The after-school agenda of the "Good News Club"

The Guardian's Katherine Stewart writes on the After-School program called the Good News Club in public schools:

This fall, more than 100,000 American public school children, ranging in age from four to 12, are scheduled to receive instruction in the lessons of Saul and the Amalekites in the comfort of their own public school classrooms. The instruction, which features in the second week of a weekly "Bible study" course, will come from the Good News Club, an after-school program sponsored by a group called the Child Evangelism Fellowship (CEF). The aim of the CEF is to convert young children to a fundamentalist form of the Christian faith and recruit their peers to the club.
There are now over 3,200 clubs in public elementary schools, up more than sevenfold since the 2001 supreme court decision, Good News Club v Milford Central School, effectively required schools to include such clubs in their after-school programing.
The CEF has been teaching the story of the Amalekites at least since 1973. In its earlier curriculum materials, CEF was euphemistic about the bloodshed, saying simply that "the Amalekites were completely defeated." In the most recent version of the curriculum, however, the group is quite eager to drive the message home to its elementary school students. The first thing the curriculum makes clear is that if God gives instructions to kill a group of people, you must kill every last one:
"You are to go and completely destroy the Amalekites (AM-uh-leck-ites) – people, animals, every living thing. Nothing shall be left."
"That was pretty clear, wasn't it?" the manual tells the teachers to say to the kids.
Even more important, the Good News Club wants the children to know, the Amalakites were targeted for destruction on account of their religion, or lack of it. The instruction manual reads:
"The Amalekites had heard about Israel's true and living God many years before, but they refused to believe in him. The Amalekites refused to believe in God and God had promised punishment."
The instruction manual goes on to champion obedience in all things. In fact, 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.

The story also discusses the use of the passage to justify genocide at various points of history.

The complete article is found here.

Comments (12)

Wow! These people put the F in fundamentalism.

-Cullin R. Schooley

While I do find this troubling, honestly, it seems to me that in some ways we are also contributing to the problem when we're cutting Christian formation for children at every level in the church--the local and diocesan levels as well as in the churchwide budget. If parents want their children to receive some kind of instruction, are we providing them any kind of good alternative to this? Or might many kids end up with this kind of formation just because it is the only thing that is readily and conveniently available to them? I honestly have no idea what these folks spent on this programming, but it wouldn't surprise me if it was serious money....because they recognize just how important the formation of children is...

Elizabeth Anderson

These folks are teaching elementary age children that genocide is acceptable when they interpret God to have ordered it. This is despicable.
This is the perfect example of why TEC needs to be clear that not all the Bible is authoritative in our present time. This is also a moment to engage the Episcopal Public Policy Network to stop these clubs from doing this.

Back in 1960 I found myself at a Baptist camp that was hosting a week-long training session for Child Evanngelism Fellowship. Several things I remember--

1. Each participant seemed aiming to out-do the others on having the shabbiest, most derelict automobile. The parking area looked like a junkyard.

2. At meals there was a long, long prayer and then meals were served by the head of the table dishing out food onto plates. Each plate was passed around the table at least twice, sometimes three times, because the participants were too "humble" to take the first plate. There were about 20 participants, so it took a long time to get the food served!

3. The participants were taught what was legal and what was not. Basically they were to hang around schoolyards during recess and after school and confront students with the "Are you saved?" question. Creepy.

I am so grateful for Elizabeth's comment about the contribution of our church to problems like our inability to provide alternatives to organizations like The Good News Club. By cutting the budget for developing resources, we are working (whether we know it or not) to create a void that is filled by programs like this one - not just here in the United States, but anywhere in the world where we seek to do mission and create Episcopal partnerships.

If Christian education were just a matter of filling up 45 minutes on Sunday morning, perhaps creating curricula and teaching materials could be organized on a Diocesan level. Certainly there are many individual teachers, Directors of Christian Education, Resource Coordinators and other ministers and educators doing wonderful work. But curriculum and teaching of religious education stem from a coherent theology and philosophy of education. The program mentioned in the article is the product of a thought-out theology and curricular strategy - we may not agree with it, but it's got traction because someone sees what it's saying and supports it.

Within our own church we have some great programs and some great people working on a national level. The Montessori-based programs (Catechesis of the Good Shepherd, Young Children in Worship, Godly Play) have a very specific theological message, but it takes training and parish-wide support to get everyone on the same page to provide the conditions that allow the programs to flourish. Don't like those programs? Fine - there are many other excellent resources stemming from different philosophies and theologies. Good curriculum design happens when the authors and teachers are listened to and supported.

Even as the publishing business changes, economies of scale still matter. The church has an opportunity to bring Christian Education to a higher level of attention in a whole host of conversations. As I mentioned, good materials can be a vital tool in mission conversations between cultures. In many mission fields, communities are hungry for materials that value the learner. Lacking resources, local educators and organizers turn to what's available in the local language, what's affordable, and what's acceptable. In the history of foreign and domestic mission, the translation of the Book of Common Prayer represented a huge step in spreading those prayers to speakers of many languages. Those translations were possible because the church made a long-term commitment and valued its message. I wonder why we are no longer thinking this way.

