UC may ban Christian ministry group

Cincinnati Post/November 18, 1998
By Stephen Huba

A campus ministry at the University of Cincinnati may be kicked off the campus because of aggressive recruiting.

Campus Advance, a ministry of the Cincinnati Church of Christ, has been criticized in the past for its proselytizing at UC.

University officials believe it is the same group that once called itself Christians on Campus and was suspended nine years ago over allegations of ''mental and physical abuse'' after students who left the group complained they were being harassed.

Now the Student Activities Board is considering whether to suspend the ministry permanently from campus.

Derek Wooten, a Cincinnati Church of Christ minister, said the group likely will not challenge a suspension nor let it threaten their work. ''I'm not quite sure why we're permanently suspended,'' Wooten said. ''It's kind of odd, considering fraternities. When they get caught hazing, they only get suspended for a few years.''.

Other Christian ministries at UC are concerned that the techniques of Campus Advance amount to emotional abuse. Campus ministers attest to getting calls regularly from confused students and worried parents asking about the group.

''I spent 12 years cleaning up after them,'' said the Rev. David Harper, a former UC campus minister who now pastors Hyde Park-Bethlehem United Methodist Church.

Rev. Harper lumps the Cincinnati Church of Christ in with what he calls ''pseudo-Christian destructive religious groups.'' He refrains from using the word cult. ''I believe these folks are for the most part well-intentioned but quite ill,'' said Rev. Harper, who is organizing a meeting of campus ministries tonight to address the issue.

Campus Advance apparently has stepped up its activity at UC in recent months, he said, and students need to be warned.

The Cincinnati Church of Christ - and its Campus Advance ministry - belongs to a movement known as the International Churches of Christ. It has no formal ties to the independent Churches of Christ.

Among the hallmarks of the International Churches of Christ are their practices of aggressive evangelism and discipling, a system whereby new converts are paired with more experienced members and may be called upon to make lifestyle changes.

Rev. Harper and other critics fault the movement for being authoritarian, legalistic and controlling.

They say college students, recruited at a time when they are vulnerable, often are expected to break ties with their family and friends to demonstrate their allegiance to Christ and the church.

''Their methodology is, well, cult-like,'' said the Rev. John C. Gilbert, director of Campus Ministries for Old St. George in Clifton. ''They exert a lot of emotional pressure on members to submit to their authoritarian leadership.''

Rev. Gilbert said he regularly counsels students who have had a negative experience with the group, after initially being attracted by its offers of Bible study and fellowship. Rev. Harper said Cincinnati Church of Christ leaders tell people how to live and isolate them from the outside world.

''This is subtle, beguiling, personality-changing kind of stuff,'' he said. ''They will demand conformity in such a subtle way that the person will deny anything was demanded of them.''

The name Campus Advance dates back to the late 1960s, when Chuck Lucas, a founding father of the International Churches of Christ, began a college outreach at the University of Florida in Gainesville, Fla.

At UC, the name Campus Advance is much more recent. University officials believe the group previously went by the name Christians on Campus.

In 1989, the Student Activities Board suspended Christians on Campus as an official student organization over allegations of ''mental and physical abuse.''

Student complaints filed at the time centered on their receiving ''harassing'' phone calls after they left the group, according to a 1989 article in the News Record, the UC newspaper.

Students said they got phone calls at odd hours and sometimes had to change rooms or phone numbers, the article said.

Concerns resurfaced in 1997 when a group calling itself Campus Advance applied for official recognition as a student group. UC officials believe Campus Advance is the same group as Christians on Campus but with a different name, both with ties to the Cincinnati Church of Christ.

''They registered under a different name and got back on campus under a different name,'' said Lucy Croft, UC adviser to the Student Activities Board.

UC spokesman Greg Hand said the university was ''tipped off'' to the connection. When that was discovered, Campus Advance's registration was suspended pending further review. The Students Activities Board will decide Thursday on a permanent suspension.

Cincinnati Church of Christ member Brian Rupel said some people misinterpret the church's commitment to a cause as extremism: ''Maybe our zeal in evangelism upsets people. If it's biblical, we're not going to succumb to the university's desire for us not to be that way.''

A closer look

The International Churches of Christ is known for aggressive campus recruiting and has no formal ties to the independent Churches of Christ.

It operates at UC as the Campus Advance ministry.

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