Cult group returns: Church of Christ meets illegally in Wydown

Student Life (Washington University)/September 29, 1992
By Lauren Dale

The St Louis Church of Christ, a cult that targeted Washington University students in recent years, met in Wydown East Lounge for a bible study Tuesday night. The National Cult Awareness Network recognizes the Church of Christ as a dangerous cult that uses "brainwashing and mind control techniques."

[Warning--Since the publication of this article the Cult Awareness Network (CAN) was bankrupted by Scientology sponsored litigation. Subsequently its name, phone number and mailing address were purchased by a Scientologist. The current CAN now seems to be largely run by that organization.]

The church was first exposed in late September 1990 by campus and local media, and received widespread attention throughout the 1990-91 school year in Student Life.

Justin Carroll, acting dean of student affairs, said the activities oft the Church of Christ or members thereof must be limited to the Mallinckrodt center area with specific restrictions as to place and time. This is stated in the university's policy on groups not affiliated with the university. Church of Christ is not affiliated with Washington University or Student Union. In addition, non-affiliated groups are required to register with the dean of student affairs. Carroll was not aware of their presence.

According to an anonymous Washington University student and former Church of Christ member who attended the meeting, the meeting would have been legitimate if it was a completely student-run group. However, the student said he noticed there were two adult representatives from the church in the meeting.

Among the recruiting techniques used are "love-bombing", which is where prospective church members are welcomed and surrounded by church members immediately. In the Boston sect, cross-sexual techniques (pretense of dating or interest) were used as a part of the recruitment process, reported Linda Hervieux in The Muse on February 18 1988.

Church of Christ groups are considered cults, but on a small scale, according to Hervieux. They function on mind control: guilt and fear of being "damned to hell" being the primary forms.

The Cult Awareness Network emphasizes that anyone can fall victim, including the best and brightest, but especially those going through emotional turmoil; students like freshmen are cited.

The Church of Christ, not to be confused with the United Church of Christ or other "mainline" Churches of Christ, parallels the Boston Church of Christ. The goal is to convert non-Christians to their group, espousing a belief that no other church is "truly Christian".

The student who reported their latest appearance on campus is a former member who left the group two years ago. He said that in the midst of trying to decide what he wanted from a religion, a fellow WU student asked him to study the Bible. After many discussions, the recruiter invited him to the Church of Christ. "They think that no other church is 'doing Christianity' right. Therefore, the members of any church are fair game... People who aren't secure in their beliefs are excellent targets," the student said.

Additionally, the ex-member said the Church of Christ tends to take over the lives of the recruits, requiring a certain amount of hours a week for church, bible study, and devotionals. He added that each new member had a mentor, called a discipler, whom he described as people that exhibited a form of mind control over new members and taught them to think like the church.

While the Church of Christ tended to be "fairly understanding" about missing time for homework and reports, the student said they did want to know everything about his life and gave him lectures on bad behavior if he had done something against their creed, the former member reported. Eventually, time pressure and general doubts about the church overcame him, and he left, the student said.

Another WU student who went to Sunday's service in order to "try it out," at the recommendation of Kristy Jones, a WU student and Church of Christ member, reported that he felt he was being harassed after the service "by some guy who really wanted me to join a Bible Study."

The student, who wanted to remain anonymous, said the service was fairly "normal" and that it was set up in a circle stage fashion. "There was a minister who led a sermon in which the audience participated... it was like [the audience was] having a personal conversation with him," he added.

Tom Plog, campus minister for the Christian Student Fellowship, who has monitored the Church of Christ's activities for five years, could not be reached for comment.

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