After school Satan clubs and sowing good seeds
This week, a federal judge ruled that a Pennsylvania school district must allow After School Satan Clubs to meet. What do we do with cultural celebrations of Satan? And how can we use our free speech rights to sow better seeds?
KELSEY REED: Hello, welcome to Concurrently: The News Coach Podcast from WORLD Radio and God’s WORLD News. Our mission is to come alongside you, learning and laboring with you as you disciple kids and teens through culture and current events. I’m Kelsey Reed. I’m here with Jonathan Boes.
JONATHAN BOES: Hello!
KELSEY: Together, we want to model conversation and apply tools you can use at home or in the classroom. We would love for you to send in your questions for us to address in future episodes. Please send your questions to firstname.lastname@example.org.
JONATHAN: So if you think back to the distant past of this February, you might remember the buzz around a certain musical performance at the Grammys. It was Sam Smith and Kim Petras performing a song called “Unholy.” We do not suggest you look it up. Par for the course in today’s pop music world, it was highly sexualized. But what really got people talking about this was the satanic imagery. We’re not just throwing that word out there. It was literally, explicitly Satan imagery. The performance was miming a sort of Satan worship on a primetime television stage. So you had this satanic performance, and you have people enraged that this would be on television. Then you have other people mocking those people for being enraged at a kind of cartoon depiction of Satan.
But I bring up this story from the distant past of February because it’s similar to so many stories that pop up in the news. We see provocative Satan celebrations of all sorts in the world all the time. I remember in 2021, there was this rapper who promoted a custom-made Satan sneaker. And just this year—and this is where we’re going to camp out for much of today—we see the anxiety around “After School Satan Clubs” in primary schools.
WORLD covered this phenomenon with an excellent article by Gary Perilloux. We’ll link that in the show notes. Essentially, an organization called the Satanic Temple has started After School Satan Clubs that kids can attend as an alternative to the traditional Good News Club or what have you. And so today, the question we’re bringing to the table is: What do we do with cultural celebrations of our spiritual enemy, especially when they’re in spaces that directly touch on our kids, like public schools or primetime television?
So first off, Kelsey, what are you observing in culture? What have you been seeing around this phenomenon we’re tracing through all these different news stories?
KELSEY: Well, to start my story, or my response, I need to go into some story. I have had some experience of Good News Club. My husband actually helped to start one in the elementary school across the street from the church where we served for a time in South Carolina. So I’m going to the far distant past, not just February, but about six years ago, when we first learned about Good News Clubs, and about the case that was brought all the way up to the Supreme Court, in order to provide for Good News Clubs to be able to be an after school program.
JONATHAN: Yes, I believe that was Good News v. Milford Central School in 2001, that protected the rights of Good News Club—their free speech rights to meet on school campuses.
KELSEY: Yes. So what an interesting thing to learn about, that we had experiential learning of and recognized in this particular school, it was a club that was celebrated. But not everyone celebrates that. I’m going to go straight to some of the emotional response we are having as a culture. We’re very divisive right now over things. You know, what is truth? What do people proclaim to be truth? And those are intimate things that talk about intimate places of the heart, where things are claimed about who we are, what is broken about us, what is glorious about us. And these different narratives, we see those things are in conflict. So that’s another thing I’m observing in culture: the conflict of the narratives. And we’re seeing that conflict in these after school programs. I see that the ASSC, or After School Satan Clubs, are in direct response to Good News Clubs. It’s another place where we are divided and where we are reactive to one another, and even reactive to one another’s little vocabulary.
JONATHAN: It’s definitely an odd issue when it comes up in the news. Because so often, we need to do a little bit of work to apply our Christian worldview and draw the connection between scripture and the news. In this case, it’s literally about Satan. It’s literally about something we see in scripture, something that’s part of our worldview. And so to me, it makes sense—we often go back to scripture—but especially here, what we know about the real Satan, we know from God’s word. And so maybe we should look at God’s word and what we see of Satan there, so that we can take what we’re seeing in the news, with these After School Satan Clubs and other celebrations of Satan in culture, and compare it to what we see of the enemy’s operation in scripture.
