Can you be scared into salvation?
For the past 41 years, Liberty University’s “Scaremare” has attracted thousands to its haunted attraction, where students in costumes deliver thrills and screams throughout a guided tour.
The university’s Center for Youth Ministries sponsors the annual October event, boasting to be one of the largest of its kind in the Southeast.
But beyond the promise of a spooky entertainment is a motive that runs deeper: Scaremare identifies as an “evangelism outreach.”
According to Liberty, Scaremare presents “funhouse rooms and scenes of death, and ultimately confronts visitors with the question, ‘What happens after we die?’”
After visitors are led through dark trails and blood-splattered rooms, they are directed to tents where trained volunteers share “a clear presentation of the gospel” and discuss themes of life and death. The visitors are welcomed to commit their lives to Jesus Christ.
The process, Liberty says, has transformed the lives of more than 26,000 visitors throughout its history.
Richard Brown, an assistant professor of Youth Ministries, told the university’s newspaper that out of every 1,000 people who come through the event, they “generally see 100 people give their lives to Christ.”
In describing its philosophy, Scaremare says it intends to “present the salvation message of Jesus Christ. … The message at the end of the journey delivers the final point – ‘what will happen when you die? Jesus can give you life.’ Jesus himself told the parables of hell (Luke 16:9). He was not trying to ‘scare a decision’ out of people, rather, he was making them come to grips with the reality of judgment.’”
Scaremare itself identifies the controversy that surrounds its approach.
“The bottom line is that sincere Christians are going to have disagreements over styles and methods of evangelism,” Scaremare’s website says.
Nevertheless, the theology behind Scaremare and similar scare houses has been criticized publicly. Russell Moore, president of the Southern Baptist Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission, writes seven reasons why “Halloween judgment houses often miss the mark.”
“[Judgment houses] are easier to pull off than talking to people,” Moore writes. “Can people be saved through judgment houses? Sure. But the fact remains that most lost people in your neighborhood are going to be saved the same way people have always been saved, by Christian people loving them enough to build relationships, invite them to church, share the gospel, and witness to Christ. The problem is that for many Christian’s that’s scarier than a haunted house.”
To see Scaremare for yourself, take a look at The Guardian’s movie that investigates the attraction.
Rebecca Kraybill is the editorial assistant for Sojourners.