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Why Christians Need Not Fear Halloween

October 31, 2016

The photo for this post is from Halloween 2002. I’m dressed as Anakin Skywalker, my wife is dressed as Bounty Hunter Zam Wessel. Our friends were the Jawa and fellow Jedi Knight. We had a blast! The costumes were all made from scratch – even the lightsabers, which my buddy and I designed using parts from Lowe’s – drain tubes, windshield wiper blades, PVC pipe, and even a shower head were some of the items that went into our lightsabers.

We went to an event at a local mall and spent most of the night posing for pictures with folks. They thought we had been hired by the mall as actors. It was so much fun!

I was serving as a youth minister in those days, so when folks at church heard about it, there were some heated rebukes (even though some of the complaints came from people who attended the same event at the mall and were themselves in costume – sigh). “Why would you celebrate the Devil’s Day?” “Aren’t you setting a bad example?” “We don’t let our kids participate in Halloween, so what are we supposed to say when their youth pastor does?”

These were opportunities to help Christians understand more about the origins and “spirit” behind Halloween, as well as dispelling common myths, and easing a surprising amount of fear among people of faith.

Fast forward to 2018. Halloween remains a big deal in our home. We carve some elaborate pumpkins, create fun costumes, and make it a big event. Now I’m a Lead Pastor and hold a doctoral degree – and I still dress up for Halloween. My most memorable costumes in recent years have been Severus Snape (where once again I was posing for pictures), Phil Robertson, and Han Solo. Yes, the questions still come and the conversations still take place with people of faith.

For me, one of the best parts of Halloween is conveying its original name – All Hallow’s Eve, and sharing how that day and the one following it (All Saint’s Day) was set aside by the church to celebrate the victory of Jesus over death. Indeed, the celebration was of such intensity that games and costumes were donned not in fear, but in triumphant mockery of the grave.

Over time people have sought to divert the focus from this celebration (much like they have done with St. Patrick’s Day and St. Valentine’s Day), yet All Hallow’s Eve stands as a reminder that in the fullness of time, Jesus came. God incarnate. The Almighty came costumed in human skin to defeat death and overcome the grave.

In that confidence, we can celebrate with joy that such a victory is ours through Christ.

There’s so much more to say on this, but I need to get my costume ready!

I’ll let a colleague of mine, Dr. Krish Kandah, who serves as a Doctoral Advisor for George Fox University, expand on this topic in a piece he wrote in 2014 for Christianity Today:

“There are a lot of horror stories circulating around Halloween, and some of them even come from the church. Some Christians are fearful of vigilante violence from disgruntled pre-schoolers who might egg their houses if there are no sweets on hand. Some are nervous of their children trick or treating at strangers’ houses and being given chocolate bars with razors in them. Others bemoan the commercialisation of our calendar with Halloween now the third biggest grossing festival of the year. But the biggest fear is the celebration of evil being a satanic entry point into young impressionable lives. As a parent of five children I recognise the dilemmas facing mums, dads and carers across the country. Which costumes would I be comfortable with them wearing? Do I forbid them from joining in the trick-and-treating? What do I do when their zombiefied friends come round? Which of their regular TV shows do I now turn off?

I want to explore three paradoxes of Halloween which are leading me to perhaps, controversially, change the way I handle the festival with my family this year.

  • Why, when Christians invented Halloween, are so many now fearful abstainers of the festival?

Most Christians I know are pretty negative about Halloween yet there wouldn’t be a Halloween in the first place if it weren’t for the church. As you are no doubt aware, Halloween is simply a contraction of ‘All Hallow’s Eve’. All Hallows Day (or All Saints Day) has been celebrated on November 1 since around 998 AD and celebrates the belief that those who die with genuine Christian faith have nothing to fear from death as they continue their relationship with God beyond the grave. Somewhere over the years the festivities evolved such that on the night before All Saints Day children began dressing up in spooky costumes. In medieval times it was known as ‘A Danse Macabre’. This dance was a way of celebrating the victory over the powers of evil and death that Jesus won through his own death on the cross. The Apostle Paul does something similar in 1 Corinthians 15:55-56 when he mocks death, then celebrates victory with the chant:

Where, O death, is your victory?

