Busting Heads for Character Ed?
In January 2007 I spotted a newspaper item about The Power Team holding assemblies in five area schools: in Jefferson, Fort, Palmyra, Milton and Whitewater. I was horrified to see that our area school districts would use this sort of group to promote Character Education and to allow such blatant promotion of churches in our public schools.
This web page is in constant development. I will continue to improve detail as time goes by. I welcome your comments, corrections or clarifications.
Update: Good news! This is one of the most rapidly successful campaigns I've ever carried out. I made my first inquiries to school districts on January 22 at 2 p.m. All five districts had planned Power Team assemblies, having planned them last summer. I spoke to the Jefferson School Board that night. On January 29 at 11:30, within 20 minutes I had from four superintendents who told me the Power Team assemblies had been cancelled. Jefferson confirmed their cancellation at 4 p.m. All five districts have cancelled their Power Team assemblies.
Muscular Christianity in our schools: Will "Might Make Right?"
A group called “The Power Team” is scheduled to give an assembly at least five Jefferson County area public schools on the morning of Thursday and Friday, March 22 and 23, 2007. Students in Jefferson, Fort, Palmyra, Milton and Whitewater are expected to see it, ranging from elementary schools to high schools. This group puts on a show regarding problems such as drug abuse, teen pregnancy and violence in schools.
Sounds boring? It’s actually quite a show. What else will the show include? Quoting from their web site, the act may include:
- Ripping 3 license plates in half, [YouTube] <-- (Click these YouTube links to watch the videos.)
- Pressing 500 lbs. over their heads,
- Exploding three 2 x 4's with a flex of their chest
Judging from other videos, promotional literature and new stories, it might include:
- Breaking stacks of cement blocks with their heads,
- Breaking baseball bats with their bare hands, [YouTube]
- Exploding soda cans with their bare hands,
- Ripping telephone books in half, [YouTube, YouTube]
- Bending skillets with their bare hands, [YouTube]
- Inflating hot water bottles with lungs to the point of explosion, [YouTube]
- Breaking piles of bricks blazing in flaming liquids, [YouTube]
- Wrapping steel bars around their legs, [YouTube]
- Breaking piles of ice resting on the bellies of authorities, [YouTube]
- Ramming heads through stacks of ice, [YouTube]
- Swinging large metal broad swords
Yes, I’m sure the kids will love it. If we asked, they’d also love Twinkies and Coke for lunch and ideally the assembly should keep them out of class all day.
This Power Team has a larger mission. Their primary mission is not giving character education seminars at schools. They are a marketing firm. Their primary mission is to help evangelical churches increase their membership.
The top bullets points on The Power Team web site: "20% Average Church Growth, 60% Attendees are
Un-Churched, 20%+ Salvation Response over 1/2 are Adults, Top Rated School Assemblies."
Indeed, this group has been brought to our area by Fort Atkinson’s Faith Community Church. They are bringing the Power Team to Fort Atkinson. They raised the money to rent space at Fort High School for a series of non-school events – I’d call them “revival tent shows,” the Power Team calls them “Crusades” - over five days, promoting their sensational feats of strength combined with their evangelizing for Christ. The public is invited. The school assemblies take place during the day on Thursday and Friday. The revival meetings take place Wednesday through Sunday.
According to Pastor Dan Pierce, the church will advertise these evening events heavily in the community. When I asked if he thought that if students liked the school assemblies that they'd want to attend the evening events, his answer was "I suppose."
Who will see the show at our area public schools?
- In Jefferson, the High School grades 9 to 12 will see it on the morning of Friday, March 23 at 9:30 a.m.
- In Fort Atkinson, High School on March 23. [details unconfirmed]
- In Milton, the High School and Middle School on March 23.
- In Palmyra, all schools in the Palmyra-Eagle Area School District have been invited. [details unconfirmed]
- In Whitewater, the Middle School and High School will see it on March 23.
Faith Community Church coordinated the fundraising to pay for the Power Team to give assemblies in Jefferson, Fort, Palmyra, Milton and Whitewater. The Power Team asks for $500 to $1000 to conduct school assemblies. In some cases, the School Districts volunteered to pay for it. In others, members of the Church donated money.
Each school's funding situation is different. In Fort Atkinson, according to High School Principal Jeff Zaspel, the school assembly was paid for by Faith Community Church. In Jefferson, funds come from the Character Education Fund, derived from donations from area citizens and businesses. In Milton and Palmyra, they are using an AODA grant to pay for it. (This is the Alcohol and Other Drug Abuse program, from the Wisconsin Dept. of Public Instruction.) Whitewater is using a combination of district funds and donations.
In Fort Atkinson, the Church's five-day revival meetings were even placed on the District's web calendar by athletic director Kevin Flegner. When I pointed this out to Superintendent James Fitzpatrick, they were removed within 20 minutes. Amazingly, the school assembly had not been placed on the calendar. (I've asked Flegner twice why he did this, but received no answer.)
The Power Team claims that their school assembly program does not promote religion. I think the record shows that they will stretch this opportunity to do so.
