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Meeks sends kids to 'hell'
Christian fright house depicts abortion, gays

October 31, 2006

This Halloween, Chicago's Salem Baptist Church wants teenagers to go straight to "hell." Admission is $7 and passengers arrive at its gates on a yellow school bus.

Salem's "Nights of Terror" promises to "scare the hell out of teens" by guiding them on a half-hour tour through Hades -- or at least what passed for it in the don't-call-it-a-haunted-house set up in the church's administrative offices at 109th and Cottage Grove.

So-called hell houses have become popular over the last decade among some evangelical Christian churches that want to provide an alternative to traditional Halloween celebrations.

"YOU HAVE DIED AND GONE STRAIGHT TO HELL!" a tall man wearing a long, black, hooded cloak bellowed over a bullhorn Sunday night as the first busload of about 30 teens and a handful of parents were herded through dark corridors lined in black plastic.

The group moved from room to room, witnessing scenes depicting what the church says are the consequences of "bad decisions involving violence, sex and drugs."

In one scene, a girl was lying on a gurney where a masked man in surgical scrubs pretended to perform an abortion. A toilet was sitting nearby apparently to collect the aborted fetus.

'I thought it was very scary'
A fenced-in cell housed a few denizens of "hell," including a pedophile trolling the Internet for a young victim, a meditating Buddhist, and two mincing young men wearing body glitter who were supposed to be homosexuals.

"The jail scene were people who had recently come to hell and they were trying to explain why they didn't need to be there," said the Rev. Willie Comer, Salem's youth pastor, who also plays the role of Satan. This is the third time the church has put on the "Nights of Terror," which began Sunday and ends today at 10 p.m.

Comer knows some of the parts of Salem's "hell" will be controversial but says he and Salem's senior pastor, the Rev. James Meeks, who could not be reached for comment, are confident they can back up their vision of hell with Scripture.

"I welcome the pressures because then we can put God's agenda on the forefront and actually have a dialogue about it," Comer said.

The tour of "hell" ended in "heaven," where a white-robed angel asked the group to invite Jesus into their hearts to avoid spending eternity in hell.

As she skittishly made her way through the hell house, Sydney Foulks, 11, had a vice grip on her father's hand. "I thought it was very scary and I know I'm never sleeping with nobody until I get married," Sydney said as she exited.

"I thought it was phenomenal," said her father, Kevin Foulks. "This gives you a glimpse of what you're going to do forever if you don't confess your sins and give your life to Christ."

cfalsani@suntimes.com< i>