January 17, 2021

Sundays with Michael Spencer: October 25, 2015


Note from CM: It is, of course, time to re-post one of Michael’s Halloween rants about what evangelicals did to a simple, old-fashioned American tradition.

Happy Reformation Day (and Halloween).

• • •

As October 31st looms, it’s time for true confessions.

I grew up among Southern Baptist fundamentalist Baptists. The KJV-only, women can’t wear pants, twenty verses of “Just As I Am,” Jerry Falwell, Jack Chick, twice a year revival kind of fundamentalist Baptists.

We were serious about things like beer. By sheer quantity of attention in sermons, drinking beer was the most evil act one could describe. We were serious about movies, cards, and something called “mixed bathing,” which normal people would call “swimming.”

We were serious about the Bible, Sunday School, suits and ties, and walking the aisle to get saved.

And we were big time into Halloween.

No, that’s not a typo. I said we were big time into Halloween.

From the late sixties into the early seventies, the churches I attended and worked for–all fundamentalist Baptists– were all over Halloween like ants on jam. It was a major social activity time in every youth group I was part of from elementary school through high school graduation in 1974.

We had haunted houses. Haunted hikes. Scary movies. (All the old Vincent Price duds.) As a youth minister in the mid to late seventies and early eighties, I created some haunted houses in church education buildings that would win stagecraft awards.

The kids loved it. The parents loved it. The pastors approved. The church paid for it!

No, this wasn’t “Judgment House” or “Hell House” or whatever else evangelicals have done with a similar skill set today. It was fun. Simple, old-fashioned, fun. No one tried to fly a broom or talk to the dead. Everyone tried to have fun. Innocent play in the name of an American custom.

And then, things changed.

Mike Warnke convinced evangelicals that participating in Halloween was worshiping the devil. Later, when we learned that Warnke may have been one of the most skillful of evangelical con-artists, lying about his entire Satanic high priest schtick, the faithful still believed his stories.

Evangelical media began to latch onto Halloween as some form of Satanism or witchcraft, and good Christians were warned that nothing made the other team happier than all those kids going door to door collecting M&Ms.

Evangelical parents decided that their own harmless and fun Halloween experiences were a fluke, and if their kid dressed up as a vampire, he’d probably try to become one. If there was a pumpkin on the porch, you were inviting demons into your home, just like it says in Hezekiah.

A general fear of the occult, manifesting itself in Satanic ritual abuse mythology, crept into evangelicalism and took a deep hold on many churches.

Occult ministries exploited these fears, and ministries like Bob Larson found it was profitable and powerful to make rock music, drug use, occult worship and Halloween one big package.

Today, if you want to split your church, divide your singles group, get a fight started with parents or see the youth minister fired, just find some way to have an old-fashioned Halloween event in your church.

In the ministry where I serve, we can’t have fall festivals. Putting out a pumpkin is risky. Any costume other than dressing up like Billy Graham is taboo.

Halloween experts have proliferated in evangelicalism. Where did these people learn all this stuff? Oh yes, The Onion. That’s right.

Those great, fun, harmless, safe, nostalgic, exciting, slightly scary and completely un-demonic Halloweens of the past? Gone, gone, gone with the evangelical hot air.

Does it bother me? You bet it does. It bothers me that we fall for such lame, ridiculous manipulators as the crowd that made all of those Halloweens past into satanic events.

It bothers me that any lie, exaggeration or fiction will find thousands of eager believers to pass it along.

It bothers me that the Biblical message about Satan would be co-opted by the fear-mongering and manipulation of the hucksters. (Read The Screwtape Letters for some real Satanism.)

It bothers me that such a wonderful part of my childhood and of American life has been turned into an example of evangelical paranoia and gullibility. We ruined something good, and everyone knows it but us.

I know all about the sophisticated responses thoughtful Christians have about Reformation day and All Saints Day. That’s fine, but it’s not the same. I just want my grandkids to be able to dress up in cute outfits and trick or treat without the local church designating them for exorcism.

Shame on those of us–evangelicals–who allowed Halloween to be taken away from families and many communities, all because we prefer to believe that life is a Frank Peretti novel.

Boo. I hope I scared you.


    • Halloween is just another day when you grow up in Chick track fundamentalism, lol.

      • Is it like for Jews on Christmas? The day of the year you all go out for Chinese food, then go to the movies?

        • Adam Tauno Williams says

          You mean Christmas? As a Christian that is my preferred way to spend Christmas; waiting for all that other stuff to be over. Chinese restaurants are the only ones open.

