The Dark Side of the Good News Club

If you’re unaware of what the “Good News Club” teaches children, and you haven’t read Katherine Stewart‘s eye-opening book The Good News Club: The Christian Right’s Stealth Assault on America’s Children, then sit down for 20 minutes and watch this video by IntrinsicDignity (on fullscreen mode):

I said 20 minutes because you need the last 3:30 to just sit and stare with your mouth wide open.

(via Shades of Grey)

About Hemant Mehta

Hemant Mehta is the editor of Friendly Atheist, appears on the Atheist Voice channel on YouTube, and co-hosts the uniquely-named Friendly Atheist Podcast. You can read much more about him here.

  • Rose Jansen

    I remember doing a “Good News Club” when I was 12 yo during the summer one year. We didn’t go to the public schools then, at least not my church. Instead we went out to a poor neighborhood because you know those poor children have just never heard the good news! I remember thinking, even at 12 yo and always surrounded by religion and not knowing anything different, that going into peoples neighborhoods, uninvited, just did not seem right. 

    In spite of this video’s gloomy music, look at the children’s faces in the videos at the beginning. Those kids are happy. And they really are because the truth is, the people that are actually out doing these “clubs” truly think they are helping these children because they have just never heard the “good news.” And all these children know is that these people say they love them and that god loves them and that’s a good thing, right? So what are WE going to do to help these poor children in place of this false love? These are the kinds of things that the secular movement needs to be putting into place. Think Camp Quest. But we have to figure out how to do these things for FREE. That means we have to figure out how to make the secular movement financially sustainable. How do we do that?

  • C Peterson

    For a supposedly Christian organization, these folks are awfully obsessed with the Old Testament- and the grimmest, least child-appropriate parts of it.

    The reality is, stories about this sort of child abuse need to be presented prominently in broad public forums- places like 60 Minutes and the New York Times. In ordinary television shows. And I just don’t see that happening, given the fear amongst corporations of the religious right (not unreasonable, given the number of Dominionists in powerful places).  Because until these people are seen as dangerous and crazy by popular culture, not just by the well informed, the situation is only going to get worse.

  • Silo Mowbray

    This. This is exactly why indoctrinating children in religious thinking should be a crime. And we wonder why so many of us grow up to be completely dysfunctional as adults.

    Religion is a tool used by those who covet power and control over all others. ALL others.

  • mitchell knox

    This is very disturbing.

  • Rich Wilson

    Also please see

    The video is great, but personally, I prefer reading text that doesn’t move. 

    I’m torn as to the best place to direct my energies, but this is certainly a big contender.

  • IntrinsicDignity

    They are happy, and there is lot’s of fun, and they like being with friends.  I was too, when I attended a Good News Club in a neighborhood home in the early 1980s for two summers.

    But I also felt uneasy and uncomfortable every time the teacher got to the “Dark Heart” part of the message, which was included in every lesson.  I also developed quite a terrible fear of God when I heard lessons on the slaughter of the Amalekites, God turning Lot’s wife into a pillar of salt for the slight offense of looking back on Sodom, God slaying Uzzah for keeping the ark of the covenant from falling off an oxen cart, God burning Aaron’s two sons alive for offering false incense, God sending two bears to rip 42 kids to shreds for taunting Elisha, and other GNC favorites.

    So don’t get too carried away by the smiles you see during the songs and games.  There’s a much dark side, and children remember those parts long after the songs and games are over.

  • A Reader

    Watching this for me was very personal. I didn’t expect it to be; in the beginning, I was almost bored. Sure, the things this group was saying weren’t right, but, having been raised Christian, I’d grown so acclimated to this style of teaching–hell, sin, death–that I barely recognized its harmfulness–until the “shame” section. This really connected with me, because for as long as I can remember, I’ve had deep self-esteem issues, depression, anxiety disorder(s)–you name it. If I could have back every second that I’ve thought I wasn’t good enough, that I was bad and ugly and unworthy of any love…even that couldn’t make up for all those painful memories, those feelings of worthlessness. I don’t know if this particular series was ever used on me as a child, but whatever was used had a very similar message. I’m sure that what I grew up hearing every Sunday didn’t completely cause my myriad of issues, but I have no doubt that it contributed.

