The Dark Heart

The vivid core image of CEF’s “Wordless Book” script

Early in its history, Child Evangelism Fellowship (CEF) popularized the “Flipper Flapper,” a cardboard flap version of the “Wordless Book” that folds into and adds memorable symbols to each of these colored themes.

The most unforgettable symbol of the Good News Club’s “Wordless Book” presentation is the “black heart” in CEF’s “Gospel Dark Page,” symbolizing a child’s core self or basic essence.

As originally conceived, the “Wordless Book” simply included a solid black page to represent sin.

To impress upon children a more personal sense of their own inadequacy and sordidness, CEF modified the solid black page into the vivid black heart. CEF teachers use this prop to tell each child that his or her heart — “the real you,” Good News Club’s scripts emphasize — is dark, dirty, and sinful. On its “Gospel Dark” web page, CEF illustrates the dark heart with the following script, which is preserved here in its 2012 form (see Note below):

CEF’s dark heart script not only caricatures children as innately evil (born with dark sinful hearts), but also manipulates them with the dual threats of abandonment (separation) and eternal conscious torment (hell). Unfortunately, the sin and punishment themes of the “Dark Heart” page are not confined to a single “page” of the Wordless Book. Each page relates to sin. And, in the “Gospel Clean Page” or “White Heart” page, the Good News Club pressures children to make a self-abasing confession of faith that reiterizes their sordid and punishment-deserving condition.

Unfortunately, there is more. CEF systematically incorporates shaming into its Good News Club’s lessons, so much so that it becomes numbing. Numerous examples of this are set forth in this site’s “Curriculum” section, which summarizes thirty Good News Club lessons, which is one-quarter of the curriculum.

“Look for the part of the story where you can teach the dark heart, about sin,” [CEF instructor Miss Carolyn] instructs us, as we read a handout about Naaman, a story from the book of 2 Kings.  “Teach the dark page.  Say to the children, ‘Naaman had big problems.  He had leprosy!  But boys and girls, you and I have an even more serious problem than Naaman.’  Then tell them about sin and punishment.  Now you have taught the whole dark page!  Make it personal,” she adds.  “Use the child’s name.  ‘God wants you, Johnny,’” she says, stooping to the child’s level and sounding as reassuringly child-centered as Mr. Rogers.  “Have you sinned?”Katherine Stewart, The Good News Club: The Christian Right’s Stealth Assault on America’s Children, p. 237 (2012)

Note: In March 2013, CEF made a small step in the right direction by deleting the words “in a place of suffering…a place called Hell” from the script presented on the “Gospel Dark” page. (More about it here). If CEF makes similar revisions to its curriculum and they are brought to our attention, this website will be revised to reflect those changes.

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