Church labeled "cult" raises local concerns

Fundamentalist group planning B-CS congregation says it is following God's word

The Eagle (Bryan-College Station, Texas)/August 7, 1997
By John Kirsch

Lured by the prospect of gaining converts at Texas A&M University, a church group that's been branded a cult by critics and banned from college campuses around the nation is planning to set up a church in the Bryan-College Station area.

"We want to get down there as soon as we can," said Randy Moon, an evangelist with the Dallas-Fort Worth Church of Christ Jesus, an affiliate of the International Church of Christ.

Organizers plan to meet in College Station on August 17.

Launched in 1979 in Boston as an offshoot of the conventional Churches of Christ, the International Church of Christ has grown into a group that claims 50,000 believers in its fundamentalist views.

High-pressure proselytizing by the church's local affiliates, particularly of sometimes lonely and vulnerable young people, has sparked opposition from former mmbers who complain the church tried to control their lives.

Nothing that the church has been branded a cult by experts who say it uses mind-control techniques to keep members within the fold, the Rev Michael Sis, director of St Mary's Catholic Center in College Station, said a local affiliate of such a group raises serious concerns that transcend denominational differences.

"This group has been mentioned a problematical mind-control group," Sis said. "We can as a community identify them as a high-pressure group and a mind-control group. We can be aware that they are internationally problematic. We can warn young people about the characteristics of such groups and we can help people avoid being lured into them."

Moon declined to extensively discuss the question of whether the church is a cult, saying, "Who defines that word and what does it really mean?"

Moon made no apologies for the church's Bible-based fundamentalist views, saying that the International Church of Christ continues to demand obedience to God's word at a time when other churches are ordaining gay clergy and taking other steps he considers questionable.

"The difference between a lot of churches out there and the International Church of Christ is whatever Jesus taught is non-negotiable," he said. "So not only do we teach it because that's what the Bible says, like Jesus we expect each other to live it out."

Moon said no decision has been made on whether the Bryan-College Station church will seek to get an affiliated student Bible club recognized as an officially sanctioned campus group at A&M or Blinn College.

University officials declined to comment.

Church of Christ Bible clubs have been banned at Boston University, Marquette University in Milwaukee, the University of Southern California, Northeastern University in Boston and Vanderbilt University in Nashvillem according to a report in the Miami Herald.

Critics of the church say that young people living in large cities or on big college campuses are often vulnerable to the church's promise of instant friends and acceptance, a tactic known as "love bombing".

That approach proved alluring to 23-year-old Kimberly Davis, who left her home in Washington state recently to become a nanny in the Dallas area.

Looking for a sense of connection and friendship, she joined the Dallas-Fort Worth Church of Christ Jesus but felt trapped when church officials tried to control who she could date and to interfere in her decision to buy a house.

"You're not supposed to live with anybody that's not with the church," she said. "You're not supposed to date anybody that's not with the church. It bothers me that somebody else is making decisions for your life or trying to coerce you."

As the Bryan-College Station church gets organized, Davis advised Texas A&M and Blinn College students to be wary of International Church of Christ recruiters. "Keep your eyes wide open and be very aware because they play on your emotions," she said.

Moon said the church is interested in the entire Bryan-College Station area, not just A&M. "You've got a city of 125,000 there... Those are people who are just as important as the students," he said.

Local churches such as the one in Dallas-Fort Worth don't include International Church of Christ in their names. Moon said the explanation is simple and is unrelated to negative publicity about the international church. "Wherever our churches are, they try to identify locally," he said. "We've got people in our churches who go to school there and they want a sister church there. That's a big part of it."

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