    For anyone reading this, Christian or not, please remember to treat kids with love. A four-year-old’s feelings are no less real than those of someone ten times her age. She feels, thinks, reasons and remembers just as you do. Whatever beliefs you wish to convey to your children, please share them with love.

  • TheAnalogKid

    Evil motherfuckers.

  • Joseph

    This makes me feel physically ill. Fortunately, they aren’t active in my part of the state, but freethinkers and atheists need to mobilize not to counter this, but to put into place a  program of critical thinking and respect for science. They’re right– kids are vulnerable to persuasive ideas. Let’s make sure they’re getting the ideas of tolerance and critical thought.

  • Annie

    Thanks for sharing.  Your advice at the end was universal and important for everyone to hear, even those who already know it. 

  • IntrinsicDignity

    According to the late Dr. Alice Miller, author of “For Your Own Good” and other books exposing the psychological and physical abuse of children, that’s how it often works.

    A young child doesn’t question these kinds of things, and learns to voice agreement with them (i.e., learns to defend their abuser), while self-protectively suppressing the reality of their own abuse.  A sort of a intellectual and emotional disconnect occurs. 

    But messages like this still plant a sense of alienation, worthlessness, and shame that can emerge later in life, for reasons the child doesn’t even understand.

    I was affected in similar ways.  I became a perfectionist, straight-A over-achiever, but felt worthless.  I internalized the message of “you deserve death,” and a sense of being loved only for my proper behavior and belief.  That led to a pre-teen suicide attempt, and later, to frequent struggles with depression. 

    It is my own experience that drives me to, today, to expose the Good News Club in hopes of protecting at least some children from what I experienced.

  • Annie

    Ugh.  They are in several area schools in my city (though only the ones on the outskirts, near rural areas).  They also have a summer camp in my county.  I had trouble following the video, only because the moving multi-colored text is not easy on aging eyes, but followed enough to see that it’s heartbreaking to know that children are subjected to this.  My daughter volunteered to go undercover, but I would never let her attend such an event (plus, I think she is too old… they target elementary aged children, and as one person in the video said, “when they are young and tender”). 

  • Katherine Lorraine

    This makes me sick to my stomach. This is child abuse, it’s church-sanctioned child abuse. They’re using emotional and psychological abuse to turn these kids into little Christian drones.

  • Joy1510

    I have been active in the Good News Club for several years.  This is an after school program not sponsored by the school.  All children who participate must bring a signed permission from his/her parent in order to attend the after school club.  It is advertised as a Bible club. Parents know the content and are welcome to accompany their children.  The parents who send their children to the club want their kids in the club and the kids love it.  This is not in any way stealth.  The Gospel presented is the same Good News of forgiveness and life in Jesus Christ that Christians have joyfully proclaimed for 2000 years.

  • Slytle8

    I attended Good News Club  when I was 12 in 1978 because my mother made me.  It was in a neighbor’s basement.  I had forgotten about the black heart, the confusing stories from the old testament and all that until I watched the video.  It was like being on a therapist’s couch.  I have not forgotten about feeling like I was inferior for not understanding it like all the other kids that got the right answers and then went out to play.  Self Loathing has lasted into my 40s.  I have not forgotten about feeling afraid that I was going to die and burn in hell because I didn’t pass to the next level at the club.  I’m not afraid of dying anymore no matter what happens but it took a few decades to get here.   This stuff is too much for a 12 year old to deal with.  Thank God for the internet.  But there are parents in small towns and suburbs everywhere that will still force their kids into these meetings.  

  • Liz

    This isn’t fair at all. 
    I am a Volunteer youth teacher at CEF.
    I’ve been involved for 8 yrs. 
    CEF is nothing “Evil”. CEF is one of the reasons that thousands of children are saved and will be in heaven some day. 

  • Anna

    I think it’s disgusting and immoral to target other people’s children for religious conversion. No doubt you believe you are doing the right thing, but that doesn’t make it any better.

  • Rich Wilson

    The Bible is God’s test, but God intends us to be critical thinkers.  The trick is John 20:29

    Because you have seen me, you have believed; blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed.