        • Headless Unicorn Guy says

          I don’t think Jews spend Christmas in their basement hiding from all the DEMONS….

  1. It’s so sad. I am old enough to remember all the fun we had as kids on Halloween. We could go out with our friends without our parents coming along. We could even eat the homemade treats of our neighbors. There were not all the costumes that people buy in the stores. We had ghosts, Cowboys ,Frankinstein, ect. This was once instance where the past was definitely an improvement.

  2. By the beginning of September every year, I began trying to think of a costume that would enable me to wear burnt cork smeared on my face as a beard. There was something marvelous about the smell of the cork burning as I stood over the sink, older sibling or mother in attendance, being allowed, for one day, to exercise my incendiary desires. Then I would venture proudly into the dark as a pirate, a . . . well, mostly a pirate, now that I think about it. In subsequent years I never became a cross-dresser, I never overhauled ships or keelhauled anyone, I never burned down buildings . . . I just ate my candy corns and milk duds and began dreaming of Thanksgiving. So there, Satan.

  3. Who I am and where I come from, I agree with this post a lot, as I have when it’s been posted in the past.

    Curiously, though, I’ve been interacting a bit more with my church’s Hispanic congregation this year, and in doing so I’ve discovered that they’ll have NOTHING to do with Halloween. I don’t think they even like “Harvest Parties” for their proximity to Halloween and the Harvest Party’s sense of paganism.

    I’ve conversed with a few of them about my view that Halloween is pretty benign, but hey…a cultural belief is a cultural belief. People take stands where they feel they need to take stands, especially when it involves a sort of “spiritual significance.” All you can do is share your viewpoint, converse, then let it go.

    • That Other Jean says

      So, what do they think of the Dia de los Meurtos, which is celebrated on November 1-2? Your Hispanic churchgoers can see no connection between the Day of the Dead and Halloween?

      • If I could venture a guess, I’d suggest that Hispanic Evangelicals/Anglicans generally associate El Dia de los Muertos with Roman Catholic superstition as much as anything else and so would take a dim view of Halloween for that reason. This is quite unlike many American Evangelicals, who often have to be educated about Halloween’s connection to (or the very existence o)f the Christian calendar in the first place, and so instead jump straight to a Satanic/pagan connection.

        But I could be completely wrong.

      • Headless Unicorn Guy says

        Would depend on what subset of “Hispanic” they are. Dia de los Muertos is specifically MEXICAN; while here in the Frontline Border States Mexicans ARE the largest subset ot Hispanics, that’s not necessarily true for other parts of the country.

        And the church. “Evangelicos” coming out of a Catholic culture are often firewalled to the most rigid forms of Fundamentalism. As far from “Romish Popery” as they can get.

        For example, on Seventies Christianese AM radio, Pastor Raul Rees of Calvary Chapel West Covina (all one word) always came across as rabid with knee-jerk hatred for anything Catholic — even cultural things that originated among Catholics (specific example Quinceaneras). He used to preach from anti-Catholic hate literature (Hislop’s Two Babylons and its “Mystery Babylon” knockoffs) pretty much word-for-word (keywords “Nimrod, Semiramis, and Tammuz”). Guess anti-Catholic hate literature was “SCRIPTURE(TM)! SCRIPTURE(TM)! SCRIPTURE(TM)!”

        Other accounts of Evangelicos in Latin American countries are full of “No Popery!” hellfire-and-damnation blasted on loudspeakers all over the town during “revivals” and services.

        • The damage AM Radio alone did to this country is extraordinary. Giving voice to these lunatics. How many traveling families, late night truckers, diners, whatever, across the country, bored out of their mind or drunk or taking peyote, turned in to hear some guy ‘finally talking some sense’. Whole ministries were build on the backs of the airwaves, send in your donations, we’ll take back this country and drive those others out.

          If you’ve never read Stephen King’s Under the Dome, I’d encourage it.

          Reminds me of the comments yesterday about that woman who gave her dad the purity pledge contract. Fine, go ahead, believe what you want to believe and keep doing things like that.

          We won’t stop you. But we will marginalize you, we will openly disagree with you, we will be waiting with open arms for anyone who escapes.

          • It’s golden age of radio. Space Age technology. Post War, pre Hippies. That period people look back on fondly. Where you could do anything before the government stopped you, and most men and women didn’t know how to say no.

            It’s at once both terrifying and awesome. Anyone could get a transmitter, choose a spot on the spectrum, and be heard, loud and clear, in realitime, across vast sections of the country. It’s like the Internet, I guess. But with the internet you have to hunt it down. Back then, there were always listeners. People found you all the time.

