Child Evangelism Fellowship Targets Portland Children for Summer Salvation. Locals Fights Back

CEF Pied PiperIn past summers, Child Evangelism Fellowship has targeted children in Boston, Denver, Chicago, Little Rock, Salt Lake City, and the Twin Cities for conversion to their brand of biblical fundamentalism. This summer they chose Portland, Oregon. It may have been a mistake.

Some child advocates argue that proselytizing children for religious conversion is immoral. By contrast, Child Evangelism Fellowship boldly proclaims what they see as a God-given mission:

Child Evangelism Fellowship® is a Bible-centered worldwide organization composed of born-again believers whose purpose is to evangelize boys and girls with the Gospel of the Lord Jesus Christ and to establish (disciple) them in the Word of God and in a local church for Christian living.

One of their key tools is an after-school program called the Good News Club, which takes place in public grade schools across the country. Good News Clubs mix snacks, games, art projects and stories with upbeat moral lessons and the theology of blood sacrifice. In a case that went all the way to the Supreme Court, Child Evangelism Fellowship argued that they were entitled to operate in public schools because they are running a social and moral enrichment program akin to Scouting.

Much to the dismay of church-state watchdogs, a majority of the court agreed, but to call Good News Clubs moral enrichment by secular standards or to liken it to Scouting, is a stretch. Despite Evangelical influences in the Boy Scouts, scouting programs to a large degree emphasize virtues that are prized across both secular and religious wisdom traditions. Good News Clubs teach dark, divisive and potentially traumatic doctrines that are unique to fundamentalist forms of Christianity.

Attorney Eric Cernyar participated in Good News Club as a child. He now monitors Child Evangelism Fellowship activities and documentsclub practices such as deceptive marketing, authoritarian conditioning, diminishing nonbelievers, shame indoctrination, fear indoctrination, attacks on science education, and the cult technique of “mind control.”

CEF Child evangelizing childThe Good News Club curriculum is filled with over 5000 references to sin and thousands more to obedience, punishment, and Hell. It stresses Old Testament narratives of a retributive God who must punish sin, warns children that they will suffer an eternity in Hell if they refuse to believe, and stresses complete obedience as the supreme value. Good News Club tells children as young as preschoolers that they have “dark” and “sinful” hearts, were born that way, and “deserve to die” and “go to Hell.”

One Good News teaching tool is the “wordless book” in which colored pages represent key doctrines of atonement theology. The black page represents sin, seen as evil born into every human that keeps a person from getting to heaven (represented by a gold page). Red is the blood of Christ, whose death was necessary payment for sin. White represents the pure righteousness of Jesus and people who are saved by his atoning sacrifice. It’s as simple as “A,B,C”—Admit your sin, Believe Jesus can save you, and Choose Jesus as your savior. Green, the color of growth, represents the newly-saved child’s life as a budding Christian.

Each summer since 2008, Child Evangelism Fellowship has run a saturation blitz called Good News Across America in which “hundreds of volunteers” descend on a targeted city to run Bible schools “in community centers, parks, apartment complexes, playgrounds, boys and girls clubs – anywhere children gather.” Child Evangelism Fellowship boasts of reaching 2700 Denver children through these five-day “evangelistic clubs” and swelling attendance at one church from 75 to 235, almost half of whom were children.

This summer over 100 missionaries will set up shop in Portland from July 14-26 when they will partner with 32 local churches to recruit children as young as five years old to summer day camps. If all goes according to plan, come fall these churches will institute Good News Clubs in Portland public schools. But some locals aren’t so keen on the idea. They point to the experience of Seattle parent, John Lederer, after a local church “planted” a Good News Club in his daughter’s grade school. Lederer was troubled by the treats used to entice children and the way volunteers blurred the line between school and club. But he also hated the effect on the community. “Before we were all Loyal Heights parents together. Now we’re divided into groups and labels: you’re a Christian, you’re the wrong kind of Christian, you’re a Jew, you’re an atheist.”