After examining dozens of stories about the Power Team's performances, I conclude that the Power Team leverages the power of the "negative option." The negative option is like the old jab: "When did you stop beating your wife?"
Given a reasonable expection that the Power Team is here to promote their primary ministry, how can any school district be careful enough to prohibit preaching and promotion? I believe the Power Team will competently and reliably carry out the goals of their primary mission (promoting the area church) unless they are told they can't do them during the school assemblies.
This aligns with what should be self-evident about the Power Team. Read their web site. They seize all opportunities to promote the revival meetings and expand the message of their ministry. Their school assemblies are secondary. The school performances are a form of advertising for their primary goal of the evening revival meetings.
Just like billboards or newspaper ads, the school assemblies are a well-established way to promote the the evening events. It's like the circus of old: they'd parade the elephants down Main Street to lead the kids to the fairgrounds. This time, it will be the rolling billboard of the Power Team truck in the school parking lot, followed by a two-hour commercial sprinkled with bits of platitudes about good behavior.
Keep your word, but carry out the mission
The Power Team will present a religious program unless told by a school not to do so. As soon as the question of the First Amendment is raised, they will assure you - even in writing - that they won't preach. I'm not going to quibble about whether they intend to keep their word. I will, however, point out ways they can keep their word yet carry out their mission.
By default, I think the Power Team will try to perform a religious program. They would prefer to avoid a secular program. You can easily find examples where they did evangelize in public schools.
Here's a quote from an event in Columbus, OH in 2002:
"We are a kind of bait because we are here to present a message, but we also are entertainers," said John Jacobs, Power Team founder.
They can stretch the opportunity in other ways. If the Power Team invites students to the evening revival events, is that crossing the line?
In this case, the line is two-fold. First, schools generally prohibit blatant advertising. Second, there's the natural concern of violating the First Amendment. Public schools don't allow religious promotion out of respect for the diversity of belief among the student body and their families.
The Power Team will advertise the evening revival events to students unless explicitly told not to do so by a school's administration. They do this with a verbal invitation. Here is an interview with one of the Power Team members. As you can see, he says they promote attendance at the other events:
Q: Do you have any trouble playing at schools with separation from church and state laws?
A: Not at all. At the schools we're not allowed to mention Jesus Christ, so we give them a positive message. Anything positive is from God. We invite them to the night shows, and show them the real message of why we're positive.
I found another story in the AgapePress, a Christian news service:
"Whenever they can, Power Team members also hold rallies in area schools where they encourage students with a motivational message, and then invite them to attend the evening crusade at the host church."
When I asked Jefferson High School Principal Dick Lovett about this sort of verbal invitation, he said he knew that the Power Team would spend "about two minutes" describing the evening church events.
Leave the stunts aside for a moment. Would any school administrator allow a minister to invite students to his church during a school assembly? If not, why would they allow the Power Team to do so?
Based on news stories, the Power Team has been known to hand out paper literature after the school assembly, promoting the evening events. Does this cross the line? I think it does. Again, schools generally don't allow commercial advertising or religious advertising. There's also a question of whether they will be giving away or even selling souvenirs at the school events. They certainly do at the evening events.
There are other possibilities of more subtle promotion. Listen to the music behind the video clips above. The Power Team plays music, loudly amplified, during their perfomance. They choose only Christian rock and rap groups. The religious promotion need not only take place in the words they say, but in the choice of music they're playing during the assembly. It's not the Power Team preaching, it just happens to be in the lyrics of the music they're playing.
If as part of a story about positive values, a Power Team member testified about his personal life, and included the story about his association with the church and his personal beliefs, does that cross the line?
For many years, the Power Team had a weekly television show called "The Power Connection." A company called Born Again Films is producing a movie called "Born Again: The Power Team Story" that will be released soon according to the web site www.bornagainfilm.com. They describe the movie this way:
"Born Again: The Power Team Story a feature-length documentary profiling a crusading group of strongmen called the Power Team who travel the United States performing feats of strength (crushing piles of brick, smashing through walls of solid ice, inflating hot-water bottles with their bare lungs) all in the name of Jesus Christ. Whether performing for students in over 25,000 public school gymnasiums they have visited, or in innumerable churches throughout the United States, the Dallas, Texas-based Power Team is a virtual institution in the world of Christian performance art. Through documentation of the Power Team, Born Again: The Power Team Story objectively examines the ever-expanding evangelical Christian movement in the United States."
If they promote the movie during the assembly, is that crossing the line?
The Power Team also hosts a religious summer camp. If they promote that, does it cross the line?
The list of prohibitions grows longer: no religious preaching, no invitations (oral or paper), no promotional literature, no testifying, no souvenirs, no TV, movie or camp promos, no religious music. Do you think every school will be careful enough to prohibit everything?
Is this too much promotion to allow just for a little Character Education? I don't know how the staff would stop anything they didn't want to see presented to the students. The school administration does not have a five-second delay and a beeper during the assembly. If you told me that Chris Rock or Robin Williams was giving such an assembly, frankly, I wouldn’t trust them to not use inappropriate language, either.
In many of the stories I found where there was controversy, it happened after the assembly, after parents learned of what was said and done. In some cases, controversy erupted when communities learned the Power Team was coming. Yet in other public schools, it was clear that the Power Team was allowed to bring an entirely religious message without obstacles.
