Religious leaders differ on acceptability of Halloween

Halloween is a fixture in modern American culture, but the custom of “trick or treating” and attending costume parties is quite different from how Halloween began about 2,000 years ago.

Local religious leaders present Halloween views
In response to a letter from William Van Amber Fields published in Saturday’s Religion section regarding his belief about the evils associated with the celebration of Halloween, the News-Sentinel sought the opinions of local religious leaders on whether they believe Halloween violates the principles of the Bible.

Pastors were asked about the custom of a young child wearing costumes and asking for candy and not about committing illegal or immoral acts such as vandalism.

John Anderson, interim pastor, Vinewood Community Church, Lodi: Off the top of my head, I’m inclined to think that if Halloween is perceived as an occult or Satanic celebration of some kind, we would oppose it. But I don’t think our people view Halloween that way. It’s kind of harmless, fun thing at that point.

“We provide a fall festival (6 to 8 p.m. Friday) as a safe alternative to trick or treating. We encourage children not to wear scary costumes.”

Don Bo, deacon, St. Anne’s Catholic Church, Lodi: “Scripture talks a little bit about the dead. Things grow from other things. In the Catholic Church, the Apostle’s Creed talks about the Communion of Saints. We believe in the Communion of Saints, here and in heaven. This is a reminder.

“It has nothing to do with Satanism. Halloween means All Saints Day. It’s a solemnity of all saints. Church holidays have been commercialized. Christmas and Easter are prime examples.”

Bill Cummins, Bear Creek Community Church, Lodi: “Oct. 31 has been All Saints Day for hundreds of years. It has been in history a time of Christian celebration for the ‘saints.’

“I define ‘saints’ using the Biblical definition of any person who is personally connected to Jesus Christ. Therefore, at Bear Creek Church, we celebrate Oct. 31 as a time of celebration of all believers, and we tie that into the seasonal time of thanking God for the fall harvest. Thus, we have a Harvest Faire on Oct. 31.

“Yes, people, young and old, dress up, and we celebrate this wonderful time of the year with games, activities, food and celebration. As the Bible says, ‘Whatsoever you do in word or deed do it all unto the Lord’ (Colossians 3:17).”

Perry Kallis, Temple Baptist Church, Lodi: “One can hardly walk into any store this time of the year without a vivid reminder that Halloween has become big business. It has (unfortunately) surpassed Thanksgiving as the autumn holiday that receives the most focus.

“It is a reality that may reflect something of a transition in our culture. For most local people, Halloween is based more on a fun tradition than on insidious evil intent.

“Even some of the more morbid modern-day practices associated with Halloween ought to make a Christian uneasy: Witches and warlocks, haunting by ghouls and creatures come back from the dead are certainly not things a follower of Jesus Christ ought to celebrate. This is certainly not the kind of belief that promotes what we would call Christian standards.

“So how should a church respond? Since it is unlikely we will be able to diminish the cultural focus on Halloween any time soon, we believe our best response it to offer a safe, fun alternative to Halloween that allows children and their families, a positive environment and an opportunity for significant interaction with other children.

“In this setting, our church is able to shape the message away from those aspects of Halloween that are negative (such as fright, selfishness and mischievousness) and toward the fundamental aspects of our Christian principles (such as sharing, celebration, truth, hope and joy).

“Many kids come in costumes, but we discourage scary costumes at our fall festival. Large amounts of candy are involved, but the candy is given as prizes for games, not at the threat of playing a ‘trick.'”

Frank Palmer, Woodbridge Missionary Baptist Church: “A child dressing up and going trick or treating doesn’t, in my opinion, violate the Word of God. Going to extremes on Halloween (animal sacrifices, drinking blood, worshipping Satan, etc.) certainly would violate the word of God.

“Even ‘religion,’ taken to extremes, would lead one to violate the word of God. In the Four Gospels, Jesus’ harshest criticism was reserved for the Pharisees, the leading ‘religion’ of his day, for their hypocritical and self-righteous form of religion.

“In our church, we discussed this very thing as we considered having our “Trunk or Treat.” Do we, because of some of the connotations connected with Halloween, avoid it? Or do we, because the majority of people who participate in trick or treating, aren’t out to worship Satan? They’re just out for a fun time and free candy?

“We opted for the latter — we’re having this “Trunk or Treat” (5 to 8 p.m. Friday) to provide a safe and enjoyable alternative for our community while at the same time giving us an opportunity to get to know our community a little better and allowing our community to get to know us a little better.”

The evolution of Halloween over hundreds of years has local religious leaders disagreeing whether Halloween violates the teachings of both Jesus Christ and the Bible.

Pastor Loren Stacy of Lodi’s Church of God (Seventh-day) says that Halloween violates Scripture. So does William Van Amber Fields, a community activist from Morada and a frequent contributor to the News-Sentinel’s letters column in the Religion section.

