After School Christian Clubs

The Wall Street Journal weekend edition reported that after-school Bible study clubs are soaring after two recent court rulings allowed them to take place. The total number of after school Good News clubs is up to about 2,500 nationally since 2001, when the first ruling took place. Many of the clubs are founded by evangelist Pat Robertson.

Parents have to give permission for their children to attend such clubs. I’m unsure whether I would give my kids permission or not.

For the legally minded, in “Good News Club v. Milford Central School,” the U.S. Supreme Court decided in 2001 that religious groups are entitled to meet in elementary-school buildings. It was unclear whether teachers could lead those classes. Then, in 2004, an appeals court said school teachers could lead after-school Bible study groups. The WSJ article profiles some teachers who teach school during the day and lead once-a-week Bible Study classes after school. Most of them are conservative evangelicals.

Such a club is not currently available at my kids’ Florida elementary school. But if it were, and my kids wanted to go, I would have a dilemma. On the one hand, my kids’ knowledge of the Bible is stronger than most of their peers, and I have no qualms about an evangelical filling their heads with anti-Mormon nonsense. We have scripture reading at my home nearly every night, and their knowledge of the scriptures is very, very deep, and if anything they might spend some time correcting the teacher regarding some of his or her misinterpretations. So, attending such a club could do no harm.

On the other, I don’t want them to be exposed to what would inevitably end up being anti-Mormon nonsense once the teacher found out they were the children of Mormons.

I guess I would have to decide based on my impressions of the teacher and the curriculum. Over the years, some non-Mormon classes they have attended in various places have been quite good and educational. Others have been ridiculous (at Catholic school in Brazil they were taught to chant “God is a Spirit, He doesn’t have a body” over and over again).

All in all, I think it’s great for society that the Supreme Court has found its way to provide some religious instruction on school property. I’m just not sure it’s great for my family in particular. But remember it’s all voluntary, so my kids won’t be exposed to anything I don’t want them to see and hear. I wish I could say that for all things taught in public schools.

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About Geoff B.

Geoff B graduated from Stanford University (class of 1985) and worked in journalism for several years until about 1992, when he took up his second career in telecommunications sales. He has held many callings in the Church, but his favorite calling is father and husband. Geoff is active in martial arts and loves hiking and skiing. Geoff has five children and lives in Colorado.

28 thoughts on “After School Christian Clubs

  1. When I was 7 in grade school in Minnesota I attended a Evangelical rally at our school after hours. Like 3:30 or so in the afternoon. YES THIS HAPPENED IN MINNESOTA! Probably half the student body attended in the gym. If I remember right it was called Glee Club.

    A female preacher exhorted us to repeat that Jesus is Lord and if we did we would be put in the book of life and be saved. I was unimpressed by the doctrine since I had been schooled differently all my life and was getting ready to be baptized.

    I came home and told my Mom that the preacher was weird and had not read her bible cause she did not know that you needed to be baptized and that there was no way you just said Jesus is Lord and went to heaven. My parents kind of snickered about this and I never went again.

    I doubt that my YM would be interested in the Christian club at our school here in TX unless there was a cute girl or 2 inviting them. As a parent I would probably let them go and then explain why the dcotrine seems to foreign to their LDS ears.

    On my mission in heavily Protestant South Africa the LDS kids would get harrassed quite a bit in the required classes on Christianity in the public schools.

  2. I had a brilliant post, but it got eaten by our firewall.

    Anyway, I wouldn’t encourage my children to do it, for the same reason I didn’t participate in FCA (Fellowship of Christian Athletes) as a high school athlete (and Mormon) — opportunity cost and little benefits.

    I was in early morning seminary, had music lessons after school, ran track and cross country (that is year-round up north), had other academic and civic activities, Scouts/Mutual, paper route, family activities, etc. FCA and Young Life (not sure exactly what it was, but it was a Christian get-together) weren’t really anti-Mormon, but it had little payoff.

    I can’t imagine that my children will get any significant benefit given their current activity base, and they’d have to give up something to do it.

