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Child Evangelism Fellowship: The Christian Group Recruiting Kids in Public Schools

A fundamentalist Christian organization views children as a market for religious recruiting.

It is 1970, a June afternoon in Phoenix, about 105 degrees. My mother pulls into a dusty parking lot where cars and church vans are dropping off little kids with scruffy suitcases and sleeping bags. At $20 a subsidized head, I am surrounded by other kids like me whose parents can’t afford to send them to a real summer camp. We are headed for Camp Good News where the price we will pay for ordinary camp activities is a routine of daily Bible studies and altar calls. In the mornings we will pledge allegiance to the  Christian flag and to "the Savior for whose kingdom it stands.” We will be kept up late watching movies of modern martyrs and missionaries. And, sleep-deprived and far from our parents, we will be subjected to repeated urgings to confess our sins before it’s too late.

As weeping children move forward down the aisle and are led away by counselors who can guide them through the sinner’s prayer, the rest of us will sing.  What can wash away my sin?/Nothing but the blood of Jesus./What can make me whole again?/Nothing but the blood of Jesus.

Child Evangelism Fellowship, the parent organization that ran and owned this camp, is a fundamentalist Christian organization that views children as a market for religious recruiting. With a presence in over 170 countries and the support of 40,000 volunteers in the U.S. and Canada, CEF claims to reach  10 million kids a year. CEF often pursues kids who are vulnerable in some way—impoverished perhaps, with parents who can’t provide the resources or attention they would wish.

My camp-mates in Prescott were drawn primarily from the inner city, and the CEF Web site currently encourages outreach to foster parents and state family service agencies.  But its work in North America has now penetrated middle-class communities in all 50 states, largely through expansion of afterschool programs called  Good News Clubs. Since the 1990s it has been driving to establish Good News Clubs at public elementary schools and encouraging churches to “adopt” local schools. Sunday school, vacation Bible school and summer camps don’t provide sufficient access to the most desired targets of their conversion activities: grade-school children whose parents and religious communities aren’t Christian fundamentalists.  

In 2001, a  Supreme Court decision, Good News Club v. Milford Central School, forced public elementary schools to open their doors to afterschool clubs run by Child Evangelism Fellowship. Alito and the majority accepted the argument that the Good News Clubs weren’t really teaching religion—they were teaching character, in other words morals, from a religious point of view. Last week investigative journalist  Katherine Stewart exposed the fact that those “morals” include biblical  justification of genocide.

In actual fact, Child Evangelism Fellowship is not in the business of teaching morals. It is an evangelical organization with a core belief that no amount of morals will get you into heaven. In its fundamentalist theology, all children are born sinful and slated for eternal torture. Only the divine human sacrifice of Jesus and being “born-again” can save them from this fate. To funders and volunteers, Child Evangelism Fellowship is very clear about mission: “CEF 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, disciple them in the Word of God and establish them in a Bible-believing church for Christian living.” Your child is their mission field.

Since the 2001 court decision forced open the door, CEF has established afterschool clubs on over 3,200 public elementary schools across the country. Its  Web site trumpets the opportunity:  The Gospel has been taught freely in public schools all over the world for some time. Now children in the U.S. have that opportunity, too!   

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