Wednesday, 31 October 2012
I remember around this time a couple years ago, a girl I worked with asked off for the entire week of Halloween. She had mentioned to our manager that it was for a Christian event. Having told me she was a youth pastor, I thought perhaps she was taking her group on a trip. I asked what her youth group was doing during her days off, and she explained:
We're having a Hell house.
You may have seen signs for Hell houses in your own area. They look like any other haunted house attraction on the outside, but the purpose is very different. While the scenes and events inside are scary, they are meant to depict sin in its ultimate vile form. Many Hell houses portray controversial issues – such as abortion, suicide, murder and adultery – in a detailed, gruesome light.
All of this is to contrast the final portion of the Hell house tour: an open invitation to accept Christ and avoid having to face all of these horrifying images in real life.
The first Hell house was created in 1971 by Jerry Falwell, televangelist and founder of Liberty Christian Academy. Scaremare, as it is called, is now in its 39th season, and the university's website boasts having led more than 26,000 into a relationship with Jesus Christ through Scaremare.
Another well known Hell house is the Temple Hell House in Temple, Texas. Hosted by Bethel Chuch, the Temple Hell House includes, according to its website, a 45 minute tour “guided by a demon,” featuring “guns, blood, violence, intense scenes and disturbing images.”
While Hell houses attract thousands of people, they also cost thousands of dollars and require thousands of volunteer hours to put together. But if you want to start a Hell house, New Destiny Christian Center in Thornton, Colorado, wants to help you out – with its Hell House Outreach Kit. Its promotional motto:
Shake your city with the most
"in-your-face, high-flyin', no denyin', death-defyin', Satan-be-cryin', keep-ya-from-fryin', theatrical stylin', no holds barred, cutting-edge"
evangelism tool of the new millennium!
The Hell house has been around for quite a long time, and while the concept is indeed interesting, it is no less controversial. It may be a bit deceptive, but many churches claim it's nothing if not effective.
Below is the promotional video for this year's Dark Rail Hell House, sponsored by Trinity Church in Cedar Hill, Texas. This video contains dramatic interpretations of drug use, violence and suicide, and it may not be suitable for children. You can get more information about the Hell house on their website.
I usually don't go into my opinions on posts because the journalist in me has always tried to be fair and detached from the issues, but this time I feel like it's necessary. You see, I don't want you to think that I in any way endorse these sorts of events. I've presented to you a sampling of actual events that are occurring today, supported and created by Christians, but I disagree with the whole premise.
First and foremost, I don't think that fear is an adequate tool to use to convert people to Christianity. One reader commented on this post last year that his biggest concern about this is the fact that being a Christian doesn't save you from all the terrifying circumstances that these Hell houses present. When you become a Christian, drugs, violence, rape, depression and all manner of scary situations don't disappear. The only change that occurs is the foundation on which you stand to face these difficult circumstances.
My second concern with these events is that they paint Christians as crazy people. When the co-worker I mentioned earlier told me she was participating in a Hell house, even I -- a fellow Christian -- thought she was a crazy person. And I'm certainly not alone. I think it pretty much goes without saying that people on the outside looking in on these kinds events who don't subscribe to the Christian belief system probably think this is just another reason to think Christians are psychopaths. You might be about that, and as a Christian, I think it's crazy, too.
And yet we can't dispute the fact that, according to the churches that put these events on, they've been successful. They have had people make significant life changing decisions because of these Hell houses, and that's something to celebrate. Though I may question the methods and have concerns about the way Christians are represented, I can't judge these churches for continuing to pursue a ministry that, for their purposes, has been extremely effective.
Have you ever been to a Hell house? Have you ever helped put on a Hell house? Do you see these as effective ministry tools, or are they too deceptive?