Some parents were offended by a float in the Westminster Halloween Parade on Tuesday night because of a graphic depiction of the crucifixion of Christ with live actors.
Their complaints might lead parade sponsors to set guidelines for the first time, but the church group that sponsored the float says it meant to convey a positive message of Jesus' unselfish love.
Hands of Mercy, an evangelical outreach of First Assembly of God church on Cranberry Road in Westminster, sponsored the float. On a flatbed truck, a moaning actor covered with fake blood and wounds portrayed Jesus on the cross, while another man portrayed a Roman soldier pounding nails into his hands and feet. Two actresses were at his feet, professing Jesus to be innocent.
'Lurid and graphic'
"It was very lurid and graphic," said Robert Wack, a Westminster pediatrician who said he would rather his 4-year-old son not see such realistic depictions of violence. He said he had to remind his son several times that it wasn't real.
The float was meant to remind people of a real event, said Linda Brinkman, a volunteer pastor of evangelism at First Assembly, and a leader of Hands of Mercy.
"I'm sure there were a lot of shocking things in that parade, but not to promote a positive message," she said. "We don't believe what Jesus did on the cross was offensive. The crucifixion was a gory and awful experience, but Jesus loved us enough to go through that."
The parade has been sponsored by American Legion Post 31 in Westminster for at least 55 years, said Russell Fisher, a World War II veteran who has been involved with the parade since its beginning. Other groups have joined as sponsors over the years, he said. The Junior Women's Club of Westminster judged entrants this year.
Sandra Cheatham, a member of the Junior Women's Club and one of the judges, said the float did not bother her children.
"They never mentioned it," she said. "But we go to church and it's something they know about. I can see where some people might have been offended, but it didn't really bother me."
In more than a half-century's worth of parades, Fisher has never gotten calls the morning after -- until yesterday. He said three parents called yesterday to say they felt the float was inappropriate for an event that draws so many small children. Two other callers said they enjoyed the parade, without mentioning any specific entry, he said.
"Some of the parents, they didn't like that [float] for the little children," Fisher said. "But they gotta learn sometime. That's history."
Still, Fisher said, he will take the feedback to the next meeting of the American Legion officers, to see whether they want to initiate guidelines for entrants. The parade has no screening process: whoever shows up at the Monroe Street starting point on parade day falls in line to proceed down Pennsylvania Avenue to Main Street to Longwell Street.
Wack said he was one of the parents who called Fisher. He said that other entrants in the parade were not nearly as graphic as the crucifixion float. Observers described another float pulling a coffin with a person lying in it, and another truck bearing a person firing up a chain saw.
Fisher pointed out that the chain saw had no chain or blade on it, but the engine made noise and smoke. The float had no depiction of a bloodied victim, he said.
The parade has generally focused on children and their costumes, although many adults join in, Fisher said.
Hands of Mercy members handed out literature discouraging the celebration of Halloween because of its association with devils and witchcraft. But Brinkman said that was not the main reason for the float.
She said she knows people will feel the float was inappropriate, but said she hopes that they will eventually have a change of heart.
Good intent, sponsors say
"Hopefully, throughout the year, as they see how we're out to work, they'll come to know the intent of our hearts is for good," Brinkman said.
She said Hands of Mercy is meant to be a direct-aid ministry. Members will be on the streets of Westminster offering food, clothing, diapers and other necessities to needy adults and children.
She said members will help pay utility bills, and get addicts and alcoholics into treatment.
Brinkman said she didn't know whether this float would be entered in future parades, but said it was what the ministry chose to do for the parade Tuesday night to depict the foundation of their work.
"The foundation of it began at the cross," she said.