For perhaps the first time, this summer Good News Across America will face organized opposition. As volunteers step up preparations for the Portland blitz, a coalition called Protect Portland Children is stepping up outreach to local media, parents, child advocates, and school administrators. Protect Portland Children says they mean no disrespect for local churches and volunteers. Rather, they hope to “spread the word that the Good News Club’s extreme teachings can be psychologically harmful to children” and that Child Evangelism Fellowship “is now targeting Portland with a major recruiting campaign.” “One of our goals is to help the next city they target and to make this a national conversation,” says member Kaye Schmitt.

Protect Portland Children points to the investigative expose by journalist Katherine Stewart, author of The Good News Club,. Like Seattle’s Lederer, Stewart dug deeper after witnessing Child Evangelism in action at her daughter’s school. And they are taking tips from Cernyar, whose website Intrinsic Dignity examines legal precedents related to use of public facilities, providing guidelines and models for parents and administrators who oppose religious bullying in public schools. Despite the Supreme Court ruling, Cernyar urges parents and district administrators to push back: “It is possible for a school district to regulate its forum to protect its students from psychologically and emotionally harmful after-class activities.”

Child Evangelism brings to the fight the clout of a national organization with over 700 paid staff in the U.S. and Canada alone and a seasoned legal team. They face a loose-knit group of volunteers. To speak in biblical archetypes, it’s a story of David against Goliath. But in one regard the opposing sides may well be evenly matched: their sense of righteous mission. On the Intrinsic Dignity site, Cernyar puts it this way:

Children have a right to develop in conditions of freedom, open inquiry, and empathy, and in respect of their inherent dignity and equality. Our mission is to challenge practices—beginning with private organizations infiltrating our nation’s public elementary schools—that shame and terrify children and assault their self-esteem.

In the Gospel of Matthew, Jesus sends his disciples out into the world with these words, “be wise as serpents and harmless as doves.” It’s a shame that some Bible believers seem to have missed the second half of the sentence.

To follow this issue or lend your support, Protect Portland Children requests that you “like” their Facebook page.

Valerie Tarico is a psychologist and writer in Seattle, Washington. She is the author of Trusting Doubt: A Former Evangelical Looks at Old Beliefs in a New Light and Deas and Other Imaginings, and the founder of Subscribe to her articles at

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About Valerie Tarico

Seattle psychologist and writer. Author - Trusting Doubt; Deas and Other Imaginings.
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25 Responses to Child Evangelism Fellowship Targets Portland Children for Summer Salvation. Locals Fights Back

  1. mriana says:

    It’s funny how they have no issue with their own religion, but if a Muslim came along and did similarly they’d freak out and scream about it. They have no comprehension of how their own religion is just as damaging as another, imposing shame, fear, and denial of science (except Buddhism and maybe Taoism. As far as I know they do not impose fear or denial of science, at least not like Western Religions). Even so, to deny children an education and a choice in what they believe or not believe is not free will, but brainwashing and abuse.


    • PyotrZ says:

      I think that’s quite unfair to sincere, civilized Islam. These people are analagous perhaps to a dangerous cult derived from Islam. Let me see if I can think of one…


  2. Maybe it’s time for a “Better News Club” aimed at encouraging rational thought while teaching the truth about the violent history of brutal theism, and its destructive effect on global culture


  3. Yasmine says:

    It requires parental permission, so the parents should just not let them go if they aren’t comfortable with it….Oh, I forgot, liberal parents can’t tell their kids ‘no’ to anything….it might hurt their children’s precious psyche’s.


  4. Yasmine says:

    It would be great if this group would get as angry about Portland’s child sex trafficking problems (largest in the world: In a 2010 Dan Rather Reports series dubbed “Pornland,” the seasoned anchor led cameramen along 82nd Avenue to expose the “seedier side” of the “model American city,” labeling it “the epicenter of child prostitution.”) as they are about a bible club that meets for one week afterschool WITH parent permission.


  5. Philip Lowther says:

    you are ver inappropriate. The Good News clubs are not evil. It is interesting you are calling something that is wholesome and good the oppisite. Yasmine is right you are hate mongering because you disagree with truth. God sent His Son to save sinners. Praying God leads you to salvation my friend!


    • If a schizophrenic was telling children that there are invisible monsters all around and that children need invisible friends to protect them from being tortured (which they actually deserved because they were born bad), I wouldn’t hate him, but I would try to stop him. That is my responsibility.