            If the Fallout series wants to get really trippy, just have the antagonist be on the radio the whole time. Preaching, building up armies, propaganda, tearing people down. The voice is powerful. Charisma can come through the radio.

            You’re listening to Galaxy News Radio, this is Three Dog, bringing you the news and music you want to hear as you wander the Najave…


        • Christiane says

          I know that anti-Catholicism is taught to these converts, yes. But if you scratch the surface of an ‘evangelical’ former Catholic Hispanic, you will likely still find some reverence for the story behind Our Lady of Guadalupe and how the simple peasant shepherd received her words and how it was confirmed. Hispanics LOVE their devotion to Our Lady of Guadalupe and it is something that is a part of who they are from childhood.

          Some things are not so easily erased by an actively intrusive malevolence, especially the things of simple faith and of the recognition of God’s loving care for the humble of the earth.

      • I don’t think our Hispanic congregation celebrates Day of the Dead, either, but I could be wrong.

        • I think Day of the Dead is specific to Mexico; if the people in your Hispanic congregation aren’t Mexican, it wouldn’t be part of their cultural heritage to begin with. But even if they are Mexican evangelicals, I wouldn’t expect that they would celebrate it.

          • My guess is that our Hispanic congregation is at least half Mexican in origin, if not more. The pastor is definitely from Mexico, as are several of the other folks I know. But I also know a few from Brazil and Argentina.

            I’ll have to ask a few of my friends from Mexico about their view in the Day of the Dead. I know for sure that some of them have issues with Halloween.

  4. I love this post. It’s one of those that helped finally push me out of the bad church and embrace the fact that I honestly love Halloween and have always loved it, even if I had to hide it for many years out of fear of what others would say. I always look forward to reading it again.

  5. Something I learned from Lenore Skenazy’s “Free Range Kids” book: There have been ZERO documented incidents of children being poisoned by Halloween candy. Really, not one.

    There was one case where a father poisoned his own child for an insurance payout. He apparently figured so many kids were poisoned every Halloween that no one would notice one more.

  6. Yep, StuartB, read Under the Dome!
    I was always the lone wolf regarding Halloween. We let our kids dress up, trick-or-treat, carve pumpkins, etc…and boy, did we catch hell from our Christian friends and family, and churches we were at.

    Really? We had so much fun, built fun memories, and said forget it to all the church Harvest whatever’s!

    My kids grew up to love Jesus….hmmmm, wonder how that happened, after all those years of Halloween-ing??

    Side note: now, love to handout candy/treats all night while watching Arsenic and Old Lace (takes place on Halloween, so became our post-kids at home tradition) and eating Witches Brew….aka Taco Soup. We still catch hell from the few we are in touch with about it. Hey, their loss….our fun !

  7. Today, the Lutheran church my wife serves as musician celebrated Reformation Sunday; for both of us, it has the bad taste of celebrating a divorce. Can’t wait for All Hallows’ Eve, and All Saints Sunday next weekend.

    Does any denomination besides Lutherans celebrate Reformation Sunday in a big way, special decorations and prayers, etc?

    • I don’t think it was mentioned today by our pastor (Nazarene), but some of us more knowledgeable of the church calendar did say, “Hey, isn’t it Reformation Sunday?”

    • I preached in a lovely little country Lutheran church this morning. Many people wore red and we had brass accompaniment for the hymns along with the organ and a potluck after worship. Salt of the earth people and the bishop gave permission for me to serve them communion too. It was a perfect autumn morning with the trees at their peak all around the church and cemetery. Could not have been a better Reformation Sunday.

      Well, maybe the preacher could have been better . . .

    • The Guy from Knoxville says

      October 25, 2015

      We didn’t decorate up for Reformation Day but in my more traditional Baptist church we did celebrate it with the music primarily. The big hymns with the pipe organ (yes, a baptist church that still has a pipe organ! I love playing it each week) – The Church’s One Foundation, A Mighty Fortress etc and next week we’ll be celebrating All Saints Day as well.

  8. Hoo boy is this post familiar! I remember one year when I was a kid the church basement was being renovated and turned into a dining hall. For a few months it was lightless and creepy, dungeon like. So naturally on Halloween that year the deacons of the church turned it into a haunted house and the children (and the adults) had an unforgettable amount of fun. It was years later just after I first went away to school that my parents reported that a couple families had joined the church who thought there was something suspect about Halloween. And soon enough the inevitable happened and something called a “Fall Festival” was born. My brother and I grew up watching all those old horror movies from the 30s and the 40s on TV (Friday Night Shocker). I don’t know how many times I saw Count Dracula staked and never once felt the demonic powers seeping into my soul. We knew it was just pretend. But no matter. However much they rant and rage the fools can’t take away my childhood.

