By JOHN FORTMEYER
PORTLAND — About a year and a half ago, Child Evangelism Fellowship, a national ministry, focused special energies on expanding its presence in the Rose City and vicinity. Despite what was described as unprecedented opposition, those efforts succeeded in sparking substantial new growth locally for the ministry.
But that hasn’t deterred opponents of the outreach, who recently sought not only locally, but on a statewide level, to prevent the expansion of CEF’s Good News Clubs that meet on public school campuses. Formerly identified as Protect Portland Children, but now opearating as Protect Oregon Children, Inc. (POC), they sent a letter to principals of grade schools throughout Oregon, alleging deceptive practices by the ministry.
“The mission of Good News Clubs is to convert children ages 4-14 to fundamentalist Christianity,” the letter states. “However, club flyers and permission slips invariably fail to mention this mission, instead marketing the clubs as non-denominational character-building programs offering Bible stories, games and free after-school childcare.”
The letter went on to claim that the clubs are also criticized natioally “for shame- and fear-based conversion techniques that can harm vulnerable children, for introducing religious proselytizing into public schools, for using children to evangelize their classmates — which can lead to bullying and other conflicts — and for working to undermine public education and the constutionally mandated separation of church and state.”
The letter stated that a new website — protectoregonchildren.com — could help parents and school administrators “understand what Good News Clubs actually teach and the potential consequences for children who attend.”
In response, John Luck, a Virginia resident who has been a national coordinator for Missouri-based CEF since 2008, sent out close to 1,000 letters to Oregon principals to counter the opposition’s claims.
“Protect Oregon Children deliberately distorts the truth about Good News Clubs, “Luck wrote. “The truth is that last year over 69,000 Good News Clubs took place around the world, and over 6,000 of them took place in elementary schools just like yours,” Luck wrote. “If you are one of the principals who host a Good News Club, we believe you would agree that (it) is a positive addition to your after-school programs. Survey responses from host principals show that they understand and observe what is happening in their schools, contrary to the claims of POC.”
Luck also emphasized that the U.S. Supreme Court has ruled that Good News Clubs do not violate the separation of church and state. He noted that the clubs always require a permission slip from parent or guardian, and that those slips clearly indicate that the clubs are not part of the school curriculum or sponsored by the school.
“Children and parents can expect that we will teach about God, the Bible and good character,” he wrote.
Luck said the 2014 campaign saw the clubs expand in several Oregon school districts, including Portland, Hillsboro, North Clackamas, Wilsonville and Parkrose. Discussions about clubs in Tigard-Tualatin and Beaverton are also underway.
Globally, CEF is seeing huge growth — a 27 percent increase to about 19.9 million children involved in its programs and 69,000 Good News Clubs held. “We are just absolutely thrilled,” said Luck.
Luck said he believes Protect Oregon’s Children epresents “a very small sliver” of the state’s population and that its mailings did little to sway the school principals.
“They seem to be some people who are very zealous in their non-God, humanistic, atheist philosophy and who are doing a lot of noise, but don’t seem to be gaining a whole lot of ground,” Luck said.
For more on the program, go to www.cefonline.com/good-news-clubs