A Christian debate over Halloween: Counter, co-opt, or embrace it?
October 28th, 2011
02:30 PM ET

A Christian debate over Halloween: Counter, co-opt, or embrace it?

Editor's note: Listen to the CNN Radio broadcast about the debate: By Jim Roope, CNN

Los Angeles (CNN) - For many American Christians, Halloween is innocent, harmless and fun, and they trick-or-treat, carve pumpkins and don costumes with gusto.

For others, though – especially for some conservative and fundamentalist Christians - Halloween is a celebration of evil and has no place in the life of a believer.

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“We don’t endorse that or we don’t celebrate that,” said Joe Hernandez, pastor of Worshipwalk Church in Los Angeles, which belongs to the conservative Pentecostal tradition. “People are celebrating the devil’s holiday.”

Halloween’s roots are believed to date back 1,400 years, to the Irish-pagan New Year’s celebration. The Celtic New Year began on November 1. People would light bonfires and wear costumes to ward off roaming ghosts and evil spirits.

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Some Christians, like Hernandez, believe Halloween’s pagan roots can open the door to evil. That’s why Worshipwalk is hosting a harvest festival in its church parking lot on Monday, with kids’ games and face painting.

Hernandez calls it harvesting hearts for God.

Some conservative churches go a step further, attempting to co-opt the holiday with haunted houses - called “hell houses” - that are designed to give a glimpse of eternal damnation in hopes of strengthening faith.

“There’s Satan’s lies and there’s Jesus’ redemption and there’s a message that will change your life,” said Keenan Roberts, who says he is the inventor of the hell house, which people walk or call through, just as they would a haunted house.

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“It’s designed to reach the ‘sight and sound’ age,” said Roberts. “The message is sacred but the method is not.”

Hell houses can be graphic. In Roberts’ hell house – which he markets through his Hell House Ministries – live actors depict scenes of abortion, rape, suicide and murder, though the journey through the house culminates in scenes of redemption through Jesus.

Pastor of the fundamentalist New Destiny church near Denver, Colorado, Roberts said that his ministry has received a lot of criticism for what critics say is “going too far.”

But he said today’s kids are so desensitized that he will do whatever it takes to get the message of salvation to take root.

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Mainline Protestants tend to take a much softer line on Halloween, with some mainline churches embracing it.

“Halloween for me is a time to have fun,” said Wayne Walters, pastor at the First United Methodist Church in Burbank, California. “I remember growing up - on Halloween I went trick-or-treating. I was in it for the candy.”

“And at Christmas I put out cookies and milk for Santa Claus, who always took time to sit down and enjoy them,” he continued. “None of those I think had a negative influence, destroyed or diminished my faith, he said.”

Walters says that many non-religious traditions associated with Christian holidays, including Santa Claus and the Easter Bunny, hardly mean those holidays are non-Christian.

- CNN Belief Blog

Filed under: Christianity • Halloween

soundoff (3,144 Responses)
  1. DP

    As a kid, I went to one of those churches that didn't do Halloween. Not doing Halloween, especially if you're way out in the country, isn't the huge deal some people seem to think it is.

    October 28, 2011 at 3:37 pm |
  2. Liz

    Christmas trees are also based around a pagan practice, but they don't boycott that.

    October 28, 2011 at 3:36 pm |
  3. 1nd3p3nd3nt

    this is ridiculous. The christmas tree is pagan. The easter bunny is pagan.
    irrational criticism coming from christians, go figure

    October 28, 2011 at 3:36 pm |
  4. d

    Honestly, religion is so stupid sometimes. I'm all for learning values have good morals and ethics, but seriously. Do you really think this such an issue to take action on? I can't confirm this, but I am pretty sure 99.9% of kids on Halloween are running from house to house hoping for a large candy bar instead of party sized garbage while whispering to their friends how dumb the neighbor kid looks in his cowboy costume. And for the .01% of kids on Halloween locked in their room with their windows and doors salted, cross in one hand and bottle of holy water in their other, reciting verses of the Bible and damning their classmates on facebook by calling them devil-worshippers, I think we can just call them collateral damage to a harmless holiday that's entire purpose is supposed to just be for FUN.

    October 28, 2011 at 3:36 pm |
  5. Chan

    double standard ignorance in Christianity is getting so lame. Christianity has PAGAN roots....80% of everything about Christianity is a lie and any of the real good it does the majority don't even really practice.
    Example of the lunacy of sheep slavery followers have. Catholics and suicide...Suicide wasn't a sin...It was added because back in the day when they rewrote everything there way there was a Catholic Suicide Cult running rampant and they came up with the whole thing to battle it. Most these things can be looked up and historically proven...yet we all still breed it into our children so they can carry the same old ignorance forward. Im not saying no religion; im saying its time for us to look forward not hand on to an old system as corrupt as government. One day people will look back on us and laugh at us just as we laugh at the old worlds and their 500 gods.