KELSEY: In order to do that well, I want to maintain that theme of looking at that heart level response, because scripture of course speaks to what’s going on in the heart. And our enemy, who seeks to prowl around like a lion looking to see who he can devour—that’s from 1 Peter 5:8—he is going straight to that place of the heart, where he can ask those questions like he asked of Adam and Eve: “Did God really say?” Those questions that prompt that “Does God really love me?” They are identity questions that he goes after. They are questions that relate to our sense of purpose and belonging. And they are places where he twists even the truth about our sin, and the truth about the solution for our sin. I have to bring up a personal story, as we blend these things, where we think about our cultural reaction to truth, where we talk about what is painted in truth in scripture, when we think about our individual responses.
This morning, the Lord brought to mind an experience I’ve been having with my youngest daughter, who’s seven, almost eight. And she’s in that Grammar School of understanding who she is, understanding who is the authority over her and what He proclaims about who she is. And one of the things that He proclaims about who she is, is that she is going to wrestle with sin and disobedience, because sin is still present in this world. It’s a very deep reality of her heart. When we were talking over some of the ways she was resisting obedience to her dad and me yesterday, she was so reluctant to admit to the thing she had done that was broken. It was very, very difficult for her to name explicitly the disobedience of her heart. We had just asked her to pick up her plate from the table. She didn’t want to do that. Truth and obedience and goodness were rubbing into a place of rebellion in her little heart.
When we look at this cultural phenomenon of After School Satan Clubs, what we are actually seeing is something that is, in a broad cultural sense, the display of what’s going on at the deep heart level. We create culture out of what we believe. Our action flows out of what’s going on with us at the heart level. When we make observations of what is in the material at the Satanic Temple, where they’re promoting this club and its curriculum, we see over and over again, explicit in their language, that they are reacting to the idea that we could be fallen creatures and that there would be consequences to sin. So to track back to scripture, to see where we see something very clear about the way that Satan does work—not the cartoon Satan, not this straw man.
JONATHAN: Yeah, because a lot of what we are seeing—the Grammys performance, or the Satan sneaker, even the images used by the Satan clubs—it’s not images of the Satan we see depicted in scripture as much as this cartoon devil with red horns. You know, still not something positive we want to celebrate, but also it’s a kind of a cultural Satan, a Satan that has come up through years of tradition that has mixed images from mythology and pop art to form a cartoon “devil on the shoulder” figure.
KELSEY: And we laugh at that, but the truth is much scarier and much more harmful than these straw man versions. You know, we learn in scripture that Lucifer was beautiful. He believed himself to be, and still believes himself to be, worthy of worship. And so there are definitely some ways that even our silly versions can steal from the glory of the Father in order to seek after glory and attention. That’s definitely something we need to acknowledge. But the truth is much heavier, much weightier and even more nuanced.
JONATHAN: I think it’s interesting because what you’re saying is so true, the real Satan is so much more insidious, so much more harmful than these cartoony versions. But at the same time, he’s also weaker than some of them. Whereas you have this popular idea of, you know, God and the devil arm-wrestling or whatever, in reality we know that Satan is a created being. He is nowhere near as powerful as an infinite, holy God, who is ultimately much scarier than the devil. When you look at the ways God is portrayed in scripture, He is so much stronger, so much more authoritative. Now, Satan is powerful, and he has been granted a certain authority on Earth in this time. But it’s important to remember that, even though he is insidious, God is the one who’s in control. And unlike so many cultural depictions that want to make Satan seem like the cooler one—maybe that goes back all the way to Paradise Lost and John Milton portraying him as almost an antihero—Satan is not the stronger one. Satan is not even an equal. And so that’s another truth to keep in mind as we talk about this, that God is entirely in control, even when the enemy is working.
