It would be hard to imagine anything more controversial, in the American of 2012, than the concept that certain sinful lifestyle behaviors can lead to people being condemned by God to spend eternity in hell. For starters, this would mean that the word "sin" can be applied to behaviors other than those judged intolerant by the editorial page board at The New York Times. So, try to imagine my shock when I opened up my copy of The Baltimore Sun (the newspaper that lands in my front yard) and, lo and behold, there was a story on A2 about one of those "fright house" ministries that some conservative Christian ministries operate, for clearly evangelistic purposes, every Halloween. (Stop and think about this for a minute. Has anyone ever heard of a doctrinally liberal "fright house" operation? If there is one somewhere, that would be worth some coverage. I mean, what would the scary sins be in a Universalistic "fright house" ministry?)
So here is the shocker: This story was totally one-sided and biased.
What? What is so shocking about the Sun doing a biased story about a conservative Christian ministry?
I hear you. What's interesting, this time around, is that the story was completely biased in favor of the ministry. This news report focused on a very controversial subject and (a) I would bet the bank that it omitted some of the most controversial details of this operation and (b) it contained not a shred of evidence that there are religious believers and nonbelievers who oppose this type of thing because they consider it -- with good cause from their theological point of view -- offensive and judgmental.
So this story offered a low-key version of the conservative side of a story linked to a very controversial doctrinal statement, in this day and age. It would have been a much better report if it had included the views of liberal Christians, unbelievers and, in this season, pagans.
What does this look like in print? Here's the opening of this unusual public-relations piece:
Instead of a traditional Halloween haunted house filled with fog and ghoulish scenes, an outreach ministry in East Baltimore is offering stark glimpses into real-life issues, messages of hope and firm promises of help. The images portrayed at Reality House can be as haunting as any in a tale of horror, mostly because they are based on actual situations.
Within a 46-foot-long tent pitched behind the Patterson Park Library, visitors can check out scenes that depict social ills like drug addiction, suicide and teen pregnancy. The portrayals shed light on the consequences of poor decision making, according to Teen Challenge of Baltimore, a faith-based ministry that organized the program.
"This is about reality, which really can be scarier than any horror movie," said Kenny Rogers, outreach coordinator of Teen Challenge. "This is the stuff kids live with in a society that is really scary for them. It doesn't go away, like when you walk out of the movie."
So what are the sins that are on display? There's a seance. There are images of substance abuse, including references to alcohol and marijuana, and the tough life of a teen-aged single mother. There's a row of graves "each marked with the deceased's cause of death." I would imagine there are some controversial social/political issues linked to those tombstones.
And the final message of hope? It would offend many, many Sun readers:
After about a 20-minute walk through the scenes, visitors exit the tent to see three crosses -- emblems of Calvary -- and to hear brief words from Scripture.
During a dress rehearsal Thursday, several neighborhood children approached the costumed actors, asking if they were real. ... Belainta Crawford, 7, tugged on Christ's beard and tried on a demon's frightful mask before he matter-of-factly assured his 5-year-old sister, "He's God and he's the devil."
Seriously, I wonder if anyone opposed this ministry operating this close to a public library. Is it on public land?
Before some readers freak out, I am not saying that it is always wrong for this kind of event to be held in a public place. What I am saying is that this is a topic that would -- in many communities, and especially liberal Baltimore -- cause fierce debates. So where is the rest of this story?