Being brought up in a fundamentalist Bible church I can remember being given Chick tracts to read. I don’t think we had them at home, but you’d pick one up at church or at some Christian event. Their pocket sized format, comic book artwork and lurid, sensationalist style made them attractive and easy to read. Most of them weren’t particularly anti-Catholic. They were mostly about worldly sinners who faced the fires of hell and then got saved. However, the ones that were anti-Catholic certainly made a strong impression. There were pictures of fat, corrupt bishops, ugly priests worshipping pagan deities and unspeakable blasphemies against our faith.
The main problem with Chick tracts is not that they spread lies, half truths, slander and blasphemy about the Catholic Church, but that the authors, customers and people who spread the lies, half truths, slander and blasphemy don’t think they are spreading lies, half truths, slander and blasphemy. They appear to be good Christian souls who think they are serving the truth, serving the Lord and helping to expose a demonic cult called the Catholic Church.
These well meaning Protestants are only parroting the traditions they have received from their teachers who have received the same traditions from their teachers passed down for 500 years of anti-Catholic Protestantism. Ironic then that these folks eschew the ‘traditions of men’. What the authors, printers and purveyors of this anti Catholic trash never stop to do is to check their facts, challenge their sources and find out what Catholics really believe.
Archbishop Fulton Sheen said there are very few people who disagree with what Catholics believe, but there are millions who disagree with what they think Catholics believe. Therefore it is important that Catholics engage in apologetics in an intelligent, compassionate and down to earth manner. We should cut through the sensationalism, the paranoia and the hatred with common sense, good manners and Christian charity. Bishop Stika of Knoxville TN has done just this. His pastoral letter is an example of how to deal with the aggressive anti-Catholicism we still find here in the Bible Belt.
In a way Chick tracts and the angry fundamentalists who write them, buy them and disseminate them are easy to deal with. Their anti-Catholicism is ‘inyerface’. What is more difficult to deal with is what I term ‘soft anti Catholicism’. Most Protestants now seem to be accepting of Catholics. Much of the old ‘whore of Babylon’ talk has faded away. Some regard us as brothers and sisters in Christ. However, most mainstream Evangelicals regard us as targets for evangelization. In their minds we’re rather like Mormons: good folks with strong moral values who have been lured into a cult. This is why they expend so much time, money and effort in evangelizing Catholics in Central and South America.
The ‘soft’ anti Catholic Protestants smile sweetly when you tell them you are a Catholic and then proceed to tell you without the slightest embarrassment about their latest mission trip to Mexico where they helped hundreds of Catholics to become Baptists through their slick, well funded mission work. This type of Protestant anti-Catholicism does not seem as aggressive or ugly as a Chick tract, but it’s more effective because far more Catholics in the developing world are likely to respond positively to a sweet Evangelical and leave their Catholic faith than they are to read a Chick tract and leave the faith.
We should denounce Chick tracts, but we should be honest with our Evangelical brothers and sisters and also challenge them firmly but charitably on their continued aggressive Evangelistic enterprises amongst our Catholic brothers and sisters in the developing world. Like the people who distribute Chick tracts, they don’t think they’re doing anything wrong. They think they’re serving Jesus and saving souls. They need to be corrected.