KELSEY: Listener, I am already excited to help name with you these elements of this discussion we’ve brought in. If we stop and notice, we’ve already talked about literature. We’ve talked about historical understanding of who this created being is. We’ve brought scripture into play. All of these things helped us to understand where we are in this cultural moment, why we see the specific manifestations, what philosophies have influenced us. We’ve also talked about the deep places in our hearts. And I want to continue to use that theme because it’s interesting, that word you used, “insidious”—that’s all over the material for these After School Satan Clubs. They use that material particularly applied to the words and the curriculum that is used to seek to nurture children in truth, to nurture them in an understanding of who they are and Whose they are. They’re twisting words and twisting meaning.
JONATHAN: What we see in the mission of these After School Satan Clubs is, they are looking at Good News Clubs and saying that what Christians are doing is insidious. I think it might be the right time to look at some of the actual material from the Satan Clubs, what you could find on their public website, in their mission statement. Their official mission statement is:
Proselytization is not our goal, and we’re not interested in converting children to Satanism. After School Satan Clubs will focus on free inquiry and rationalism, the scientific basis for which we know what we know about the world around us.
We prefer to give children an appreciation of the natural wonders surrounding them, not a fear of everlasting other-worldly horrors.
There’s even a whole section on their Frequently Asked Questions page where they break down some of the teachings of the Good News Club and really deride Good News Club and clubs like that for talking about hell or punishment, or for telling children they are sinful.
KELSEY: As you read that, I think of some of the philosophies that is steeped in. And I want us to pause for a minute and talk about that idea of rationalism. I want to ask if you can help me put a working definition out there. But before we do that, I want to say: We can affirm the use of our reason. We were given the faculty of reason. So why would we be concerned about this idea of rationalism? Let’s maybe define it in order to be able to talk about that concern.
JONATHAN: Well, I think there’s not enough material here to 100% say what they mean by that. This is just a brief mission statement. But I think it’s pretty easy to read between the lines of what they mean by what they are contrasting it with.
So they are putting this up against Christianity and faith. I think they’re really bringing in a false definition of rationalism that is contrasted to faith. Whereas in scripture, we see that faith and reason go right together. Christianity hinges on clear thinking. In fact, it’s one of the few religions that encourages us to walk through our doubts, to challenge, to put our fingers in the holes where Jesus was nailed to the cross and to see for ourselves. But there’s a really popular perception that even some Christians hold, this idea that faith is somehow opposed to reason or rationality.
And I think also, in the way they’re talking about rationality, the way they connect it to science—they are rooting it in another really popular thing nowadays, which is materialism. Not what we think of as materialism in terms of getting more and more stuff. Not like consumerism. But materialism in the sense that what really exists, what really matters, is the stuff we can touch, is physical matter, what science can explain. Whereas, historically, the idea of rationality and reason has not just been limited to the realm of the scientific method. It has also included philosophy and theology. Those are very reasonable pursuits that the great thinkers of history have rigorously explored. And so I think what we see in these After School Satan Clubs is, they’re really promoting a form of rationalism that is falsely limited to an earthbound scientism.
KELSEY: I think that is an excellent explication. A good friend and seminary professor of mine, he has a couple degrees from MIT as well as all of his work in theology, and he just points, as you have, to that false dichotomy we make, that science and faith or that reason and belief cannot live together in the same vessel, or that we weren’t intended to work out the mystery of increased knowledge and decreased ability to use the organ of our reason, while also there being things that we do not yet know, and cannot fully fathom yet, and so there is that tension, but the beautiful tension between the operation of faith and reason.
And so when we go back to the material that is being produced, we see that this is why there is a response to the Christian clubs, such as Good News Club. It’s because operating in that tension, and believing that there is another authority that says something about us beyond our own reason, beyond the physical things we can touch, we can understand—why they respond to that idea of the threat of Hell, because to them, reality is based in what we see, what we touch, that which we can measure or experience in the flesh.
