'Alpha Course' Converts
Tens Of Thousands Of Atheists
Martin Horton

"Big Brother" TV Series For Unconverted

By Victoria Combe, Religion Correspondent

(Filed: 04/07/2001)

The Christian equivalent of Big Brother is to be televised this summer with 10 non-believers baring their souls as they take part in an intensive course on the Bible.

The 10-part series being screened on ITV follows the spiritual ups and downs of five men and five women from different backgrounds as they do the Alpha Course.

Presented by Sir David Frost, the series, Alpha: Will it Change Their Lives? seeks to explain the phenomenon of the Alpha course which has converted tens of thousands of atheists and agnostics.

Sir David follows the group as they study at Holy Trinity Brompton, in Knightsbridge, central London. Each week they speak directly to camera, in the style of the series Big Brother, about their reactions

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From: "Positive Atheism" <editor@positiveatheism.org>
To: "Martin Horton"
Subject: Re: Christian Big Brother !
Date: Thursday, July 05, 2001 12:09 AM

Alpha Course? Is it designed specifically to change atheists and agnostics into adherents of a different religious outlook?

I wonder if they use this method in European drug rehab programs! If so, the United States Senate might be interested in seeing if it is effective toward converting Jews into Christians, also known as "Completed Jews." If so, the method's practitioners might find some lucrative civil service opportunities on this bank of the Big River.

Cliff Walker
"Positive Atheism" Magazine
Five years of service to
    people with no reason to believe

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From Americans United for
the Separation of Church and State:

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Faith-Based Group Draws Criticism for Telling House Congressional Committee About 'Completed Jews'

For Immediate Release
May 25, 2001

Americans United for Separation of Church and State
Contact: Joseph Conn or Steve Benen
(202) 466-3234 telephone
(202) 466-2587 fax
http://www.au.org

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Teen Challenge -- A Bush Favorite -- Boasts About Converting Jews To Christianity

The debate over public funding of religious social service providers grew more intense this week when a leader of one of President Bush's favorite faith-based groups made insensitive comments during a congressional hearing.

A top official of Teen Challenge International, a fundamentalist Christian substance-abuse program that treats addicts through proselytizing, drew criticism for calling Jewish converts to Christianity "completed Jews."

John Castellani, Teen Challenge's executive director, offered the controversial comments during testimony this week to a House Government Reform subcommittee, which was examining the efficacy of religious social service providers.

During the hearing, Rep. Mark Souder (R-Ind.) asked Castellani if Teen Challenge hires non-Christians as employees. Castellani said, "No." During later questioning, Castellani was asked if the group takes non-Christians as clients. He said yes, and then boasted that some Jews who finish his Teen Challenge program become "completed Jews."

Critics of faith-based funding said the exchange spoke volumes about the dangers associated with President Bush's faith-based initiative.

"The religious intolerance that could be funded by the Bush initiative is now in plain view," said the Rev. Barry W. Lynn, executive director of Americans United. "Teen Challenge has repeatedly been cited by Bush as one of his favorite faith-based groups. Yet now the group's leaders have admitted that they want to convert Jews and get public funding to do it."

The "completed Jews" phrase is sometimes used by fundamentalist Christians to refer to Jewish people who convert to Christianity. The phrase is considered offensive to many Jewish groups because it suggests Jews are "incomplete" unless they believe in the divinity of Jesus.

Teen Challenge's Castellani may have added to the controversy during an interview with the Associated Press. "In a sense, it's a compliment," he said of the "completed Jews" reference. "They're not a Christian, they're still a Jew. They've just found another part of themselves. I thought I was being kind."

Bush and supporters of his faith-based initiative have singled out the Teen Challenge program as a model of success. The president visited the group's facilities during the campaign. Recently, John DiIulio, head of the White House Office of Faith-Based and Community Initiatives, said Teen Challenge would be eligible to apply for funding under the Bush plan.

"It's outrageous that a fundamentalist group that seeks to 'complete' Jews would be eligible for federal funding through the Bush faith-based plan," Lynn concluded. "Tax aid to Teen Challenge or other groups like it would be a gross violation of the Constitution."

