Wednesday, May 19, 2010

A Faux-Secular, Faux-Victim Play-place

Did you see the piece in yesterday's Post about how a nice learning place for kids called the Playseum was hounded by rumors on the Internet? Check out how it starts:
In the days before three Montgomery County kindergarten classes were slated to go on a field trip to the Be With Me Playseum, an indoor play space in Bethesda, the organization's staff prepared for what they hoped would be the first of many visits.

The owner of the fledgling business, Gina Seebachan, bought tiles so each child could make a handprint to take home as a keepsake. She organized books by authors the children were reading for story time. If the trip went well, Seebachan thought, business might really take off.

Then, without warning, Westbrook Elementary School, which all four of Seebachan's children have attended, canceled the trip.

All because, Seebachan says, she mentions God on the Playseum Web site. Play space owner defends herself against claims that she's pushing religion

I read this today and thought, all right, here's a chance for me to take the side of the Christian lady. She mentions God, that's okay with me, mean people shouldn't be saying bad things about her for that.
Last month's canceled school visits were just the latest in what some friends and neighbors call an unsubstantiated whisper campaign that has gone viral, with Web postings accusing Seebachan, an evangelical Christian, and the Playseum of being less about creating a play space for children and more about saving their souls. In a well-to-do, liberal community, where separation of church and state is virtually a religion, Seebachan's references to God, and the use of the politically loaded word "life" on the Playseum Web site, coupled with the echo chamber of the Internet, made for a combustible mix.

In anonymous postings on local Web sites, parents accused Seebachan of handing out antiabortion literature at the Playseum, accepting support from right-wing Christian groups and playing Christian rock music at the play space. Most damning, one anonymous poster who said she was Jewish claimed that Seebachan told her that unless she accepted Jesus as her personal savior, the client and her children would go to hell
Follow the link to the Playseum web site. Yes, it mentions God, on one screen, in a way that I think does not especially put any pressure on anybody.

Unfortunately, before I followed that link I Googled Playseum and the owner's name, and it took me to her Facebook site. Here's what she says on her Info page:
Since 2000 I have been working with children. A huge change from owning my own Art business and havign a store in the MOA. God picked us up from Minnesota and moved us to DC, technically Bethesda Maryland but we live five ninutes from the border near Georgetown. We love it! Here I began teaching young adults hw to work with kids and teach them the Gospel in a relevant way through our rocking Church, In 2003, God challenged me to begin a kids ministry within the elementary schools and I did with a lot of faith and a lot prayer. Since then He, God, has done awesome things with kids in this area. We have ministered to over 150 kids since and have seen many make decisions to serve Christ. last year my daughter challanged me to begin a club in the Middle school too and we did. We now meet twice a week and Jill Dumas has begun a RIOT KIDS in Minnesota too! The new challenge from the Lord is the building of a Children's Museum in this area that has a deeper mission than just making kids happy. I want to build a place that honors life, has interactive exhbits teaching kids how to make good life choices in the world that we live in today. This dream is bigger than me and I need prayer and help if you are intersted in helping me somehow let me know. I knwo that God has always supplied and provided for that which He has called. Gina Seebachan's Facebook Page

The Playseum's official page does not say anything about a "kids ministry." (Also, I hope this lady is not teaching spelling.)

Very clearly, Gina Seebachan does intend to save kids' souls in the name of Christ. There is clearly more to this than the word "God" on the Playseum website.

The Post goes on:
Seebachan says she was "shocked but also in tears" after she heard the allegation that a client was told her family might be headed to hell. "I'd fire someone if I found out that that's what they said," she said. "That's not what this place is for. I have no hidden motivation to convert people at the Playseum. I'm not marketing to Christians." Rather, she says, Playseum was inspired by the open, friendly scene at the fountain outside the Barnes and Noble bookstore in downtown Bethesda. "That's how I imagined this place, like a big, refreshing swimming pool for anybody to come to and be together with their children in a different way, without computers, TVs or cellphones."

Despite Seebachan's denials of evangelical intent, the rumors circulated on the Web. She began to get malicious anonymous phone calls from people slamming her for foisting her faith on others. Visitors demanded to know her staff's religious background. "One is from Peru," Seebachan said she would tell callers. "One is from Sri Lanka. One is vegan. One is kosher Jewish. I have a guy from Trinidad and a gal from Congo. I honestly have no idea what religion they are. "

It is a little hard to reconcile her denials with her Facebook statement.

The "unsubstantiated whisper campaign" (as The Post calls it) seems to comprise some posts at the DC Urban Mom web site. I am not going to read every word of it, but it appears that one anonymous poster says she was told she would go to hell, and then other people say things like, "...we should be careful not to vilify the owner of any establishment b/c of an anonymous post on the internet." People discuss their experiences and how they would feel if someone proselytized at an apparently secular place like Playseum, not all of them would appreciate it, and some others report questionable experiences there. It does not seem to be especially mean-hearted, and if the talk "went viral" as The Post claims, it only happened after this article was published on the front page of the Metro section, with a big pointer to it on page A1. If you Google for Playseum, you will find the Urban DC Mom links and then ... regular stuff, people took their kids there, they seem to like it.

If you want your kids to receive Christian indoctrination in a play setting, then it looks like the Playseum is for you. If you want to take them to a secular place, then I would steer clear of this one. The owner has clearly stated that she intends to establish a ministry for children, but the Playseum web site conceals that fact, and in her interview with The Post she downplays her religious views in a way that is, in light of her Facebook page, clearly disingenuous.

Conclusion: The Post published a piece that falsely (probably gullibly) presented an actively evangelical Christian as if she were running a secular establishment, and asserted that the woman and her place have been attacked by "rumors circulated on the Web," when it appears a few people published negative reports of their experiences there, which were probably justified. It is hard to imagine why the editors of a real newspaper would decide to give this kind of non-story such prominent placement.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

Westbrook Elementary parents love websites where they can post anonymously. The past principal encouraged this type of conduct. Gina is not the only victim.

January 18, 2011 8:43 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

"It is hard to imagine why the editors of a real newspaper would decide to give this kind of non-story such prominent placement."

This is not the first time that the Post slanders somebody from that school community in a non-story to destroy their reputation. Strange considering that the Exec Editor of the WP is a parent there.

January 19, 2011 10:39 AM  

Post a Comment

<< Home