An Investigation of the Dark Gospel of Child Evangelism Fellowship’s Good News Clubs
The Good News Club Is it Child Abuse or Protected Speech and Free Exercise?
Good News Club is a systematic program of religiously flavored “traumatic bonding,” employing shame and intimidation mixed with love and affirmation conditioned on their commitment to the Club’s pseudo-theological ideology.  The shame indoctrination and Hell’s terror sections of this website sample the shocking things Good News Club tells children to undermine their self-esteem.  One page  quantifies Good News Club’s fixation with sin, obedience and punishment, noting that the words “sin,” “obedience,” “punishment,” and their derivatives appear over 5000, 1100, and 1000 times respectively in the 2006-2011 Curriculum Cycle.  Children are badgered with messages of their sinfulness and worthiness of death and Hell, and then required — in order to be “saved” — to internalize these messages. Is this child abuse or protected speech and free exercise?  And does the context in which this takes place — public elementary schools — make any difference?  The material below discusses evolving standards of child treatment and relevant definitions of child abuse. Society’s Evolving Recognition of the Dignity and Rights of the Child Child abuse began receiving sustained attention from professional researchers and civil authorities about 50 years ago.  In the aftermath of the brutality of World War II and the Holocaust, psychologists sought answers for how millions of Germans willingly participated in or knowingly countenanced that brutality.   They amassed evidence of a strong correlation between authoritarian, obedience-obsessive child rearing and stunted emotional development, including a reduced capacity for empathy toward others.  Psychologist Robin Grille summarizes approximately 50 years of research when he writes: Violent and autocratic societies suffer a kind of social retardation, borne of tortured and loveless childhoods. When we contemplate the horrors of dysfunctional human relations, past and present, we should not say ‘this is humanity’, but instead ‘this is traumatised humanity’, or ‘humanity in shock’. Human madness is the howl of a child with a shattered heart. As briefly discussed in the Legal Issue section’s introductory page, Western brutality toward children has been nourished by a long religiously-rooted tradition of seeing children as intrinsically evil. Fortunately, in the past 2-3 generations, great progressive strides have been made in cherishing and empathizing with children and recognizing the dignity and rights of the child.  In 1959, the United Nations General Assembly adopted a non- binding “Declaration of the Rights of the Child.”  In 1962, pediatrician Henry Kempe and his colleages published the article “The Battered-Child Syndrome” in the Journal of the American Medical Association, which urged physicians to recognize and take action to prevent suspected child abuse, leading to the passage of child abuse reporting laws in all of the states between 1963 and 1967.  In 1974, Congress passed the Child Abuse Prevention and Treatment Act (CAPTA).  In 1989, the United Nations convened a Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC), creating a 54-article treaty setting forth the civil, political, economic, social, health, and cultural rights of children.  As of 2012, all members of the United Nations, except for Somalia, the United States, and newly formed South Sudan, are parties to that convention.  (To date, the United States Senate never ratified the CRC, largely due to opposition from conservative religious groups such as Declaration of the Rights of the Child The UN 1959 Declaration of the Rights of the Child reaffirms “faith in fundamental human rights and in the dignity and worth of the human person,” and extends that status to children, proclaiming the aspiration that children “may have a happy childhood (Preamble) and stating that children have a right to “develop physically, morally, spiritually and socially in a healthy and normal manner and in conditions of freedom and dignity” (Principle 2), conditions that Child Evangelism Fellowship (CEF) adamantly denies.  Children also have the right to “grow up ... in an atmosphere of affection” (Principle 6) and “in a spirit of understanding, tolerance, friendship among peoples, peace and universal brotherhood” (Principle 10).  CEF’s theological stance divides the world between “saved” (those who believe as they do) and “unsaved” (those who don’t), denying the dignity, worth, and universal brotherhood of the latter. CAPTA and Emotional Abuse CAPTA identifies a minimum set of acts or behaviors that define child abuse and neglect.  