I don't think the schools want to enter a situation where they are left apologizing after the fact for how the Power Team stepped over the line into illegality, all because the administration didn't
cover all the bases with an explicit list of what the Power Team shouldn't say or do.
The Power Team debases Character Education
There are larger questions about the message the Power Team will deliver. I think the Power Team debases character education. I do not believe that all Character Education messages are the same. I question the notion that just anyone can claim to be delivering a message of "positive values" on the assumption that we are all in agreement about the content of that message. How useful is it to just shout "Don't do drugs"?
I do not believe that just anyone can deliver a quality Character Education message. I believe there are professionals in this field. They have studied the art and science of this speciality of education. There are professional methods of teaching character and good values, just as there are established methods of teaching English and science. I do not think that just anyone can deliver a character education message with the same level of quality we'd expect from our paid teachers.
In this sense, I think the circus act of the Power Team debases Character Education. It devalues the message with stunts, smoke machines and loud music. It tears down the slow and steady efforts of the other professionals who've expressed this message to our students in the past. It demeans the actions of all those education professionals who have quietly accomplished the same goals. We shouldn't be glamorizing dangerous stunts in the name of positive character traits. We shouldn't be using teams of ordained ministers to carry this out in public schools.
It's an abdication of the teacher's role. Students will sniff this out in a minute.
Aren’t teens smart enough to know when they’re being bribed to listen? They'll see this as a bone tossed to them in the hopes of getting them to pay attention to the Character Education message between the flaming stunts. It's an admission that the teachers have failed to inspire with ordinary methods.
Do our schools want to promote character education with dangerous parlor tricks that, if they were on television, would need to be prefaced with the disclaimer “Don’t try this at home"? By pairing "positive values" with tricks worthy of MTV's "Jackass" series, we devalue Character Education. We certainly do not intend to say that we're trying to elevate Character Education to the level of the World Federation of Wrestling, do we?
No one would consider having an assembly with these same outrageous parlor tricks if the supposed character education angle wasn't present. It is hypocritical to suggest that the children will be attracted to character education by the glitzy showmanship, then suggest that they won't be attracted to attend the religious presentation to see more of the same - especially if the Faith Community Church has engaged in a blitz of advertising to promote the evening events.
There is a certain hypocrisy at play. On one hand, the school administration thinks it needs Power Team excitement to keep kids interested in the positive Character Education message. On the other, they look away from the idea that students might be lured to the evangelical meetings because they liked to see more of these showy feats of strength. The administration is well-aware of the link between The Power Team and the evangelical meetings taking place during the upcoming evenings and weekend. In fact, some of these same school administrators are members of Faith Community Church. Yet they look away from the clear link of cross-promotion.
This method of promotion reminds me of the small-town travelling circuses that sometimes perform at our County Fairgrounds. Weeks in advance of the show, a promoter knocks on doors at downtown businesses, handing out packets of free children's tickets. They ask the businesses to give these tickets away. The fine print says one adult paying full price must accompany every two kids. It guarantees adult ticket sales. At one circus I attended, there were actually two circus shows: your free ticket got you in to see the shorter, simple show that was followed by a second show with the big acts and its own separate entry fee.
I tried to imagine how High School students would be acting upon leaving this assembly. Would they be quiet and reflective? Or riled-up and rowdy, roaring like the Power Team?
How did the Power Team come to Jefferson County?
It is not a coincidence that five Jefferson County schools will have the same Power Team presentation on the same day. It was a deliberate coordination by Faith Community Church in the summer of 2006. It's generally the school principals who create assemblies by finding the talent and approving the message. In this case, Faith Community Church member Glen Borland brought the message to the five schools. As a retired Fort HS teacher, he had the connections.
As the proposition progressed in each school, it went through the chain of command. Sometimes it went from principal to superintendent. In Palmyra's case, principal Bruce Gunderson is also the superintendent, so it was easy.
I asked each school district who reviewed the content and message of this school assembly presentation. The answers varied. In Jefferson's case, Jefferson's Character Education coordinator Sandy Swartz told me she saw "about ten seconds" of a DVD given to her by associate HS principal Dennis Linse before she approved the use of Character Education funds to pay for the assembly. In some cases, principals had seen the Power Team in action at previous schools. In others such as Fort, principal Zaspel said "I have not personally viewed the assembly and therefore I
am not able to provide you with more detailed information." In short, I don't think many principals dug deep into these questions. They relied on the perceived past popularity of the Power Team at other schools.
Will the Power Team message square with District policies?
I don't think any of the five school districts have adequately
evaluated the message that will be spoken by the Power Team. What education qualifications does the Power Team have to do this sort of work?
How can we be sure that their message squares with a District's
policies on sensitive topics, State requirements on sex and
abstinence education, or the First Amendment when they speak? Schools have spent hundreds and thousands of hours developing health education guidelines, describing in extraordinary detail what can and should be said to students at each grade level.
