Thursday, October 29, 2009

Hallelujah Nights

Around the country, there are thousands of evangelical/charismatic churches putting on "Hallelujah Nights" this Halloween evening. The reasons given vary, but there's a common theme.

It's the "highest crime night" of the year, says a church in Florida. Come be safe! Candy from a Bible Teacher is safer than candy from a stranger, says a church in Des Moines. Who knows what that scary person who lives next door might be putting in the Snickers? A Texas church lets us know that it is providing a safe alternative to the "mischief, danger, and wickedness" that comes when folks do...other things. A church in Bridgeport is providing a "safe alternative." Two churches in Albany are providing a place to go to insure that "nothing happens" to your children.

The common theme to this particular set of Hallelujah Nights is not celebration. It's fear and insularity. And, unspoken in their advertising, the whole "Satan's Night" thing, that delusion that somehow what goes on in the 'burbs on October 31st is a major pagan festival from which Christians need to cower in terror.

I actually see nothing wrong with Christians enjoying a good, wholesome evening of fun on October 31st. Keep the spirit of the event pleasant, and ditch the Golden Rule Violation pranking and destruction. But Hallelujah Night? What bugs me most are two things:

1) The name "Hallelujah Night." It's goofy. Just plain goofy, in the un-self-aware way so often manifested by low-attention-span Christianity. Christians came up with the name Halloween, dagflabbit. The evening has ALREADY been renamed by Jesus people. European pagans never called it that. For them it was Samhain, the festival of the dead. In an effort to transform that holiday and coopt it, we Christians reclaimed it and renamed it All Hallows Eve. Hallows just means "Holy Ones." It's the night before All Saints Day, when we celebrate the Christians who have come before, those mystics and holy ones and great teachers of the faith who built the church. But Christians do not know this, because we are reflexively and willfully ignorant of the history of the church. As far as we're concerned, Christianity begins and ends with us, and two thousand years of the faith may as well not have happened.

If we want to have an event around All Hallows Eve, then we should. If we want to give our kids something that's not too scary and our women an opportunity to dress up as something other than a sexy nurse, sexy vampire, sexy zombie, or sexy Fox News Commentator, then fine. But call it what it is. All Hallows Eve. Or even Halloween. It's been Jesus-fied already, eh?

2) It's Anti-Evangelical. Hallelujah nights play into that squirrelly profit-media-driven American fear of the other. We have to keep the kids safe! Terror all around, back after these messages! But frightened people make for lousy evangelists. If we hole ourselves up and hide away from our neighbors, we cannot possibly be getting to know them. We're doing the opposite. We're looking out at our neighbors and fearing them. They might be pedophiles! Or rapists! Or Satanists! Or Democrats!

This sends a message, and that message is not the Gospel.

If your community sacrifices goats on the streets and your neighbors run around naked and gibbering with their long silver knives shining moon-struck in the autumnal darkness, then by all means have an All Hallows Eve event sequestered away in your church. I'd also suggest that you consider moving.

If not, this is an opportunity to get to know people around you. Not hittin' 'em up with tracts and bludgeoning them about faith. Getting to know them, walking through your neighborhood and match faces with places. It's a chance to be known, to share a conversation, and to confront the social isolation that is such a blight on our society. From that foundation of gracious engagement, many good things can happen. Without it? We're just an unusually successful cult.

Here ends my annual All Hallows Rant. You can now return to your regularly scheduled programming.