While authorities have focused their limited resources on physical and sexual abuse, CAPTA recognizes emotional and psychological abuse as a form of child abuse and neglect.  Child abuse and neglect include, at a minimum, “[a]ny recent act or failure to act on the part of a parent or caretaker which results in death, serious physical or emotional harm, sexual abuse or exploitation; or [a]n act or failure which presents an imminent risk of serious harm.”  42 U.S.C.A. § 5106g (emphasis added).  The U.S. Department of Health & Human Services’ Child Welfare Information Gateway defines emotional or psychological abuse as follows: Emotional abuse (or psychological abuse) is a pattern of behavior that impairs a child’s emotional development or sense of self-worth. This may include constant criticism, threats, or rejection, as well as withholding love, support, or guidance. Emotional abuse is often difficult to prove and, therefore, child protective services may not be able to intervene without evidence of harm or mental injury to the child. Emotional abuse is almost always present when other forms are identified. (Emphasis added).  With respect to content, the Good News Club curriculum meets the DHHS’s definition in spades.  Good News Club deliberately impairs a child’s sense of “self-worth,” reminding them in relentless, corrosive fashion that they are born sinful and worthy of horrible punishment, even death and Hell.  Even in describing salvation, Good News Club continues the assault on self-worth by reminding children of the “punishment” they “deserved.” While teachers and volunteers of old-fashioned Good News Clubs held in private homes and churches might not be considered “caretakers” within the meaning of CAPTA, a compelling argument can be made that public school Good News Club teachers and volunteers are However, state laws, which vary significantly from state to state, generally define emotional abuse much more narrowly than DHHS’s definition.  Many include an exceptionally high bar for proof of emotional abuse.  Alaska, for example, requires proof of severe effects in the form of “observable and substantial impairment in the child’s ability to function in a developmentally appropriate manner and the existence of that impairment is supported by the opinion of a qualified expert witness.”  Alaska Stat. § 47.17.290.  This and similar definitions are flawed because they focus only on immediate term effects, and moreover, only on superficially observable and overly general effects such as a “child’s ability to function.”  Such definitions allow a child’s performance on some measures, such as academics, sports, or music — performances that may well be motivated by perfectionism borne of inadequacy, shame, and/or fear — to mask a troubled or eroded self-image and impaired emotional development.  Such definitions also ignore the scientifically well- documented long-term and frequently delayed harm — including depression, anxiety disorders, anhedonia, narcissism, substance abuse and violent or aggressive tendencies — that psychological abuse so frequently produces. Some states, such as Arizona, California, and North Carolina, have definitions broad enough to encompass evidence of “severe anxiety, depression, withdrawal, or untoward aggressive behavior.”  E.g., Ariz. Rev. Stat. § 8-201.  Puerto Rico encompasses within its scope “evidence that the minor recurrently manifests or exhibits behaviors such as fear, feelings of abandonment or hopelessness, frustration and failure, anxiety, insecurity, withdrawal, regressive behavior, or aggressive behavior toward himself or herself or toward others, or any other similar behavior.”  P.R.  Ann. Laws Tit. 8, § 444.  A few states are progressive enough to include within their definitions of “emotional abuse” “a substantial risk of impairment to the child’s emotional health.”  E.g., Ill. Comp. Stat. Ch. 325, § 5/3; see also Colo. Rev. Stat. § 19-1-103 (similar); Maine Ann. Stat. Tit. 22, § 4002.  Tennessee is unusual in recognizing emotional abuse without proof of damaging effects in the form of “chronic or recurring incidents of ridiculing, demeaning, making derogatory remarks, or cursing.”  Tenn. Ann. Code Tit. 10, § 901; see also Vt.  Ann. Stat. Tit. 33, § 4912 (“‘Emotional maltreatment’ means a pattern of malicious behavior that results in a child’s impaired psychological growth and development.”). United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child The Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC), which is binding on nations that ratify it, builds on the non-binding 1959 Declaration of the Rights of the Child.  