Katherine Stewart's The Good News Club: The Christian Right's Stealth Assault on America's Children

I just wrote a quick review of Katherine Stewart's new book. I highly, highly recommend this to anyone worried about how public-school education, church-and-state separation, and what that means for children.

Stewart concludes her book with a point, that we are more inclined to watch out for political and religious groups with special agendas "when they run for office," but not so much when they visit our communities. Unfortunately part of the problem is that groups like Good News Clubs introduce themselves under false pretenses (as "non-denominational bible-study groups") and have the legal and financial support system to undermine the separation of church and state--a necessary separation, Stewart states, for the betterment of sectarian and secular balance. 

This is a well-organized text set up much like a thesis: key points summarized in an introduction, defined with quotable references in each chapter, an ending paragraph to wrap up her examples, and copious end notes. It is unfortunate that a book with so much careful consideration and heart has so many typos, though. 

As the book starts, Stewart paints a very bleak picture of how pervasive Christian Nationalists, Dominionists, and Evangelical conservatives can be with their goals to develop their narrow-minded courses, events, and clubs on public property. Now I say "narrow-minded" because the goal is not just to present the Bible and Christian principles to young students, but to proselytize to them, convert them to a very strict, "Bible-believing" version of Christianity, promote student-to-student proselytizing in their stead, and demand that their way should be the only way to salvation. The students they're out to reach are not just in high school, though; the target demographic is students from four to fourteen (Google the "4/14 window"). Those converted children are also given incentives to reach out to their parents and other children, causing difficulties in the home and rifts between families who support or condemn the GNC's practices. If these clubs are denied further business in schools, the hurt and mistrust between families is what remains, along with a fatigued educational staff and financial resources wasted on legal battles. 

This bleak picture is fleshed out, chapter to chapter, in such detail and with such damning evidence (cited resources from texts and interviews) that the introductory paragraph is validated. This is horribly scary news. 

While Stewart's journalistic scrutiny adds a sense of integrity, her personal experiences with CEF (Child Evangelism Fellowship) staff, evangelical-education conventions, and Good News Club educators provides a sincere point of view. She interviews GNC instructors that also have personal stakes on their volunteering: one mother is worried that her gay son will lose himself in a life of sin and another mother is enraged that her grandchildren are growing up without believing in the devil. She mingles with them in an effort to provide a human face to this machine and let the boots on the ground speak for themselves, not provide gotcha moments. While legal organizations and religious leaders work to infiltrate positions in public education and help bend the definitions of church-and-state separation, Stewart's interviewees are sweet and vibrant people with sincere devotion in what they think is best for their communities, however misguided their perspectives on public education and its role may be. She even acknowledges these folks after her conclusion. 

This book is written from the perspective of a concerned mother. It all began as a news article about a GNC opening up in her own community, and, as her research continued, so did her story. If you are concerned about your child's education and want them to gain a public education free of coercion and deceit, give this book a try. If a GNC comes to your child's school be very cautious; this book will show you what to expect.

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