Ami, a regular reader of this blog, and a friend of my mine, sent me a VICE story about the HELL HOUSE the Trinity Church in Cedar Hill, Texas uses to evangelize local youth. It is an appalling story of religious manipulation and abuse, all in the name of Jesus.
Brother Thomas turns to me and says, “We’re shorthanded in the abortion room.” I’ve gone to work as a volunteer at a Hell House, an evangelical Christian haunted house in Cedar Hill, Texas, designed to scare kids away from sinning. “I’m either going to put you in the abortion room,” Brother Thomas says, “or the drunk-driving room.”
“The abortion room would be great,” I say.
“When the visitors come in,” Brother Thomas says, leading me to the room where a fake abortion performed by teenage actors is supposed to scare kids away from premarital sex, “what I need you to do is yell in a strong voice, ‘Watch the steps!’ If we don’t say, ‘Watch your step,’ and they fall, we’re liable.”
At Hell House, Jesus steers kids toward the Lord. But he can’t prevent lawsuits.
What the hell is a “hell house”? If you’re not familiar, Hell House is a Christian alternative to the standard haunted house. Instead of Freddy Krueger, these costumed evangelists scare the holy Jesus into you—literally.
In this house of horrors, being gay results in dying of AIDS and premarital sex can lead the homecoming queen down a slippery slope of prostitution. Youth groups visit and are led through a series of “real life” horrific scenes designed to create terror and revulsion. Hell House outreach manuals include astute tips on creating authentic abortion room scenes, such as: Purchase a meat product that closely resembles pieces of a baby to be placed in a glass bowl.
In the end, Hell House patrons are asked to participate in a goofy ceremony and accept salvation by repenting their sins and trusting Jesus Christ—or face eternity in hell.
The largest hell house in the country is run by Trinity Church in Cedar Hill, Texas. The organization was depicted in the 2002 documentary Hell House, which featured such horrific scenes as a girl spewing vats of blood from her vagina area after an abortion (ouch!).
At this year’s 23rd annual event in Cedar Hill, which happens today, 15,000 people are expected to pass through the gates. The theme is “Darkness Has a Name.” The website warns: “There are guns, blood, violence, intense scenes, and disturbing images.”
Hmmm? Will it be a horrible death due to twerking (twerk and get AIDs!) or horrific consequences from posting sexy selfies (caused by Satan)?
It was time to experience hell from the inside. I had gone online to request to be a volunteer, emailing Trinity Church and telling them: “I’m available to do any position that’s needed. I could work next weekend and the weekend after and the weekend after that…”…
…First, I’m assigned to the lesbian-suicide room. My job is to lead groups from the sex-trafficking area to a high school scene being enacted from behind a piece of yellow caution tape. The premise: a girl’s classmates accuse her of being a lesbian. Suicide soon follows.
A youth group stands shoulder-to-shoulder and watches, transfixed, while a petrified ten-year-old tightly clutches his mom as this modern parable unfolds. “Let me tell me about my favorite student, Alex,” proclaims a youth performer, caked with a large bloody gash across his head. “She’s grown up pure. She’s never had a boyfriend. Never been kissed. She’s saving herself for the right man…”
For realism, the actress portraying the accused lesbian wears a plaid shirt.
“Don’t touch me, lesbian!” scoffs the girl’s best friend. She leaves in a huff, loudly slamming the door. Having no other alternative, our lead actress downs a handful of pills and kills herself, unable to face a reality where people have demonized her as gay.
“Alex has been pure her whole life. Look what good it did her. Now she’ll be with me forever!” sneers the teenager portraying Satan’s helper…
…A small child bolts from one of the hell-house-scene rooms and vomits. His mother is close behind. Throughout the night, other frightened children will also throw up…
…Popping my head into the scene room, a cold, uncaring medical staff member is advising a young woman to terminate her pregnancy via an abortion. Subtlety is not key here. A red-faced demon taunts the woman with a sarcastic voice: “Why not have an abortion? Everyone is doing it these days!”
A girl in the audience begins to cry during the scene, solidifying that the actress portraying Abortion Girl is the queen of the hell-house ball. She knocks out a tour-de-force performance, hysterically screaming while being thrown to the ground by her angry boyfriend (who, of course, leaves her forever). I ponder if any famous actors have gotten their start on the Hell House circuit.
Returning to my post in the lesbian suicide room, I feel slightly insecure that my 14-year old hell-house co-workers don’t like me. Trying to get on their good side, I mention to a cast member that I have some Broadway connections, and I could hook her up.
“How many times do you do this a night?” I ask the satanic demon with the bloody gash in his head between groups as a gunshot erupts from the sex-trafficking room followed by an actor screaming, “You ARE home, BITCH!”
“Hundreds of times,” he says.
Soon, it becomes apparent: my Dante level of the hell house is seeing children reenact the exact same lesbian-suicide scene, over and over again, dozens and dozens of times, inside a wooden shed in Texas…
…Emerging from hell, the emotionally broken-down youth groups are greeted by the cool pastor. In the brightly lit decision room, the cool pastor jumps up on a chair to play the role of good cop to Hell House’s bad cop.
“If you want your get out of Hell free card, it’s your connection to God himself,” exclaims the cool pastor with a friendly smile. “We want to introduce you to the King himself. We want to get you hooked on God. That is our purpose here in Hell House. We’re going to open the door. Do what God tells you to do. The only way out is if you want to go in and pray!”
He’s basically saying, either pray or it’s back to the Hell room—for eternity.
Do these kids really have an option? No one wants to be the devil’s bidet.
The Decision Room is like a scene out of Glengarry Glen Ross. The distraught and shattered youth groups’ members emerging from the hell house are made to sign forms that state their commitment to Jesus Christ (keeping it legally, or at least celestially binding). Heads are bowed. Prayer is in our midst; there’s much talk about casting away demons.
A prayer counselor is intensely speaking in tongues without irony, wrapping his hands around two kids with their eyes tightly closed shut.
“You’re amazing, oh God. You’re amazing. There’s nothing the enemy can do to bind us anymore. You kneel for me in front of my enemy. In the name of Jesus, amen.”…