Where, O death, is your sting?

The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law.

But thanks be to God! He gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ.

Paul is employing the same kind of mocking tone that Liverpool FC fans in the Kop end use on the rare occasion when we are beating our local rivals, Everton. He uses words to taunt death – personifying it as an enemy that has been vanquished by the crucifixion and resurrection of Jesus. Those early Hallow’s Eve festivities were perhaps using a similar theological motif mocking the forces of darkness for having no power over those who have put their trust in Christ. Halloween offers us the opportunity to act out this belief ourselves – mocking the forces of evil, and celebrating the power of Jesus. But if we choose to abstain from the festivities, perhaps we lose the opportunity to explain Halloween’s origins, or to talk about our own confidence in the face of evil forces through the death of Jesus. The commercialisation of Christmas and Easter has not stopped the church from celebrating their underlying message. Just as we can explain the birth of Jesus at Christmas, his resurrection at Easter, could we not take the opportunity of Halloween to explain Christ’s victory?

  • Why in a secular society are we more interested than ever in mysticism, magic and the macabre?

I find a lot of Christians lamenting the fact that we often struggle to get people talking about the spiritual and supernatural. Yet despite secularisation supposedly being in full swing, Halloween is a growing festival. In our apparently ‘enlightened’ age there are still a glut of horror movies filling our movie theaters. This weekend the Australian horror movie The Babadook was a smash hit and recent films such as  Occulus, Annabelle, Deliver us from Evil and As Above as Below all demonstrate an interest in the paranormal. It seems strange that our culture is more willing to talk about the supernatural than the Church is. Have we sanitized the Scriptures by ignoring the supernatural worldview that permeates its pages? Do we react to those churches who over-emphasise the demonic beyond the place that Scriptures affords, by taking the opposite stance?

CS Lewis helpfully observed: ‘There are two equal and opposite errors into which our race can fall about the devils. One is to disbelieve in their existence. The other is to believe, and to feel an excessive and unhealthy interest in them. They themselves are equally pleased by both errors and hail a materialist or a magician with the same delight.’ I would argue that the Church needs to be in the conversation around Halloween to bring our communities and families and churches back to the middle ground and to take the opportunity to talk about the darker side of life within the context of Christ’s victory and power. Our gospel offers more than the forgiveness of sins; it also includes liberation from the power of evil, death and the devil, and Halloween could be the best time to communicate this, and best opportunity to help people see what they are really longing for.

‘Since the children have flesh and blood, he too shared in their humanity so that by his death he might break the power of him who holds the power of death – that is, the devil’ Hebrews 2:14

Why do we think our silence on Halloween will speak most loudly?

Many Christians seem to take the position that abstinence from the Halloween festivities gives us the best opportunity to witness. Refusing to open the door to trick-or-treaters or forbidding our children to go to Halloween parties is seen to be an opportunity to testify to Christ when we are asked why we are not participating. Historically this abstinence approach has at times been entirely appropriate, for example when Christians refused to go as spectators to the gladiatorial contests in the Coliseum. There was seen to be nothing redeemable in the barbarity of these gruesome spectacles. But it’s not the right approach when it comes to engaging in politics – Christians should not disengage because the system is flawed and broken, conversely, Christians should deliberately seize the opportunity to bring transformation. So when it comes to Halloween should we opt for involvement or avoidance? Of course, believers should pay attention to their consciences and the counsel of wise Christian leaders and so there might not be a one-size-fits-all response to this question. In the past I have always abstained, deliberately engaging with the sandwich of festivals of Guy Fawkes Night and Remembrance Day and teaching my children that we do not celebrate Halloween. However this year, I am experimenting with a cautious in-it-to-win-it-approach.

Taking a blanket abstinence approach robs us of the opportunity to point people to Halloween’s meaning, educate our children in the power of Christ’s victory and build bridges with our neighbours. Either way, we may be losing the opportunity to shape the festival, or stop the festival becoming something it was never designed to be – a mockery of disfigurement, a day of fear for those who live alone, or a budget-breaking contest between neighbours. By getting involved but challenging some of the more sinister activities, perhaps our voices will be more clearly heard.