  3. I don’t think I’d give permission for my child to attend a “Good News” club simply because I have no respect for Pat Robertson. On the other hand, I live in Canada and it seems that the Baptists up here don’t have the rabid paranoia and hatred for Mormons that their Southern brethren do, so I wouldn’t be particularly worried on that score.

  4. I wouldn’t have my kids attend. If it is run by an evangelical group, it will invariably go beyond simple Bible study, and get into doctrines you wouldn’t want your kids heads filled with.

    I went to a Episcopalean high school, and we studied the LDS church as a cult one semester. It was a joke, and filled with incorrect information, but enough to really cause problems for some kids.

    This is why I am TOTALLY against prayer in school, and bringing religions into schools. It sounds wonderful if you live in Utah, but for most of us the doctrines being taught and espoused wouldn’t be the ones I would want my kids being taught.

  5. We only have one child left at home, who is a junior in high school. I wouldn’t have any problem giving him permission to attend if that is what he wanted.

    I belonged to a Bible study group of law clerks at a U.S. Court of Appeals about 26 years ago. Our membership included evangelicals, main stream protestants and catholics, agnostics, and an atheist former teacher of comparative religions. Widely different perspectives (including my own LDS perspective) were welcomed in the study group, which I found to be quite interesting and to enhance my own faith and understanding.

  6. Re #4 – I’ve been torched on the ‘nacle in the past for saying that I’m OK with the SCOTUS case from Santa Fe, Texas, that wanted to ban prayer at HS football games. In this case, Santa Fe, TX is a stridently anti-Mormon, anti-Catholic school district. The plaintiffs in the anti-prayer case were active Mormon and active Catholic families.

    What works for us in Utah also can be used against us in other contexts. I’m perhaps not as stridently anti-religion-in-the-schools as you are, *but* I don’t have a problem allowing them to meet after school in a non-scholastic activity function (i.e., after-school bible study is OK, prayer at a football game is out).

    If I lived in Utah, I would not permit my children to attend release-time seminary for similar reasons as I outlined in #2 — there’s too much ‘cost’ involved. If I lived in Utah, they’d have to attend if before-hours. I’m not going to sacrifice a Spanish class just so that they can attend seminary during the day. And no, I’m not going to sacrifice Seminary either — they can do it before school. [This is a separate topic, but I have a real problem with the whole concept of release-topic seminary taught by paid teachers.]

  7. Just wondering aloud … So if Bible study clubs are OK, then why are GLSA clubs “not” OK? [rhetorical question]

  8. DavidH, (#5), I like your style. Has anybody considered the fact that where two or more people are discussing the Savior, his Light is there? Could it be that LDS students could maybe bring some of their classmates to His Church? I’ve offered to start private Bible study groups with co-workers for years now, and evangelicals usually don’t want to because they seem afraid that they might face new things with which they are uncomfortable. If I’m not uncomfortable with it, why are they?

  9. If I lived in Utah, I would not permit my children to attend release-time seminary for similar reasons as I outlined in #2 — there’s too much ‘cost’ involved. If I lived in Utah, they’d have to attend if before-hours. I’m not going to sacrifice a Spanish class just so that they can attend seminary during the day. And no, I’m not going to sacrifice Seminary either — they can do it before school. [This is a separate topic, but I have a real problem with the whole concept of release-topic seminary taught by paid teachers.]

    I loved release time for seminary as a student, but hate it as a college student/parent. My wife attended morning seminary, and as a result graduated from high school with more college credits than most of her peers. I loved it while I was a student because it was a break from school. We could go sleep, good off, or watch church films instead of studying Geometry. Now I look back and realize what a waste of time it was, i got more out of FHE and family scripture reading. I should have been taking courses for college credit, or more AP classes. I’ll strongly discourage my children from participating in seminary, or any other religious class during school. they can find an early morning class if they’re that interested.