      In the moral framework of many Christians, religion trumps civil law and universal ethical principles when it comes into conflict with either. (For a window into this, apply the golden rule to religious behavior.) Our battles over religious freedom exist because religions seek the right to do harm–to engage in discrimination, to decrease public health, to freeload, and to damage children . . . I could go on. Where religion is not in opposition with widely agreed ethical principles and duties, it meets no opposition. It is meeting opposition here because outsiders to biblical fundamentalism feel moral outrage and a moral responsibility to protect children from harm, even when it is caused by well intended adults.


  6. Ron says:

    ‘Praying God leads you to salvation..’…a classic kool-ade sipping believer remark…lots of validity there!!


  7. Rev. Deb Seles says:

    I am an Episcopal priest and I encountered one of their trainers at a seminar I was at earlier in the year. I was horrified by the bloody and scary approach they took. My thoughts on the curriculum were: this is abusive, scary and brain-washing.

    This is not the Good News as I know it nor as how our church teaches it. I agree with the poster who suggested the establishment of the “Better News Club”. They’re pernicious in their approach–they only want to be in public schools because they know being there is another way to hook the kids. I’m glad to hear that this group is meeting with opposition and hope folks will have their eyes opened.


    • Tim says:

      Amen Reverend, well said. And this is from someone raised in the evangelical fundamentalist tradition who is attending one of the involved churches.


    • mriana says:

      As a former Episcopalian,turned humanist,I have to say, there are some things I still agree with Episcopalians on and this one, because such things truly are child abuse, brainwashing, and very horrifying. If there was a like or thumbs-up button for your post,I would click it. I can’t fathom how anyone could be so mentally abusive to children and attempt to brainwash them, not allowing them to think for themselves.


  8. Emery Wang says:

    Hey Valerie, it was a pleasant surprise to hear your voice on OPB, my local NPR affiliate–I wish I’d had time to call in. I’ve moved to Portland since we last spoke on my podcast, and I’m glad to see your writing (and speaking) career has really taken off. Congratulations!

    So as a former Good News Club member (my mom hosted it at our house when I was 4), and now an atheist, I don’t feel the need to protest against Good News Club, at least any more than the need to protest Christianity in general. The teachings of Good News Club are virtually the same as what I learned as a Southern Baptist, which I believe is still the world’s largest Protestant denomination. So I disagree with the Protect Portland group–Good News Club is not “fringe.” It is quite mainstream evangelical. Instead, it’s the recent liberal, “emergent” church phenomenon with its de-emphasis, or outright rejection of hell, that is fringe (if you define fringe as outside the norm).

    Inasmuch as we tolerate and co-exist with evangelicals, we should do the same with Good News Club. Peddling their wares to kids in homes and schools is no worse than peddling them to captive audiences of kids in churches on Sundays, in my opinion. Instead of shooting the messenger, I think time would be better spent shooting down the message.

    Keep up the good fight, Valerie!



    • Hi Emery! Great to hear from you. I am a former Good Newser myself.

      I would agree with you that Child Evangelism is not fringe and the hell-blood atonement curriculum is similar to that taught in many fundamentalist churches. That said, I might suggest that they are at one extreme of the continuum in their willingness to prey on small children by using shame and fear induction including the threat of hell. Most Christians I’ve encountered, even fundamentalists, believe in some age of accountability that exempts small children from eternal torture if they die young. Also I do think it is worse than peddling this stuff in church because, for developmental reasons, young kids can’t distinguish the difference between what is officially sanctioned by the school and what isn’t. By piggy-backing on the credibility of trusted teachers and information sources Child Evangelism taints those sources and makes it difficult if not impossible for many small children to tell the difference.


      • MadSat says:

        Actually, the good thing about this kind of indoctrination to Christ is very simple and easy to understand, you wind up with complete atheists in the end. Like me. Who had the whole hate filled “God loves you SOOO Much that if you don’t love him back he’s going to murder you and torture you over and over” pile of garbage pushed at me as a kid. To do that to a child is despicable. And I CERTAINLY do not want to spend ten minutes with the abusive a******s who’d do that, much less an eternity.


