To most Americans pumpkins are just pumpkins. They are tasty in pies, fun to smash, and to make nice decorations in the fall—not at all offensive. But when you reach out past your own culture you learn that not everyone sees the world like you do.
I visited a Christian family from the Congo in their home this past week. They’d visited the church as a family twice this month, and I was excited to get to know them and to find out if they were believers. They seemed to clearly understand the gospel and to be seeking to grow in Christ likeness. We spoke much about the gospel and the church, but in our discussion, they had one concern that surprised me. They were bothered by some pumpkins currently decorating a table in our church.
Most Americans might wonder, “Really, pumpkins? What is wrong with these people?” But in animistic cultures, a pumpkin might not just be a pumpkin. In addition to using a pumpkin (or more likely a gourd) to store things like milk and porridge, gourds often have spiritual significance. Some people believe that spirits can become trapped in them, and witch doctors are employed to call upon the spirits in the gourds to help people with their problems. If that was the background that you were saved from, you might be a little unsettled to see a church decorating with pumpkins too.
I don’t believe that the answer is a knee jerk elimination of all pumpkins from fall-time American decor. But there is the possibility that it might be best to remove them for a time. But what is most certainly called for is sensitivity and understanding. If something is bothering someone’s conscience, it’s important to ask many questions and to listen even more. As cultures increasingly crisscross, we have the joy of seeing the church becoming more like the heavenly international multitude mentioned in Revelation. But this beautiful diversity calls for loving and biblical reactions to surprising and sometimes shocking perspectives. I left the family with assurances that our pumpkins were just harvest-time decorations, but if they chose to become a part of our local church, and the pumpkins were a distraction to them, we would explore taking them down.
If you want to explore this from a Biblical perspective some more some passages to consider include:
Gal. 5:13; 1 Cor. 10:23; 1 Cor. 6:12; Col. 2:16; Rom. 14: 1-23; Rom. 8:5-8; 1 Tim. 4:4, 1 Cor. 8:1-12