Student tried to leave cult

Miami Hurricane (University of Miami)/April 6, 1999
By Denise M. Krakowski

The first half of the following interview with Erin Fitzpatrick, a 19-year-old University of Miami freshman, was printed in Friday's edition of The Miami Hurricane.

Fitzpatrick is a former member of the South Florida and Boston Churches of Christ. The South Florida Church of Christ has been labeled a cult by University officials for using high-pressure tactics to recruit members and keep them involved in the church.

Q. What happened when you decided that you wanted to get out of the church?

A. It was a Wednesday night in September 1998, and they called me to ask me, "Are you going to the meeting? What time should we pick you up?" I said, "No, I'm not going to go." So they kept calling me to come, and I told them I wasn't going to go anymore. I don't think they believed me because they kept coming to my dorm room and calling me.

One Sunday morning they came to my dorm room and kept knocking on my door. I knew it was them so I didn't answer it, and they left a fake red rose at my door with a note saying, "Erin, this rose represents God's love for you. The truth is obvious," obviously saying that I should go back because that was the truth.

Then they told the people in Boston that I wasn't going, and all the people in Boston started calling me, people I wasn't even very good friends with. I had all these messages on my machine, and eventually I just unplugged the phone. I scanned my calls, I didn't want to answer the phone or the door, because it was always them. Finally, after a while, I told them not to call me or come to my room anymore, just to leave me alone. They just weren't getting it - then they started e-mailing me. There were so many people calling me that I couldn't tell every person not to call me, because they would just tell someone else to call me. So my RA and I went to campus police and reported the harassment to them.

It was hard, because they couldn't understand how a bunch of people could be harassing me, how one leader tells all these people to call me. Finally, after a week, security changed my number, so I didn't have to deal with [the church] calling me anymore.

Q. What about all your friends that were in the church?

A. Pretty much most of my good friends were in it, and all of my friends back home. But I found out most of them weren't really my friends because as soon as I stopped going, they stopped talking to me and gave me really dirty looks.

Someone came up to me recently and said, "I feel so bad for you, Erin, because you're going to go to a higher judgment and it's just going to be so horrible for you, you're going to have to face it and go to hell." They're supposed to be the ones who are Christians, with unconditional love, but they're not giving that. Their love for you is based on your involvement with the group, and they're not really your friends.

Q. What would you say to someone that was thinking of joining this group?

A. I'd tell them to make sure they know what they're getting into. It can seem really great at first, but there are a lot of things about it that are not good. There's a lot of information out there about it, so find out everything you can about it and talk to several different sources to hear both sides of the story.

Q. What did your parents say when you joined the church in Boston?

A. They were always against it, and they always told me it was a cult. The group told me that since my parents were Catholic they were going to hell, and I needed to convert them in order for them to be saved. They had me at the point where I pretty much hated my family. I wanted to move out of the house, because my parents kept saying that I was in a cult and I couldn't stand hearing that.

People [in the church] would hold me up for that because they expect people to tell us we're in a cult. "If we're following God and doing the right thing, people will persecute us just like they persecuted Jesus in the Bible," they said.

Q. So how are you doing now that it's all over?

A. It was really hard going home for Christmas break, because all my friends from home were in the church. I talked to a few of them whom I thought I had been really good friends with, and they didn't even want to hear why I left. They just said, "You've fallen away from God and now you're going to hell. If you don't admit that, then we can't be friends."

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