If we truly believe that our church has something important to tell (and to learn) in the context of mission engagement, I'm surprised that creating high-quality, theologically sound, engaging educational materials is not further up on our list of priorities.

There is a great program for Christian Ed for kids at the Church Center site.
http://archive.episcopalchurch.org/109452_ENG_HTM.htm

Interesting (read: scary) that GNC is aimed at elementary/early middle school brackets. I remember reading Milford in both my undergrad and grad school Constitutional and Education Law classes, but never quite made the connection that this was a primary school-aged group.

Not sure how I'd feel about EPPN advocating against their presence in schools, but providing an alternative to Evangelical and Fundamentalist school-based parachurch organizations seems a good idea to me.

Justice Souter's dissent makes it clear that the majority opinion simply ignores reality in its zeal to reverse the lower court's judgment. The decision is revolting - almost as nauseating as the genocidophilic lesson on the Amalekites.

Of course, there is a solution: get some mosque to set up a Jihad Club on public school grounds, during whose meetings children would be "challenged" several times to recite the Shahada. I guaran-damn-tee you that SCOTUS wouldn't view the club's activities as simple moral teaching and would reverse itself - if the various state governments didn't preempt the Court by enacting laws that really did close the public schools to proselytizing.

"Of course, there is a solution: get some mosque to set up a Jihad Club on public school grounds"

Isn't it sad, Bill, that this is what it's come to? Sometimes it seems like this country is in an escape from Reason (meanwhile the anti-theists are trying to trademark Reason itself! No moderation *anywhere*).

JC Fisher
...in a post-election day bad mood.

The push in New York City is to allow churches to conduct Sunday worship in school buildings. This violates city statutes, but has been permitted by court order for a decade or so. Our City Councilman, Danny Dromm, has heard fundamentalist church leaders declare their intention to plant a church in every one of the city's schools. This isn't to provide a witness in the community -- it's a campaign to take over. I don't know whether they're part of the Dominionist movement, or fellow travelers, but they have funding and legal resources to pursue their aims relentlessly.

One reader of Katherine Stewart's book, The Good News Club: The Christian Right's Stealth Assault on America's Children, has posted this reaction:

The Child Evangelism Fellowship is an organized, well-funded group of people dedicated to proselytizing specifically to 4 to 14 year old children, the prime age for conversion.
They also have other goals, among them the total obliteration of public education. It’s ironic: they often take advantage of our institutions, leasing our public school buildings for church services and Sunday schools (They’re cheap! Professional, well-maintained buildings available at minimal cost), trading on the credibility of the schools (They try mightily to produce the illusion that their efforts are sanctioned by and part of the official school curriculum), yet privately they detest the whole principle of universal education, and their goal is to subvert the whole endeavor and turn education into Christian indoctrination.

They found “Good News Clubs” at schools, led by community volunteers, which superficially promote a kind of generic moral religiosity which often wins over culturally diverse communities — the kind where they might detest gay-hatin’, science-despisin’, Pat Robertson-style fundamentalism, but nod in happy agreement at the importance of faith, and blandly accept that religion in general is good and virtuous and that we should encourage our children to adopt a faith tradition…for their moral upbringing in an environment of conscience, don’t you know. What they don’t realize is that the Good News Clubs stealthily promote that gay-hatin’, science-despisin’, Pat Robertson-style fundamentalism directly to their children, while asking them not to talk about it to Mommy and Daddy. They will cheerfully take in the children of Catholics and Jews, so that they can tell those children that Catholics and Jews will burn in Hell.

These people are kindly old grandmas and sincerely pious ordinary joes, but they’ve also got it in their heads that they must inject their poisonous beliefs into everyone’s children. And they are dedicated: they will make time and invest money in their cause. Fear them. They lie and fight dirty and will use your own liberal and progressive values to undermine those same values in gullible children.

We've met Katherine Steward and are impressed with her professionalism. The Lesbian and Gay Democratic Club of Queens has donated 25 copies of her book to the Queens Public Library system. Her book exposes a relentless campaign to subvert schools for a partisan ideology.

Stewart. Right the first time.

The AlterNet Website has a useful account of the Child Evangelism Fellowship and its Good News Clubs. It describes their program and gives suggestions for dealing with it locally. See the article here.

The article closes with a statement from Katherine Stewart:

As they teach kids as young as six or seven about original sin and blood atonement and divinely sanctioned genocide, CEF staff and volunteers believe they are on a mission from God. They are well-financed and have a seasoned team of legal advocates at their disposal. Any community that doesn’t stand up for its children can expect to have fundamentalist recruiters in its public grade schools.

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