Judgement House: A Legitimate Case of Child Abuse

In my local area a church staged a Judgement House for Halloween, in which people are scared into believing because of the threat of God's punishment in hell. It basically portrays a few people who die and face God's judgement, with some being taken away by "demons" into hell and the others taken into heaven. Now we've heard a lot recently about Richard Dawkins' claim that religious indoctrination is child abuse, but this is a clear case of it...

As I read my local newspaper tell of it there was a picture of a nine year old boy being counseled to accept Jesus after the program. This alarmed me so I wrote the following letter to the editor:

I think it’s time more people question the tactics of churches like Grace Community Church with its “Judgement House” (as reported Wednesday). When a father verbally threatens his children with violence, we consider that mental child abuse, don’t we? How is that different than admitting nine year old children (as pictured) to graphic depictions of God’s judgement and the threat of hell if they don’t immediately accept Jesus into their lives? That’s some pretty powerful stuff, don’t you think? What nine year old child wouldn’t accept Jesus in order to avoid hell? If a Muslim group decided to make a similar “Judgement House” and admitted nine year old children, it would have the same effect. These children would become Muslims to avoid the Muslim hell depicted.

I know this is what that church believes, but exposing children to it is nothing short of mentally abusing them with threats, not from a father, but from a heavenly father. Most Christians think people should come to Jesus because he loves them, but apparently not this church. Like an earthly father who threatens his children with violence if they disobey, Grace Community Church threatens children with violence from a heavenly father if they don’t believe.

It has been said that “hell serves the holy purpose of cradle to grave intimidation,” and this is exactly what that church is attempting to do. But for civilized people, including most Christian people, what they did can be considered child abuse. They can only be thankful that with the separation of church and state, child protective service agencies cannot do anything about it.

Notice that I am also trying to rally Christian people to help me argue my case, since this is better than going it alone in our small community.

It hasn't been printed yet. But it'll be interesting to see the reaction.


Joseph said...

If you haven't seen Hell House, it is a MUST see: http://imdb.com/title/tt0301235/. Basically, its a documentary that follows the judgment house from inception to completion. There is no commentary, so you really get the feeling that you're sharing in the experience (both as a believer and an unsuspecting non-believer). You might find clips of it on YouTube.

Jon said...

As a Christian I find such outreach attempts ridiculous. I hate the idea of scaring people into believing in God, regardless of the age.

Shygetz said...

I am currently trying to plow through Bruce Bawer's "Stealing Jesus". In it, he claims that scaring people is not an effective way to win people to Christ. While I do disagree with Evangelists on many, many levels, I don't think they're that stupid. They do this crap because intimidation works.

I'm glad to see you standing up to it, but be careful. I know from personal experience that people who are willing to use intimidation as a tactic for coersion, be they religious or not, are often one-trick ponies. While I know you can take care of yourself better than a nine year old and I agree that it was a good act to write the letter, don't underestimate the potential reaction.

DFV said...

I've just discovered this site. I've read the works of Ed Babinski (Hi Ed!) and Valerie Tarico. I've a late blog on Hell Houses that you might want to visit.

That said, yes, Hell Houses and Judgement Houses are a form of child abuse. It is sad, however, that the only time the practice will ever come under real scrutiny is when a teenager bashes someone and says that he/she was influenced by a hell house.

In a way, I also agree with shygetz: intimidation works. Guilt works, else St. Augustine would never have invented original sin. And these people look stupid, but are dangerous. There are two kind of right-wing Christians in this world: Elmer Gantrys and Elmer Fudds. Bugs Bunny may have sharp wits, but Fudd was the one with the gun.

Pease may I contribute when I can? I promise my quirky style won't take up toomuch space.

Thanks again,



Kevin H said...

"Hell Houses" are part of the superficiality of American Christendom that I think breeds Ex-Christians and promotes caricatures. Like John, I have nothing good to say about them.

Part of the evolution of Hell Houses is due to churches doing something worse in the eyes of many: having "Haunted Houses" and Halloween parties at the church.

When I was a kid, we made a Haunted House in one wing of the church that would rival any other! We skipped any spiritualization and went straight to the good stuff - vampires, ghouls, monsters, and witches! And yes, it was naive and spiritually-immature fun. But it was common across the country on October 31.

Church leadership has tried to co-opt the practice and at least cram a message in there somewhere - an incredibly simplistic and ultimately counter-productive one.

Kids line up at Hell Houses because they like to be scared. Besides, their parents won't let them go to the unbaptized bloody horror down the street.

Prup (aka Jim Benton) said...

John: I agree with you about the potential for abuse -- partoicularly for the very susceptible -- in this, and would have co-signed your letter had I lived in the community. But I think, as well, that Kevin H is right about the actual result.

Kids like to 'play at' being scared. It's a way of 'taming' the world -- which can have real fears for them. They play at believing in vampires and 'drain monsters' -- yes, I'm a "Rose is Rose' fan -- and Freddy Krueger the same way they play at believing in Wonderland and Harry Potter's magic. They know what they are doing, for the most part. (And popular culture -- in its frequent wisdom -- has used this by making even vampires familiar creatures who teach kids to count or sell them a -- lousy -- breakfast cereal.)

It's the parents who have forgotten this, and take it far too seriously. For some of the kids, the result WILL be what you are afraid of. But for the most part, Christians are once again demonstrating their skill at shooting themselves in the foot.

Because the kids will put God and the Devil in precisely the same category as Superman and vampires -- fantastic creations of the imagination to have fun with, to get scared by, but not to be taken as real.

Hmmm, not such a bad thing, maybe. But if the result is good, the intention is still evil, which is why I would have signed the letter.