     The trick is, that it’s not true.  It’s God’s test.  People who accept crazy ideas on blind faith are not, in fact, saved.

    It is those who think critically and demand evidence who will be in Heaven.

    Don’t worry.  You won’t go to Hell.  You’ll just be subjected to Remedial Thinking 101.

  • Liz

    I guess the way you just spoke to a 13 yr old is kind and not demeaning? I am thankful I am not taking your 101 class or not in your school.

  • Rich Wilson

    No, telling kids there’s a hell, when there clearly isn’t, is demeaning and unkind.

    Get used to people not buying your bullshit.  Just because you were fed it, and just because you feed it, doesn’t mean everyone is so gullible.  And even if you had mentioned your age, I would not have presented things any differently.  If you’re old enough to comment on a blog with a bunch of ‘adults’ then you’re old enough for an adult response.  Welcome to the real world.

  • Liz

    Wow…I will pray for you Mr.Wilson.

  • Annie

     But Mr. Wilson shouldn’t have to think for you.  You are here for one of two reasons:  1) you are trolling, or 2) you are curious.  I hope you are here because you are curious.  I also hope you will read with an open mind.  Who knows?  You just might learn something.  At least that’s why I come here.

  • Rich Wilson

    As you wish.

    But while you do, you won’t only be thinking of saving me from the fires of Hell.  You’ll be thinking about all the children throughout history who have lived and died never having heard The Good Word.  And you will wonder exactly how it is that those children, born into sin like the rest of us, deserve Hell.  And you’ll be mulling the explanations you’ve been given to this question.  Purgatory?  Jesus meets them at the moment of their death and they have a last chance?

  • DDFelkel

    Sorry to disappoint,  but Good News Clubs are not a required class for any child.  It is a club that a child can join only if he or she wants to and then only with their parents permission.  The school is used only for a meeting place, just the same as many other clubs.  There is no dark side to GNC!  Only Christian truths are taught from the Bible.  I have never seen a child leave sad or crying.  They leave encouragedwith smiling faces, knowing how valuable their role is in life and how valuable they are to their creator.    Self esteem is built up and they leave a better equiped to face the future.  So much was left out of your comments…   like how the lessons teach love  and living right.  Lets allow parents to decide what is best for their children and if they choose to allow their children to attend these clubs, so be it. 

  • Rich Wilson

    Then why are these clubs so afraid of meeting anywhere but at a school, right after school lets out?  And why do they encourage the kids to get kids of other faiths to join?  If what you offer is so great, you should not need to press it upon anyone else.  It should be freely offered with no coercion.

  • DDFelkel

    Rich, Do you go to a clothing store to buy bread?  I don’t!  Good News Clubs meet where there are children because it is a childrens ministry, just as other child based organizations and clubs do.  I’m afraid you are very mis-informed.  I have personally taught for 3 years now and have never once encouraged the children to “get kids of other faith to join”  nor have I ever been instructed to do so.  Our clubs are open to every one,  no matter the race or religion.  The only condition is you have parents permission.  Parents are encouraged and welcome to come to club with their children so they can witness first hand what is being taught.  

  • Rich Wilson

    Do you only ever buy bread in one bakery?  Never the grocery store?  Or a corner store?

    There are kids at lots of places besides school.  Libraries, parks, churches.

  • Red Murray

    Shame on you. Get out of the public schools and stop targeting OTHER PEOPLE’S CHILDREN with your delusional message of fear of an afterlife. It’s OK by me if you stay at home and talk to all of the ghosts that you adore, but keep your vile preferences away from OTHER PEOPLE’S CHILDREN. How dare you! Your stinking religions can’t fill churches any more so you are hunting for captive audiences of innocents. Be on notice that you hunters are about to become the hunted. Quite serious, I am.

  • Newyorkgoon

    if the parents of these children are giving their kids the permission to attend the good news club, this means that they are allowing their children to hear the gospel of Jesus.  no one is forcing children to come or listen, so if the children are willing to come and the parents are willing to send them, then there is nothing ever wrong with sharing your faith.  in america we have freedom of religion and freedom of speech.  you can exercise those same rights to advocate what you believe. 