“Christianity and Halloween are totally incompatible,” Fields said in a letter published in the News-Sentinel’s Religion section Saturday. “Halloween is an affront to the Gospel of Christ.”

Fields maintains that observing Halloween, even if by an innocent child going door to door in a cute costume, glorifies Satan and pagans. He quotes the Books of Mark, Luke and John and the Epistles of Second Timothy and Second Corinthians to support his argument.

Meanwhile, Stacy said, “I’m trying to love the Lord, my God, with all my heart, with all my soul and with all my mind. The things associated with Halloween, past and present, don’t help me do that.

“Is Halloween a violation of scriptural principles and the gospel of Jesus Christ? It certainly was in its beginnings,” Stacy said. “Just when did God decide that it was now OK? Personally, I’d rather pass on ‘trick or treat’ than risk even the possibility that I might disappoint my Lord.”

However, many other Lodi-area religious leaders — including Catholics, Lutherans and Missionary Baptists — said celebrating Halloween is not an endorsement of Satanism, nor does it violate the Bible’s teachings.

“I don’t know where the Bible says a kid shouldn’t go to a party,” said Don Bo, a deacon at St. Anne’s Catholic Church in Lodi. “The church doesn’t have any problem with Halloween; it’s part of our faith.”

In the Roman Catholic Church, the Apostles’ Creed, which talks about communion of saints, is the emphasis for Halloween, Bo said.

At St. Michael’s Catholic Church in Morada, children in Sunday school and catechism classes are encouraged to dress as a saint for Halloween, said Father Patrick Walker.

Some pastors, including Perry Kallis of Lodi’s Temple Baptist Church, said they accept the fact that Halloween is firmly established in American culture despite its questionable origin.

“Since it is unlikely we will be able to diminish the cultural focus on Halloween anytime soon, we believe our best response is to offer a safe, fun alternative to Halloween that allows children and their families a positive environment and an opportunity for significant interaction with other children,” Kallis said.

Therefore, Temple Baptist is offering a harvest fair on its grounds on Lower Sacramento Road on Friday.

History of Halloween

Halloween was originated 2,000 years ago by the Celts, who lived in what is now Ireland, the United Kingdom and northern France, according to the History Channel Web site.

The Celts celebrated the new year on Nov. 1, so as sort of a New Year’s Eve celebration, they celebrated Samhain, when the ghosts of the dead returned to earth.

“To commemorate the event, Druids built huge sacred bonfires, where the people gathered to burn crops and animals as sacrifices to the Celtic deities,” according to the History Channel Web site.

“During the celebration, the Celts wore costumes, typically consisting of animal heads and skins, and attempted to tell each other’s fortunes,” the Web site says.

In the seventh century, Pope Boniface IV designated Nov. 1 as All Saints Day to honor saints and martyrs. It is widely believed that the pope was attempting to replace the Celtic festival of the dead with a related, but church-sanctioned holiday.

Nov. 1 was called All-Hallows Day, making the night before All-Hallows Eve, or Halloween. Others say it was called Hallowed Even.

However, some reports credit Pope Gregory IV declaring Halloween a Roman Catholic observance in the ninth century.

Halloween — American style

In the 18th century, colonial Halloween festivities celebrated the harvest, where neighbors shared stories of the dead, told each other’s fortunes, danced, sang and told ghost stories.

Immigrants, especially the millions of Irish fleeing that island’s devastating potato famine of 1846, helped popularize Halloween in the United States, according to the History Channel’s Web site.

Employing Irish and English traditions, Americans began to dress up in costumes and go house to house asking for food or money. In the late 1800s, Halloween evolved in America into a holiday more about community and neighborly get-togethers than about ghosts, pranks and witchcraft, the Web site says. It became a secular holiday by the 1920s and 1930s.

Vandalism plagued communities during that time, but by the 1950s the vandalism had diminished and Halloween was more focused on young people. Trick or treating was revived between 1920 and 1950, according to the History Channel.

Good or evil?

But is the celebration of Halloween one of celebrating good or evil?

Paul Zimmerman, pastor of St. Peter Lutheran Church in Lodi, said that Christian opinion differs as to whether or not the Halloween of several hundred years ago in Europe was actually “a time to thumb one’s nose and make fun of Satan or to lead lost spirits to the tomb where they could rest in peace.

“In light of Christ’s victory over sin and death, I tend to think it was more an ‘in your face’ festival that poked fun at Satan’s defeat,” Zimmerman said.

Walker, the St. Michael’s priest, said, “The church has no difficulty with anyone going to Halloween parties as long as they realize it has nothing to do with promoting the powers of darkness, Satanism.”

And pastor Mary Sanders of Shepherd of the Valley Lutheran Church in Galt said, “I do not believe it is a violation of either the gospel or scripture to dress one’s child up as Minnie Mouse, a football player or some other appropriate costume and go around their neighborhoods for trick or treat.”

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