Katherine Stewart’s “The Good News Club: The Christian Right’s Stealth Assault on America’s Children”

I won’t beat around the bush.

The reason the world perked up and paid attention to Sinclair’s The Jungle in 1906 is the same reason that the world should now, 105 years later, snap to attention and read Katherine Stewart’s latest nonfiction book, The Good News Club: it awakens us to something we may previously have known nothing about, but which is under our noses every day, is active in our communities nonstop, and is potentially damaging to us all, and well into the future, too, if gone unnoticed. Stewart’s findings can’t afford to be ignored, for the same simple fact that made Sinclair’s expose crucial: whether the book calls you to action or not, you are inarguably worse off not knowing what’s detailed within it.

I had the occasion to read this book back in July 2011, for reasons I don’t think I’m allowed to detail here. At any rate, I read the then-confidential volume (concealed in a white paper cover) on the beach on the Fourth of July. I read about U.S. public schools caving, silently, to the demands of the Child Evangelism Fellowship, among other insidious religious groups that infiltrate America’s education programs and curricula with innocuous-sounding “Good News Clubs” and “Spirituality for Kids,” evangelist and scientologist organizations, respectively. I read about these groups’ systematic flouting of every restriction in place designed to keep them a separate entity from the classroom itself, and to uphold our nation’s separation of church and state. When you read these ugly findings on a sunny beach full of raucous children, an eeriness sets in: how many of them have had a Good News Club come through their town, encouraging them to “be a missionary every day,” and to consider any non-member of the club an irreparable sinner? How many have informed their fellow elementary classmates that they, the Others, are destined for fire and brimstone? Moreover, how many of the kids on that beach had been told as much by their classmates? After all, Stewart’s research estimates that 3,410 Good News Clubs alone are currently in operation at elementary schools around the country, to say nothing of the countless other groups that have found loophole after loophole to strong-arm their way into the schools.

If you think “strong-arming” is too forceful a term for what may at first sound like constructive (and rather secular) moral teachings, consider this quote from the founder and president of the Liberty Counsel:

Knock down all of the doors, all of the barriers, to all of the 65,000- plus elementary schools in the country and take the Gospel to this open mission field now! Not later! Now!

And really, verbiage is the least of our concerns when talking about the Good News Club.

Stewart has put herself on the front lines while researching this expose. Again, don’t be coerced by the docile religious front: this meant having to put herself in genuine danger more than once. When it was discovered at the Child Evangelism Fellowship convention (by many prodding questions and public accusations) that our correspondent was, in fact, Jewish (a claim she never directly “confessed” to be true), security guards and the director of the convention were dispatched immediately to Stewart’s hotel room. We’re talking about a literal fire-escape escape, people. And you can’t convince me that this is what God had in mind.

In their true form, these organizations are not only breaking down the doors to public schools — their ripest recruiting centers — they are also breaking down the generally accepted notion of elementary religion classes teaching children only the most vague and generic lessons in morality. But that is, of course, the guise the CEF chooses to operate under, and it is in this stealth that they’ve had their greatest advantage. Stewart’s own children, in fact, have been subject to the ruse, and so it is out of a genuine concern, alarm, and indignation that Stewart brings us The Good News Club. A parent’s very ability to raise their children with a given set of values or beliefs is being undermined daily by a group whose whole salvation is contingent upon the numbers game: recruit x amount of lost sheep, ascend x miles farther into Heaven. Parents and their children deserve better. And that’s why everyone has a stake in how this book is received, whether we choose to acknowledge it or not.

IS IT LEGAL?? No—not for adults. But it is completely legal for students! It is a God-given loophole!
from the Life Book Movement, a division of Gideon’s International whose stated mission is to “saturate 91,957 high schools with God’s word” through peer-to-peer evangelism.

By the way, as a disclaimer, I consider myself a strongly religious person. I’m not some oddly jaded atheist out to deny children the option of discovering the God that suits them best, if any. And neither, notably, is Katherine Stewart. The point, ultimately, is far simpler: no child should tell their classmates that they’re going to Hell and be rewarded for that accusation. No child should trouble themselves thinking in terms of the End Times, a philosophy that leaves very little motivation for personal growth down here on Earth. No child should be a blind recruiter for what they themselves couldn’t possibly yet understand, and no organized group of adults should capitalize on that precise lack of understanding for their own gain. Swap out God in that equation for any other concept, and you risk nothing less than incarceration. So why, with some angels and Mylar balloons stuck to it, does that brand of manipulation go so unnoticed? Celebrated, even?

It’s time we ask ourselves why. And the real Good News is that Stewart has begun the conversation. Keep talking.

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