  • nay

    where are you getting your knowledge from?  the bible is not a test.  the bible is our guideline to life.  Jesus was simple not complicated.  there is no deeper meaning to this text that we need evidence to find and if there is, that evidence should come from the bible.  and there is nowhere in the bible that every says that if you have faith you will not be saved in fact it is the exact opposite.  Jesus will take the faith of a mustard seed is all you need.  people who think critically and demand evidence thats how one is saved? NO, if you want to quote the bible, then you must have skipped the part that says if you believe that the Lord died on the christ , was buried in a cave and rose on the third day that you shall be saved.  your faith is all that saves you my friend & i pray God works in your heart to learn the truth of the gospel, so that YOU wont go to Hell..

  • Rich Wilson

    where are you getting your knowledge from?

    From God.  He told me.

  • nay

    where do you think  you go when you die mr. wilson? the truth is not always rainbows and sunshine.  the bible tells of hell and it is a  REAL place.  When Jesus rose again from the dead, he went up to Heaven and that is where he waits for all who believe in him.  Just because Hell seems like a terrible thing to talk about because it is a terrible place does not mean we should not speak of it.  it is Real therefore kids need to know that if you do not believe in Jesus and dont call on him to come into your heart that yes there is a place that exists that you will go and suffer forever.  but that’s where the good news comes in because that does not have to be your fate in fact you could TODAY believe in Jesus and what he did for you & you can live forever with him in Heaven.  and that IS good news:)
    The truth.

  • nay

    I KNOW !  i know because the bible tells me so.  and if there is nothing to loose and us christians end up being right and your wrong, what happens then? then you will burn forever in the pits of Hell.  so what is there to loose by believing in the One true Savior of this world.  Jesus still loves you both even though you dont have sense enough to believe in him.  &  NO we are not put on this earth because “we are curious” ! we are put on this earth to 1) believe that Jesus has died on the cross and rose again to pay the punishment for our sins and 2) to witness to others and buildup the Lords kingdom.  that is ONLY purpose of life.  YOU too should keep an open mind and realize that your thinking might be wrong! pray about it.  he will forgive you and save you :)

  • nay

    I understand where you are coming from with those questions but Jesus knows everyones hearts.  you are not punished for what you dont know.  but if those children had just the smallest of small opportunity to hear the word or if they were exposed to it in any way, they had the chance to accept him.  if  they did not that is how they will be judged.  purgatory does not exist.  based on your works for Jesus on earth and if you believed in him, determines your eternal resting place.  there is no last chance, your last chance is here and now before your death comes to accept Jesus TODAY this moment here and now ! and if not , there is nomore chances after death.

  • Rich Wilson

    The Bible is fiction.  God told me so.

  • Kap716

    allyou people stop i think kids should go to good newz club plus im a teacher for one and im 9 i help my kids so they go to heven some day and i dont care if cef or anybody belevies me

  • Kap716

    ana i think good news club is goood an di come on here evrey day lokking for anther comenet so liz is a good person it is not bad to teach the goood news

  • Kap716

    This club is for eople who choose to send their children. They offer many other clubs so children are not forced to go. My children are taught many things in the public school and as parents when they come home we review that. We mention religion and it’s the end of the world. Yet we can enforce other beleif’s on our children in the name of education. Don’t use valuable time on people who have the right not to beleive pray for them. They will alway’s find fault. My daughter was so upset to see this blog we were lookig up things and came across this and she wanted to share her thoughts. so please refrain nasty comments for Kap716.

  • Rich Wilson

    My daughter was so upset to see this blog

    Was this blog more upsetting than being told you will go to hell if you don’t obey God, even if God orders you to kill newborn babies?

  • Canopus58

    Yes, i understand… you are just following orders, yes?

  • Monty_p

     Sure, their parents give them permission, but nowhere on the flyer that they send home does it say anything about this being a Fundamentalist group. This is not a group for Catholics, for Episcopalians, for anyone who’s not Fundamentalists. Parents see “Christian” and figure “oh, well we’re Christian, so that’s us!” not realizing that CEF has a Fundamentalist agenda.