Salvation and Cultivation

Do campus religious groups breach the boundaries of ethics?

Campus Weekly Tempe/February 28, 1985
By Jim McCleary

Sandy returned to ASU following several years in the workforce, and felt rather detached from the atmosphere on campus - until she was recruited into a religious organization.

The group often watched movies depicting non-believers ablaze. After one viewing, she walked out of the church to find a small girl sitting on the steps, crying. "My Daddy believes in everything the movie said but my Mommy doesn't. I don't want my Mommy to burn like that."

Sandy convinced the little girl that would not happen. Another church member found Sandy with the girl and said, "If her mother doesn't believe our beliefs she will burn in Hell."

This story is told by Rick Ross, coordinator of Jewish Prisoner Services. Children's Services is counseling people who have left religious groups. He withheld Sandy's true identity and the name of the group she was involved with for her own protection. Sandy, whose experience on the steps of the church that day led her to question her membership with the group, is one of many ASU students Ross has counseled.

ASU, and every other college campus across the country, is a haven for religious organizations which concentrate on building their membership and thus, increase their power in society, Ross said. He publicly admits that freedom of religion and expression must be upheld in a democratic society. But he becomes concerned and quite outspoken when recruitment for these organizations is done in a deceptive manner and the practices of the groups border on brainwashing.

Ross says religious organizations play off of the vulnerabilities of college students, specifically those who attend school in another part of the country or world from where they were raised. Recruiters often invite students to a dinner or a party sponsored by the organization without prior disclosure of the group's identity or the beliefs members subscribe to, Ross said. One thing leads to another, and before the student realizes it, he accepts the group's doctrine and becomes a full-fledged member.

"There seems to be a lot of people going to ASU for an education and finding more than they bargained for if they run into one of these groups.

"They (recruiters) are proselytizing these people without completely revealing their affiliations or agendas. I think that that's a very questionable practice and I think that's outside the parameters of ethics in our community," he said.

Ross, who spoke Feb. 21 at ASU on the topic "Cults and Crusades: Conversion through Coercion," comes down the hardest on such religious organizations as Hare Krishna, Rajneesh and the Unification agendas and the recruiting practices of certain organizations targeted towards college campuses, specifically Maranatha Christian Fellowship, Campus Crusade For Christ and Inter Varsity Christian Fellowship.

Maranatha, which has about 85 current and former ASU students as members, is aligned with the charismatic movement, Paul Barker, associate pastor at Maranatha, said. It is an evangelical organization which regards the Bible as the final authority. Critics say it is based on "authoritarian" principles and that leaders are "dictatorial," giving members little individual freedom.

An ad hoc committee in 1982 released a report, researched by national collegiate and religious experts, which was rather critical of Maranatha's agenda. Ross cited one of the statements, saying some techniques resemble "outward symptoms of mind control."

"Maranatha Campus Ministries has an authoritarian orientation with potential negative consequences for members. It has been reported that leaders have used personal 'revelation' from God to exert strong influence over the decisions of individual members - decisions regarding their personal affairs…Those who questioned the hierarchy were said to have a 'spirit of rebellion.' Less than total commitment to the goals of leadership was sometimes interpreted as spiritual weakness or the result of 'demonic' influence."

The final statement of the report states: "We would not recommend this organization to anyone."

Barker discounted the report, saying three theologians from reputable Bible colleges in the nation were involved in the research and gave Maranatha "a clean bill of health." However, Barker said their statements were purged from the report, thus leaving a negative image of Maranatha. "The ad hoc committee refused to mention those comments in the report."

The report's research was based on interviews with former members of Maranatha, barker claims, who spoke unfavorably about the group. "You could go to disgruntled former members of any organization and get the same responses."

Recruitment for Maranatha is based on "one-on-one contact with students and their friends," Barker said. It would be impossible , he said, to conceal the identity of Maranatha when introducing new members to the church. "We have to fully identify ourselves since we have a sign on our building."

