Good News Clubs and their critics: Introduction

If you ask me who, in my adult life, was my biggest role model, I will struggle to boil it down to one person. But I can boil it down to two in a heartbeat: Tania and Werner Schultz.

You won’t know them, but I will always remember this couple fondly. They showed me how to have a purpose, a mission. I discovered, with their help, that I have a gift for teaching and caring about children.

Tania and Werner were missionaries in inner city Pretoria (a South African city, in case my reader do not know). They organized Bible Clubs, based on CEF Good News Clubs. They motivated one of my team mates (he stayed there while I moved on) to start a hobby project to introduce boys in the bad neighbourhood to positive male role models, and to teach them to find their identity in building, not breaking. They started preschools and after-school day care centres. (Schools in South Africa have classes only until about 12h00 or 14h00, depending on the age group; while a working parent tend to work to about 17h00 or even later.) The goal was to give high quality care options to parents who are mostly rather poor. They even raised money to help poor parents afford day care for their children. They spent so much time listening to children and caring about them that on several occasions, the people from PEN (Pretoria Evangelisation and Nurture) was able to intervene in situations of child molestation, and even raise money to get psychological help for molested children.

Tania also taught the CEF (Child Evangelism Fellowship) TCE (Teaching Children Effectively) course. Their ministry had  a lot of CEF material for use at the weekly Bible Clubs.

I hear CEF is criticized wildly these days for allegedly not having the welfare of children at heart, for allegedly teaching “a dark message of shame and fear indoctrination“, for being full of “authoritarian themes“, for telling children they “deserve to … go to hell“, for the absence of  “salutary themes such as the Golden Rule“, for promoting “a negative self image“, etc. (The quoted words in this paragraph comes verbatim from the writings of such critics.)

If you take the word of the critics …ahem …uncritically, you will believe Good News Clubs are downright evil and bad for the welfare of children. But nobody I met ever cared more about the welfare of children than Tania and Werner Schultz, and they were trained at CEF and used Good News Club material among others.

However, when I read the Good News Club critics, I could not judge their words on the merits of Mrs. and Mr. Schultz. The complaints had to be taken on its own merit. As someone who used CEF material since 1994 and taught Good News Clubs for about 5 years in the first decade of this century, I have the knowledge to investigate the truth of the claims. I even still have some CEF lesson material.

The rest of this series of posts are based on what I concluded from looking at both the critics of Good News Clubs on one side, and my actual experiences and the lesson material on the other side. Stay tuned for an approach that looked at both sides, and finds something to defend in both CEF and their detractors. Expect my first post no earlier than Saturday.

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>> Good news Clubs and their critics: Part 1

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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<<Good news clubs and their critics, part 4: My conversation with Eric Ceynar (“Intrinsic Dignity” opposes the Gospel message itself)
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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 2: A summing up of the Good News club message

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

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Suppose you had a Ferrari that was currently not in roadworthy condition, but that could be like new if you spend $2 000 to repair it. This car would be un-roadworthy right now, but not worthless – it will really be worth spending the money to repair your Ferrari.
The CEF message is sort of like that, except that it regards each person as the un-roadworthy or ex-un-roadworthy Ferrari, originally made very good (in God’s image!), that could be, or was, repaired by the price Jesus paid.
This article will explain the main Child Evangelism Fellowship message. Fans and critics of CEF alike has to agree that what is reported here is more or less what Good News Clubs teaches. The degree to which the message is good or bad could be disputed, that this is taught cannot. If you are familiar with CEF, you could skip or skim this post.
There is a message that is part of CEF teacher training and in some form part of almost every CEF lesson. CEF sums it up into a Wordless Book of 5 colors, sometimes:

Wordless-Book

The Wordless Book

Gold: God made everything, God made you. God loves you and wants you in heaven with him. God is holy. (Gold stands for a crown – God is King – or for the streets of heaven.)

Dark: But you sinned and God cannot allow sin in heaven.(Dark stands for darkness in the heart)
Red: Jesus was punished for your sin on the cross. (Red is the color of blood.) He rose again from the death.
White: If you choose Jesus, your sins are forgiven, and you can be with God in heaven one day. (White is the opposite of dark)
Green: Grow as a Christian by knowing the Bible, praying, witnessing, asking God’s forgiveness when you sin again, and meeting with other believers. (Green is the color of growing grass and plants.)

Continue reading

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

106456110Previous part:
<<Good News Clubs and their critics: Introduction

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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