Americans United is a religious liberty watchdog group based in Washington, D.C. Founded in 1947, the organization represents 60,000 members and allied houses of worship in all 50 states.

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From American Atheists:

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More Evidence -- "Faith-Based" Programs Stress Conversion

AANEWS for Friday, May 25, 2001

Faith-Based Treatment Director Boasts Evangelical Conversion of "Completed Jews"

Despite President Bush's claims that his faith-based initiative is not intended to promote religion or evangelize those seeking social services, the director of a prominent drug rehab program told a congressional group on Wednesday that Jewish clients in his program were converted to fundamentalist Christianity.

John Castellani, executive director of Teen Challenge International, a Christian substance abuse program, made the offensive remarks before a panel of the House Government Reform subcommittee which has been exploring the effectiveness of faith-based social programs. Rev. Mark Souder (R-IN) asked Mr. Castellani if the group employees non-Christians on its staff, or accepts clients of other religious persuasions. Castellani then commented that some of the Jews who complete the Teen Challenge program become "completed Jews," a phrase common in fundamentalist circles to refer to those who convert to Christianity.

Castellani also told officials that while Teen Challenge welcomes government funding, the group would not take public money if it was required to change the structure of its program which includes emphasis on religious conversion.

"We're out to tell them (addicts) what we feel is correct as far as we understand Christianity, and that Christianity is a big part of our therapy..."

Following his congressional testimony, a nervous Castellani was in spin mode over his insensitive and sectarian remarks. "In a sense, it's a compliment," he told reporters. "They're not a Christian, they're still a Jew. They've just found another part of themselves. I thought I was being kind ... Evidently I'm in error, I apologize for that."

Jewish leaders immediately criticized Castellani. Rabbi David Sapperstein of the Religious Action Center for Reform Judaism said that the comments made it clear that the Bush faith-based initiative would lead to public funding of activities which stressed religious conversion.

"They engage in activities aimed at bringing them (clients) to Jesus. That's fine, but it shouldn't be done with government money.

Abraham Foxman of the Jewish Anti-Defamation League told the New York Times that Castellani's testimony "clearly illustrates the concern we have that there is no way to separate the efforts to proselytize from the efforts to reform people."

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Bush -- Government Cheerleader for FBOs, Teen Challenge

As Governor of Texas and a candidate for the White House in 2000, Mr. Bush was a staunch supporter of the Teen Challenge organization, and cited its religion-based rehabilitation program as proof of the efficacy of FBOs or "faith-based organizations." Addressing a church audience during the recent campaign, Bush declared: "We need to have mentoring programs energized by government, paid for by government, but who exist not because of government. Teen Challenge is a way to get people off drugs and alcohol. Teen Challenge is a faith-based program that changes people's hearts..."

Bush began supporting Teen Challenge when in 1995 a state regulatory agency sought to close a rehab center operated by the group for various violations. The governor then sponsored a series of laws exempting faith-based drug recovery programs from state scrutiny, and regulations that apply to their secular counterparts.

There have been serious questions, though, about Teen Challenge's claims of high success rates, and its accountability. A report on the beliefnet.com web site last September, for instance, noted "Of the 130 Teen Challenge centers in the United States, only 14 elected to join the Washington, DC-based Evangelical Council for Financial Accountability, a sort of Consumers Union for evangelical charities."

An administrative assistance at one Teen Challenge office declared that financial accountability "isn't our priority."

The various Teen Challenge centers report directly to a national office in Pennsylvania, and last year raised about $50 million. It is not known, though, how much of this comes from a bewildering array of state "faith-based partnership" grants and other programs that direct public money into FBOs.

Questions have also been raised about Teen Challenge's astounding claims of success in treating drug and alcohol addiction. Broadsides from the group claim "widely-heralded success spanning more than 40 years" since the organization was founded in 1958 by a minister, David Wilkerson.

