Friday, August 7, 2015

Nothing about the Good News Club shocks me

Image source.

So I happened across this blog post from the Patheos Atheist channel, about the Good News Club and how it's such a horrible thing.

So what is the Good News Club? According to its website:
Good News Club® is a ministry of Child Evangelism Fellowship in which trained teachers meet with groups of children in schools, homes, community centers, churches, apartment complexes, just about anywhere the children can easily and safely meet with their parent's permission. Each week the teacher presents an exciting Bible lesson using colorful materials from CEF Press. This action-packed time also includes songs, Scripture memory, a missions story and review games or other activities focused on the lesson's theme.

As with all CEF ministries, the purpose of Good News Club is to evangelize boys and girls with the Gospel of the Lord Jesus Christ and establish (disciple) them in the Word of God and in a local church for Christian living.
The atheist blogs I've read have a huge problem with the Good News Clubs that meet in schools. It's a "separation of church and state" issue. Actually, this video made by Child Evangelism Fellowship emphasizes that public schools are a "mission field." CEF is 100% clear about its goal: they want to get children to "accept Jesus"- they want the children to become Christians.

For me, with my background as an evangelical Christian, all of this sounds completely normal. Nothing to write home about. We want people to become Christians, because all non-Christians are leading unhappy lives and going to hell. Yeah. What else is new?

Which is why it's so strange to me to read what atheist bloggers have to say about the Good News Club. They're horrified that what looks like a fun and positive after-school program is actually trying to "indoctrinate" children.

And I'm like, yeah, of course. I wouldn't use the word "indoctrinate," but yeah. Nothing surprising, nothing to see here.

This video, The Dark Gospel of the Good News Club, documents how many times the Good News Club curriculum uses words like "sin", "punish", and "hell." It shows excerpts from Good News Club lessons, for example:
The punishment for even one sin is separation from God forever in Hell. You deserve God's punishment...

You deserve to be kept away from God forever in a place of darkness and suffering because you are a sinner.

According to [Matthew 7:14], how many people are on the narrow way leading to life forever with God in Heaven? (Few.) I would much rather be with the smaller group of people, wouldn't you?

The Lord Jesus suffered terrible beatings, then He was cruelly nailed to a wooden cross, where He bled and died... As Jesus hung on the cross, God punished Him for your sin and your deceitful heart.

Dear Lord, I know that I have sin and deserve to be punished. I believe that Jesus died on the cross for me. Thank you that Jesus took my punishment so that I can be saved from my sin forever. I believe in the Lord Jesus Christ as my Savior. Take away all my sin and give me a new life on the inside so I can live to please you. In Jesus' name, amen.

Your sin makes you 'unclean' before God, who is holy (perfect) and can't stand to be near sin.
These quotes, and many similar ones, scroll over the screen, accompanied by ominous background music. The audience is supposed to be shocked and appalled that this is what the Good News Club is teaching children.

I am not shocked and appalled. I've heard all this a million times. It's so familiar that it hardly even has any meaning to me.

I was taught that this is the core of Christianity. I was taught that this is the most important message in the entire world: That we are sinners who deserve hell, and Jesus died to save us from that punishment.

I'm not shocked at all. I'm over here on the other side, trying to convince Christians that it's harmful and wrong to teach people that they deserve to go to hell. You teach kids that they are inherently evil, worthless, and unworthy of love, and then you wonder why they end up with shame and depression and they hate the church. But no, evangelicals don't get it. This is a totally normal thing for them to preach.

I'm actually shocked that other people are shocked.

Evangelical Christians want to go into schools and teach kids about the bible- how on earth could it be anything other than this?