Shygetz said...

prup, I don't know if I agree. My daughter was afraid of the monster in the closet; not play-afraid, but terrified, waking up at night kind of afraid. We got beyond that now, but if I had been evil enough to try to harness her fear to control her, it would have worked. She would not get out of her bed to come get me when the monster was there for fear it would get her; if I had told her the monster would come when she was naughty, she probably would have believed me. It depends on the child, of course, but I think some kids can really be brutally affected by this kind of thing.

Karl Betts said...

Of course "guns" scare people, also but are protected by the constitution.

I'm looking for consistency and looking to avoid a double standard.

I suppose an objection could be made that atheism is abusive (could be argued either way I realize) and should be stopped.

The free speech that allows us to tell children that there is no god ordering this universe could be understood as abusive in the eyes of some concered educators, social activists and psychologists. However, we have a right to tell children that there is no god, at whatever physcological and tramatic risks that might cause.

The basis for that discussion is reliant upon the very constitutional principle freedom that allows a perspective to be given by those who promote the values of hell houses.

By what criteria do you determine what constitutes worse abuse? How do you know?

Finally, can you remain constitutionally consistent in the free speech clause by allowing one ideology over another? By what standard? Public Opinion?

I'm raising it for agrument sake (please don't take any of this personally).

I didn't write the constitution on matters of free speech, but I can promise you that in the realm of legal action -- the constitution will decide this matter (for better or for worse).

Shygetz said...

karl, there are many things protected by the constitution that are nevertheless disallowed when practiced on children. For example, there are many upheld cases of convictions of child neglect for disallowing medical care for your children and insisting on faith healing. For an adult, that would fall under the free exercise clause, but it is not allowed to be done to children. The SC has long accepted that children are not the property of parents, and that a parents' "rights of use" (pardon the term) are limited by the welfare of the child. The state has an interest in the welfare of the child, and can step in in cases of both physical and mental abuse. For example, Oregon law includes as mental abuse "Terrorizing a child by threatening extreme punishment against him or his pets or possessions." Hell House is certainly an instance of this activity; the children are terrorized by threats of eternal torture, which I would argue is somewhat extreme.

It is not a parent's duty to insulate a child from harm; however, it is a parent's duty to avoid egregious terrorization of children. It's one thing to tell a child that death is a real thing. It's another to threaten to kill them if they don't adhere to your rules. I have no legal problem with theists telling children that God exists, and that He wants them to do something. However, to then terrorize them with eternal torment if they don't do it is unconscionable. There is no parallel for atheists; we tell them what we feel is the truth about the world, but there is no obscene punishment for transgressions inherent in atheism.

If a parent said "God doesn't exist, and if you do bad things I will hire a guy to set you on fire!" then I would eagerly call that child abuse. Why should it be different for a Christian to say "God exists, and if you do bad things He will set you on fire and you'll burn forever."? By setting up this double standard, are we not implying that the theist's threat is not credible to the child? I think it is perfectly credible to many children, and is an evil act that Jesus Himself would have condemned, if what they wrote about Him were true. Millstones on the bottom of the sea is too good for such people.

Prup (aka Jim Benton) said...

Agreed that in some cases there IS danger of abuse, all I said was that in the majority of cases the situation will be counter-productive. Even in a situation like your daughter's, I'm sure she grew out of her terror -- with your help.

Again, there is always peer pressure, which can be a very positive thing. "C'mon, you don't really believe that crap!" can be one of the more liberating things a kid can hear -- think of the way it inoculates kids against the fears parents try to (or used to try to) install about masturbation, for example.

(If parents want to turn God into a version of Freddy Krueger, all to the good, in many cases. Because kids like to be scared by Freddy, but not many of them really believe in his existence outside of the 'suspension of disbelief' that any 'story' requires.)

Karl: I don't want to get into a Constitutional debate here, it's not the place. But in general the free speech laws are modified concerning 'children.' In many instances I might consider this a mistake -- getting more worried about a glimpse of a nipple than about a graphic show about serial killers -- but the principle is there.

(Interestingly enough, I did a piece on some of the worst examples of 'Christian child rearing' manuals -- or "Bible-based baby beating" -- for a Swedish-based blog I frequently write for, and Martin, who runs it, flatly stated that if anyone published them in Sweden, they WOULD be prosecuted for child abuse.)

In general, I do agree with your position, btw. Which is why I have to support the rights of a disgusting fool like Fred Phelps -- in appropriate situations. Because I need the same rights.

DFV said...

To all at Debunking Christianity:

This just in 1 hour ago at 9:00AM(Pacific):
Republican Senator Grassley of Iowa is spearheading an investigation into the finances of televangelists Benny Hinn, Joyce Meyer, Kenneth Copeland, Creflo Dollar, Eddie Long and Paula White. No mention of Paul Crouch.

Sorry to but in on this post, but it was the only way of relaying the info to people asap.

I'll be trying to cover whatever/wherever I can. You can reach me at http://thedevilanddanvojir.blogspot.com or dan-vojir@sbcglobal.net

Prup (aka Jim Benton) said...

Great news, and surpringly unsurprising from Grassley. He is an extremely (fiscally) conservative Republican, but he also has a solid streak of integrity and honesty (not surprising for a politician, despite the cliches).
He also has never minded making himself unpopular in what he sees as a good cause. He'll do the job and do it well, and I bet a number of televangelists are praying more fervently and honestly than they have in years.

DFV said...

Thanks for looking at the blog. (Pass it around, I would really like some people o comment on some of the older posts ecause I might be able to use them in my book). Two minutes ago I read about something I will definitely comment on within the next hour:

On the side: why aren't they investigating that silly queen Paul Crouch?(I'm gay, so I think I can say that).MinistryWatch has had him on their "do not donate" radar for years.