This month, the Paranormal Circus will descend on Alexandria, Louisiana. As it should, such an event has aroused no small amount of controversy. Central Louisiana is, after all, in the buckle of the Bible belt. Spiritual beliefs often run hot in this area! Consequently, some see the Paranormal Circus as harmless fun while others see it as inviting demonic powers into the area. In such a contentious situation, how ought a Christian respond?
We can immediately say that the Paranormal Circus is not the type of thing that a Christian should attend. In our society, we discount spiritual realities in favor of materialist concerns. Western culture has changed much in the past two thousand years. In the first century, non-believers mocked Christian theism because they believed that Christianity placed too much of an emphasis on the physical side of life. The Gnostics and other heretics ridiculed Christian theology for insisting that God could be associated with the physical creation. In the 21st century, non-believers mock Christians for believing in unseen, spiritual realities. Modern non-believers ridicule Christians for believing that there is a God who transcends physical creation. Christianity’s opponents have vacillated and now deny the spiritual in favor of the physical.
Those who confess Christian belief and see the circus as harmless should ask why they believe the circus to be harmless fun. If the reason is that they don’t take spiritual realities such as demons and the devil seriously, then they’ve repudiated major sections of Christian teaching. Christianity has always had strong beliefs about the spirit-world and openly claims that there are spiritual powers at work in the world. Remember that Jesus talked to demons on more than one occasion and Paul said that our enemies are dark spiritual forces! A person may not believe that demons are present and active in the world; however, one won’t find that belief in Christianity. To deny the reality of demons is not a Christian belief.
To be clear, I’m not saying that the devil is working in and through the Paranormal Circus. The group’s Facebook page claims that the show “will transport you to a dark world inhabited by creatures with incredible circus art abilities” and will bring you to your “nightmares and fantasies.” Perhaps it’s demonic; however, I’ve never seen the show, so I’m not the best judge. My main point is that this not the type of thing that Christians should be involved with. The Bible so roundly condemns things that would bring out dark worlds and nightmarish visions all while being sexy that I don’t feel the need to provide proof texts. What the Paranormal Circus stands for—whether demonic or not—is antithetical to Christian belief. As a result, if a person claims to be a Christian, they should not go.
Contrary to those who see the show as harmless fun are those who believe the show is downright evil. While the former group intends to see the show, the latter group intends to protest. To the first group, my advice is don’t see the show. To the second group, my question is whether protesting is the best course of action.
Think about modern American history. It’s no secret that America has largely repudiated the theistic values that we can find latent in the writings of the founding fathers and great movers of Western thought. As culture turned away, the American church protested in the streets, signed petitions, and flew our banner proudly. And American culture did not blink. The trend has continued, and American culture has marched on. Is protesting really the best course of action when society does something of which we disapprove? Perhaps it is the best course of action. Either way, we can agree that protesting has not been effective nor has it won us any friends in the public square. Perhaps that will change; however, I have my doubts.
The early Church faced analogous circumstances. In the Roman world, seemingly every facet of society was intimately intertwined with pagan religion. We’re all familiar with the famous stories of soon-to-be Christian martyrs standing defiantly before pagan governors who order them to say “Caesar is Lord.” The Christians famously respond that they can only confess “Jesus is Lord.” For refusing to say the Roman pledge of allegiance, the Christians were slaughtered. For standing aloof from society, they were labeled anti-social, traitors, and haters of their fellow man. Roman culture was so closely connected with pagan religion that the pages of the New Testament discuss how the earliest Christian communities attempted to thread the needle between holy abstention from pagan worship and cultural engagement with the gospel. Even as far back as the time of Jesus, Christians have had to walk a tenuous tight-rope when relating to secular culture.
Significantly, the early church never protested, never signed petitions, and never marched through the streets with banners. Instead, they lived as a prophetic minority. They washed their hands from the sins of the culture while seeking to serve those whom the culture deemed worthless. They preached that the current age was drawing to an end and that a King was coming who would redeem culture by putting an end to the blasphemies of secular culture. God blessed this strategy in a way that he has not blessed protests.
The church didn’t start protesting secular culture until much later. Initially, the Christians saw themselves as a suffering, prophetic minority. When abuses were heaped on them and the culture turned further from God, they saw this as the cost of being Jesus’s disciples in a lost world. Not until after Constantine, the first Christian emperor, did Christians begin to meld the power of the state with the power of the Church. Following Constantine, the Church had the potential to bend the power of the state to its end. Such a trend went far beyond mere protests and gave such historical travesties as the Crusades and the Spanish Inquisition. When the Church gains political power, the Church goes astray.
In the 21st century, Western Christians are struggling with the decline of Christianity in our culture. We’re seeing the Church return to a relationship with the state that is more like the relationship that the early Church had to the secular Roman empire.
In this setting, is protesting the sins of the culture the best option? What do we hope to gain by protesting? Say we protest the Paranormal Circus and they cancel the event. Have we made any friends, or have we made more enemies? Instead of rushing to protest, we ought to consider the idea of being a prophetic minority. Instead of making our presence felt through protests, we could make our presence felt by abstaining from sinful culture events while serving those whom the culture overlooks. In all things, we should be guided with Paul’s maxim from 1 Corinthians 10: “So whether you eat or drink or whatever you do, do it all for the glory of God. Do not cause anyone to stumble, whether Jews, Greeks or the church of God—even as I try to please everyone in every way. For I am not seeking my own good but the good of many, so that they may be saved.”
May we not be so shocked when lost people behave like lost people. May we seek to be known by what we’re for instead of by what we’re against. May we understand that the church is called to be a prophetic minority and not a secular overlord. May we always respond in the way that is most conducive to the spread of the gospel of King Jesus.
Notes & Sources
 1 Corinthians 10:31-33, NIV.