San Leandro has some wonderful holiday traditions. Some, like the Christmas tree lighting downtown, were sponsored by the city and have pretty much disappeared in this age of budget cuts. Others, sponsored by private businesses, are alive and well. My favorite is Safe Streets Safe Tricks Halloween, organized by the merchants on the Bancroft/Dutton area. For two hours on Halloween afternoon, kids can go trick or treating to most of the businesses there (Safeway, as you would expect from a big, greedy corporation, does not participate). Every merchant gives the kids candy, but Dutton Ace Hardware goes the “extra mile”: along with candy it hands out little cartoon tracts that tell children that if they don’t accept Jesus they will go to Hell.
The Dutton Ace Hardware is owned by “Pastor” Derek Jung, who also runs the Fundamentalist Gospel Baptist Church from his home in San Leandro. During the summer, his family runs a free Bible camp also from their home. Jung preaches the belief that the only way to be “saved” and go to heaven is to accept Jesus. If you don’t, you’ll go to hell no matter how good a person you are. If you do, you’re guaranteed a first class ticket to the pearly gates. While I, personally, don’t care what people believe in, I do care when they try to frighten little kids into joining their religion, and that’s exactly what Derek Jung tries to do every Halloween.
I have to admit that the cartoon tract that he handed out this year is not too bad. It only has one frame saying that “sinners” (aka kids who don’t believe in Jesus) will “burn in hell FOREVER”. But the tracts they’ve handed out in previous years are truly disturbing. In one they handed out a couple of years ago, a mom tells her son that his friend who just died in a traffic accident will spend eternity burning in hell because he stopped going to Sunday school. The mom then admonishes her son that the idea that good people go to heaven and bad people go to hell, was created by Satan himself. Another tract warns about the impending rise in human sacrifice. And yes, some are so silly that they’ll have you laughing outloud. I suspect the reason why Jung has switched to another tract “company” is cost. The ones he handed out this year are free, while the ones from previous years cost him 16-cents a piece.
In reality, I don’t think the tracts do much harm to most children. Mine have never shown any interest in reading them – the tracts are cheaply made and their sanctimonious language makes them boring despite the gruesome illustrations. But they might scare kids who already believe in Jesus – and in any case, handing them out hoping to scare kids into believing in Jesus doesn’t sound very Christian to me.