JONATHAN: I think the irony here is that some of the mission of these Satan clubs, some of what they want to see, are actually things that the Church does better. Like, they are pushing back against using Hell as a threat, or scaring kids into salvation, right? We believe in Hell. We believe in sin. But I think we would also push back against this scare tactic, “Pray a prayer so that you escape the fires of Hell.” That is not the way to evangelize to children.
But also, they talk about wanting to inculcate this sense of wonder in the natural world, this sense of pursuing reason and inquiry. And on the surface, those are things we affirm. We want to glory in God’s natural creation. We want to teach our kids to think clearly and rationally. The difference is that we actually have a basis for those things. Whereas a pure rationality that does not believe in a God has no real basis for those things, has no real sense of meaning, no real foundation, we can point to a beautiful God, an orderly God, who makes beauty and reason possible.
KELSEY: So what you brought up for me connects to other pieces of the philosophy we are seeing, the fruit being born in this kind of culture of Satanism, this reveling in the hypersexualized, or the “put Satan tennis shoes together and wear this as part of fashion.” This connects to what you said about the meaninglessness. If everything is meaningless, and if those philosophies continue to bear their fruit, then it really doesn’t matter what we do. We can choose to revel there and put ourselves on horrific displays where we are demeaning of one another, the image that we have. This is the trajectory of philosophies that come out of believing there is no God, and therefore no authority telling us what is meaningful about us and meaningful about life. If there’s nobody who tells us who we are, what our identity is, what our purpose is, and where we belong, then we can make that for ourselves. And that does track back into the tension of the way the true accuser—not these false pictures of him, but the true accuser—is at work, to penetrate to those places and twist them for the stealing of the Lord’s glory.
JONATHAN: That was the first thing we see Satan do in scripture, is question God’s authority, get Adam and Eve to do what they want.
And one thing maybe we should have mentioned even earlier in this episode, a running theme beneath all of these different cultural Satan celebrations we’ve been talking about, is that most of these people, if not all of them—we’ve talked about the After School Satan Clubs, the Grammys performance—these people would not say they believe in Satan. To some people, that’s like, “yeah, right.” But I believe them. They don’t believe in Satan. They are employing what they see as a cultural image that is very provocative and intentionally in opposition to the things of Christianity they would oppose.
We’ve talked about Satan being insidious. I think it’s almost like a double feint in this circumstance, right? These people are not really thinking they’re worshiping Satan. They are using the image of Satan to do something else. But that something else—once you unpack it, you find Satan again, in ways these people don’t even intend.
KELSEY: That’s a great point. When you’re talking about the provocative nature, it gets me back again to that heart space we began with. We’re in this cultural place where truth is being muddied. We’re trying to stand for it. We’re having emotional responses. There are things that concern us, that deeply concern us, and they should. But what is our appropriate response?
I think this is a good place to talk about a discipleship response to this: What we can affirm in a discipleship response, and what we need to challenge in terms of that discipleship response. Now, listen—we are not talking about what we can affirm and challenge in the After School Satan Clubs.
JONATHAN: You know, we often have things to affirm and challenge. There’s really nothing to affirm in Satan worship. Don’t worry.
KELSEY: And our conversation has obviously pointed out that reason is good, that some of the things they say they laud are good things, but in a completely misplaced expression.
JONATHAN: Sin twists good things, right? Satan doesn’t create. That’s a really important concept. Satan is not a creative being. He takes what God made, which is good, and warps it. And so it’s not surprising when we find that something called a “Satan Club” actually has taken some things we can affirm, but then twisted them into things we need to challenge.
KELSEY: Right. So camping out in the affirm and challenge place, mostly for our discipleship response to this—parents, for your specific response to this. When we see these things showing up, popping up in our children’s schools, they deeply concern us. Maybe they even provoke us to fear, to anger. And these are natural responses. There are things that we can affirm about those responses to sin. We should be angry about sin. We should be angry about things that seek to glorify something that is not beautiful, true, good. But it is vital that, even in our anger, we do not sin.
