Undercover Christians

Sometimes religious organizations –usually Christians — use outside secular facilities for social gatherings.  Sometimes the venues are public school buildings.  Many people mistakenly believe any iota of religion or a religious message being present on a public school campus is unconstitutional.  But so long as the organization is operating independently of the school, in a manner which is not in any way compulsory, there is no problem legally.

Recently, Youth For Christ, a Christian ministry out of Omaha Nebraska was present at Ralston Middle School handing out fliers for a program called Campus Life, which would be held before school hours in the school’s gym.  Attendance is open to anyone and is strictly voluntary.

In a blog post on FreeThinkingfordummies.com, Jay Walker recalls how while at an open house event for the school, Youth For Christ representatives handed him a flier for the event.  Walker, an Atheist, was understandably upset.  The flier reads:

What is Campus Life?

Great question.  Campus Life is a place for middle school students to hang out and have FUN, be yourself, and talk about issues you deal with every day and that are important to YOU!  It’s open to all middle school students!  We have donuts, fun games, and you get to hang with your friends before school.

Campus life meets every Wednesday morning at 7:00 am in the lower gym at Ralston Middle School starting September 14th.

Walker recalls thinking to himself:

…that it might be a program rung [sic] by one of the local colleges.  The woman who was handing them out was standing right by the line where you had to get in to in order to get your child’s schedule.  She told us that it was a before school program  where kids could go, have donuts, hang out with their peers and have “fun”.   Never once did she mention that she was with a Christian organization.  Nothing in the literature that she handed even hinted at all that this was run by a religious group.

Doing some investigating, he found his way to the table several feet from the woman passing the fliers (which isn’t really that unusual).  After what is described as having to pry the information out of the rep on what the group’s intended content will be, Walker discovers Campus Life is religiously focused.

Walker’s concern that this group’s presence and content is unconstitutional is false.  That’s not really my issue.  I think his overall complaint, that he had to extract a confession from the group’s reps as to the intent of the program is what’s important.

By my own admission, I think I tend to be pretty hard on people who profess to be Christians.  This is no different.  This aspect of Walker’s complaint I believe is wholly valid.  The text of the flier dresses the program as a simple gathering of students prior to school hours with no particular focus.  If the intended content of the gathering was to include some religious discussion, it ought to be clear on the advertisement.

I think the demeanor (as I understand it, having little reason to doubt Walker’s account) of the representatives of Youth For Christ is unfortunately becoming more typical of Christians who seek to evangelize today.  The tactic is “before they care to know, they need to know you care”.  In other words, evangelists tend to try to win someone over in friendship first in order to make the evangelized more receptive to the message.  I actually think this is deceptive.  I have had more than one experience where a potential evangelist buddied up to me, only to gradually move on after it became known I was a Christian already.

The fact that the reps made Walker and his companion jump through hoops to find out there would be religious content suggests, either the group assumed it was obvious they were part of a religious organization, or they realized why Walker was questioning them.  Namely, he was not a Christian and was bothered by the lack of transparency on the flier.

It is my experience that Christians, broadly speaking, are not used to confrontation.  It sets them back on their heels a bit.  Since they believe they are doing the right thing, it comes as a surprise that someone would challenge their motives.  Rather than being up front, many Christians attempt to slip Christianity into the mix as a tangent, and I don’t think that’s a fair way to evangelize.  Walker was right to question the group, and even question the motives given that they were not upfront about the program.

Hopefully, TFC learns from this experience.  People don’t like being manipulated, and they really don’t like feeling ambushed.  It is actually a poor witness for Christianity to evangelize like this, and in my opinion brings discredit on Christianity.  If you think you have the truth, stand up and say so.  Don’t be vague and misleading.  In the end, since there is nothing illegal about their presence in the school for their purposes, I hope the group stays and runs the program on the condition all their literature is upfront and every parent knows their intentions.


  1. Good post. Christianity is not about bait-and-switch.

  2. The market-driven mentality strikes again. Bring them in with entertainment and promises of fun so you can preach at them. I think it is demonstrating that they are embarrassed about being Christians! Underhanded, sneaky, and unethical. If you are that afraid of your message, perhaps you had better learn to be a better Christian first.,

    • I agree with you both. I firmly believe that what you use to get people into the church is what you need to keep them there. If its tv, fun, and donuts, then as soon as those things disappear so do the people. However if it’s sound teaching that brings them, then that’s what it’ll take to keep them. Id like to ask YFC which method they prefer.

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