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October 29, 2011
“Judgement House,” Other Scary Church Plays Thrive on Manipulating People

Posted by Michael in : Acting , trackback

judgement demonYears ago, I went to a performance of "Heaven’s Gates and Hell’s Flames" at a church near my home in the St. Louis metro region. The play was a series of vignettes depicting different people dying and facing their eternal judgments.

Some went to Heaven; others were dragged away screaming to Hell. As a drama, it was predictable. With each scene, you were introduced to new characters, at least one of whom was going to die in the next few minutes.

While much of my recollection of that production is fuzzy, two scenes left strong impressions. One featured a young woman who commits suicide and then is sent to Hell; the other told the tale of a father and teen son killed in a car accident followed by a demon tormenting the father as he watches his son dragged off to Hell first.

The end of the production featured an alter call, and many dozens of people went to the front of the church to speak to spiritual counselors.

I grew up and spent my young adult life in fundamentalist evangelical churches, but even then I found this production troubling and manipulative. As I walked to my car in the parking lot, a handful of people in front of me were chatting. I heard the middle-aged man say to the others, "Well, I finally went forward like you been wantin’ me to."

I don’t know what the man was thinking, but the tone of his voice and body language spoke volumes. It wasn’t an expression of joy; it was an acknowledgment that he had walked an aisle, repeated a prayer and now he was set for eternity. Nothing more to do, thank you very much.

And that’s my frustration with productions such as "Heaven’s Gates and Hell’s Flames" or "Judgement House" or "Hell House." They are more about manipulating people into making an emotional decision than helping someone understand what it really means to have a relationship with God.

For the people who respond at the conclusion of these productions, I question whether that knee-jerk emotional decision meant anything significant to the vast majority of them. And if it turns out that it truly didn’t, what responsibility does the church bear for making people think they’ve bought their get-out-of-hell free card and can continue on with their lives.

Christianity is about so much more than where we end up after this life is over; it’s about how our relationship with Christ affects how we live our lives every day.

Many churches offer these scare-them-into-heaven productions around Halloween. Some even masquerade as secular haunted houses, and their customers don’t realize until they’re a few scenes in that they have been tricked – not treated – into paying admission to be beaten over the head with a manipulative religious message. For those churches that do that, I have to wonder that if they truly believe that Jesus is the Truth, why do they have to deceive people to introduce them to Him?

I have no doubt of the sincerity of many Christians that put on these productions, but at the end of the day these productions are bad drama and bad theology.

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