It really helps me to govern a response, an appropriate response, by recognizing the Lord’s compassion for the multitudes. In Matthew 9, it talks about how He looks out into the crowd, and He sees them with compassion. He looks on them with compassion. Let me read it. Matthew 9:36: “When He saw the crowds, He had compassion for them, because they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd. Then He said to His disciples, ‘The harvest is plentiful, but the laborers are few; therefore pray earnestly to the Lord of the harvest to send out laborers into His harvest.’” This governs for me: What can we affirm? And what can we maybe challenge? If our response to seeing these things pop up in the school is to try to come against them in strength, as with the sword, and cut them down—I believe that’s disobedience.
JONATHAN: As we’re forming our response, it’s also helpful to look at how are these After School Satan Clubs are trying to get us to respond. They know what they’re doing. You see in their explicit mission statement that they’re putting these clubs in schools where there are already Good News Clubs. What you were saying about coming against it with strength—that’s actually what it seems like they want Christian parents to do. Because, back at the beginning of this discussion, we talked about Good News v. Milford Elementary School, the court case that gives Good News Clubs the free speech rights to meet in schools. And what the Satan clubs know is that, if they can get parents to shut them down, then parents are attacking the same free speech rights that give Good News Clubs the ability to meet.
And so you actually see, in WORLD’s article on the Satan clubs, there’s a quote from Lydia Kaiser, who is a spokeswoman from Child Evangelism Fellowship. What she’s saying is: “People who don’t understand what’s at stake here—they would actually be willing to have 5,000 Good News Clubs shut down in order to get five Satan clubs shut down.” Because she sees that the Satan clubs are specifically targeting the religious rights of groups to meet in these after school clubs. And if they can get riled up Christian parents so angry and scared about Satan clubs that they go to the school board, that they go to the courts, to get them shut down—then what we’re actually doing is shooting ourselves in the foot. And before you know it, there’s not Good News Clubs either, and they’ve actually gotten what they want. I think they would be very happy to have all the Satan clubs shut down, if it meant also all the Good News Clubs got shut down.
KELSEY: There’s more material on their site that speaks of the need for there to be separation of church and state. And that would be an entire other episode, to get into the nuances of what that law, or that idea, was even intended for. So I’m seeking to find the traction between what our understanding is of what faithfulness in any generation looks like, and what our current generation’s particulars are. How do we live within the particulars of our generation, these timeless understandings of compassion, and of moving in, and of our main expression being related to seeking out the lost and engaging in the harvest? And one of those forms that we get to explore now, because of that provision that went all the way in our society to the Supreme Court—we have provision to go into the schools, and for that to be one of the areas where we seek after children, and give them the hope of the gospel, and name them for who they are, and for what is broken about their lives, but also to name the solution with joy. If we spend a bunch of time coming against those other institutions in strength—if we seek to pull out the weeds amongst those sprouts that are sprouting up of new faith, of those who are seeking after truth—then we risk doing damage to institutions that are good, or even lives that are tenderly coming to a first understanding of truth. You may have recognized that I’m alluding here to the parable that Jesus spoke. People may know it by “The Wheat and the Tares,” where He’s instructing His disciples to be careful to let those things rise up at the same time within the soil. Because in the end, the Father, who knows all men’s hearts and can judge all truthfully, will be the one who extracts His own from those who are destined for destruction.
JONATHAN: On this side of eternity, there are going to be good things and sinful things, and they’re often going to be tangled up and mingled up together until God ultimately sorts them out in the end. And He has grace and patience for some of those sinful things to be redeemed before final judgment comes.
