Emergence of cult suspected on campus

Rebel Yell (University of Nevada at Las Vegas)/September 10, 1998
By Brad Tittrington

A group calling themselves the International Church of Christ is suspected of trying to recruit members on the UNLV campus.

The group is believed to be part of a similar group that emerged on the campus a few years ago that called themselves the Las Vegas Church of Christ.

According to Terry Piper, assistant vice president for student life, the administration became concerned that a possible cult was recruiting on campus when a phone call came into the president's office explaining that someone had approached the caller's daughter during orientation and had told the girl that her mother, who had passed away, would be in hell if she was not baptized into their "church." This group also told the girl that she would go to hell, too, if she was not baptized into their "church."

The Las Vegas Church of Christ was an off-shoot of the Boston Church of Christ, a group which had several exposes by 20/20 and other news magazines to show the seriousness of the cult system.

"They were pretty well viewed as a cult," Piper said. "They tend to go after people who look vulnerable. They tell you what you can and cannot do. They take away your free will to live."

This new group brings concern to the campus because of the recruiting techniques and physical harm a cult possesses. Although there is no direct evidence that proves this group has infiltrated UNLV, the administration wants to be one step ahead just in case, according to Piper.

"We have no direct contact with this group," Piper said. "The parent described similar characteristics (to the Las Vegas Church of Christ). That group tried to get organization status on campus. Fortunately, CSUN did not give them that status."

There have already been several steps taken to prevent this group from recruiting new members on the campus. The administration has notified all student services departments to warn them of possible recruiting activity on campus. There is also a video that is being shown on the Residential Hall Association TV station to alert dorm residents of the dangers of cults and the signs to look out for.

Piper described the "love-bombing" techniques that members use to attract new members into their group. This means that the group uses two, three or four members to show constant attention to the person they are trying to recruit to make them feel wanted. That is the way they lure members into their group, according to Piper.

"They try to get the student to turn away from the family," Piper said. "The student becomes isolated and dependent on the group. They increase the conflict between the student and the family, even if there is nothing there."

The main problem with trying to locate these groups is that they are hard to spot.

"You would not be able to pick them out just watching," Piper said. "They go to the dorms, Pida Plaza and the library to look for vulnerable people."

Piper also noted that these groups give bad names to the "legitimate" religion-based organizations, such as the United Church of Christ (a denomination of the Protestant church) and the campus based religion groups.

"These groups use religion as part of the hook," Piper said. "If this group is clearly present and working the campus, it will be necessary to do something more public. It's a judgment call."

The last time a threat of cults emerged on campus, the administration did a large scale education program to inform students about the dangers of these groups, Piper said. That helped drive these groups away when they knew the school became aware of their presence on campus.

The affects of cults are extremely dangerous, and that is the main reason that the administration is trying to combat the problem before it starts, Piper said. The last time a cult came to campus to recruit, two students dropped out of school to help recruiting efforts on other college campuses, according to Piper.

"One combats it by making it public," he said. "Members don't see anything wrong with it. They don't see themselves as victims. The main hook to these groups is the sense of belonging and acceptance. They show constant attention to make someone feel important.

"That's not typical people giving themselves up totally to someone else," Piper said. "These people have a need this group fulfills. It is similar to a gang, but they use religion as the hook."

Vice President of Student Services Robert Ackerman says the best way to combat anything from happening, such as a cult, is to stop it before it starts. "We want to get them (the students) talking about it now as opposed to five or six of them dropping out of school," he said. "If students want to do that, it is fine, but take it on good information."

The best advice Piper gives for anyone that believes they have been targeted by these groups is to talk to a good family member, friend or church leader that they can trust and let them know what is going on. The administration's main concern is keeping any students from getting involved in something they are not aware of, according to Piper.

Physical and emotional dangers associated with cults

  • Deception
  • Pressure tactics
  • Mind control
  • Feelings of guilt
  • Manipulative language
  • Becoming dependent on the group
  • Lack of sleep
  • Working extreme hours
  • Alternating reward and punishment to confuse students
  • Controlling love and sex
  • Fear of leaving
  • Undermining self confidence
  • Inability to think clearly
  • Control environment

Ways to avoid cults

  • Don't get isolated from friends or family
  • Don't let activities isolate you from your family life
  • Get involved with school groups or groups through your church or synagogue

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