I applaud churches who seek to balance this by hosting light parties and that take the opportunity to unpack the history of Halloween. I have witnessed some excellent youth events where the biblical zombie stories were expounded to great effect. Recently I was encouraged by one mum who wrote to her local supermarket not objecting to the bats, spiders and witches’ hats that were recognised as an acceptable part of the Halloween festivities but requested they removed the offensive severed body parts and bloody machetes decorating the shop. By taking a nuanced approach she won the shopkeeper over and he rethought his position. Perhaps more of us could follow her example – we can’t take Halloween away, but we could and should voice our objections to Ebola T-Shirts, or overly sexualised children’s trick or treat outfits, for example.

So for the first time this year I am carving pumpkins (albeit with hearts of hope for Syria), hosting my own Halloween event (albeit a late night debate in a local church on the paradox of evil), and playing my favorite Halloween song (REM’s version of the Classics IV song Spooky). One of my children is turning down party invites, whereas another is hoping for one. I am sure the debate will continue in my house and beyond….”

Dr Krish Kandiah is founding director of the charity Home for Good and President of London School of Theology. The article can be accessed on the original site here

Enjoy, and Happy All Hallow’s Eve!

Civility or courtesy?

October 28, 2016

There are diverse approaches to defining civility. Some choose to describe what civil behavior looks like as opposed to how someone might define the word itself. Based on the belief that “the world could be a bit more polite, a bit kinder and a bit friendlier,” John Sweeney and his colleagues at the Brave New Workshop Comedy Theatre collaborated to produce Return to Civility: A Speed of Laughter Project. The work contains 365 very down-to-earth, common-courtesy suggestions to help create a more civilized world, in an attempt to “reclaim the appreciation once displayed for our fellow human beings, ourselves, and our planet.”

Motivated by his experience at a concert during which a Grammy-award-winning musician stopped her set in order to ask the audience to quiet down, Sweeney inspired his fellow comedians to think of daily suggestions for one to lead a more considerate and considered life. According to Sweeney, the suggestions are not focused on changing others, “but rather, are a list of ways we can alter our own actions and behaviors.”[1]

In contrast, Sara Hacala, protocol consultant and author of Saving Civility: 52 Ways to Tame Rude, Crude & Attitude for a Polite Planet, chooses to explain civility by describing the behavior arising from its absence. She begins with common and seemingly minor annoyances like interrupting when someone is talking and progresses to more serious infractions such as a failure to express gratitude, and finally to the tragic realities of polarization and self-absorption. She then laments the scourge of cyber-bullying, pointing out its power to “leave teenagers so distraught that they believe their only recourse is to take their own lives.”[2]

Having worked with teenagers for over twenty years, Hacala’s observation about bullying hit a sensitive spot for me. I’ve sat for hours with these young souls, listening to them convey the harsh, hostile, and hateful things said and done to them by peers and parents. The shocking reality of teen suicides connected to cyber- bullying is finally giving this issue the attention it deserves.[3]

Civility is often understood less through direct definition or expression and more through words like courtesy, manners, etiquette, and politeness. These are helpful to arrive at a better understanding of civility’s significance to the world. As civility professor P.M. Forni observes, “Whatever civility might be, it has something to do with courtesy, politeness, and good manners.”[4]  However, while these common concepts are similar, they’re not the same.

First, courtesy is linked to the image of a royal court with its elegance and formality. Imagine the experience of preparing to meet the Queen of England, or more popular these days, the Royal Baby. There are numerous behavioral do’s and don’ts, all of which are intended to ensure your actions are consistent with the role of a courtier, or one who is in attendance at the royal court.[5]  Even the official website for the British Monarchy calls for guests meeting Her Majesty to “practice courtesy.”[6]  From its classical definition, courtesy is an exercise in bestowing respect by paying close attention to one’s interaction with a person of superior status. In a modern context, we would replace the monarch with someone to whom we are accountable. Our boss, our parents, a judge, or someone else holding a position of honor and authority.

