A Baptist pastor in Tennessee says he now regrets that his church distributed an anti-Catholic leaflet that a local Catholic priest decried as “hate material."
Pastor Jonathan Hatcher, who leads Conner Heights Baptist Church in Pigeon Forge, Tenn., has removed the inflammatory leaflet, “The Death Cookie,” from his congregation. He says he will no longer distribute it.
“Looking back, I don’t think it was the right tract to give out,” Hatcher told FoxNews.com. “I have some others that wouldn’t have been as offensive. But I will continue to spread the gospel — that’s what I’m called by Christ to do. I’m still going to hand out tracts, but not ‘The Death Cookie.’”
The illustrated leaflet, distributed since 1988 by California-based Chick Publications, features an ominous character with a snake around his neck who advises a man that he can control the world by establishing a false religion based upon worshipping a cookie. Upon taking the control of the cookie, the man becomes the "papa" — a reference to the pope.
“The creation of the wafer god was the greatest religious con job in world history,” the leaflet reads. “ … This religious weapon is one of the most powerful idols ever created by man.”
“It says the devil has made a pact with the pope to take over the world through a false god,” Father Jay Flaherty, who heads nearby Holy Cross Catholic Church, told FoxNews.com.
Flaherty said the leaflet attacks the Catholic tradition of the Eucharist, or communion, and he’s afraid the document could lead to violence in Pigeon Forge, a small town of 5,000.
“Basically, what they’re saying is our Eucharist is of the devil, that Catholicism is not of the Christian church,” Flaherty said.
Hatcher said the leaflet is an “attractive comic book,” but he acknowledged that its message is perhaps a “little too blunt” in its critique of Catholicism.
“I don’t believe in attacking somebody’s church,” he said. “I believe they have a right to practice what they want, just as I have the right to practice what I want.”
Flaherty said he’s concerned that the leaflet could incite a troubled neighbor to harm one of his worshippers.
“It’s a very dangerous world we live in,” the priest said. “But you can’t argue with ignorance, it’s not worth it.”
Flaherty learned that the material was being circulated when a young parishioner brought it into his church last week, after she said she received it in high school.
‘She was very upset,” he said. “But I don’t understand the [pamphlet’s] reasoning — it has nothing to do with scripture. It’s anti-Catholic; it’s just hate material. It has nothing to do with theological discussion. 'You better get out and get saved' is basically what it says.”
Pigeon Forge High School Principal Perry Schrandt, who could not be reached for comment, told The Mountain Press that school officials do not condone the pamphlet.
Flaherty said he had considered contacting authorities about the publication and distribution of "The Death Cookie," but he has reconsidered.
“I pray for him,” Flaherty said of Hatcher. “That’s all you can do.”
Jack Chick, publisher of Chick Publications, was not available for comment early Friday. According to a biography on the company's Web site, Chick has written and published hundreds of illustrated gospel tracts that have been read by "hundreds of millions" worldwide.
According to the Web site, Jack Chick first realized in the mid-1970s that Roman Catholicism was unscriptural.
"After much prayer," the site reads, "he made the decision that, no matter what it cost him personally, he would publish the truth that Roman Catholicism is not Christian. He did it because he loves Catholics and wants them to be saved through faith in Jesus, not trusting in religious liturgy and sacraments."
Other tracts produced by Chick includes materials on Islam, Jehovah's Witnesses, Masonry and "Creation/Evolution." The site claims it's not being "intolerant," but rather compassionate with its critical literature.
"We are unwilling to lie to them and say that all gods are real, when we know this is not true," the site reads. " ... To do anything else would be dishonest."
For his part, Hatcher said the leaflet has become a distraction to his 40 or so active members. Distributing the pamphlet was intended to “share the differences” between Baptists and Catholics, he said.
“Obviously we don’t believe alike, or else we’d be going to the same church,” he said. “But people try to make it out like we’re crusaders. I thank God for America, because we can all practice what we believe. We don’t spread the gospel out of hate; we spread it because we love people.”
Hatcher reiterated that “The Death Cookie” will no longer be available at his church. He simply wants the small town controversy to go away.
“It’s like a sore,” he said. “The more you pick at it, the longer it’s going to take to heal.”