I quote another
article from the Saturday Evening Post (Google cache) (local copy) that describes what the Power Team has said at past events:
"Often they hear heart-rending stories: the girl whose sister was
killed for her shoes, the three girls who came home to find their
father hanging himself, the high-school student who became
pregnant by her brother. But many of these tragic stories
have endings of hope. One girl whose boyfriend encouraged her
to have an abortion decided to keep her baby and give up
the boyfriend. At another school a student drug dealer vowed
to change his ways after a Power Team meeting."
Will this group talk to our students about incest and abortion? Are their anecdotes even true? Or mutated urban legends? Or is it good enough to use invented
dramatic tales to "scare kids straight" as long as it sounds like Character Education and positive values? Again, not all messages are the same.
[Ed. note. It has been pointed out to me that I may be misinterpreting this passage. When I first read this, I thought "they" in context above meant the students. On reexamination, I can see how "they" means the Power Team staff, and that it is not clear that they're repeating these particular stories to the students. They did repeat the stories to the reporter. In context, though, you can also see that the writer was mixing anecdotes from both assemblies and evening meetings, and did quote a Power Team member telling a similar scared-straight story. I welcome other references and anecdotes about the kinds of stories the Power Team tells in assemblies and evening meetings.]
And I quote a story from the Wisconsin Christian News, regarding the Power Team's recent appearance at the public schools in Marathon, WI:
"While the Team is generally not able to present a Christian message
in public schools, they are able to touch and heal broken hearts
of struggling students, with a message of motivation, encouraging
kids to make good decisions that will impact them for a lifetime.
At one local school, a staff member requested prayer for his troubled
marriage during the assembly. A few nights later, the same man was
seen in the audience at an evening crusade, embracing his wife...
the seeds of healing were planted. Everywhere the Power Team went,
hearts were touched, which was evident from the teary eyed students
and adults - some hearing for the first time in their lives that
Christ loves them."
What went wrong at the Marathon schools to allow a staff member to ask the student body for prayers for his marriage?
Why is a group of bodybuilders granted a free pass? Will the
Power Team be held to the same requirements that we'd demand
of District staff if they were conducting this character education
It is correct that the school administration can't control everything that's said by an outside presenter. On the other hand, they should conduct a reasonable examination of what might likely be said, and judge whether it matches the School District's goals and requirements.
What can we do? Cancel!
Contact your school district's administration. Ask them to cancel the Power Team presentations.
We can do better than this! [The school board contact info has been moved to a separate page, as it was no longer relevant.]
GOOD NEWS! ALL CANCELLED!
On January 29, 2007 at 11:30 a.m., all within 20 minutes, I heard from four superintendents who told me the Power Team assemblies had been cancelled. Jefferson confirmed their cancellation at 4 p.m. So all five districts have cancelled their appearances - a total of thirteen planned assemblies won't happen.
Why did they cancel?
- "Eliminating any notion that the schools were connected with the promotion of a crusade" - Here is the agenda of the January 29 meeting of the five superintendents and their counsel. It explains the many considerations they discussed before making a decision. It concludes "Would it be a fair compromise to all concern that we welcome the Faith Community Church to hold the evening programs as booked and scheduled, but that upon reflection not hold the assemblies thus eliminating any notion that the schools were connected with the promotion of a crusade."
- The Pastor's perspective: Blog appears, disappears - Pastor Dan Pierce's wife from the Faith Community Church had a Xanga blog "Decorator10" . In it, she posted that after he met with the superintendents, he emailed to his supporters "So, unless God intervenes, I think we have lost the school assemblies. The good thing is that the success of the crusade does not depend solely on the assemblies. We will just need to double our efforts to promote the evening events, etc." I think it's clear the Church regarded the school assemblies as a form of promotion for the evening events. I responded to her comments in brief. Sadly, she decided to delete all her blog entries related to the Power Team but I've archived them here. Later, the entire blog was shut down.
Other fallout... The story continues!
- The cancellation made the front page of the Watertown Daily Times, the Daily Jefferson County Union, the inner front page of the Janesville Gazette, and the front page of the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel. It briefly made the Associated Press wire service.
- Milwaukee's top conservative talk-radio host, Charlie Sykes, castigated me for a full hour on February 1 on WTMJ AM radio.
I called in and went toe-to-toe with him for ten minutes. Listen to his podcast of the show (broken link, archive copy). Yes, arguing with conservative radio hosts is just as entertaining when they're baiting you as when they're baiting other people.
My only l'espirit d'escalier regret is the moment after he baited me by suggesting that I wouldn't even want Martin Luther King to speak in schools. I said he's a historical figure, why not? Soon after, it sounds like he hung up on me. He did. It immediately occurred to me that if MLK was alive today and attempting to speak in schools, it would be folks like Sykes who would oppose it. After all, I suspect MLK would be against the war in Iraq as he was against the war in Vietnam, and he'd still be fighting for Jesus-like care for the poor and downtrodden.
A friend later said, "Cut you short didn't he. Think you may have been showing him up a bit."
- I wrote this letter to the editor. I'd sent it to the papers at 8 a.m. on the same day I later received word that all the events were cancelled. It later appeared in the Daily Jefferson County Union.
