UC told of church pressure tactics

Cincinnati Post/November 20, 1998
By Stephen Huba

University of Cincinnati freshman Robyn Gault says being recruited by the Cincinnati Church of Christ's campus ministry took her on an emotional roller coaster ride she won't soon forget.

Friendly outreach was coupled with intense talks about sin. A Sunday morning worship service turned into a day-long ordeal. Going to one Bible study quickly led to a daily, time-consuming commitment.

''There is really no getting away from them,'' Ms. Gault told UC's Student Activities Board on Thursday. ''I have to get them out of my life.''

Ms. Gault, 19, of Akron, Ohio, was one of several people to testify before the board as part of its ongoing investigation of the ministry, sometimes called Campus Advance.

The board is considering whether to permanently suspend Campus Advance as a university-recognized student organization. Thursday's meeting was held to solicit negative information about Campus Advance.

Another meeting, tentatively scheduled for Dec. 2, will allow Cincinnati Church of Christ officials to present their side. The church belongs to the controversial International Churches of Christ movement.

Meanwhile, the American Civil Liberties Union of Ohio has expressed an interest in First Amendment issues that could be involved. Cincinnati attorney Scott Greenwood said the ACLU of Ohio will be monitoring the situation closely.

''(UC) would be ill-advised to suspend this group based on its religious activity,'' said Greenwood, an ACLU attorney. ''The First Amendment protects them even if they're irritating or obnoxious.''

Greenwood said the ministry is entitled to the same constitutional protections as any other religious group, even if it's not considered mainstream.

He said the ministry, by aggressively proselytizing, is only acting on the mandates of its belief system and that its activities cannot be separated from its theology.

''It's clear to me that they're being picked on because of their views and the way they conduct their ministry,'' he said.

UC officials believe Campus Advance is the same group that once called itself Christians on Campus and was suspended in 1989 over allegations of ''mental and physical'' abuse after students who left the group complained they were being harassed.

Campus Advance recently was put under indefinite suspension after the university linked it with the previously suspended group, said Lucy Croft, UC's adviser to the Student Activities Board. The former group never asked to be reinstated, she said.

Critics of the church, including several UC campus ministers, describe it as authoritarian, legalistic and manipulative.

Ms. Gault said she decided not to attend church with the group one Sunday, instead staying overnight with a friend. The members responded by pounding on her door for 90 minutes and repeatedly setting off a pager she had left on her bed.

Ms. Gault said several members ''ganged up'' on her in what was supposed to be a one-on-one Bible study.

''I don't think anybody would want to be treated in the manner which has been described here today,'' said Heath Trostle, registration chair for the Student Activities Board.

Ms. Gault said she has been recruited heavily by the campus ministry for the past month.

''They told me that if my parents had problems with the group, then I was going to have to hate my parents,'' she said.

But an International Churches of Christ Web site states, ''Disciples should love and honor their parents even if their parents are not disciples.''

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