A retributive God who must punish sin

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.


  1. Seth says

    But you know that this so-called ‘opposition’ will get obliterated—CEF is just ‘engaging in consensual conversations’ with these children! How dare you violate their rights by keeping them off of public property!

  2. says

    They can’t keep them off public property (unless the school rejects all outside groups), they can only try to educate parents about the group so that they won’t want their children to sign up.

  3. Pierce R. Butler says

    … a retributive God who must punish sin…

    So humans have free will – and Yahveh doesn’t.

    Poor thing. Can we get him some OCD counseling?

  4. Seth says

    @Ophelia: You know that I was being sarcastic, but I’ve got to state frankly that I think it’s disgusting that a public school might considered ‘public property’ in the same vein as a public sidewalk or a park…it’s a dedicated institution for the purpose of educating children. These vultures should be run out of any school they try and set foot in.

  5. Pliny the in Between says

    They have made a huge mistake targeting Portland for at least 2 reasons – 1 Portland is perhaps the most secular city in the US, and 2, Oregonians do not take kindly to out of state interference. Remember the debate over the death with Dignity Act. It passed w 56% in favor originally – big out of state money came in and got it out back on the ballot for reconsideration – it passed w 76% that time. Many of us moved to Portland to get away from this crap.

  6. Ed says

    I agree with Seth. In some cases, I could see school property being borrowed or rented by community groups, just as a library might be, but when the activities involve exercising authority over the students of that school they should be regulated by the same standards that govern regular education.

    Except for appropriating the authority implied by their presence in the school building, think about why they would even want to use it. Any number of churches with large classrooms and attractive grounds would be happy to accommodate them.

  7. Erp says

    Actually not just the authority but also the convenience since if on school property no one has to drive the students from point A to point B. BTW most of these clubs are targeting elementary school children so I suspect the parents have to explicitly agree for their children to go. The aim must be to warn parents ahead of time since if a large number of children are signed up the peer pressure on others increases. I hope they are approaching churches whose views don’t agree with the Good News Club (mainline, Roman Catholic, Orthodox) also.

    I must admit I can’t see the LDS in Salt Lake City being too happy with their city being targeted also.

  8. cactuswren says

    “But it’s not school,” they argue. “It’s a children’s club, not part of school at all! It’s entirely separate from school! You can’t accuse us of teaching religion in school because this isn’t part of school!”

    As if a six- or seven-year-old child is going to be entirely clear on the notion that this activity which takes place in the school building, in a school classroom, with an adult (like a teacher) in charge … is somehow not school because a bell has rung and the “school day” has officially ended. What we were doing five minutes ago was “school”, but what we’re doing now in the same setting is “not school”.

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