- Revival meetings cancelled? - The February 1 issue of the Daily Union reports that Faith Community Church has cancelled the five days of evening revival meetings in the wake of the school cancellations. The story is titled "Faith seeks new date for Power Team". The lead paragraphs say "Members of Faith Community Church will hold a special closed session meeting tonight to determine their exact plans to bring the Power Team to Fort Atkinson. The church must reschedule presentations by the Texas-based group in light of recent cancellations of programs at five area public school districts." Pastor Dan Pierce is quoted "There will be scheduling changes. We're still trying to decide what we're going to do." The newspaper reports they are meeting tonight to decide when to reschedule.
Again I'm shocked. I thought they'd still have the evening shows. After all, so many people were insisting there was no promotional connection between the school assemblies and the tent-shows.
February 2: Several members and now the Pastor have told me that the Daily Union's front page story got it wrong. They said the evening shows haven't been cancelled. Stay tuned, I'll be glad to post the corrected facts once they are available to me.
- February 3: Their committee hasn't given final approval on a press release yet, so the Union's story hasn't been corrected.
- February 5 : Here is the press release from the Church confirming that the evening revival meetings will happen as planned, as well as a "fact sheet" from the Church, which I include here intact, interspersed with my comments to question or refute many of their statements.
- The Janesville Gazette covered the story. Read it all here. It generated at least two letters to the editor, and I responded as well.
- The Walworth County Sunday / Shopper covered the story. The Google cached copy is here. (Local copy)
In it, Palmyra-Eagle Superintendent Bruce Gunderson says "[We] were looking for something to make us feel confident that the assembly wouldn’t go into religious topics or situations. After reviewing the (team’s) Web site - which is pretty heavily religion-based - we didn’t have that assurance.” The Power Team's marketing director Kim Terrell said
“We never have and never will mention the two no-nos of public schools — religion and politics. We’ve performed in over 26,000 schools now, and this is the first time we’ve ever had shows canceled out concern about our message."
This is clearly a falsehood, as shown above, as I was easily able to find other Power Team assemblies that had been cancelled as well as news stories that show that they are happy to present a religious message in public schools.
My analysis of their claimed number of performances is here, where I show how their "26,000 performances" claim is probably false as well, complete with math and an examination of their own event calendar and press appearances.
- Feb. 26: FoxPolitics covers this under the headline "Why is a moral message anathema to atheists?". I replied, so check the comments.
- Feb. 15 - "Your invited to see the Power Team". I received three copies of this emailed invitation from church members.
I asked them if they knew any travelling teams of preachers who teach spelling. :-)
- Feb. 17 - The Thomas More Law Center chimes in on the cancellations.
- The Janesville Gazette asked students about their views on religion in schools on March 10, 2007. (Local copy)
- March 10 - An Ames, Iowa newspaper writes an editorial "Schools should 'just say no' to Power Team", questioning post-facto what the Power Team was doing in their public schools, inviting kids to the revival meetings. A Jefferson resident comments on the story. Among other things, she claims that absence of the Power Team led to student drinking and drug-taking as well as "other problems being magnified" in the community.
- March 22 - The Power Team arrives in Fort Atkinson for their revival meeting. In reviewing the pictures in the newspaper coverage, I'm struck by yet another method of oblique religious promotion I'd never considered: Tattoos! The bared bulging biceps of several Power Team members are prominently covered in garish images of the Cross. Apparently they were not aware of the Biblical prohibition against tattoos in Leviticus 19:28.
In the local paper, Power Team Leader Craig
continues to claim the Power Team has never given a religious program in a school: "I've been here 17 years, and the gospel has never been preached in the schools, period."
The story ends in Jefferson County, but continues in other cities...
- May 3 - The Holmen (WI) Courier reports the Power Team appeared in several public schools and "Any mention of religious themes was not included in the school presentations,
although students were invited to attend the presentations at the church."
- May 23 - The Northwest (IL) Herald states "The Power Team has performed at more than 25,000 school assemblies in 20 years, according to its Web site. It is a number that would be even higher if the team was not banned from some school districts around the country." Lemons into lemonade!
- May 26 - The Chicago area Daily Herald story of the appearance in the Dundee, IL schools says "And so went Friday’s performance of The Power Team, a religious group that holds school assemblies during the day and puts on religious 'crusades' at churches in the evening.
The event was split into motivational speaking, feats of strength and an advertising campaign for the group’s performances this week at Elgin’s Church in the Word."
- May 30 - Another opinion piece in the Daily Herald (archived copy) from their schools reporter Jeff Gaunt, who attended the Power Team performance. He was unimpressed, saying "Sure, they broke some bricks, snapped a baseball bat and smashed soda cans in their hands.
But those feats were few and far between.
The rest of the presentation was split between an advertising campaign for their church performances, and some cliches about how there’s a seed of greatness in everyone. [...] The story was pretty good. The rest was not.
And overall, I didn’t find their performance inspiring — maybe because they are trained as ministers, not motivational speakers.
Which brings me to the real question.
Why would district administrators bring in a mediocre act that walks a fine line bordering on promoting religion in schools?"
