Jack Chick, the controversial Christian tract cartoonist died this week at the ripe old age of 92. And my feelings are complicated.
As a teen during the grunge era, hanging out in downtown Seattle before cell phones and riding public buses everywhere, you couldn’t help coming across a Chick tract at some point in your life. On a bus seat, pay phone booth, or some random guy holding a sign on a downtown street corner handing them out – we got them. And collected them! They were bizarre, weird, corny, sincere and terrifying.
They had a distinct flavor that I think appealed to us a teens. It had that underground R. Crumb feel, and some of the stylization you’d see in Mad Magazine, but it was his sincerity in what he believed, for better or worse, that set him apart.
And he had some strange fringe beliefs mixed into his Christianity that unfortunately got more pronounced and weird the longer he went on.
My own history with the man started as a teen when I would take these tracts home and read them voraciously. At first it was out of irony, but all alone, in the quiet of my room, I read the salvation prayer in the back and prayed the prayer many times out of curiosity to see what would happen. I did this with the mini-Gideon bibles that other street corner preachers would hand out to us as well. Did my life change in that moment? No, not even close. But seeds were planted for sure. Weird funky little seeds, but seeds nevertheless.
Years later, after I had an encounter with Jesus, committed my life to Christ and got baptized at a church, I wrote my own Christian tracts.
It was a natural fit for me. Before my encounter with Jesus, I wrote and drew comic books with a dream of becoming a graphic novelist. Art and writing was how I expressed myself and my excitement about Jesus came out in that expression naturally. The thing was, publishing your own tracts at Kinko’s was expensive and I could only afford twenty at a time. But Jack Chick tracts were relatively cheap to order, but there were very few that I felt comfortable handing out. So, I wrote and drew up my own tract and sent it off to Jack Chick publications to see if they liked it enough to publish it under their publication.
A few months later, I got a letter from his daughter, I believe. She wrote to tell me that Jack Chick liked my tract and would take my idea, tweak it to his liking and draw it himself.
A few months later he sent me a box of 100 of these tracts for free as a thank you.
That particular tract was called, “Gomez is Coming.” It’s barely recognizable compared to my original idea, and full of terrible racial stereotypes. But, it’s hilariously bad, bizarre, terrifying and badly drawn – bearing all the hallmarks of a Jack Chick original.
Among my own Christian circles, Jack Chick tracts are a byword for how NOT to do evangelism. At best, it’s a joke, and at worst it’s worthy of sneering derision. I get it and outside of the mocking and shaming, I agree.
I find it ironic that it was BoingBoing.net that broke the story of his death. Very few Christian sites announced it and those that did, were linked back to the original BoingBoing tweet.
Of course BoingBoing hated everything he did and the post was more a, “Ding-Dong the Witch is dead!” celebration.
But here’s the thing. Whether we like it or not, Chick Tracts had an impact on our culture. Jack Chick was flawed, yes, and we may disagree with his methods but he believed and cared enough to warn people about hell.
Penn Jillette, part of the Vegas magician duo, Penn and Teller and an ardent atheist, gave a great vlog about his opinion of Christian proselytizing. (I’d post the video here, but I don’t have the premium plan and it costs money to do so! But click the link to see it!)
If you are a sincere believer in Christ, that is the reality. People die and go to hell. It’s offensive, bizarre, and terrifying this Gospel we believe. It doesn’t make you friends with the status quo. The Gospel is inherently dangerous, counter-culture, underground and weird. We believe in a Jewish Rabbi who was crucified for his blasphemy BUT, rose from the dead three days later. And let’s not get into our beliefs about communion. It’s weird stuff to an outsider y’all!
I don’t think the Gospel was damaged by Jack Chick as much as lukewarm, mainstream, compromised Christianity has damaged it. But that’s my opinion and up for debate.
Ironically, I had no Christians in my life tell me about Jesus when I was a teen. But I DID have a weirdo on a street corner give me a Jack Chick tract, for which I really will be eternally grateful.