This latest anti-Catholic controversy contains a prophetic message for us .It is time to defend the Catholic Christian faith.
KNOXVILLE, TN (Catholic Online) - Jonathan Hatcher, the pastor at Conner Heights Baptist Church in Pigeon Forge, Tennessee stumbled upon a bee hive and made national news when a booklet being passed out by members from his church was given to a Catholic high-school girl.
This girl was a member of Holy Cross Catholic Church in Pigeon Forge. The contents of the booklet apparently upset her, and she brought it to her pastor, Father Jay Flaherty. Father Flaherty told Fox News that he was afraid the booklet could lead to violence. "It´s a very dangerous world we live in," he said.
The title of the booklet is the "Death Cookie." The word "cookie" is a crude reference to the Eucharist. The booklet is a Chick publication. In the 1970's, Jack Chick concluded that Roman Catholics were not scriptural or Christian, and he decided to attack the Church through his publications.
The "Death Cookie" begins with a man who wants wealth and power and asks a demonic figure, presumably Satan, how he can control the people. Satan tells the man to convince the people that he has the power to throw them into hell. Then he tells the man to appear holy, to tell the people that he is their papa. This is a clear reference to the Pope. Finally, Satan tells the man to enlist helpers whom the people believe have magical powers and can make God appear in a "cookie."
The booklet also claims that "The creation of the wafer god was the greatest religious con job in world history." The "Death Cookie" is pathetic and a blatant example of mindless anti-Catholicism. It is amazing that anyone would consider this booklet to be more than what it is, Anti-Catholic bigotry.
According to local news sources, pastor Hatcher initially defended the booklet. He said that he intended to continue passing it out even though he admitted that he did not know much about Catholicism. In defense of his ignorance, he said that he trusted Chick Publications.
But in a March 5, 2010, article, Joshua Miller at Fox News reported that pastor Hatcher later said he would no longer pass out the booklets. Unfortunately, the pastor still did not get it because he also said he was still going to pass out other booklets from the same publisher.
This controversy brought forth a public statement from the Bishop of the Diocese of Knoxville, Richard F. Stika. Bishop Stika condemned the publication outright. He said, "The leaflets produced by Chick Publications and distributed locally are hateful, discriminatory, and full of prejudice and bigotry."
Most of the content in Bishop Stika's statement was of an ecumenical nature. He used this controversy as a teachable moment. He said that the doctrine of the Real Presence asserts that Jesus is literally and wholly present—body and blood, soul and divinity--in the Eucharist. But he also touched on other topics as well.
For instance, he explained the Catholic Church's teaching on justification. He mentioned the importance of Sacred Scripture to Catholics, and he gave a short explanation on good works. He also gave us an inspiring example of a local Catholic agency that takes the Gospel message of love and good works seriously.
He said, "Catholic Charities of East Tennessee delivers 17 services through 24 programs throughout the region. This agency´s services are provided regardless of religious affiliation, race, or ability to pay: fewer than 5 percent of the more than 20,000 clients served annually are Catholic."
He also touched on one of the most profound and beautiful ideas of Christian anthropology: the idea that man and woman are created in the image of God. Bishop Stika informed us that this understanding of human beings is essential "for the formation of a correct vision of society." He gave the culture of life as an example of a correct vision.
Bishop Stika also conveyed deep respect, love and solidarity with the Baptist community of East Tennessee and all Protestant denominations and all members of non-Christian faiths, with whom we share certain beliefs.
He showed us that while our differences are real, they need not be divisive. Catholics and Protestants are brothers and sisters in Christ. This unity, or solidarity if you prefer, is also real; and it is evident when we pray together and unite around a common cause. One such cause is the promotion of a culture of life.
Although the Bishop´s statement inspires Christian charity and solidarity, this is not all we can gain from this controversy. There is something more. I believe that this controversy contains a prophetic message for us, and we would do well to flesh it out.
Father Flaherty is correct; the world is dangerous, but not only in the way that he means. Christianity is under attack. This attack is coming from secularism and the many popular "isms" of our time: subjectivism, moral relativism, atheism, materialism (the philosophy), socialism, fascism, feminism, and neo-paganism (the collapse of reason and the rise of superstition and magic).
Wanting the controversy to go away, pastor Hatcher told Fox news, "It is like a sore. The more you pick at it, the longer it´s going to take to heal." The pastor is correct, but the controversy is not the only thing that can be compared to a sore.
The Reformation was in the 1500´s; we live in 2010. Five hundred years later and we have still not healed, but the battle of our time is not Catholic verses Protestant. It is secularism versus Christianity. Pastors like Jonathan Hatcher and publications like Chick need to get with the times and quit picking at the sore.
In this respect, Bishop Stika is with the times. His statement reminds us that Christians living today may have been born into a broken family, but we need not remain divided and weak. Despite our differences, we can stand together in solidarity and defend ourselves against those who want to destroy us.
This is the prophetic message contained in this small-town controversy: United we stand; divided we fall. Jesus put it this way: ". . . Every kingdom divided against itself is laid waste. Any house torn by dissension falls" (Lk 11:17).
Michael Terheyden is a contributing writer for Catholic Online. He is Catholic because he believes that truth is real, that it is beautiful and good, and that the fullness of truth is in the Catholic Church. He is greatly blessed to share his Catholic faith with his beautiful wife, Dorothy. They have four grown children and three grandchildren.
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