It recognizes that “the child, for the full and harmonious development of his or her personality, should grow up in a family environment, in an atmosphere of happiness, love and understanding,” and be “brought up in ... the spirit of peace, dignity, tolerance, freedom, equality and solidarity.” (Preamble).  Article 19 requires states to “take all appropriate legislative, administrative, social and educational measures to protect the child from all forms of physical or mental violence, injury, or abuse.”  Article 37 requires states to ensure that children are protected from “torture or other cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment or punishment.”  Even juvenile offenders “shall be treated with humanity and respect for the inherent dignity of the human person” and “be treated in a manner consistent with the promotion of the child’s sense of dignity and worth.”  Articles 37, 40.  Recognizing the child’s need for freedom of thought and protection from cultish mind control, Article 13 recognizes a child’s “freedom to seek, receive and impart information and ideas of all kinds....” and Article 14 recognizes the child’s “freedom of thought, conscience and religion.” The United States and Somalia have not adopted the CRC, but every other UN member nation has.  Child Evangelism Fellowship, which is active in 180 countries around the world, bears scrutiny under that treaty.  In repeatedly telling children that they were born sinful and deserving of horrible and infinite punishment, Good News Club denies the intrinsic  dignity and worth of children and strips them of any self-esteem.  The only tenuously positive “sense of self” that CEF allows a child is a divisive and polarizing one, rooted in the child’s narrow ideological (and therefore, in CEF’s view, salvific) identification with “Bible-believing” Christianity.
Verbal abuse directed toward children is not constitutionally protected speech  In In re Shane T., 453 N.Y.S.2d 590 (N.Y. Fam. Ct. 1982), a family court found that a father’s repeated taunts over several years of his son Shane as being a “fag,” “faggot,” and “queer,” and telling him he should have been a girl, constituted child abuse even though the father was not physically violent toward his son.    The father’s attorney argued that the verbal abuse was “a form of legitimate parental discipline designed to cure the child of certain unspecified ‘girlie’ behavior.”  The court rejected this argument, holding that “the bill of rights is not for adults alone” and that children, too, “have constitutional rights that must be respected by all.”  Id. at 593.  The father’s “unrelenting torrent of verbal abuse ... directed at his sexual identity” created, at least, “a substantial risk” of “protracted impairment of emotional health” under the Family Court Act.  The father’s behavior, moreover, “is as serious a form of abuse as if he had plunged a knife into the stomach of this child.  In fact, it’s probably worse since the agony and heartache suffered by Shane has already assailed him for several years and constitutes a grave and imminent threat to his future psychological development.”  Id. at 594. Denying Children the Right to Develop Spiritually In Conditions of Freedom and Dignity  The Good News Club uses strong imperative language, in addition to repeated shaming and threats of Hell, to coerce children into conversion.  For example, the lesson books in CEF’s 2006-2011 Good News Club curriculum use the words “you must” over 150 times in reference to becoming saved:  •	“You must admit that you have sinned.” •	“You must agree with God that what you’ve done is sin—it is hateful in His sight.” •	“You must believe ....” •	“You must choose to let Him be your Savior.” •	“You must come to God His way....” •	“You must believe that the Lord Jesus died on the cross for you...”
Disclaimers Next Page Previous Page Share
Child Evangelism Fellowship Wants Children to Abhor Themselves “It is not Biblical to present ‘self’ as something you esteem....  The apostle Paul wrote in Romans 7:18: ‘I know that in me (that is, in my flesh) dwelleth no good thing.’  Job said: ‘I abhor myself and repent in dust and ashes.’” CEF Europe Director Roy Harrison, “Psychological Humanism versus Biblical Evangelism.”
 © Intrinsic Dignity
Disclaimers Next Page Previous Page
The Good News Club: Endangering Children The Good News Club: Endangering Children Recovery Resources What You Can Do Contact Childhood Religious Trauma Documentaries Home page The Dark Gospel of the Wordless Book A review of Good News Club's lesson materials Milieu control History, growth, and mainstreaming of Child Evangelism Fellowship CEF's public school emphasis A review of equal access, child abuse statutes, facility use policies, and civil remedies