The ICC accused of harassing and intimidating University of Massachusetts students at Amherst

A news summary of "Christian group’s tactics spur probe at UMass" by Karen D. Brown published by the Boston Globe April 4, 1999

March 25, 2006
By Rick Ross

In Amherst at the University of Massachusetts, where students are often away from home for the first time, the International Church of Christ (ICC) was actively and aggressively recruiting during in 1999.

The Boston Globe reported about ICC recruitment efforts on the UMass campus. Seemingly friendly members of a "campus Christian group" invited students to attend the "Upside Down Club" and bible studies.

"Most of them were in very secluded places," said one journalism student. "They would come and drive me somewhere off campus. They weren't places I would happen to see someone I know walking by, or have any contact with anyone else except for the people studying."

ICC recruiters would then follow-up through frequent phone calls. It almost seemed like students were being stalked.

"Eventually, what they were telling me equated to, if I didn't join them, I would burn in hell. It was an incredible guilt trip," one targeted student said. "That's when I started to get really worried."

The ICC of the 1990s was a rapidly expanding global church empire known for its aggressive proselytizing and "discipling," a highly controlling one-over-one form of supervising members' lives.

"They challenged every belief I had in God, and they wanted me to disown my parents and join their church, and if my parents wouldn't join, I would have to leave them," said a prospective member who decided to quit. "And they really just wanted to isolate me from everything else that made me feel good in society, so the church was all I had left. And that had a big psychological toll on me."

The UMass student government investigated the Upside Down Club during 1999. At the time the student attorney general filed a petition with the student judiciary, asking that the ICC club's status as a "registered student organization" be rescinded.

The reason this action was taken because of the way the club technically violated the student constitution, essentially operating as a student-run front for the ICC.

A more pressing issue that concerned UMass in 1999 was if the ICC and its affiliated club represented a "cult" on its campus harassing and intimidating students reported the Boston Globe.

But defining a "cult" can be difficult. And experts say that it’s the behavior not the beliefs of a group that define it as a destructive cult.

The ICC may appear to many as simply a fundamentalist Christian church that takes the bible literally. And its zealous evangelism can likewise be seen as representing fervent evangelical Christianity.

However, it is strict and authoritarian hierarchical structure of the ICC, along with its very tight and constant control over the personal lives of members that concerns cult experts.

Privately UMass administrators told the Boston Globe that they were worried about the tactics of the Upside Down Club, which had been on campus since 1989.

Parents called the Dean of Students with complaints, including the loss of contact with children after they joined the ICC.

This is nothing new, the ICC has been repeatedly accused of harassing and manipulating students since it began in 1979. By 1999 it had been banned by more than 30 colleges, including Harvard, Boston University, and Smith College.

ICC recruiters frequently went door-to-door in college dorms; also they often confronted students in dining rooms and generally refused to accept no for an answer. They denounced other churches and put pressure on their student members, which frequently resulted in decreased academic standing. Many students involved subsequently cut off contact with their families.

In 1999 the ICC boasted that it had 138,000 members worldwide. Each member answered to a personal advisor called his or her "discipler," that monitors the member.

Most ICC members donate at least 10% of their gross income directly to the church.

The ICC was previously known as the "Boston Church of Christ" or "Boston Movement," and was founded by Thomas "Kip" McKean. In 1999 McKean ran the organization from Los Angeles. McKean was historically the only member of the ICC never specifically assigned a "discipler" and had no meaningful accountability to anyone.

By 1999 the ICC had perhaps as many former members as current ones. Those former members formed numerous support groups and ran various Web sites to inform the public about the abuses of the church.

UMass Professor Robert Lenz spoke out critically concerning the Upside Down Club. In 1979 he "rescued" his college-age son from the Reverend Sun Myung Moon's Unification Church. Lenz subsequently became an active and vocal cult critic. The teacher says students that attend his cult awareness lectures frequently say they were taken in by the Upside Down Club.

"College students, away from home, are uncertain in what they want to do," Lenz said, implying that they are a vulnerable population.

Cult critics say that UMass should be more concerned with families and their rights rather than the rights of cult groups.

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