'Stealth evangelism' picked up by ADL's radar

JewishNews.com/January 30, 2004
By Stephanie Garber

Employing a well-coordinated, nationwide campaign, Ralph Reed, and others who share his fundamentalist evangelical goals, have managed to bring their religious beliefs into our public schools through Trojan horse-like campaigns.

Bettysue Feuer, regional director of the Anti-Defamation League, calls it "stealth evangelism."

Feuer and Dr. Sheila McGinn, a professor of religion at John Carroll University, spoke at Suburban Temple-Kol Ami on Jan. 25 in the first of a three-part series on the nature of fundamentalism. McGinn addressed the history of Christian fundamentalism and their basic tenets (including the infallibility of Scripture - provided it's the King James version). Feuer addressed the current tactics being employed by evangelical fundamentalists to infiltrate the public-school system with their religious message.

"White supremacists and antisemites have nothing on these groups," Feuer quipped. She is familiar with the rhetoric and hate spewed from the Web sites of the former, but when she began surfing the Internet to look into public-school evangelism, Feuer says she was shocked.

There are innumerable Web sites with extensive information for teachers who want to "share their faith" with students. These sites include ideas and tips for easing religious topics into the classroom, and offer games, packets and kits to help teachers do so. The sites also include legal information. (Ironically, Feuer notes, the ADL is quoted extensively) about what can and cannot be said in the classroom, and loopholes and tips for navigating legal issues.

Beginning in the '90s and exploding exponentially ever since, a variety of seemingly harmless assemblies have been introduced at public schools using WWF wrestlers, rap groups and other "catchy" ideas that would appeal to teens. The tactic, Feuer explained, is to bring these "harmless'" assemblies in, with follow-up activities that are heavy on evangelism, held off school grounds.

These assemblies, targeted toward unsuspecting students and their families, are brought in through school board members and school staff, with the explicit purpose of converting people to Christianity.

A case in point, Feuer said, was one that recently occurred in New Albany, an Ohio town with a "small but growing" Jewish population. Noting that for every call the ADL receives regarding a problem of this type, there are 100-1,000 others like it that go unreported, Feuer reported that a Jewish mother called the ADL about a "Team Impact" assembly held at her son's junior high.

Initially, it appeared beneficial. A WWF wrestler delivered a strong anti-drug, anti-violence message. (What mother, Feuer asked, isn't delighted to have her teenage son come home and announce, "I'm never going to use drugs or hit anyone as long as I live!")

At the assembly, flyers were handed out inviting kids and their families from a two-county area to attend a related event being held at a public arena.

Hundreds of kids and their parents showed up for this event, which turned out to be rife with proselytizing and Gospel preaching.

Feuer said when she called the principal of the school the Jewish woman's son attended, he was appalled to hear that was the outcome of the assembly. He felt he had been deceived. The event had been organized through a school secretary.

Another group that uses a seemingly harmless club for evangelization purposes is Upward Ministries. Upward basketball, Upward cheerleading and Upward soccer are organized at public schools. With uniforms, prizes, and a promise that "every child gets to play," the groups employ Gospel teaching as part of their team activities.

These groups are mushrooming rapidly, Feuer explained. They are legal because they do their proselytizing off school grounds, but they are offensive because they use seemingly wholesome activities as a recruiting tool for religion.

Parents who discover evangelical groups or assemblies are organizing at their children's public schools should first call the principal to object. Often, Feuer said, the principals allowing these groups access to the students are not aware they are fundamentalist recruiting groups.

Become familiar with what is legal and what's not, she advised. The ADL recently put together a booklet called "Religion in the Public Schools" to explain what is permissible, and what is outside the law.

"The best countermove (against evangelicals) is to teach the beliefs of your own faith," says McGinn. She noted that her religion, Catholicism, is another favorite target for evangelicals. Through various studies, she said, the Church concluded that "what keeps people from straying is the sheer amount of time they're on church property. Get your kids to the JCC, to the synagogue, whatever, so they are self-identifying."

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