Good News Clubs and their critics, part 5: Clubs are not linked to American politics in the way Katherine Stewart claims

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Before we start with Katherine Stewart’s accusations against GNCs, I want to state one paragraph with facts: Child Evangelism Fellowship was started in 1937. It teaches clubs in 170 countries, in homes, community centres, schools, or wherever children gather. America is one of those 170 countries. In America, laws about prayer on school grounds have existed since 1962. Good News Clubs predate American laws about religion in schools. The other 169 countries do not have America’s laws about religious expression in schools.

Here is how Katherine Stewart, writer of “The Good News Club: The Christian right’s s stealth attack on America’s children”, thinks about Good News Clubs:

How Christian fundamentalists plan to teach genocide to schoolchildren

Good News Clubs’ evangelism in schools is already subverting church-state separation. Now they justify murdering nonbelievers …
Pretty much every lesson that the Good News Club gives involves reminding children that they must, at all costs, obey. If God tells you to kill nonbelievers, he really wants you to kill them all. No questions asked, no exceptions allowed.” – Katherine Stewart

This whole accusation is a mis-characterization of one lesson out of the perhaps 150 CEF will teach over 6 years: Saul killing the Amalekites (1 Sam. 15:3) is part of the Bible, and since the group of lessons was about that period of Bible history, was included in the lesson series. The message the material taught from it was to obey God, while the writers of these books know God, in the new, covenant, does not ask people to kill. Therefore, obeying God (in the form of Jesus, the character most promoted in even Old Testament CEF lessons) will not lead to genocide. As far as I could know the minds of others, the possibility of God asking genocide of Christians is the furthest thing from the minds of club teachers. This “problem” is in Katherine Stewart’s mind.

Reese R Kauffman President of Child Evangelism Fellowship, answered her too. (In my opinion CEF should, however, learn one thing from Katherine: I would want them to mention the new covenant, and how God would not call Christians to kill, when they reprint the book.)

Public schooling, indeed the public at large, is an enemy [in the way CEF teachers allegedly think, according to Katherine Stewart] , a war is being fought, and the prize is the hearts and minds of children. Entire legal teams have been created to open the doors to these schools, and Supreme Court members such as Clarence Thomas have made it clear that the doors won’t be shutting anytime soon… I say it’s a must-read for anyone who wants to enjoy a deeper understanding of today’s political climate…- C. Schink in an Amazon review of Stewart’s book.

I do not live in the US of A. But if the clubs had a main goal of linking to American politics, they are pretty unsuccessful and very much side-tracked. Children in Mozambique, Peru or the Ukraine, or any of the 166 other countries CEF work in, cannot help the American religious right at all.

Of course, many Americans, those who want to change laws regulating religion in schools, will be in favour of schools hosting GNCs. But such clubs don’t have to be – and often are not – held at schools. All in all, the biggest link between American church/ state politics and Good News clubs is that the Good News Clubs are, in one of the many countries where they happen, affected by it.

But Stewart soon discovered that the Club’s real mission is to convert children to fundamentalist Christianity … by a seemingly anonymous reviewer of Katherine Stewart’s book, repeated on several Internet sources to advertise her book.

While the point of the clubs are to convert to Christianity, I find the word “fundamentalist” spurious here, for two reasons:

1) The big problem that even I, the article writer, have with these clubs is that they spend too much time repeating: “You should accept Jesus and therefore become a Christian, should accept, accept Jesus and become a Christian, become a Christian, you should, you really should, accept Jesus, accept Jesus and become a Christian…” This means they spend too little time to talk about how to live as a Christian after accepting Jesus. But it also means that the club hardly promote “fundamentalism” or, for that matter, any particular form of Christianity.
2)“Fundamentalism” is misleading, as it has two meanings. When people speak disparagingly of fundamentalism, they mean cultural fundamentalism. Most of the ideas of cultural fundamentalism are never taught in Good News Clubs at all. The confession of faith that Good News Club teachers sign is doctrinal fundamentalism. Almost all evangelical and Protestant believers agree, or largely agree, or at least know that the majority of believers around them agree, with doctrinal fundamentalism. (See link above for the difference between the two.)

…and encourage them to proselytize to their “unchurched” peers, all the while promoting the natural but false impression among the children that its activities are endorsed by the school. – by the same seemingly anonymous reviewer of Katherine Stewart’s book, repeated on several Internet sources to advertise her book.

As I explain in my book, The Good News Club: The Christian Right’s Stealth Assault on America’s Children, the club exists mainly to give small children the false impression that their public school supports a particular creed. – Katherine Stewart

This claim is downright ridiculous. I have never heard of any GNC teacher promoting the idea that club activities are backed by the school. I have never seen anything in CEF teaching that tells them to promote said impression. It is not CEF’s mission either on paper or in practice. Since CEF is active in 170 countries, only one of which have that particular opinion of school/church division, and meet in many places like churches and private homes and community centres, and since CEF never even encourages – AFAIK – to rather gather at schools than other places, that charge could, at most, be laid before a few Americans who may be CEF volunteers, but have a different motive from CEF itself. I myself have often used CEF materials to teach in places that are not schools. If such clubs existed mainly to give children an impression about what the school teaches, CEF would have taught me to promote that impression, and discouraged me from teaching anywhere that is not a school.

Good News Clubs are not about modern-day American politics. It is not about genocide, nor even about “fundamentalism” in the sense people use the word nowadays. Katherine Stewart has, at most, a local problem about which she generalizes. I suspect that even my previous sentence (calling it a local problem) gives her propaganda more honor than it deserves.

Good News Clubs and their critics, part 3: Is calling the child a sinner a way to deny his inherent worth/ intrinsic dignity?

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I hate the little Red Riding Hood story. I have studied at least 40 different Little Red Riding Hood Books or volumes of collected fairytales, and the story always have the same theme: It is about a girl and grandmother getting eaten by a wolf, about vulnerable people losing against the bad guys. The message of Little Red Riding Hood is that we will always lose against the wolves preying on us. – Little Red Riding Hood Info, my spoof on “Good News Club info”

That is roundabout how the sites “Intrinsic Dignity” and “Good News Club Info” (what a misleading name! These sites spread negative propaganda, not objective info) looks at Good News Clubs. Even though there is a wolf gobbling up a girl and old lady in the story, Little Red Riding Hood is not a story about a wolf winning. The wolf loses.

And if I put GNC teaching in a diagram form, with gold, black, red, white and green squares representing the 5 oft-repeated messages, and the other colors some less used messages, the clubs looks about like this: Continue reading

Good News Clubs and their critics, part 1: Where I and the critics strongly agree.

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<<Good News Clubs and their critics: Introduction


I was doing something called Service Year for Christ when I first heard of CEF (Child Evangelism Fellowship). The very first thing lecturers from CEF’s 3 months Training Institute told us was to learn Matthew 18:1-14 by heart, and to meditate upon it:

At that time the disciples came to Jesus and asked, “Who, then, is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven?”
2  He called a little child to him, and placed the child among them. 3  And he said: “Truly I tell you, unless you change and become like little children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven. 4  Therefore, whoever takes the lowly position of this child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven. 5  And whoever welcomes one such child in my name welcomes me.
6  “If anyone causes one of these little ones—those who believe in me—to stumble, it would be better for them to have a large millstone hung around their neck and to be drowned in the depths of the sea…

10  “See that you do not despise one of these little ones. For I tell you that their angels in heaven always see the face of my Father in heaven…

14…your Father in heaven is not willing that any of these little ones should perish.

CEF people taught me children matters. Continue reading