  10. I had release time in Utah.

    I never resented the time I missed in college. Probably because I’m equally unimpressed the approach to schooling that obsesses over stats like GPA, college credits and standardized test scores.

    Life is too short to live like that.

  11. My children attended release-time seminary in Idaho. There was no early morning seminary offered, but there were “zero hour” classes offered at the high school instead. If a student wanted to take a foreign language, a music class and seminary, s/he had to take music or science during zero hour, which started at 7am. 1st period started at 8.

    In my mind, it was no different than early morning seminary, and it worked fine for all three of my children.

  12. Let’s drop the release-time seminary sidebar and get back to the christianist clubs…

    Aside from our Church’s stance on homosexuality, is there is any reason why we should permit christianist clubs and yet reject gay/lesbian alliance clubs?

  13. The Christian Legal Society group at my law school was pretty chilly towards us Mormons. Since then, I’ve had the CLS sign on to an amicus brief in support of RLUIPA that I helped draft. They thanked me on their website, so I’ve let bygones be bygones. I’m a real mensch like that.

  14. Speaking as someone who lives in “the mission field,” I’m all for any opportunity to let our family be the leaven in the loaf. But I also agree with other posters that it’s hard to let our own kids be the fall guys for the cultural/doctrinal misunderstandings that happen when kids–who can’t always fully articulate what they believe and why–encounter the religious “other” in their midst. I guess it’s the same question, for me, why we don’t go out of our way to join Bible small groups, or for that matter, national ecumenical organizations. Our ward sends a rep to the local council of churches, but I would be astounded if our church joined the National Council of Churches (well, actually, so would the National Council of Churches be astounded if we tried to join…). For me it would come down to the dynamics of the local group, but I think if this were available in my area & at my kids’ public school I would at least try to make sure that my kids were welcome if they wanted to attend. I too grew up in an area with Young Life as a popular HS club, and no one ever invited me… actually I would have liked to go. But did I reciprocate with invitations to my Protestant friends to attend Mutual? Wouldn’t have dreamed of it. Rather sad I think.

  15. Does anyone other than Andrew Sullivan use the term ‘Christianist’? Any reason why the commenter uses a abusive term for evangelicals and not for gays and lesbians?

    Any reason we should put aside our Church’s stance on homosexuality?

  16. Adam (15),
    I’ve never heard “Christianist” before, so can’t speak to gst’s use of that. But you’re avoiding his question–to the best of my knowledge, the Church has no stance on gay/straight alliance clubs.

    I had a friend in high school who hosted prayer groups every Sunday at his home. He was a nondenominational Christian, and his father was loosely associated with Campus Crusade for Christ (I believe). His prayer group was completely open, though–I had Buddhist friends who would regularly attend, as well as Christians and (as far as I know) others. If my child wanted to participate in something like that, I wouldn’t object, because it was an informal group of friends who got together to worship and discuss religion and other things. On the other hand, I don’t know that I’d encourage my children to go to a formal, organized, school-located club. But I can’t say I’d forbid it.

    And gst, although I’m uninterested in gay/straight alliance clubs, I’m also uninterested in Bible study clubs. That said, I think that it’s the correct answer to allow them both (as well as other non-school supported clubs) equal access to public facilities. Meaning that if you allow either, you allow both, if there’s student interest in pursuing such clubs.

  17. I went to FCA when I was in high school, despite not being much of an athlete, or a proper Christian by evangelical definitions. It was generally a fun social club, and I learned a lot about the Psalms and some of the NT Epistles that we tend to gloss over quickly in our Sunday School and seminary curriculum. And my friends learned that Mormons didn’t sacrifice goats and that the fact that my family had no furniture in the formal living room was due to budgetary, not religious constraints. The meetings the week after the local Baptist youth group screened “The Godmakers” were always a little uncomfortable, but all in all it was a positive experience for me. (Then again, I grew up in a home where we practiced debating tactics at the dinner table and my dad used anti-Mormon literature to teach us critical reading skills, so I may have had a slightly more sophisticated set of skills for dealing with doctrinal controversy than many kids).

