Headlines: This Halloween, Will You Be Present in Your Community?

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Editor's Note

Each week, the Christ and Culture podcast features a segment called "Headlines," in which we look at some aspect of the headlines from a Christian perspective. In episode 127, Dr. Ken Keathley talks with Dr. George Robinson about Halloween. This article is a transcript of that conversation, edited for length and clarity.

We've chosen to embrace the neighborhood we live in.

Ken Keathley: Halloween is coming up in a few days. So how should Christians deal with this holiday? Should they avoid it, navigate it, or something else altogether? We’re glad to have with us today our own Dr. George Robinson. He’s professor of Global Disciple Making and holds the Bailey Smith Chair of Evangelism. George, how do you navigate Halloween in your particular unique setting?

George Robinson: When I was moving to the town of Wake Forest 15 years ago, our real estate agent in the particular neighborhood we were moving into told us to start preparing for Halloween in midsummer. I was like, “What are you talking about?” They said, “Just trust us, you need to get ready.” And so we bought a little bit of extra candy leading up to Halloween. And then on Halloween night, about 6:30 p.m., I was completely out of candy and befuddled. I turned my lights off, shut my door, and watched myriads of people walking past my house. I was thinking, I teach Evangelism, and people are going house to house through my neighborhood. It’s the one night of the year that people who are far from God are actually out in my neighborhood and want to have interaction.

KK: Your neighborhood is unique. You’re on North Main Street, which is Halloween central for the town of Wake Forest in a way that most subdivisions aren’t. So it gives you a very special opportunity. So what do you do? How do you handle it now?

GR: The next year I was prepared. I realized that Halloween typically is about the children, which is great opportunity to be present and to give good candy to kids. But I wanted to meet my neighbors, meet the adults as well. So we set up two different tables in our driveway. We have one place where we’re giving candy to the kids, and then on the other side of the driveway we’ve got coffee and hot chocolate for the adults only. And that gives me an opportunity just briefly to show hospitality to my neighbors, to encourage them in some way. And honestly, Ken, one of the things that I’m aiming for is to be a contrast a little bit to perhaps the way some of my other neighbors are approaching the holiday — where they’re celebrating the evil and witches and skeletons and all of those things. We’re not that. We’ve got mums on our front porch and pumpkins, but we’re trying to shine the light and love of Christ as best we can in a very short amount of time.

KK: What you’re talking about has so many real world applications for Christians in our present age. Think of all the various situations where you’re invited to events, something at work, or a family gathering, and many of the things about it do not honor the Lord. You’re in a situation in which you may be the only believer there. The goal here is to maintain our testimony for Christ for the purpose of reaching people. So how do you think about these situations?

GR: Honestly, it made me initially think back to Niebuhr’s book on Christ and Culture from decades ago. And an application of that is there are really three ways you can approach it. You can avoid Halloween altogether and be the Grinch of Halloween, and there are some who will do that. And if that’s your conviction, then okay. But I don’t necessarily think that you’re accomplishing what you desire to accomplish when you avoid the holiday altogether. The other way of approaching Halloween is to provide some sort of alternative. This is what most churches tend to do. They’ll have a fall festival, which we all know falls during Halloween, right? So you are riding the rhythm of this cultural holiday that occurs every year, but you’re trying to provide some sort of wholesome alternative. And the reality is those are not bad things. But most of the people who are coming to your fall festival do that as the appetizer. That’s their charcuterie board, and then they’re moving on to the main course to go trick or treating elsewhere. So at least you’re being present with an alternative festival or trunk or treat or something like that.

For me, we’ve chosen to embrace the neighborhood we live in. And whether your neighborhood has 1000 people per night that comes by your house, which is what we average, or whether it has 25 people that come by. The very fact that our culture is such that we’ve shifted from the front porch to fenced in backyards begs the question of Christians: Are you going to be present in your community? Do the people in your community know that you care for your neighborhood? And so even if it’s a small number of people that are coming by your house, the very fact that you’re present, that you’re ready and that you are hospitable and kind and welcoming can create opportunities perhaps not necessarily on that night.

I have had opportunities to pray with people, to encourage people, to share the gospel with people on that night over the years. But most of the people who come by my house, it literally is them looking and saying, “Wow, you’re doing this differently. This is interesting. What’s going on with that?” I run into people at the coffee shop all the time, and they say, “Hey, you’re the one that gives the free coffee away to adults on Halloween. I love your house.” And they’ve just started a conversation with me that now I can build off of.

KK: That’s Excellent. Good words of advice. Thank you so much, George.

GR: I appreciate the opportunity.

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The L. Russ Bush Center for Faith and Culture seeks to engage culture as salt and light, presenting the Christian faith and demonstrating its implications for all areas of human existence.

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