Boo! It's Jesus!: Halloween and Evangelization

By Joshua Witchger 10-31-2011

2974001345_07ec506363Is Halloween a prime time for evangelism?

Are religious tracts passed out along with (or in lieu of) "treats" really the best way to spread the gospel message?

Or do the roots and practices of Halloween run so deeply counter to Christian tradition that Halloween is best ignored by believers?

At times such as these, the church often finds itself wrestling with the big question H. Richard Niebuhr posed in his seminal 1951 work, Christ and Culture. That is, to what extent should Christians engage in and interact with the world around them?

Niebuhr unpacks this question by offering five models that range from total cultural abstention to total immersion, from a Christ who relates paradoxically to culture, to a Christ who transforms it.

While he argued that there are certain elements intrinsic to Christian faith, Niebuhr believed that there is no singular correct way the church has always, and will always, respond to this question, and that the way of faith is multifaceted and ever-changing.

Once again, on Halloween, we reflect on the relationship the church holds to the world around it.

This morning, USA Today religion reporter Cathy Grossman blogged about the American Tract Society's (ATS) latest in Halloween tracts, including a leaflet title, "Peek-a-Boo: Jesus Loves You."

In her post, Grossman gives a brief history of religious tracts, including how they have, historically, mimicked popular culture in order to present a particular Christian agenda.

A leaflet that some may deem "cruel,""shallow," or a "misrepresentation of Christianity," others may consider a triumph, a "seed sewn," and dutiful obedience to the Great Commission.

Grossman accounts several contrasting views on Halloween evangelism, for lack of a better term. In one, she quotes a Buddhist mother who was upset after finding a Toy Story-themed tract in her child's candy basket. (What would Christian parents think if their child received a Buddhist tract?).

Screen shot 2011-10-31 at 2.24.04 PMIn another, Grossman quotes prominent evangelical pastor Rick Warren, who tweeted over the weekend that Halloween presents an opportunity to share Jesus with the broader community.

Frank Salamone, a professor of Sociology at Iona University and author of the "Rituals of Rebellion," entry from the Encyclopedia of Religious Rites, Rituals, and Festivals, thinks handing out tracts is not an appropriate Christian response to Halloween.

"Halloween is the Eve of All Saints Day and Catholics have celebrated it as a quasi-scapular holiday for centuries," Salamone said in an interview Monday. "It has become basically a secular holiday over the centuries but with tinges of Catholic and pre-Christian rituals.

"I think there are many who confuse religion with doom and gloom and who resist having fun and begrudge others who do," he said. I would say, 'Get over it.' The imaginative life is worth living and a God-given blessing."

But in a piece on the Christian Broadcasting Network, guest columnist John Fischer says, "It all comes down to why we are here. Are we here to enjoy life in as safe an environment as possible? Are we here to recreate the world as it should be, or as we might want it to be? Or are we here to bring Jesus to the world, however dangerous that might be?"

Fischer concludes, then, that he'll participate in Halloween festivities, hoping that by doing so, he'll "renew relationships with neighbors I know and meet some others I don't know yet" and "if anything is good about this day, it is a day that brings people out.

"It would be a shame for Christians to be absent from the neighborhood when this happens," Fischer said.

Perennially, Halloween presents complicated questions to the faith community, namely: What does the Christian message offer to contemporary secular culture?

What are your thoughts on Christians engaging Halloween?

Are you celebrating Halloween? Handing out tracts? Offering hospitality to neighbors?

We'd love to hear your thoughts in the comments section below this post.

Joshua Witchger is an editorial Web assistant at Sojourners.

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