August 10, 2020

iMonk 101: My Annual Halloween Rant (One of them) Revisited

Originally published at the Steve Brown, Etc. Guest Room Blog. You also might enjoy “The Great Pumpkin Proposes a Toast,” from deep in the IM archives. Here’s a good post on “How to have a great Catholic Halloween.” No Protestants are harmed. It’s OK. The best article on Hallloween remains James Jordan’s “A Different View of 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 Paretti novel.

Boo. I hope I scared you.

Michael Spencer, aka The Internet Monk (, is a campus minister, communicator and inexplicably successful blogger living in Kentucky. When he was a kid, he would go trick or treating as a scarecrow, but now he wants to dress up like Steve Brown.


  1. I’ve always seen Halloween as the perfect American holiday… People dress up, pretending they are something they are not, expecting to get something they don’t deserve, and setting them up for indulgence. hey, its no coincidence that Halloween and Election Day usually come in the same week!

  2. as the youngest of three brothers, i always ended up in the witch costume. thanks for draggin’ (ex-rpger pun) up the memories

  3. I tend to think that the reason the “Satanic panic” hangs around long after it’s been debunked is the same reason that so many other “urban legends” continue to hang around, despite the existence of and other careful researchers — who have been, IMHO, a voice of sanity and truth.

    The reason, I think, is this: people get a thrill out of being scared. A BIG thrill.

    And then, when you find out that something is really not the Big Evil you thought it was? You feel like you’ve made a fool of yourself.

    It’s very hard for many of us to admit that in public. It’s very tempting to just brush off the voice telling you you’re mistaken, and instead, to rely on our “gut feeling” that somehow the Big Evil just *must* still be there, despite whatever evidence someone presents to the contrary.

    • Headless Unicorn Guy says

      It’s very tempting to just brush off the voice telling you you’re mistaken, and instead, to rely on our “gut feeling” that somehow the Big Evil just *must* still be there, despite whatever evidence someone presents to the contrary.

      That sounds frighteningly like a Permanent Floating Witch Hunt searching around for a target.

      And partaking of Conspiracy Theory mentality. The Dwarfs are for The Dwarfs, and Won’t Be Taken In.

  4. I’m sure I’ll get flack for this, especially after seeing the large following you have in your camp, but I hope you’ll listen respectfully while I offer my viewpoint. I haven’t celebrated Halloween since I was 6 years old. It was my choice to give it up, as I decided it didn’t glorify God as a use of my time. I don’t think you are a Satanist if you decide to participate in Halloween, and I don’t expect other Christians to agree with me (Romans 14:3), but I’d appreciate it if you would be respectful and not shame me for my convictions.

    The fact remains that Halloween does have the appearance of evil. Whether it started that way or not, doesn’t matter. I don’t know how anyone can argue this, just go into any store this time of year and look at the displays. The holiday is about being scary, and that’s what draws a lot of people to it. What does the Bible say about Christians and associating with evil? 3 John 11 says “do not imitate what is evil, but what is good.” Ephesians 5:11 says “have nothing to do with the fruitless deeds of darkness”, and isn’t that one of the things that some people like about Halloween, the scary, dark aspect of it?

    1 Corinthians 10:23-24 says “‘Everything is permissible’- but not everything is beneficial. ‘Everything is permissible’- but not everything is constructive. Nobody should seek his own good, but the good of others.” Abstinence from Halloween and the practices associated with it seems to be the better choice. A good analogy is movies that are rated R. They are not beneficial/good for us to watch, so we choose not to watch them (exceptions are made for movies like The Passion of the Christ). It is not a sin per se, and neither is celebrating Halloween, and it is not spelled out in the Bible, but it is a conviction we have and a standard that we hold to.

    Our family has started a new tradition on Halloween, shopping for the Operation Christmas Child boxes, which I much prefer as a use of the night, as it is an activity that glorifies God in giving to others. Let me leave you with one final verse, Philippians 4:8–“Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable–if anything is excellent or praiseworthy–think about such things.”

  5. I said this when I linked to this post at my own site, but it bears repeating:

    This is one of the reasons that I’m thankful to have grown up in a mainline protestant church.

  6. Thank you, thank you, thank you. So grateful for some common sense mixed with a little histroical perspective. Lies – like the ones propigated by Warnke – often have ripple effects for YEARS. And although I do believe there is power in the forces of darkness – real power – I am unafraid and unwilling to cower. Because greater is He who is in me…

    Halloween is one day of the year my boys look forward to with GREAT anticipation. We downplay the creepy and yucky stuff. We celebrate family and community. It’s one of the best times of the year for us to get face to face time with the neighbors. And my kids light up like a Christmas Tree (I know, another pagan symbol…) when they get to dress up and fill their sacks with goodies. I’m a pastor and I wouldn’t miss it. Blogged about it here today >>

    Let’s be about the business of REDEEMING culture, not stiff-arming it. Greater is HE who is IN US! Go have fun with your family – we are free. Let’s be a light in our neighborhoods!

    I love your blog. Thanks so much.