Valerie Tarico reports that Child Evangelism Fellowship is targeting Portland, Oregon this summer, but Portland is fighting back.
Good News Clubs mix snacks, games, art projects and stories with upbeat moral lessons and the theology of blood sacrifice. In a case that went all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court, Child Evangelism Fellowship argued that they were entitled to operate in public schools because they are running a social and moral enrichment program akin to Scouting.
Much to the dismay of church-state watchdogs, a majority of the Court agreed, but to call Good News Clubs moral enrichment by secular standards or to liken it to Scouting, is a stretch. Despite evangelical influences in the Boy Scouts, scouting programs to a large degree emphasize virtues that are prized across both secular and religious wisdom traditions. Good News Clubs teach dark, divisive and potentially traumatic doctrines that are unique to fundamentalist forms of Christianity.
And they teach them on public school property, thanks to a disastrous Supreme Court decision. The fact that they’re on school property of course deceives children into thinking they’re part of school, and thus teaching the truth.
The Good News Club curriculum is filled with over 5,000 references to sin and thousands more to obedience, punishment, and hell. It stresses Old Testament narratives of a retributive God who must punish sin, warns children that they will suffer an eternity in hell if they refuse to believe, and stresses complete obedience as the supreme value. Good News Club tells children as young as preschoolers that they have “dark” and “sinful” hearts, were born that way, and “deserve to die” and “go to hell.”
That stinks on church property. It’s absolutely appalling on public school property.
For perhaps the first time, this summer Good News Across America will face organized opposition. As volunteers step up preparations for the Portland blitz, a coalition called Protect Portland Children is stepping up outreach to local media, parents, child advocates and school administrators. Protect Portland Children says they mean no disrespect for local churches and volunteers. Rather, they hope to “spread the word that the Good News Club’s extreme teachings can be psychologically harmful to children” and that Child Evangelism Fellowship “is now targeting Portland with a major recruiting campaign.” “One of our goals is to help the next city they target and to make this a national conversation,” says member Kaye Schmitt.
Protect Portland Children points to the investigative expose by journalist Katherine Stewart, author of The Good News Club,. Like Seattle’s Lederer, Stewart dug deeper after witnessing Child Evangelism in action at her daughter’s school. And they are taking tips from Cernyar, whose website Intrinsic Dignity examines legal precedents related to use of public facilities, providing guidelines and models for parents and administrators who oppose religious bullying in public schools. Despite the Supreme Court ruling, Cernyar urges parents and district administrators to push back: “It is possible for a school district to regulate its forum to protect its students from psychologically and emotionally harmful after-class activities.”
I hope that’s true.