Friday, October 15, 2010

The Judgment House Phenomenon

It is that time of year again. The leaves are turning red, yellow, and orange. The temperatures are falling and pumpkins are appearing on front porches across America. And now teenagers are dressing in costumes and makeup in order to strike fear into the hearts of the public. This is not, however, your run of the mill trick or treating or haunted house. The latest manifestation of fundamentalist evangelism is the judgment house. Judgment house is the name brand of a group providing scripts and directions for these "walk through dramas" that are billed as "alternatives to haunted houses." While the plots of these judgment houses change from year to year and church to church the basic premise remains the same. There is a depiction of hell and a depiction of heaven and which one do you want to end up for eternity?

These judgment houses are geared toward tweens and teens with bus after bus of youth groups coming in and out. I went through one of these judgment houses a couple of years ago. While the cheesiness of these skits was palpable, so was the manipulation of these young people. Some kids were laughing, but some were also in tears, scared literally for their souls. After going through the house, "counselors" (who knows what their qualifications were) talked with kids who "accepted Jesus." The rest of us were sent out the door and into the cold.

Having gone through one of these "dramas" I feel that I can offer a fair shakedown of these events. These judgment houses engage in the worst kind of scare tactic evangelism possible. The only thing worse would be to literally hold a gun to their heads. I have read this and heard it time and time again, fear based conversion is not true conversion. You cannot coerce people into a relationship with God by fear. A relationship by its definition is based on trust and love. I would compare these judgment house conversions to a woman who stays in marriage because she is afraid to leave. You resent the one you fear. These young people are not told that God loves then, except that he will save you only after dangling you over the fires of hell.

Jesus never used that kind of evangelism. Jesus instead chose to help people, heal them, touch them, feed them, and then give them the good news of the Gospel. It takes a lot of money, time, and energy to create and put on one of these judgment houses. Why not use that same time, money, and energy to build a Habitat for Humanity house? What would be a better example of the gospel of Christ? A judgment house or a house for one of the least of these. What is more likely to bring someone to Christ? A fear based manipulation or an act of love and grace.

I hope someone from one of these judgment house churches reads this and I hope they get offended. I hope that offense causes them to think and perhaps reconsider.

1 comment:

Ron Goetz said...

That Scare-'em-Into-Heaven approach to evangelism definitely leaves a lot to be desired, but for some personalities and in some sub-cultures it still resonates.

There's a segment of popular Christianity that fights against everything in the culture that is not overtly and explicitly "Christian."

They target Halloween and Easter eggs. They rail against Harry Potter and minutiae in Mel Gibson's The Passion. For some, acceptable reading material must resemble the Left Behind series and Chick tracts.

I shake my head in regret, but when all is said and done I've got to leave them to God. I suppose if I had close relatives or neighbors I had to deal with, I could easily feel differently.