- Feb. 2008 - Senior member John Kopta says "It's the best of both worlds -- the opportunity to pastor a church and then, once a month, go out and do evangelism in schools."
- "Muscular Christianity" is not a phrase that I invented. It was a movement starting in the 1850s, taking New Testament phrases to heart (the manly exertion and physical health of Mark 11:15 and 1 Cor. 6:19-20, for example).
It was originally a social criticism of the English church, which some thought had grown weak or even effeminate. It argued that there was innate goodness in health and strength. It hinted that absence of physical strength was moral weakness. Improving your body led to improving your spirit. It reached its epitome at the turn of the previous century, as we can still witness today with the YMCA and Turnverein gyms created in the 1890s in towns across the United States.
- "Jesus was no skinny little man. Jesus was a man's man," said Power Team founder John Jacobs on the TBN channel in 1991. This quote comes from an academic paper titled "The Power Team: Muscular Christianity and the Spectacle of Conversion" by Prof.
Sharon Mazer, the head of the theatre and film department at the University of Canterbury.
- A description of a Power Team evening event, by an attendee.
- There's an interesting defense of church-state separation from the Baptist Joint Committee for Religious Liberty called Answering the Top 10 Lies About Church and State". They have other essays, too.
Who and what is the Power Team, officially and legally?
- "The Power Team Inc." is a 501(c)(3) public charity. As such, they must file the 990 form with the IRS each year. Click here to read their 2005, 2004 and 2003 filings.
- Their primary purpose is evangelism, not education. On the 990, they describe their "primary exempt purpose" as "Evangelism" and their goal as "The Power Team, Inc. endeavors to preach and spread the Gospel of Jesus Christ. Participants are motivated and encouraged to live virtuosly (sic) and righteously by following the teachings of Jesus Christ." In this Feb. 1, 2008 interview with the "most senior member of the team," minister and Power Team board member John Kopta is quoted as saying "It's the best of both worlds -- the opportunity to pastor a church and then, once a month, go out and do evangelism in schools."
- Their primary purpose is religion, not education. Under the NTEE system for categorizing non-profits, their 990 says they consider themselves "X99 Religious Related, Spiritual Development N.E.C.". The guidelines suggest that this code be used for "organizations that clearly provide services relating to religion where the major purpose is unclear enough that a more specific code cannot be accurately assigned. Examples may include Unitarianism, Taoism, Sikhs, Zoroastrism, Atheism, Actualism, Theosophy, Bahaism and reference to 'miracles.' " There are many other NTEE categories for educational groups as well as crime-prevention groups. The Power Team apparently does not think they fall into these categories, even though they will claim that is their purpose when they're pitching a school assembly.
- They clearly link the school assemblies with religious goals. On the 990, their stated relationship between their fundraising activities and their purpose is "The Power Team Inc. is an organization of world class atheletes (sic) who hold assemblies in churches and schools all across America. The participants' combined display of physical strength and presentation of the Gospel is intended to motivate children to stay in school. The athletes (sic) emphasis on rewards of attaining academic achievements, and saying no to drugs & alcohol motivates the children to aspire for (sic) developing into outstanding citizens. Feedback from the teachers and parents indicates that the messages of moral and righteous existence by following the teachings of Jesus Christ has contributed to the children embracing the attitude of having fun filled experiences without the involvement of drugs and alcohol." They also claim "Sales of religious music, printed materials and t-shirts contributes to the organization's stated exempt purpose of informing the youths about the dangers of drugs and alcohol, and the importance of staying in school."
- Their primary revenue is contributions from the revival meetings. In 2005, they received $142,263 in fees for performing assemblies in churches and schools, but their total gifts and contributions totalled $1,229,000. In 2004, assembly income was $84,000 and gifts were $875,000. In 2003, gifts were $901,602. In 2002, $1,069,000. In 2001, $2,301,000. This does not count separate revenue from admissions or merchandise sold.
- The primary duties of the top employees are religious. In the 990, the top independent contractors (the athletes) earning more than $50,000 each all list their duties as "Religious presentations."
Has the Power Team been cancelled in other places?
- Has the Power Team been cancelled in other places? Yes, indeed. Here's a case in San Juan, CA in 2005, another in Jamestown, NY in 1998. Here's a campaign letter in North Carolina that hints that the local school board refused to allow the Power Team to appear sometime before 2006.
- After I sent an email to the district, the Power Team was cancelled in the Houston area in May 2007. Says the Houston Chronicle, 'Another Houston-area school, Hairgrove Elementary in the Cypress-Fairbanks Independent School District, canceled a planned Power Team performance because the principal decided "it was not appropriate for a school setting," said district spokeswoman Kelli Durham.' A local blog commented on it all.
- A school district in Escambia, Florida debated a similar assembly in 2002. Another in Inverness, Florida has similar discussions about the appropriateness of faith-based groups performing assemblies in 2001.
- An Ames, Iowa newspaper writes a March 10, 2007 editorial "Schools should 'just say no' to Power Team", questioning post-facto what the Power Team was doing in public schools, inviting kids to the revival meetings. They said, "Given the Power Team's strong evangelical message, apparent on its Web site, and the fact that it invited students to what it calls a "crusade" at a church, it's hard to see this assembly anything other than overt religious recruitment."