Wilkerson, a self-described "country preacher" from rural Pennsylvania said that he saw a story in "Life" magazine about urban street gangs, and "felt a compelling urge to go to New York" and open up a ministry. The outreach began as an evangelization effort, but Wilkerson quickly fused his hard-shell Bible message with efforts to wean drug and alcohol addicts. Teen Challenge cites studies indicating that 88 percent of program graduates consider the outreach "the most beneficial in their lives." The religious nature of the rehab regimen is clear, though; according to Teen Challenge, sixty percent of program graduates become members of a local church, and 76 percent attend church services on a regular basis. A report by Capitol Research noted:

"Ninety-two percent claimed that Teen Challenge had a great impact on their lives. Eighty percent credited their ability to abstain from drugs to a personal relationship with Jesus Christ. The statistic that speaks volumes, however, is the abstention rate. A full 67 percent of respondents were completely abstaining from drugs and alcohol..."

As with other FBOs, though, sanguine claims of high success rates inevitably depend on anecdotal accounts, or "cooked" statistics coming from the service providers themselves.

"Nobody knows whether FBOs work even as well as traditional drug rehabilitation programs, which all have a high rate of recidivism," noted the beliefnet.com profile on Teen Challenge.

"There has not yet been any research that gives clear evidence that faith-based partnerships are more effective than current models," adds Dr. Mark Chaves, a sociologist at the University of Arizona who has been scrutinizing claims by religion-based social service groups. "Powerful voices are saying that it's okay to be marginalized, and we'll publicly fund you."

Similar concerns are raised by sociologist Fred DeJong of Calvin College in Grand Rapids, Michigan. Though he considers himself to be an evangelical Christian, DeJong and colleague Beryl Hugen say that in cases where they have examined the claims of phenomenal success from faith-based program, all contained serious flaws in the methodology and reporting.

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Bush: A Special Relationship With Teen Challenge, FBOs

All of this suggests that President Bush's faith-based initiative may be not only constitutionally suspect, but a huge entitlement program lacking in rationale and oversight. Bush has repeatedly insisted that his effort to involve churches and other houses of worship is "the next step in welfare reform," and could even replace the traditional model of having government provide an array of services to those in need. On Thursday, for instance, Bush told an audience at a Roman Catholic school in Cleveland, "We should fund the armies of compassion, we should not discriminate against faith-based programs."

"My administration will be more supportive of the good works done here than any administration in the history of this country because I understand the power of faith, that faith can change lives."

Faith-based groups, though, like Teen Challenge may be asking for federal tax dollars, and an exemption or legal shield from the sorts of inspection and accountability measure that secular providers must endure. Under the 1996 welfare reform act, "charitable choice" programs were open to religious groups who were empowered to seek public funding of their faith-based outreaches. Teen Challenge and other sectarian providers, though, can flaunt a number of anti-discrimination statutes, by using religion as a litmus test in hiring practices, and even require participants to practice a certain religion. Jerry Nancy, a Teen Challenge CEO told the House Subcommittee on Criminal Justice on February 17, 2000 that all of the ministry's treatment centers "require mandatory chapel time" and other religious practices.

"I'm hoping that Teen Challenge will not have to go through the licensing procedures that clinical organizations have to go through," John Castellani told the Assemblies of God "Mission America' meeting last year. "President Bush loves any program that helps people change their lives," he added. "That's why he loves Teen Challenge."

For further information:

http://www.atheists.org/flash.line/faithlob.htm
(Archive of articles, background on faith-based initiatives)

http://www.atheists.org/flash.line/faith15.htm
("Clerics, lawmakers rally at Capitol Hill faith-based summit," 4/27/01)

http://www.atheists.org/flash.line/faith14.htm
("A stark truth for policy makers: data lacking to support claims of faith-based social program success," 4/25/01)

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Cliff Walker
"Positive Atheism" Magazine
Five years of service to
    people with no reason to believe

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Material by Cliff Walker (including unsigned editorial commentary) is copyright ©1995-2006 by Cliff Walker. Each submission is copyrighted by its writer, who retains control of the work except that by submitting it to Positive Atheism, permission has been granted to use the material or an edited version: (1) on the Positive Atheism web site; (2) in Positive Atheism Magazine; (3) in subsequent works controlled by Cliff Walker or Positive Atheism Magazine (including published or posted compilations). Excerpts not exceeding 500 words are allowed provided the proper copyright notice is affixed. Other use requires permission; Positive Atheism will work to protect the rights of all who submit their writings to us.