Tom Hudgins, is the owner of House of Judgment, a Seminole, Florida-based company that provides scripts for churches to stage dramas. Before COVID, he told CNA, they helped up to 350 churches at a time hold houses of judgment. They are slowly resuming operations, he said, and about 50 participating churches are listed on their website.
Hudgins told CNA that unlike Hell House’s more extreme productions, his scripts never address social issues. Small groups of visitors walk through scenes designed to encourage self-reflection. Each production begins with death, with a car accident or cancer, for example, and then the public sees what happens after death.
“They see what hell would look like, but they also see what heaven will look like, and everyone can make their own decisions,” Hudgins said.
Bonnie Gilliland, the drama director of Morningside Baptist Church in Tallahassee, Fla., is directing a play with help from Judgment House in October. She told CNA that the productions are a way to share the gospel.
“We include a lot of scripture, it’s very biblical,” she said.
Gilliland explained that this year’s production isn’t just for non-believers — it’s meant to rouse regular devotees.
“The current drama gives people an opportunity to understand and consider whether they have a relationship with Jesus Christ, because it’s not just about going to church, it’s about accepting Jesus as your savior and to receive the gift of eternal life,” Gilliland said.
Kelly Armstrong, director of the New Harmony Baptist Church Courthouse in Albertville, Alabama, told CNA that past productions have depicted scenes of car wrecks, overdoses and abuse.
Visitors see “how people make decisions that affect their eternity,” he said. “It brings our church together and makes people think.”
Catholic criticism of the “houses of hell”
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Houses of judgment have not found favor with Catholic churches in the United States, and two evangelism and pastoral experts tell CNA they don’t think talking about hell draws people to the church. .
Sherry Weddell is the founder of the Catherine Institute of Siena, an apostolate that helps evangelize Catholic parishes to transform pew keepers into “intentional missionary disciples.” She told CNA that she advises any Catholic who is considering introducing hell-related themes into their Halloween decorations or celebrations to rethink the idea.
“If you live in an area that has a significant number of young adults, especially parents of young children, or in a heavily secularized area like urban areas on the East or West coasts, many will find this offensive or off-putting. And there has a real chance that sensitive and young children will be upset about it, which would fuel their parents’ dissatisfaction with the Catholic community that sponsors them,” Weddell explained.
“You might upset people who would otherwise have been open to attending an Advent or Christmas event in your parish or simply open to a friendship with a Catholic like you.
“Instead of building or strengthening bridges of trust, you could be breaking or weakening the trust that already exists. There are creative, positive, child-friendly and parent-friendly alternatives such as trunk-or-treating, costume parties and community light events that promote both long-standing relationships and fun. , Weddell said.
Monsignor Stephen Rossetti, the chief exorcist for the Archdiocese of Washington, and a psychologist and researcher at the Catholic University of America, told CNA that the threat of hell is not effective today.