It’s on a personal and informal level that I believe we can take make the best application. Courtesy is an expression of humble deference to another. In this way, we promote civil expression by putting the needs of others ahead of our own.

Imagine that!

Next week we’ll compare and contrast civility and politeness. You might be surprised at how deep incivility can masquerade as “polite” behavior.


[1] John Sweeney, “Return to Civility,” Return to Civility, January 2008,

[2] Sara Hacala, Saving Civility: 52 Ways to Tame Rude, Crude, & Attitude for a Polite Planet (Woodstock, VT: Skylight Paths, 2011), 3.

[3] Laird, Sam. “Cyberbullying: Scourge of the Internet [INFOGRAPHIC].” Last modified July 8, 2012. Accessed October 28, 2016.

[4] P.M. Forni, The Civility Solution: What to Do When People Are Rude (New York: St.Martin’s Press, 2008), 9.

[5] Gwendolen Fairfax, “Hello Your Majesty: Rules for Meeting the Royal Family.”, accessed July 21, 2013,

[6] “Meeting The Queen,” The British Monarchy, accessed July 21, 2013,


The Civility Project: Welcome!

October 25, 2016

This week, I’m starting a new series of blogs posts entitled, The Civility Project. I will continue to write on other issues, but my intention is to speak intentionally to this important matter at this important cultural moment.

Ever since the 2012 election, I’ve been concerned with the increasing levels of incivility and the impact it’s having on the quality of our discourse and relationships. As a pastor, I’ve also been concerned with how incivility has served to deteriorate both the internal unity of people who claim a common faith and the external witness of a faith community whose identity is to be rooted in compassion and grace.

Since I began paying attention in 2012, civility has continued to deteriorate, yet its demise is met with a paradoxical mix of emotions. On one hand, our culture rewards incivility. Our entertainment consists of the vocal and physical aggression between self-absorbed personalities, raging radio talk show hosts, debating presidential candidates, and a media that lives by the rule, “if it bleeds, it leads.” All this and more, provides a consistent intake of incivility, making it a normalized and expected form of expression.

What gets rewarded gets repeated, re-tweeted, renewed for another season on TV, goes viral, trends in social media and otherwise is reinforced by a culture that just can’t seem to get enough. Yet it seems we have had enough. Indeed, from one’s living room at home to one’s break room at work, civility is something more and more people expect from others but is a quality we have trouble expressing toward others, especially if we disagree with them.

The church is not immune to this phenomenon. In fact, the research for this project has only confirmed what I and other church leaders have experienced; levels of incivility within the church are no different than those in “the world” of politics, business, industry, technology, and popular culture.

Civility is desired and demanded by a culture that enjoys being entertained by the very incivility it wants to see diminished.

So what do we do?

I don’t have all the answers, but I hope this series of blogs can be of some help. My intention is simply to provide perspectives from research and personal experience in hopes that how we think about, speak to, and live with each other can improve through a better understanding of just how valuable and necessary civility has become.

This project is for the benefit of anyone and everyone concerned about the rising incivility in our world. I realize my readers are a mix of friends with varying beliefs. Many of you identify as Christians, but many others do not. While the principles I share are beneficial regardless of your faith perspective, please know that I will at times apply these principles directly to those readers involved in church. This is not intended to exclude my non-religious readers, but rather to provide an irenic and at times a polemic challenge to a group of people who claim belief in the way of Jesus, but whose incivility toward one another, church leaders, and the world they are called to reach, defy that belief.

The title, Civility Project, is not original. P.M. Forni has used the title for his efforts since 1997 at John Hopkins University. It was also used in an attempt by Congressman Greg DeMoss back in 2009 to elevate the quality of dialogue among lawmakers. The project was ditched in 2011 after only three members of Congress were willing to participate. So, there’s reason to wonder if my Civility Project will get traction at all. That’s okay, I’m still going to put it out there if for no other reason than doing so may just help keep me from a natural tendency to be a big jerk!

So welcome to the Civility Project! Please spread the word. Next blog drops later this week

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