Bible club evicted from U of Guelph campus

Group accused of authoritarianism, cult-like control over members

Toronto Globe and Mail, Canada/September 27, 1989

Guelph, Ontario - An evangelical movement that has been accused of being anti-homosexual, believing in the subservience of women, exerting cult-like mind control and using authoritarian recruiting techniques has been evicted from the University of Guelph campus.

After a three-month investigation by a group of university students and administrators, the University Bible Studies club was given 48 hours to vacate its campus office last week. The university barred the UBS from the campus after the student association removed the group from its list of approved student clubs.

Members of the club - the first organization to be evicted in the university's 25-year history - say they may take legal action to force reinstatement and clear the club's name.

They say their major concern is that they were given no warning of the investigation before being ordered to leave and that they were maligned with no opportunity to defend themselves.

No one involved in the investigation will reveal details of the accusations against UBS - either to the group itself or to the media.

After its investigation, the university concluded that allegations of coercive proselytization, authoritarianism and subservience of women were real, that these activities had persisted over several years despite discussions with student and staff representatives and that they were a serious affront to individual rights and the university's values.

The university's accusations against UBS, circulated in a news release, caught Guelph's Grace Community Church, which operated the club, completely off guard, co-pastors Brian Johnston and John Fairchild said.

In an interview at the church's down town Guelph office, they refused to discuss the charges.

"How do we defend ourselves? The university won't talk to us. We've got no specifics of the charges against us," Mr. Johnston said. "We've been judged and found guilty without a trial Everyone should be upset about that, whether they agree with what we're doing or not."

Robert Tucker, director of the Toronto-based Council on Mind Abuse, which assisted the university in its investigation, said the Bible club, which is affiliated with the Colorado-based Great Commission International, is "part of a fairly strong, very aggressive" Christian evangelical movement." The Great Commission International was launched in Greeley, Colo. about 1970.

Mr. Tucker said his council, a non-profit organization that provides counselling and consulting services and promotes education about religious and other cults, has seen "a constant, steady stream of casualties" from the evangelical movement.

The Great Commission International is "part of a movement variously called the discipling movement or the multiplying ministries," he said. "They're very active on university campuses. They're very, very aggressive. The proselytization turns into a form of vigorous assault."

The UBS has tried unsuccessfully to establish clubs at other Ontario universities, including McMaster in Hamilton and York in Toronto.

Guelph campus officials say the UBS directed its efforts at young, apparently lonely, students, and made a special effort to recruit foreign students without family or other support in the country.

"They're doing nothing illegal, and may not be doing anything immoral," Mr. Tucker said. "But the processes they use are not ethical.

"There's a pattern of conversion that involves the destruction of a person's ego structure. The group becomes the centre, of a person's life. There are serious problems with the degree of surrender of autonomy, critical judgment and the powers of individual thought. You do that at risk. When people leave, they're often suicidal."

The Guelph investigation, which heard from former UBS members, representatives from the student council, university administration and other campus religious groups, was prompted by complaints to the university from the family of a woman member of UBS.

Members of the family, not identified by the university or the students to protect their privacy, said, they believe their daughter, who is in her early 20s, was forced to marry a UBS member.

The family complained to university president Brian Segal that they lost virtually all contact with their daughter after she joined the Bible club two years ago while studying at the University of Windsor.

They said she underwent a dramatic personality change, rejected her family, then transferred to the University of Guelph. They thought she was continuing her undergraduate studies in Guelph, but discovered later that she was not enrolled as a student but was working as a UBS recruiter.

Paul Burns, a student council executive member, said: "The decision to ask them to leave was not a difficult one to make. They've been called on the carpet before. At one time they openly stated their anti-homosexuality."

University lawyer Ronald Sleight­holm said, club representation on campus "is a privilege, not a right," and the university had strong evidence before it moved against the club. "We're on firm ground."

The 30-member Guelph UBS had been a registered campus club since 1976 and at one point the largest at the University.

Mr. Fairchild, the Grace Community church pastor, said the university's charges had "cult written all over it, and we're certainly not that."

Mr. Fairchild and Mr. Johnston, both young, articulate and patiently polite with a stream of reporters calling for information, appeared somewhat bemused by the turn of events.

"It could be that the university has simply blundered into a family squabble," said Mr. Fairchild, who denied any knowledge of a woman UBS member who fits the description of the former University of Windsor student.

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