I have a severe allergy to evangelism. Shiver-me-creepies, the very word sends me into spasms of fretful swatting punctuated by explosive shrieks of “Get ’em off me! Get ’em off!” I dislike religions that dole out piety points for saving souls, or make it their mission to convince me that I’ll wind up Satan’s scullery maid without their handy pamphlets.
Imagine my anxiety when I learned that a Christian evangelism group was recruiting young souls in our public schools. Thanks to a 2001 Supreme Court ruling, the Good News Club is allowed to operate after-school Bible study classes on tax-supported campuses in order to carry out its self-stated mission of reaching “unchurched kids” and “establishing them in Bible-believing churches.” The club operates at more than 3,500 public schools across America, including 10 in Santa Barbara.
I first learned of them in 2009 when my journalist friend Katherine Stewart noticed the club at her child’s school and wrote a cover story for The Santa Barbara Independent about the infighting its presence caused among students, parents, and school administrators. “I started getting email from parents across the country saying, ‘This came to our community, and it blew us apart,'” she told me.