Extremist Fundamentalist Groups Make Inroads On Canadian University Campuses

The Canadian Press/September 1989

Canadian university campuses are fertile ground for extreme fundamentalist groups who make an "aggressive grab for souls" and leave a path of devastated youth in their wake, experts say.

Robert Tucker, director of the Toronto-based Council on Mind Abuse, said the groups preach a rigid style of fundamentalist Christianity, but their methods more closely resemble those of a cult.

"It all starts out very friendly," Tucker said in an interview. "New students are invited to a Bible meeting and they meet friends. But soon, they are taken through an assault on their sense of self."

Similar groups have also turned up at universities in Toronto and Winnipeg, the University of British Columbia and the University of Saskatoon, student officials said.

The problem received attention last week after the University of Guelph took steps to evict the University Bible Studies club from its campus.

Paul Burns, a student association vice president, said the club was barred after parents complained their daughter, who is in her early 20s, was forced to marry a club member.

The family, who Burns would not identify, said they lost all contact with their daughter after she joined the club two years ago while studying at the University of Windsor.

Abandoned studies

They said she underwent a dramatic personality change and abandoned her studies to become a recruiter for the group.

Tucker, who helped the university with their investigation, said the group displayed all the characteristics of a cult.

The club was later discovered to be affiliated with the Colorado-based Great Commission International, an organization entrenched on about 80 campuses in the United States.

Barbara Lloyd, a former member of the Great Commission club at Ohio State University, said group leaders gradually impose total, but subtle, control over their members.

Lonely and away from home for the first time, she joined the group because it offered friends and a variety of social activities.

During the more than five years she was involved, her life included only the group and her education studies.

"They stressed loyalty to the leadership with no questions asked. Women were to be very submissive and there was no dating."

When she began asking too many questions, the group arranged for her to marry a member she hardly knew and had never dated.

"I thought I was supposed to marry him, even though I had hardly been friends with him. He wasn't my type of guy," she said.

Left group

Lloyd managed to leave the group in February 1987 only after her parents kidnapped her and the family spent one week holed up in a remote cottage with a deprogramming councillor. She spent a further two weeks at a rehabilitation centre for victims of cults.

However, John Fairchild, a pastor at the Grace Community Church which operated the Guelph club and is also a member of the Great Commission, said there is nothing wrong with his church.

"We are an independent, evangelical, Bible-believing type of conservative church," said Fairchild.

Colin Clay, a chaplain at the University of Saskatchewan in Saskatoon who has written a book on campus cults, said the groups are very difficult to detect because Bible study groups on campus are common.

As well, those affiliated with well-known groups in the United States will often change their names many times.

For example, Bums said the Guelph group was known as the Great Commission Students before complaints surfaced about their methods in the campus newspaper.

Clay said getting rid of the groups can also be difficult.

"Canadians are very tolerant. They don't like to be seen as persecuting a religious minority."

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