An Ames-area bible-thumper gets mad about it here.
- Here are two stories of the controversy in Pennsylvania regarding the Power Team appearances. Yes, the ACLU has opposed the Power Team in the past, contrary to what the Power Team claims. In Towanda, the Power Team assembly was originally prohibited by the school board, then reinstated with a promise it wouldn't be religious in nature.
- Here is a description of what happened in a Minnesota school.
How does the Power Team promote their evening events at schools?
- In this Delavan, WI news story from February 2007, the Power Team's marketing director Kim Terrell said “We never have and never will mention the two no-nos of public schools — religion and politics. We’ve performed in over 26,000 schools now, and this is the first time we’ve ever had shows canceled out concern about our message."
- In Elgin, Illinois (Google cache) in May 2007, the Power Team asked school administrators if they could distribute literature during their presentation. The request was denied. Administrators were on watch to insure no religious messages were presented.
- This forum's comments includes anecdotes describing Power Team appearances in Arkansas public schools: Bible tracts in the office, ministers in the lunch room. Here's another anecdote from someone who tells how the Power Team skirted the "no religious message" promise at school.
- Someone from a church in Colorado Springs tells an anecdote of how a coach accepted Christ during a high school assembly. It's an anecdote, but it indicates what a sponsoring church member thinks happens at the assemblies.
- A church in Alton, Illinois, has a page about their Power Team crusade that describes how they saw the connection between the school assemblies and the evening meetings. Lots of pictures, too.
- The Power Team went to Warsaw, Indiana in February 2006 and this news report says "The men also went into the area public schools encouraging students to stay away from drugs and alcohol, to live a pure life, and to come to the evening performances. As a result of the public school appearances, the attendance on Friday night topped 700 people."
- A Power Team member admits there's no link between the feats and the rest of their message in this news story: "The first thing that people are going to ask is, what does breaking a brick have to do with God? [The answer is] absolutely nothing," Griffin admits, "[but] the whole thing is, we need to be here ... to evangelize the world." [...] "Whenever they can, Power Team members also hold rallies in area schools where they encourage students with a motivational message, and then invite them to attend the evening crusade at the host church."
- "Schools are the greatest mission fields in all the world," says the Power Team's vice-president in this article in Charisma magazine. "Where else do you see anyone encouraging teens to stay away from drugs, alcohol and premarital sex - and get a standing ovation?" I ask, are they applauding the message or the feats of strength?
- '"If someone is going to church, they've always got their guard up," said Carey Leighow, a team member for more than 13 years. "But when they come to our things, they're not thinking church service so their guard is a little down before they even get there."' says a Power Team member in this Roanoke, VA news article from 2006.
- "Kids don't want to come and hear an anti-drug message, they want to come and see a guy slam his head through four feet of concrete" says a pastor in this 1996 article.
- The Power Team has a MySpace page to promote themselves to teens.
- Here's a description of other tactics used by dominionists to push into the schools.
- Here's an article about "pizza evangelists".
- In this article from Columbia University, "Bodybuilding for Jesus", Power Team leader Craig Lemley says "We’re here to wage war on the devil." But not everyone likes them, even within churches. Says a pastor in Denver, "After the Power Team, no one’s going to want to sit and listen to a regular preacher." Will students feel the same way about their teachers that afternoon?
- "We are a kind of bait because we are here to present a message, but we also are entertainers," said John Jacobs, Power Team founder, in 2002 at an event in Columbus, OH.
- In this Wikipedia profile of a singer who was once a Power Team member, it says "The Power Team, headed up by John Jacobs, held assemblies in schools that
encouraged teens to make right decisions in life. After the assembly, the teens
would be invited to come back for a Power Team program that would be held at a
nearby church where they would be introduced to Christianity."
- In this Feb. 1, 2008 interview with John Kopta, it says "He is the most senior member of the team. He's served as a board member and vice president since 2003." He is quoted "It's the best of both worlds -- the opportunity to pastor a church and then, once a month, go out and do evangelism in schools."
What if the Power Team were Islamic?
- In debating this issue, I often hear the argument that if the Power Team were Islamic, that "liberals" would think it was wonderful. The Rocknetroots blog in nearby Rock County has a piece titled "Church and State: Depends on which Church". They rewrote the Power Team's PR as if they were an Islamic ministry.
It's fabulous. Check it out here.
Are there many other groups like the Power Team?
- There are many other "strength-based ministries" such as the Next Generation Power Force, The Truth Force, Strength Team, Team Impact, Stand Strength Team (and their blog and MySpace), Athletes in Action, Team Xtreme, (and their take on religious messages and promotion in assemblies) the Fellowship of Christian Athletes, SportsWorld Ministry, Christian Wrestling Federation, and the former Rage Against Destruction.
- ABC News covered the "GodMen" in March 2007. (Another video). Their web site is subtitled "When Faith Gets Dangerous."
