College parents are concerned about Lincoln Christian Church

Lincoln Journal-Star/May 3, 1992
By C J Schepers

[The religious group discussed here is a branch of the Boston Church of Christ and is not affiliated with the Lincoln Church of Christ at 56th and Vine streets or the 31st and C streets Church of Christ. Both of these churches belong to the Churches of Christ, a conservative Protestant denomination that does not endorse the methods used by the Boston church. Some people quoted in these stories requested anonymity]

Apprehension about the Lincoln Christian Church has caused parents, former members, campus pastors, counselors and others to form a support group at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln to share information and concerns about the church.

Started in Lincoln last year, the Lincoln Christian Church is part of a fundamentalist movement known as the Boston Church of Christ.

Beliefs and practices of the Boston church have been criticized on campuses and in mainstream churches throughout the United States. Critics call it a Christian cult.

Jay Kelly, Lincoln Christian Church's lead evangelist, said church members are committed to living out the Scriptures and sharing their faith.

Lincoln Christian Church has about 85 members, most of whom are young people.

Critics of the Boston movement cite alienation from family and friends, unreasonable demands on members' time, pressure to proselytize and a one-on-one discipleship program through which members are told to seek advice on faith and even secult matters from their "disciplers".

"I've heard incredible stories about the types of control they're practicing on these kids," said Peg Blake of the UNL Student Affairs Office. Blake has had a number of students and parents approach her with concerns about the church.

"I can't argue theology with them.. and I don't care to, because many religions believe many things, and that's fine." Blake said.

"What bothers me is the control they have over these kids' minds. They have taken away the decision making making ability for these students. Every decision is made for them. Their time is totally committed to the church... They're doing very poorly in school."

Kelly provided a different perspective.

"The church has been controversial. I know, because they're really striving to - we all are - to live out the Scriptures, which makes for a pretty controversial group because everyone's committed to sharing their faith, which isn't always appreciated," Kelly said.

He denied the charges by parents and former members.

"I think we have more parents that are really excited about the changes in their children than the other way," Kelly said.

"Really, the ones that are alienated, I think, that it's the parents usually who alienate their children for no longer - like for me - being Catholic. It's really the parents that end up creating the alienation. The students are taught to be more devoted their family as they become Christians, absolutely."

Kelly, formerly led a campus ministry in Denver. He was converted eight years ago as a student attending Boston University.

Families interviewed by the Lincoln Journal-Star acknowledged that they are nervous that the church will learn of vocal opposition and pull their sons and daughters further away.

"That's one of the fears of a lot of the parents, that if we're too active against the group, they'll pack up and move on. And their kids will go with them." said Blake.

Nancy, a family therapist and board member of the UNL Parent's Association, has a friend involved in the church. "I feel powerless. If there's something to do, I don't know," she said.

"I think the thing that's common over the families is that they feel the student pulling away from previous involvement and changing their lifestle and the focus of their lives," Nancy said.

Campus Advance, the college section of Lincoln Christian Church, twice has tried to become an official UNL student organization.

Both times, UNL faculty advisers withdrew their sponsorships because they had concerns about the practices of the church.

UNL student Vincent Hawkins heads Campus Advance. He and his roommmate, Tyrone Byrd, also a UNL student, lead their own Bible Talks. Hawkins and Byrd, both football players, could not be reached for comment.

According to the church's bulletin, Hawkins leads a Bible Talk in the UNL South Stadium lounge.

Parents have charged that allowing the group to meet in the stadium lounge impresses potential converts and lends more credibility to the church.

Head football coach Tom Osborne said Hawkins asked him to sign on as adviser of Campus Advance. The group needed a faculty sponsor before it can apply to become a registered student group.

Osborne declined, saying he had some doctrinal and philosophical questions. He said he would be willing to discuss them with the church's lead evangelist but has not heard anything to date.

Osborne noted that the stadium lounge has been open to many different groups, religious and non-religious, and that no particular policy had been followed.

"I don't know that it's my job to define what is a recognized or non-recognized group and whether or not they can meet. We certainly are going to go along with whatever the university policy is," Osborne said.

Because Campus Advance is not an official UNL student organization, it cannot reserve rooms in residence halls or the Nebraska Union, according to Doug Zatechka, UNL housing director.

Until last week, members were meeting in the lobby of Neihardt Hall. Zatechka said a UNL student who was leading the Bible Talk was informed of the rule and no longer will hold meetings there.

The Rev. Brett Yohn, president-elect of the Association of Campus Religious Workers at UNL, said the group invited Lincoln Christian Church to become part of the association.

Curt Simmons, then leader of the Lincoln Christian Church, who since has been called to lead a church in Cincinnati, refused to join the association. Yohn said Simmons thought the associations code of ethics was too restrictive.

Yohn, a 20-year veteran of UNL, said he urges students, faculty and staff to be cautious of religious groups that refuse to join the association.

The association affirms that students have the right to maintain close relationships with people not involved in the group, to disagree with leaders of other group members, to say "No" or "I need to think about this," to ask questions and to be left alone.

The association also believes that religious groups have certain responsibilities, such as not taking advantage of a person in a vulnerable position, allowing members to disagree without withdrawal of friendship, sensitivity to other priorities in members' lives and answering questions in a forthright manner.

Dynamic, emotional services part of church's attraction

Even the Lincoln Christian Church's critics admit that its services are attractive.

At last Sunday morning's service, Vincent Hawkins led the singing at the start of the dynamic, emotional service.

"The somg leaders are just fantastic. It really is very emotionally uplifting," said a critic, who has attended with her son.

During the service, the Lincoln church's lead evangelist, Jay Kelly, introduced a couple from the Denver church who will work with the Lincoln flock.

"God is alive and well in Lincoln, Nebraska," Kelly boomed after introducing the new evangelists.

The Lincoln Christian Church is a branch of the Boston Church of Christ.

As is typical in the Boston church, the Lincoln Christian Church has not bought a building but has leased various spaces. Services are now held in St Francis Chapel, 1145 South St.

Kelly said the church has plans to start a congregation in Omaha. Currently, the Lincoln church has a few members communting from Omaha and Fremont.

Jeff Lessman, a professor at Midland Lutheran College, leads Bible Talk in Fremont. "Basically, I love the church," he said.

At the top of the Boston Church of Christ movement is Kip McKean, whose dream is to evangelise his entire generation the world over. In 1979, McKean took a suburban Boston congregation of 40 and turned it into a flock of more than 5000. The movement is working internationally. According to a map of the movement, there are 102 churches worldwide.

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