told the "Denver Post" that the exhibit was designed to "show young people that they can go to hell for abortion, adultery, homosexuality, drinking and other things unless they repent and end the behavior."
ALCC proudly trumpets the fact that "Hell House" has been "covered world-wide" including "NBC Nightly News," "ABC World New Tonight," "Newsweek," "USA Today," "Dateline," and "countless other radio and television news agencies around the planet!"
According to ALCC, "Hell House is cutting edge, it is shocking, it is offensive. But it is the Truth. What Satan and his entourage of demons inflict on people through the killing of innocent unborn babies is offensive to the Christian. Convincing the naïve and ignorant they are born gay and then sentencing them to life of bondage and oppression is offensive to the Christian."
Here's how the basic "Hell House" package operates:
Groups of 10-15 people are taken through the house with a "demon" from the cast as their tour guide. Each of the 7 following scenes last about three minutes.
* Scene 1 is a funeral of a teenage homosexual boy that has died of AIDS.
* Scene 2 is a "riveting reenactment" of an abortion.
* Scene 3 is a "satanic ritual involving human sacrifice."
* Scene 4 is a "drunk driving accident" where a father realizes he's killed his family.
* Scene 5 is a teen suicide.
* Scene 6 contains "the sights, sounds and smells of hell as well as Satan himself."
Finally, the tourists are "rescued out of hell by an angel that escorts them to heaven, where they finally meet Jesus and are given the opportunity to pray the prayer of salvation."
Last year, ALCC got particularly creative replacing 1998's Bill Clinton and Monica Lewinsky and the sin of adultery in the Oval Office scene, with a gay wedding. The Rev. said that the wedding scene will feature two people dressed as men, but one will be a woman, because they kiss at the end of the ceremony and "I'm just not going to have two guys kissing."
At its website (www.alccdenver.com), you find the "Hell House Outreach Kit" available for $208.80 which includes shipping and handling. This kit, which provides "piece by piece, prop by prop, costume by costume, the master plan... organized in a comprehensive manual," plus a video and "special-effects audio master," is the model that many participating churches work from.
The "Hell House" kits, with modifications for various locales, are showing up all over the country. Not only are they being used to "scare kids straight," but they make excellent fundraising projects. At the Curtis Road Church of God in Champaign, Illinois, "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."
At the "Hell House" organized by Bible Way Church in Eldon, Missouri, abortion, homosexuality, a teen drug party, and occult scene will be featured. Church officials here claim that 40 percent of those who came to its first "Hell House" last October "received Jesus Christ their Savior before leaving." Perhaps the Bible Way website, best sums up the overriding intention of "Hell House" organizers -- it's an essential tool for the "spiritual battle raging everyday," a battle for the soul, a battle against sin and the rejection of God's truth," a battle that must be fought in an aggressive way.