- There's another group called "You Can Run But You Can't Hide" with a band called Junkyard Prophet. Here's a good summary of its performances in the Midwest. Like the Power Team, they gain entry with a promise of presenting a program about making good choices... but in many communities, they erupted into bizarre tirades against holding hands, abortion, and saving yourself for a God-fearing man. The Arkansas Democrat-Gazette reported complaints from students and parents after a presentation in Eureka Springs, saying "Some students ... said that what began as a message to stay away from alcohol transgressed into rants from lecturers on topics including abortion, gun control, the sanctity of marriage and ‘the dangers of rock and roll.’" The Weekly Standard also writes about them. Democratic Underground put them at number seven on its list of "Top Ten Conservative Idiots" for 2005.
- A "Christian illusionist" (magician) named Brock Gill leads a presentation called "Freedom Experience" that combines magic, "punk rock", and skateboard and BMX bike stunts. Like the Power Team, they use school assemblies to drive traffic to the evening revival meetings.
Does the Power Team ever have conflicts at churches or with religious folk?
- Here's a detailed description of an evening crusade in Colorado in 1998.
- Here's a blog by the wife of a preacher who brought the Power Team to his church - and grew angry at their excessive demands for more offerings - and how the event went astray as the Power Team wanted to take the collection box!
- Here's another in east Phoenix in 2005. I quote: ""If God had an 11th commandment, it would be this: Thou shalt not bore," [Craig] Lemley told his audience to start the opening-night feats. "We are going to have a good time tonight" and an "astounding week right here in this church, and I think it’s going to be the worst week the devil ever had in Mesa, Arizona." [...] "It’s a completely secular assembly," [Joel] Caldwell said. "We talk about about values" and urge students to make good choices to reach their goals and dreams. "Most schools will allow us to invite and tell where were will be in the nighttime, and some kids will come out and hear the gospel," he said."
- Here's a thread of conversation on the Rapture Ready forum regarding the Power Team.
- Here is an evangelical's blog, explaining why he doesn't like the Power Team, either.
- Here's another group of evangelicals discussing the Power Team. I disagree with the claimed $50,000 fee per Power Team event. I saw sources that mentioned $5,000 for the revival shows. In Fort Atkinson, the Pastor told me they weren't charged at all.
- "Power Team Uplifts Souls, Promises Results" is another evangelist who doesn't like the Power Team's methods.
- Here's a review of the Power Team from an evangelist who doesn't like them because they don't condemn enough.
- Here is an article from Charisma magazine, a publication for the evangelical community, regarding the original founder of the Power Team who left the group in 2003, after being charged with assaulting an ex-Power Team member who left to work for Team Impact, a competing athletic travelling ministry. The evangelical community seems pretty upset that he divorced his wife, remarried, then annulled the second marriage, too. Here's a second article there.
- Here's a Southern Baptist blog with comments about the Power Team: "Brought the Power Team to our church recently, saw over 200 people come forward
and $16K raised (for the Power Team organization), but haven’t added a single person to the church as a result.”
- Another Baptist pastor's blog, saying "We have the Power Team come through town and dunk 100 people in our SBC church
(an approved baptism) and never see them again. Now that's biblical! (sarcasm
- The Reformers and Puritans blog deconstructs Power Team hype, and doesn't like their methods. Later, he remarks on my reference to his page: "For what it’s worth, I’m glad that the Power Team assemblies got cancelled."
What about ordinary people at the evening meetings?
- Here's a description of an evening event from another blogger whose daughter was lured by a school assembly.
- Here's a 1999 article in a London paper, where one attendee of the evening event says 'It's a bloody con," said Adrian, a jeweller from Thamesmead. "I've come here with seven kids thinking it was the world's strongest man, not some big Christian thing. No wonder it was free.'
- An opinion piece in the Daily Herald (archived copy) from their schools reporter Jeff Gaunt.
Trackbacks - Sites that link here
- Texas Hold 'Em, a conservative blog in Wisconsin, discussed this case. However, the blogger wouldn't allow me to post my last response, so I include it here.
- Americans United covered this story, saying they successfully stopped a Power Team performance in Washington.
I hope that more people would realize that the administrators may have based their decision on the concept of a "limited
public forum." If a school district allows outside groups that aren't connected to a student group to speak or distribute literature, then they will be required to open it to all groups. A good explanation can be found here.
- Gladly Suffering Fools mentions this page, saying "Because, of course, nothing says 'Blessed are the meek' like a three-hundred-pound man tearing a phone book in half."
- The Hot Dogs, Pretzels and Perplexing Questions blog mentions us.
- The ScienceBlogs site Pharyngia mentions us, tripling traffic.
- See the links at the top of this page for a series of YouTube videos. It's an interesting selection of tricks. It's clear that many of them take place during school assemblies, not the evening revival meetings. I note that none of the Power Team clips on YouTube feature any part of their positive values message. Certainly the students like the stunts far more.
- In this video, The Power Team explodes cans of soda, bent skillets, and explains what they think God wants to do for people's lives.
- This is the Power Team's school assembly web site, which includes a brief video and colorful literature.
- In this video, The Power Team explodes cans of soda, bent skillets, and explains what they think God wants to do for people's lives.
Other groups similar to the Power Team
STAND Strength Team - Like the Power Team, this Team lures public school kids to the evening events.