    My kids went to a pretty Jesus-y Lutheran preschool for a while, and now they go to a vaguely Christian (in a German proto-hippie sort of way) school. They seem to do ok with sorting out what fits with what we’re teaching them at home and what doesn’t. And I like it that they come home with questions–I think I have more opportunities to teach them because we have so many discussions of religious questions. For me, it comes down to having to finally really believe that the Spirit will testify of truth to them, that the gifts of discernment they were blessed with will serve them well, as will the practice at interacting respectfully with people who believe differently.

  18. gst,
    Sorry–#16 should refer to queno’s question (although, in my defense, my computer has been doing funny things to me . . . does that work as an excuse?)

  19. Kristine (#17), we’ve found yet another thing we can agree on: I think it is important that kids be exposed to non-Mormon perspectives. It seems to me that being able to sort through these questions will in the end strengthen their testimonies rather than destroy them. I have faith that the true Gospel is strong enough to attract them in the end.

  20. I agree with Geoff. We should not be afraid to expose our kids to Non LDS doctrine.

  21. Growing up in New Jersey, attending public schools there(in the 1950’s), we began the day with a verse from Psalms (KJV), and the Lord’s Prayer. That was back in the days when all parents had the same view of morality – and the Catholics and Protestants though there was value in instilling some respect for religion.

  22. …and when civil rights for blacks were non-existent and it was okay to beat your wife and kids and we were routing out the commies from out midst.
    Nostalgia…those where the days!

  23. Queuno, I don’t think there is any more problem with a gay/lesbian club than a fornication club or a pornography club. Maybe its ok for kids to go to a fight club after school, that’ll strengthen their resolve.

    Oh and I throughly enjoyed release-time seminary and I still started college as a Sophmore (yes, if I hadn’t taken seminary during the day I may have 2-3 more AP tests, almost been a junior, BUT I couldn’t go to early morning because I was working till 11pm 4 nights a week).

  24. My mother (who grew up in Salt Lake) was not admonished the way kids are these days that it’s more important to have four years of released-time seminary than to take full advantage of high school. So she forwent a year of seminary toward the end, in her quest to leave Utah for college. (And she was a Presidential Scholar.)

    Getting up at 5:30 (or earlier) for seminary for four years did more harm to my emotional health than any spiritual benefits, even with having Richard Bushman as instructor for two of those years.

  25. re: 24
    Perhaps you inadvertantly attendend the Ignorance Club instead of Seminary during your release-time. That seems to be the case. Comparing gays and lesbians to pornographers is absurd at best, hateful at worst. I pray you don’t wind up with a gay child, for both your sake.

  26. Well, in all fairness, she didn’t say pornographers club. She said pornography club.

    Which seems to indicate she was talking about those who use pornography and not those who push it.

    Not that this clarification is likely to make Mike any happier, but I thought I’d mention it.

  27. The first move:
    Get schools to allow church use on weekends – specifically, Evangelical churches.

    Second move:
    Establish afterschool groups like Good News in schools. Afterall, curches in schools will also need a place for students to meet after school (as we do for scouting, achievement days, mutual, etc.)

    Move number three:
    Churches in schools assert that they have the sole right to a church sponsored afterschool group because they do not have another building to meet in. This lets them shut out other church groups/denominations that do have access to buildings.

    Move number four:
    Grow these groups – bring kids back to the public schools from parochial schools or homeschooling.

    Move number five:
    Influence the curriculum of the school so it reflects the majority population of the students in the PS district. Establish intelligent design as the core of science. Establish a Christian/Am centric view of history. Tack on faith-based statements for students entering the school to sign and abide by. As you can see, no LDS person, Muslim, and other minority group could abide by these new rules without leaving their core beliefs (for us that would be the AoF – which are radically different from Christian statements of faith).

    The problem is that if we vocalize that we want these groups kept out, we are going against the core of the far right Repulican Party – which our church has us go out to vote for on other money and moral building agendas.

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