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Portland parents fight Christian ‘extremist’ club trying to ‘harvest’ kids at public parks

Posted by on Jul. 22, 2014 at 4:20 PM
  • 19 Replies

Portland parents fight Christian ‘extremist’ club trying to ‘harvest’ kids at public parks

Tuesday, July 22, 2014 10:36 EDT

Young boy praying against a white background on Shutterstock

An evangelical group has launched a campaign to convert children to Christianity at public spaces and schools in Oregon.

Parents concerned about the group’s intentions have launched their own campaign to warn about the Child Evangelism Fellowship’s Good News Club and its tactics, reported the Associated Press.

“They pretend to be a mainstream Christian Bible study when in fact they’re a very old school fundamentalist sect,” said Kaye Schmitt, an organizer with Protect Portland Children, which has taken out a full-page ad about the campaign in a local alternative weekly.

The group’s website claims most people become Christians between ages 4 and 14 years old, so they target children with the message that all people are sinful and that only Christian faith will save them from hell.

“The most spiritually productive harvest field anywhere is among the children,” the group says on its website.

But a spokesman for the religious group said it hoped only to reach young people at parks, apartment pools, and other gathering spots to educate them about Christianity.

“Children are easy to manipulate, we all know that,” said Moises Esteves, the group’s vice president. “We don’t use any of the schemes and high-pressure tactics that we’re accused of. Nothing could be further from the truth.”

Gallup polls in 2008 and 2012 consistently indicated Oregon was one of the least religious states in the nation, and other polls show Americans born after the early 1980s are the least religious generation in U.S. history.

The Child Evangelism Fellowship (CEF) won a 2001 U.S. Supreme Court case that decided they could hold chapter meetings on school grounds, and a critical book argues the group uses public spaces to lead children to believe their fundamentalist views are endorsed by authority figures.

The fundamentalist group is associated with creationist Ken Ham, head of the Answers in Genesis ministry, who claims their mission is part of a spiritual battle dating back to the temptation in the biblical Garden of Eden.

“If all life arose by natural processes, and there was no God, why would people even care what others were taught?” Ham said. “After all, for the secularists, when they die they will cease to exist—and in their belief system, they won’t know they even existed—so why should they care what is taught to children?”

Journalist Katherine Stewart first heard of the group when it came to her children’s public school in Santa Barbara, California.

“I started to hear about how kids attending the clubs were targeting their peers for what I can only describe as faith-based bullying and bigotry,” said Stewart, the author of The Good News Club: The Christian Right’s Stealth Assault on America’s Children.

“The kids attending the clubs would say they knew the religion of the Good News Club ‘must be true’ because they learned it in school,” she added. “As one little 6-year-old girl said to her classmate, ‘They don’t teach things in school that aren’t true.’”

Stewart said the CEF, like many Christian fundamentalists, ultimately hopes to eliminate public education and replace those schools with church-run schools.

The group obtains permission slips to speak with children in schools, but members would not be required to do so in public spaces.

“We do teach that children are sinners, but we’re not nasty about it,” Esteves said. “If we were nasty about it, the kids wouldn’t come back.”

The CEF laid out a tarp Monday at a Portland park, where two volunteers led about a dozen children through Bible verses and Christian songs.

“My heart was dark with sin,” the children sang, “until the savior came in.”

However, one parent who described herself as a Christian said a few hours with the group turned her away from their message.

Mia Marceau, of Vancouver, Washington, said the volunteers told her 8-year-old son and his friends that they were headed to hell and must convert their friends to Christianity and raise money for the CEF.

“I raised a free thinker,” Marceau said. “He didn’t buy in. All of a sudden, he’s having arguments with his friends over salvation.”

by on Jul. 22, 2014 at 4:20 PM
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by on Jul. 22, 2014 at 4:31 PM


by AllieCat on Jul. 22, 2014 at 5:23 PM

I don't doubt this is happening.

It is all in the eye of the beholder.  Of course those trying to save the children think they are doing no harm, they are...after all, speaking for and about God.  No harm there.

This whole bit about children sinning and if they do not find God and salvation they will burn in hell is scary to children.  Of course that is the point.  Scare them and they will come.

by on Jul. 22, 2014 at 5:31 PM

I guess the CEF must not have gotten many kids enrolled in their Portland school-linked programs, if they are now trolling parks and pools.   

by VanellopeVonSchweetz on Jul. 22, 2014 at 5:37 PM
1 mom liked this

Telling a child they will suffer eternal flames and damnation - what a bunch of sick crackpots. What parent would allow their child near such people, I surly wouldn't.

by Ruby Member on Jul. 22, 2014 at 9:07 PM

I don't know if they still do it but around here the kids used to bring flyers home after school. The front of the flyer advertised an after-school club held in the cafeteria where children would enjoy things normally done in a fun club type setting (They listed things the kids would be doing but I forget what was listed). Kids wanted to go because they thought it was just a fun thing, like day camp or something. If you didn't turn the flyer over and read the much smaller print on the back, you wouldn't think it was a religious group at all.

by Platinum Member on Jul. 22, 2014 at 9:44 PM
Interesting. One of our favorite neighbors in the neighborhood we just moved from hosted a Good News Club in her home. She was such a great neighbor, but doggone it if my kids just always happened to have other obligations on Thursday nights. After reading this I'm even more glad they never made it there.
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by on Jul. 22, 2014 at 9:46 PM

 Okay.  It is free speech in a public place.  Parents don't have to let their kids participate.

by KK on Jul. 22, 2014 at 9:49 PM
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The group has every right to be there and parents have ever right and obligation to pay attention to their children in these public settings.   

by Ruby Member on Jul. 22, 2014 at 10:06 PM

There's a group like that that comes around to the park behind our building in the afternoons during summer. They tell the local parents they're just there to help look after the kids while the parents work. They hand out lunches and snacks and do crafts, so they got everyone to love them. Then parents found out they were handing out those chikt tracts things *not sure how that's spelled* filled with little comics on how everything's evil and everyone's going to hell etc.

by Pepperlynn on Jul. 23, 2014 at 12:38 AM

How is this possible?
You have a group of strange adults wandering around playgrounds trying to convince children to come join their group with promises of, what, happiness? presents? good times that you can't tell mommy or daddy about because they'll never believe you?

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