    October 28, 2011 at 3:36 pm |
  6. Saul

    So churches have a problem with it because it is a pagen holiday? Have they forgaten that Christmas was founded and based from a Pagen holiday?

    October 28, 2011 at 3:36 pm |
  7. Chris From Iowa

    Worship Walk sounds scarier than anything Halloween can scare up. Yuck! Lame!


    October 28, 2011 at 3:36 pm |
  8. ProjectZ

    Too much time on the hands of people today. Get over it.......

    October 28, 2011 at 3:36 pm |
  9. melissa

    Christians scare me way more than Halloween does.

    October 28, 2011 at 3:36 pm |
  10. Jay

    Says the religion that bases their biggest holiday of the year off of a pagan holiday.

    October 28, 2011 at 3:36 pm |
  11. Fajita_Jim

    "Many Christians celebrate Halloween, but some churches oppose it because of its pagan roots."

    I bet they have no problems with Christmas, despite ITS pagan roots.

    October 28, 2011 at 3:36 pm |
  12. DNA

    I celebrate Halloween to P!SS off the right wingers.

    October 28, 2011 at 3:35 pm |
    • ProjectZ

      good one, i like it

      October 28, 2011 at 3:36 pm |
  13. mft

    All in All, one response: Commercialization of an event that never was rooted in the US is a typical capitalistic approach to market robbing its own consumers once again. Kudos to ROBBERY with BLINDFOLD!

    October 28, 2011 at 3:35 pm |
  14. bipar08

    who comes up with this cr*p? must be a bad news day

    October 28, 2011 at 3:35 pm |
  15. Erm

    I'm a Christian and I love Halloween. It allows me to goof off and eat too much candy without feeling guilty about it! I understand why some people are against it, but I think the hell house thing is taking it too far. It is one thing to try to teach someone about Christianity and another to try to scare them into it. I hope everyone has a safe one!

    October 28, 2011 at 3:35 pm |
  16. Karen

    Pun intended.

    October 28, 2011 at 3:35 pm |
  17. BrandoSauce

    This is a dumb debate, any church worth it's salt should declare a victory over the pagan roots of haloween by successfully stealing the holiday and turning it into a fun kid/family oriented celebration.

    It's no longer a religious holiday at all, the fact we celebrate it by dressing up and having candy suggests the Church domesticated a once anti-christian holiday and use it as an opportunity to attract kids and young people to Church for fun, festivities and fellowship.

    October 28, 2011 at 3:35 pm |
  18. Poorob

    This story confirms the classic definition of a Fundamentalist: No 'Fun', All 'Damn', No 'Mental!'

    October 28, 2011 at 3:35 pm |
  19. mft

    All in All, one response: Commercialization of an event that never was rooted in the US is a typical capitalistic approach to market robbing its own consumers once again. Kudos to RUBBERY with BLINDFOLD!

    October 28, 2011 at 3:35 pm |
  20. Um

    Seriously? I understand the whole "it doesn't mean that anymore" argument most people use to discount the pagan roots behind holidays, but I will never understand why any Christian celebrates Halloween.

    It's blatantly celebrating demons, witches and ghosts. Where in the Bible does it say that's ok?

    If you want to celebrate it, that's fine, but don't pretend it's not completely hypocritical of you.

    October 28, 2011 at 3:35 pm |
    • William Demuth

      Jesus is a FICTIONAL character, just like zombies.

      In fact, by any reasonable definition, Jesus IS a zombie.

      October 28, 2011 at 3:39 pm |
    • Chispa

      Umm, dude, "Halloween" is a form of "All Hallows' Eve," i.e., the night before All Saints (Hallows) Day, November 1. There are days honoring individual saints throughout the year, but Hallow Day, or Hallowmas, commemorates all the saints, including those known only to God. It was superimposed on the Celtic New Year, Samhain, to give a Christian meaning to a pagan holiday. Yes, the fun and eerie elements have taken over the popular celebration, but many Christian churches still celebrate All Saints. You could, too.

      October 28, 2011 at 3:58 pm |
    • Um

      The pagan holiday was in practice long before the church incorporated the date and gave it a Christian meaning. As with most popular Christian holidays, All Saints Day was deliberately started as a way of coercing the masses to join the new religion.

      When you decorate, dress up and follow customs directly related to demonism, you are celebrating a blatantly demonic holiday. There is no justifying your way around that.

      Also, William, this was in reference those who claim Christianity. If you don't believe in Jesus in the first place, celebrate the holiday with no compunctions.

      October 28, 2011 at 4:09 pm |
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About this blog

The CNN Belief Blog covers the faith angles of the day's biggest stories, from breaking news to politics to entertainment, fostering a global conversation about the role of religion and belief in readers' lives. It's edited by CNN's Daniel Burke with contributions from Eric Marrapodi and CNN's worldwide news gathering team.