Cult recruiting on campus, chaplain warns

The Peak (Simon Fraser University)/September 28 1998
By Erin Fitzpatrick

University chaplain Bob Ogden says that the Vancouver Church of Christ is recruiting new members at Simon Fraser University (SFU) through the school's Christian Advance club, and he tells students to "watch out... they're a cult, and they're dangerous."

The Vancouver Church of Christ gained notoriety last year when SFU business student Ti Chung dropped out of school and moved in with others members of the church. She reportedly severed contact with her family.

"You often have to drop out of school when you're a part of this organization because they demand that you spend so much of your time recruiting," Ogden said, "also, you need to be working a lot, because the VCC enforces tithing." Tithing is a practice which requires members to donate 10 per cent of their earnings to the church.

As well, Ogden says that Ti Chung is not the only SFU student to have moved in to homes run by the VCC.

"It's typical for cults to use the notion of family to reinforce their cause," he said, "they tend to pick on lonely students, away from home for the first time, and then that new recruit becomes dependent on the group. The group becomes their new family, and gains serious influence over them."

Members of Christian Advance told Peak reporters who visited their clubs day table that Ti Chung still talks to her family, and that she moved out because she didn't like her father's demands that she be "the typical asian daughter."

However, they admitted that strong, familial units are part of the structure of their church. "We're grouped into families here at SFU," they told The Peak. "We have an SFU woman's family, lead by one particular woman, and an SFU men's family, lead by a certain guy... We just hang out together and do bible studies and stuff."

Ogden says that the relationships between members of the VCC are more serious than Christian Advance admits.

"The VCC stresses very strong master-disciple relationships," he said, "everyone is assigned a kind of mentor who they are to follow their whole life... this person tells them who they can talk to, and go out with, and what they can do."

In fact, it seems that everything about Christian Advance and the VCC is more serious than they would have it seem. Theirs was the only religious table at clubs day that offered no pamphlets about their doctrine, only pictures of happy people on Christian Advance camping trips. Questions about the nature of their beliefs were avoided, and Peak reporters were told instead to "come out and check out our bible studies."

It is through organizing bible studies, english language classes and day trips that Christian Advance recruits its members. The nature of their faith is not fully understood until the student is already very involved with the group.

Randal Martin of the International Student Services office says that for the most part, he believes these recruits are "asian, especially international students." He added: "we need students to be aware of this."

Ogden defines a cult as "a group that claims a monoploy on truth... Most Christian denomenations will allow questioning and searching among their members and believe it's healthy, but the VCC says that you've got to accept their way or that's it."

An official from the Vancouver Church of Christ, who asked not to be named, told The Peak that he wouldn't deny that his group could be considered a cult: "We live our lives according to the bible," he said,"and some people find this controversial... But they used to call Jesus' followers a cult too, in the New Testament."

When asked whether or not his organization considered itself to be the sole bearer of 'the truth', he said, "I hope, that we're not, but in my experience, we're the only Christians that really stand up for the bible."

When the VCC tried to recruit at UBC, they were banned from that campus, but Ogden says that disallowing certain clubs at SFU would be discriminatory. Instead, he urges students to "be really aware. Ask lots of questions. Know who your dealing with and what they represent, before you begin associating with them... If they won't tell you about who they are or what they believe, that's a bad sign. I've been asking them for a doctrinal statement for years and they won't give me one."

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