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A suggestion on how to deal with Halloween and other popular festivals.
Every year when Halloween approaches, the concern for everything related to witchcraft, spiritualism and the cult of death, rekindles among evangelicals.
It also happens with other popular festivals full of syncretism and magical elements, where evangelicals feel uncomfortable and avoid participating. We know we have to be close to our society, but these things put us off. Many of the questions we have related to the culture surrounding us are about this issue.
1. Due to the division between sacred and secular, we have developed a high sensitivity to those contents labelled as spiritual. Every time witchcraft, spiritualism, etc., are mentioned, we react and sometimes hyper-react. We have our own witch-hunt, especially against Halloween, Harry Potter books and even some Disney movies. We have our own "Ghostbusters", they spread alarm and receive support in the social networks
However, we find it hard to see the actions of the evil one in endemic poverty; the crisis of those forcibly displaced by hunger or war; domestic violence; personal and systemic corruption; destruction of creation; the ideology hidden in television news stories, series, novels, pop songs, etc. We consume all these quite uncritically.
2. Evangelicals react to this type of festivals by fleeing or moving away. The Holy Week in many places of Spain, the religious pilgrimages, carnival, Halloween, etc., have such a powerful spiritual weight, that many churches choose to leave the city during that time, and celebrate their annual retreats, or just go on holiday to another quieter and less offensive place.
Somehow, when things get more difficult, we choose to disappear, we choose to become invisible and wait for a better moment.
Evangelicals respond to this situations in two different ways: either condemning the culture, by showing it as incompatible with biblical Christian faith, or criticising the culture, which is a more subtle than just a condemnation which highlights inconsistencies and weaknesses of these demonstrations, not giving anything positive.
3. Evangelicals have a third way to relate to culture, much older, which has remained within Catholicism: the assimilation of pagan elements, making them look as Christian.
Since the Constantinianism, Christians have taken pagan festivals and deities and have given them a Christian meaning. Some of the Christian feasts coincide with pre-Christian festivals and some Christian symbols coincide with Greek, Roman or Germanic gods. More recently, because of the spread of Christianity - especially some forms of evangelical Christianity in South America or Africa - churches have integrated many magical elements in the the life and worship of their congregations.
Instead of condemning or criticizing, they have opted for another model: to copy the culture, taking its characteristics. try to make them look as Christian. Allowing people who were integrated into these forms of Christianity to continue celebrating their annual festivities, but with another outer form.
Very often, this has ended in an uncritical consumption of culture, with nothing new to offer. We have inadvertently approved values and principles that do not belong to Christianity.
4. If we saw culture from a missionary perspective, would we give other answers? Is it possible to do something more than fleeing from society during the festivals or integrating them in our calendar?
When we think in a missionary way, we see others from Jesus' perspective, as sheeps without a shepherd. People in our society, are telling us some of their deepest concerns through popular culture: an abstract desire to relate to spirituality and divinity, their unconscious fears, the way they entertain themselves to face reality, etc.
Usually, they only find judgment and disapproval from Christians. But there are other options. Are we able to accompany the people that the Lord has sent us? How can we show presence, proximity and passion to gain credibility for the proclamation? Rather than integrate and being integrated in the festivals, can we try to create a new cultural product from our faith in Christ and the values of the new Kingdom?
If the two most important values are to love God above all things and others as myself, I can reflect these with my hospitality, creating caring relationships, finding spaces to focus those fears, to minister with the gospel the deep concerns of their hearts, etc.
Think of those festivals as a hanger on which to hang invitations, hospitality, generosity, commitment, etc. Only as an example, now that Halloween is here, I dare to suggest an idea. We could prepare parties for children or adults, with Halloween decorations, just to have fun, eating candies and talking about fear: What scares do we remember? When have we felt panic? What frightens us? What should frighten us? What are our fears? What do we do about those fears? What about death? Is there a solution for death?
5. By the way, we can also rescue popular festivals displaced by the dominant Anglo culture. What I really like about this holiday season is to share with friends roasted chestnuts, sweet potatoes, "panellets" (a typical Spanish pastry), sweet wine, etc. It is great to spend time with old and new friends, speaking "of the divine and the human".
Jaume Llenas is the Secretary General of the Spanish Evangelical Alliance and a church planter.