I think the other important truth here is that Satan-branded things, like a Grammys performance or a sneaker or a school club, are intentionally panic and fear inducing. That’s how they get a lot of their press. And they are bad, but we need to remember that Satan isn’t more at work in a Satan club than he is in any number of other sinful things in this culture. Often, the work of the enemy is hidden behind these things, and it sometimes takes the work of artists or writers or preachers to pull back that veil and help us see it, because it’s not always as explicit as a Satan club. Maybe if it was, we would be more urgent in our evangelism and our discipleship. But my mind went to Harriet Beecher Stowe, who wrote the novel Uncle Tom’s Cabin way back when slavery was still legal. And what she did was, she had the title character see through this spiritual veil and actually perceive the demonic forces at work behind the slaveowners. The slaveowners were not going around in her day and age proclaiming themselves as Satan club leaders. But what she was doing is pulling back the veil and saying, this thing out in culture, this thing out in the world, is actually the work of Satan. So that’s a good reminder for us. I think things that throw up an image of Satan can almost be distractions from things that might be even more insidious, that we need to build better defenses against—we don’t want to just be reactionary or purely defensive—but things that might slip through the door more easily, I guess is the way I’ll put it.
KELSEY: And to remember, even as you point out all those things, we have a reason not to fear. We have a reason for no fear, in that the Lord is stronger than even all of the efforts of our enemy.
JONATHAN: Yes, I definitely don’t want to create the sense like there’s hidden traps everywhere and we need to go around fearful of everything. I’m just trying to point out that fear is a tactic of the enemy. And when we see things like Satan clubs, I think that’s that tactic intentionally being thrown out for us to run at like the bull with the red flag being waved in front of it. Where really, like I think you were saying earlier, we have such a beautiful and important work that we can carry out with fearlessness, and even with rest. When we let things get at our fear, get at our anger, get at our panic and make us camp out there and charge like bulls at that distracting flag—that’s when I think we’re falling into that response we would challenge.
KELSEY: I agree. So more in response: How do we live within a culture that is diverse, that is pluralistic in nature? I have a couple things that I want to share, one of which is from another WORLD Opinions writer, John D. Wilsey, who is an Associate Professor of Church History and Philosophy at the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary. He writes:
Free institutions are one of the primary ways that liberty can be promoted, extended, and protected. Local institutions, when directed by citizens who, although they are from different backgrounds, are united in common cause, extend, and guard liberty. The local church, the civic club, the little league, and the community school stand as a bulwark against the demagogue who, as Alexander Hamilton wrote in Federalist 1, “lurks behind the specious mask of zeal for the rights of the people.”
That deserves some unpacking. Alexander Hamilton’s quote may not rub at first into what we’ve been talking about for you. But his conclusions relate to what it means to seek out human flourishing and Christian liberty, for which the best platform is ordered liberty that allows for those varied institutions that he named, and that we’ve even named today, though they be wheat and tares.
JONATHAN: And in that WORLD article about the Satan clubs, in the last quote from the spokeswoman of Child Evangelism Fellowship, she says, “We’re not going to win the battle by promoting intolerance. We’ll win the battle by being the most winsome, speaking the truth, and letting our great God show how powerful He is compared to false gods.”
When we hold to faith in a God who is the most powerful, the most beautiful, the most incredible, we don’t need to be afraid that other groups—even groups that give themselves the name of Satan—also have the legal right to preach their version of the truth. Because we know that, our ability to freely proclaim the gospel, it is so much brighter and so much better. And it already has the victory.
KELSEY: As we close, I want to share something that is a part of our discipleship response. And that is the provision that we have in scripture for wrapping our minds around, how do we then gird up our loins to face this age? So from Ephesians 6, starting in verse 10:
Finally, be strong in the Lord and in the strength of his might. Put on the whole armor of God, that you may be able to stand against the schemes of the devil. For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers over this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places. Therefore take up the whole armor of God, that you may be able to withstand in the evil day, and having done all, to stand firm. Stand therefore, having fastened on the belt of truth, and having put on the breastplate of righteousness, and, as shoes for your feet, having put on the readiness given by the gospel of peace.
I end there, but the passage goes on and is worthy, worthy, worthy of study with your children with your students, as you think about how we ready ourselves for the work that has been given to us, the work of the harvest, the work of creating beautiful culture that reflects winsomely this good God that we know and who loves us and whom we love. May we be girded up with those things to go out with feet ready to proclaim the gospel of peace to our neighbors. He has equipped you for this work.
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