Controversial religious group hits MTSU

Channel 4 News, Nashville/July 19, 2001
By Lindsay Hudson

A religious group accused of harassing college students into attending bible study has made its way to the MTSU campus. The International Church of Christ is called a cult by some religious experts because of the control they say its leaders maintain over members. But on the surface, it seems to be just like many other Christian groups. A group of young people from the Nashville Church of Christ hand out fliers, asking MTSU students to come to Bible Study. It's the sort of thing MTSU student Michael Sheldon doesn't think twice about. "It doesn't sound like anything peculiar," he said, "just a bunch of kids. Religious people that want to get together."

But this particular church has stirred up a lot of controversy. It's part of the International Churches of Christ. A website search shows dozens of religious watchdog groups call it a cult.

So when MTSU Christian Center Director Mike Stroud heard members of the church have been inviting students to attend church, he got worried. "Someone visited me last week and said that they knew they were getting active on campus again, very active," he said.

Stroud's student center, like most Churches of Christ in Tennessee, is affiliated with the United Church of Christ, which has nothing to do with the International Churches of Christ. He's concerned students might assume the two churches are connected. "Our students are taught to share their faith with other people," Stroud explained. "But we do not believe in harassing anyone, we don't put pressure on anyone, we don't believe that the bible teaches that."

Students have reported receiving a barrage of calls from International Church of Christ members and feeling pressured to attend the bible studies. MTSU hasn't yet seen a large presence of church members on campus, but at Vanderbilt a few years ago, the church applied for status as a student group.

"The Chaplain's office researched it, discussed the rules and policies with the group, and was unable to make a recommendation that they be granted affiliation," said Dean of Housing Steve Caldwell. It was the first time Vanderbilt Chaplain Gay Welch has ever turned down an application. Her reasoning: a large number of complaints about the church from students, parents, staff, alums, and other universities.

Back at MTSU, students Channel 4 talked to say they don't mind members of the church being on campus, as long as they keep to themselves. "Religion is just a personal thing," said MTSU student Ashley Horn. "That's just how I view it. In our society, that's all it can be."

In Nashville, the International Church of Christ is known as The Nashville Church. Channel 4 tried to contact them, but only got through to a voice mail.

The International Church of Christ has a website countering some of the cult claims. The address is Critics of the church say it falls under cult status because, among other things, its leaders encourage members to leave family and friends behind if they don't belong to the church. They also promote total dependency on the church, according to the critics.

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