Between 65 and 85 people attend the weekly meeting of Campus Crusade For Christ even though there is no actual "membership," according to staffer John Burks. There are, however, smaller Bible study groups which have about 50 dedicated students who attend regularly. Burks said Campus Crusade is an "evangelical arm of the Church," and its members actively attempt to recruit interested students. "The distinction of our ministry is that you take the initiative to share your faith. If I just sit in my room all day, no one will know what is most important in my life."

Campus Crusade was founded by Bill Bright about 33 years ago. One of several booklets which Bright authored and is used by followers is titled :Jesus and the Intellectual." One passage states: "Commitment to Christ involves the surrender of the intellect, the emotions and the will - the total person."

Ross says, "this urging to give up your autonomy, give up your individuality, is very similar to what we're seeing in cult groups."

Burks says that is exactly what Campus Crusade is based upon. "We have just chosen to put our life in the hands of God."

Among the biggest offenders of non-disclosure of the group's identity by recruiters is Campus Crusade, Ross says. "They train their professional proselytizers in methods of deception. They are urged to approach potential converts without identifying themselves or their concerns clearly."

Burks explained the process by which the Campus Crusade informs students of the organization begins with a questionnaire. "I tell them I'm with an organization on campus and see if they are willing to fill out the questionnaire." The questions stimulate the student to think about various topics, including God and death, he said. "Through the questionnaire, it is very easy to get into a discussion."

Ross said he once exit-counseled a person who had left the Campus Crusade and said it was a "very tough case." He said the person's pupils were dilated and that he had trouble focusing attention. These are symptoms of mind control similar to those used in cults, Ross said.

"Either his view of a cult is different than mine or he is misrepresenting us," Burks said. "I will try to take a stand when it comes to cults. They are very deceptive and I don't want to be like that at all. We don't believe, as an organization, that you can force a person to believe in something."

A third prominent religious group at ASU is the Inter Varsity Christian Fellowship. Richard Follet, president of IVCF and an ASU student, said the basis of the group is to encourage questioning among its members, who are interdenominational. "We are Christian minds maturing in the way we look at life in a Christian perspective." Between 20 and 30 students are involved in IVCF, all of whom subscribe to the various beliefs of "mainstream" religious thought, he said.

The IVCF encourages a call to "surrender," similar to the Campus Crusade. One of IVCF's booklets, titled "Christianity for the open-minded," suggests, "the only way out… is to surrender our naturalist's presupposition and come with an open mind," It further states, "head and heart, mind and will are all involved. Likewise in this momentous matter of response to Christ, our minds are persuaded. Our hearts are drawn. Our wills are surrendered."

Such a call to surrender personal control and though is basic to the "brainwashing" procedures used by cults, Ross suggests.

"If it's brainwashing to present a point of view, then I would say that's what goes on in classes at school every day," Follett said.

Recruitment into IVCF is done by having members set up tables on the mall or going into dormitories to "share with students some of our beliefs," Follett said. He doubts anyone from his organization has misrepresented himself of the organization while explaining their beliefs to students.

Father Albert Pace, director of the All Saints Catholic Newman Center, said he has concerns about some religious organizations on campus, even though their presence has become less obvious in recent years. Father Albert has dealt with students who have been involved in such groups and said sometimes they do, knowingly or now, use certain questionable methods of recruitment.

"I met a couple of students who had been involved in some of these organizations and they said they felt they used methods that deprived them of their ability to make a decision." He recalled a student, who after three days in a cultish group, came to him and said the doctrines of the Catholic Church were wrong. "That's when you know you are brainwashed."

John Crawford, professor of communications at ASU, has tried for several years to initiate a program at ASU which would inform students of the methods used by religious groups in recruitment efforts. He, along with faculty members from four other departments, requested grant money to conduct research on the situation. The request was shot down. "The thing never got above level one-inch before it was killed."

"The University doesn't want to get involved in pro-Christian things and it sure doesn't want to get into anti-Christian things." Crawford said he doesn't anticipate any University interest in studying the practices if religious groups in the future. "Maybe the theory is to let a sleeping dog lie."

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