  9. Sporter says:

    Yeah, maybe the Word of God is too scary and we should water it down a little. I am so amazed at how many of you have witnessed the CEF leaders “freak out and scream”.
    Did you confront them when they “freak out and scream”? Did you call 911 or just walk away. That’s just horrible. Read the entire Bible. Be educated before you insert what you think the Bible “should say” to fit “your needs”.


    • MadSat says:

      Maybe you are a complete jackass, too, ever think of that? You certainly sound like one. BTW, I’ve read the entire Bible, many times. I have not yet found that spot that says scaring the crap out of children is a good thing.


      • Allan Avery says:

        Dear MadSat, Hey, which kind’a company y’all mean here? I’m assuming you mean the mythmakers. Indeed, it’s way easier and more comfortable in their sphere. Don’t Worry, Be Happy. True, it’s way more demanding, thinking and learning-wise, and harder to feel optomistic, here among the realists. But then, it does feel a lot more honest and real. Which is what we’re actually faced with.


  10. Allan Avery says:

    Valerie and followers: WAY behind in my Away point! (Things go on being hectic. Perhaps if I simply accepted Jesus Christ as my Savior I could switch to “don’t worry, be happy, and just volunteer for the needy”- except my body can’t do any standing upright volunteer work any more. :-( OK, Scratch that. Flippant and out of bounds. As one, recent past, local Foodbank Chair, I hugely respect the decades-long, total dedication and completely secular service, of deeply Religious of my fellow Food Bank volunteers, who have largely kept it open and serving. Same with the secular volunteer work of some religious members of my own family. That said, I and many of my family and friends also remain committed to what I’ll call plain Reality. Learning how this Planet, Universe, and Cosmos actually work. And what our big brain “Human Species” needs to DO. Take on- individually and collectively worldwide- to preserve life here upon the Planet. Rather than leave it to God (or some other, as yet undetected, god-like power), to come back, blow it up, and start over. Anyhow, maybe it’s OK I took so long to read this A.P. Post. Here- some responses for perhaps “disputing” earlier responders. “Yasmin:” ‘Bout that kinda unfriendly scam on “Liberal parents:” Perhaps you’ve never met many “real” Liberal parents. They are among the most responsible at parenting you will find. Sometimes “overboard” even. Not all, mind you, like all’a us folks. (And BTW- there is a huge class of parents who are totally unable to cope with the parenting basics because don’t have the resources- of a hundred different kinds and for hundreds of unique individual reasons. The bare necessary to make a minimum wage living and keep the kids fed and out of the rain and cold. Few of them have a moment to think of being a “Liberal.” Nor are they simply lazy low life. (But that’s an unfortunately complex lesson for many of us, for another time.) Meanwhile, here, our problem- yours and mine too- is too often we’re just trading barbs. Iinstead of thinking and writing so that we’re not simply offending one another. Next Mr. “Philip Lowther:” Hate Mongering?? I have not seen that in Away Point- reading it for more than a decade. Might you be looking for it?? Better, first, to actually openly consider the logic and rationale of expressed viewpoints that we disagree with. Then, to think deeply and compose a rational analytical response. Be assured Sir. I know how hard that is. I’m at “baby steps” with that skill myself. (So is the surprisingly massive volume of honest, real Science being carried out currently worldwide “at baby steps.” They’re searching for any additional, new “real” phenomona that might help define our future. See further below.) And finally, “Sporter,” on July 23: Non-believers “freaking out” over the “reality” of the word of God? And Screaming? Hey, maybe there are some screamers. If so, on both “sides,” for sure! Try being an honest “Heathen.” Am I missreading you? Did you mean the “freaking out screamers” at us Non-Believers?” Anyhow, to Y’ALL and closing: Know that I am a clear but TENTATIVE Athiest. As all stripes of us really OTT’A be. “Cause none of us know the “absolute, Final” reality. Away Point and the rest of us are simply dedicated to being realists, rather than “maybers” and “hopers.” So that, Meanwhile, maybe let’s save the Planet.


  11. MadSat says:

    Can you imagine spending eternity with this kind of company? Think about it.


  12. Pingback: Open Letter to Christians by Valerie Tarico | Gospel Gossips

  13. Pingback: What does "Evangelical" really mean? - Skeptical Science

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