I grew up in the church, I went to Sunday School and Vacation Bible School and all that. Maybe the lessons in the Good News Club talk about sin and hell much more frequently than the lessons I experienced as a child- I'm not sure. Their website says "Each club includes a clear presentation of the Gospel and an opportunity for children to trust the Lord Jesus as Savior." For those of you who are still beside yourselves with shock, let me clarify: "the gospel" is "you deserve to go to hell but Jesus died to get you out of it, so you need to believe in Jesus." Giving a "gospel presentation" in every single lesson seems like a bit much to me- that seems unusual. (Also I suspect that the posts I read criticizing the Good News Club emphasize the parts about sin/hell/etc while ignoring other, less controversial things that the Good News Club teaches.)

In my experience, most Sunday School lessons were just about some nice bible story and some moral principle we should learn from it. We should be loyal, forgive people, obey God, etc. But then, a few times each year, they had a lesson which presented "the gospel." Jesus died so you don't have to go to hell- if you ask for forgiveness and commit your life to him. These lessons were a lot more sad and serious (which is why I really can't imagine the Good News Club doing a "gospel presentation" in every lesson- maybe they just mentioned it real quick at the end, without going through all that emotional manipulation stuff?). We sat quietly and thought about our sin and how bad we were and how unworthy and how unreasonable it was for God to love us. Then the teachers gave us a choice- if we wanted to, we could pray and "ask Jesus into our hearts" and all would be forgiven. Most kids chose to do it. Some didn't, and they weren't pressured into it- well, except for the pressure of living in a culture that accepts all these things as true.

When kids made the decision to "accept Christ", the teachers would tell them it's the most important decision of their lives. The teachers happily told the parents. The church kept statistics on it and announced the numbers from the pulpit while everyone applauded.

They didn't talk about hell and sin and punishment all the time, but when they did, they emphasized that it was the very heart of Christianity, the most important message you will ever hear.

You guys you guys you guys, I made a meme for this:

So my point is, nothing about the Good News Club is surprising to me. Of course they tell kids "God can't stand to be near you because of your sin." Of course they tell kids "Jesus died because of you." Of course they tell kids "You need to accept Jesus or else you'll go to hell." To evangelicals, THAT'S WHAT CHRISTIANITY IS. I'm shocked that anyone is shocked about this.

Yeah we also talk about loving your neighbor, etc etc. But that's just the icing on the cake. "The gospel", the core of Christianity, the one-sentence summary, is everyone in the entire world is an unworthy sinner who's on the road to hell, and the only way out is by believing in Jesus.

(Note: Yeah I don't believe that anymore. I believe in a completely different version of Christianity, and a gospel which is actually good news.)

A few other fun things from the Good News Club:

Screenshot from The Dark Gospel of the Good News Club.
"Good News Club" children's activity
1) Hang a sign with the word "sin" around a child's neck.
2) Ask the children what "sin" is.
3) State that "all have sinned and deserve God's punishment for sin, which is death, separation from God forever."
4) State: "Some children try to deny their sin. They say they never do wrong things. But is that true? (No.).... Do you see (child's name's) sin? He may not think it's there, but God says it and you can be sure that other people see it too!"
Yeah, totally not surprised by this at all. This is well within the realm of activities I've seen in Sunday School or Vacation Bible School.

And this quote:
This isn’t the Christianity of Love thy Neighbor and the Golden Rule. One independent researcher analyzed the five-year curriculum of the Good News Club; he claims that the word “sin” and its derivatives appear over five thousand times. Other words like “death,” “obey,” and “punish” appear thousands of times.
Oh honey. Oh. Apparently, there are people out there who think Christianity and the bible are all about nice-sounding platitudes and getting kids to behave. As an evangelical, I was taught that only a small minority of supposed Christians actually get what Christianity is really about- ie, the fact that EVERYBODY need to believe in Jesus in order to get out of hell.

(Yeah, now I don't think that's what Christianity is about.)

The "good news" of the Good News Club is exactly what I was taught. You may be horrified- even more so at the fact that these groups are in public schools- but I'm not.

I think it's harmful. I think it's false. I think a lot of Christians end up in therapy because they were taught that they deserve to go to hell. There are a lot of not-so-nice things I could say about this teaching.

But am I surprised? Am I shocked? Not a bit.

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