    • –> “We knew it was just pretend.”

      In a similar way, I played D&D and I think I turned out semi-okay.

    • Headless Unicorn Guy says

      And soon enough the inevitable happened and something called a “Fall Festival” was born.

      “Just like Halloween, Except CHRISTIAN(TM)!!!!!”

      Well, we have only one more week before the All-Hands Culture War Mobilization shifts from The Devil’s Holiday(TM) to the War on Christmas(TM). But until then, Oceania has Always been at War with Eurasia.

  9. Stuart sez, “How many traveling families, late night truckers, diners, whatever, across the country, bored out of their mind or drunk or taking peyote, turned in to hear some guy ‘finally talking some sense’.”

    Stuart, it was probably 1966 when I was sitting in a national park outside Guadalajara in my VW bug, listening to AM preachers, probably broadcasting on 100K watts out of Del Rio, and waiting for the peyote I had scored at the city block sized market in town to come on. It was getting dark when I started feeling the buzz and simultaneously the cops drove up, told me I shouldn’t be there at night, that people had been murdered there, that I should drive back into the city and find a place to park. I didn’t tell them I had camped out in a tent there the night before. That night back in the city was the only time in my two month tour of Mexico on back roads that someone tried to rob me with a gun.

    I don’t mention this to recommend people take peyote and listen to radio preachers, but to point out that it does not always end in disaster as you imply. Herbert W. Armstrong of the Worldwide Church of God got me started studying the Bible nearly fifty years ago and here I am today. No doubt RobertF and others here would say, “Aha, that explains it!”

    • Peyote? Child’s play compared to mescaline kicking in while being taken in a friend’s newly purchased pre-owned hearse to a Patti Smith concert in Pontiac MI in 1979, with the windows all blacked-out and the vehicle’s sound system playing feedback loops of Tibetan throat singing. I don’t recommend it to anyone, and it doesn’t explain nada.

  10. Mercenaries and ghosts, together again.


  11. I think if I hear the word ‘occult’ one more time, I will probably have an aneurysm. Please don’t test me on this, as I’m not quite sure what an aneurysm is, but it doesn’t sound very nice.

    I was a teenage Christian at the time when Doreen Irvine’s (for those who don’t know the name, she was the UK’s Witch Queen/Super Mega Satanist) particular brand of muck-and-magic was in vogue, and the recordings of Bob Larson warned us of the evils of rock music. I believed it – when you’re young, you have a greater tendency to take what older folk tell you in good faith.

    Having experienced a bit more of the world (including a few years hanging with pagans, and finding that they are just ordinary people, whose religion seems a bit closer to cosplaying than satanism), I find it sad to find that Irvine’s book(s) is as popular as ever and many people are believing it as much as I did and thinking that there are legions of satanists out there trying to bring down the church and spread evil throughout the world.

  12. Much as I love this post every year, it is starting to feel dated to me. It seems to resemble more my experience of raising kids in the 1990’s Evangelical world than it does my daughter’s experience raising two kids in Wheaton ( with a husband getting an advanced degree in OT at that) today. She ( and her Christian mommy friends) seem way more concerned about sugar overload and artificial colors in candy than they do any Satanic meaning behind Trick or Treating.

    Around here, Halloween has been re-branded and redeemed as ” a great way to connect with your neighbors” by most of the mainstream evangelical churches. Even those who are still doing “Trunk or Treats”, Harvest Parties etc aren’t marketing them as “Halloween Alternatives”

    Maybe similar to evangelical kids turning into adult Liturgical Church attenders?

    In my circle, I only know a couple families who are still adamantly anti-Halloween and, in both cases, they had big families with a large gap between the oldest and youngest. I quietly wonder how much this is a case of ” well, we didn’t let Jason and Jenny Trick or Treat in the 90s so we can’t let little Clementine do it”

    My favorite Anti-Halloween story will always be the family I knew who didn’t celebrate Halloween by taking the whole family to Chuck E. Cheese and then spent the night in a hotel with an indoor swimming pool…I kept waiting for the cold, rainy Halloween night when my kids where going to say ” Mom, can we not believe in Halloween next year?”

  13. This is one of my favorite posts at I-Monk. Love, love, love it! I always look forward to the annual Halloween rant. Now for Halloween who should I dress up as? Who is really scary? There are so many possibilities from Bill Lumberg from Office Space, to Mark Driscoll. Decisions….decisions! 😛

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