Students in dorms say ministry lures the weak

Colorado Daily/May 9, 1991

Timid and withdrawn CU students who live in the dorms are targets of a Denver-based church that will find them, coax them into joining and then try to run their lives, three CU students warn.

The Church of Christ's CU campus ministry "feeds on the weak" and lures them into a situation they shouldn't be in, the students, who were in the church say.

"Some of their most frequent targets are the students who are shy and withdrawn from the dormitory environment," said CU student Todd Parfet. "The church rally appeals to these people, because they have offer friendships," something they have a hard time finding. It is also many of these students' first time away from home.

The CU organization is affiliated with the Denver Church of Christ. The first Church of Christ was established in 1979 in Boston. The organization is not affiliated with the boulder Church of Christ.

Richard Wilson, whose roommate is a member of the church, sees first-hand how the organization tries to control its congregation. "I feel really sorry for him, because they have driven a wedge between him and his family. They become really discouraged when you affiliate with someone outside of the church," he said.

"They don't want him to be an individual. Free-thinking and questioning the church is something that is not looked upon favorably," Wilson said.

Parfet said that his roommate was also pressured into joining the group. He said that one night, a member of the church confronted his roommate and forced his way into their dorm room and tried to tell him why he should join.

"They remind me of amoeba," Parfet said. "They try to encompass whatever comes their way. And if there is a part of that amoeba that tries to break away, they swarm around that part to regain control of it," he said.

Even though Parfet was never a member, he attended a service in Denver's church one year ago. "I met with some of the members of the congregation after the service, and I knew that the church wasn't for me." But the members of the church continued attempts to recruit him for the next four months, Parfet said.

"That was the thing that irritated me the most about them," he said. "They sent me mail every week and called at least every other day to try to get me to join. I don't know how they got my phone number or address, but I certainly never gave it out. They finally took the hint and then left me alone," he said.

Gerg Marutzky, the church's evangelical leader, disputed the students' claims. "We don't force anybody into anything, and we certainly don't prey on people, either," he said. "Maybe some of these students are too nice and weak-willed to give a definite no," Marytzky said.

He said that the church tries to recruit all types of individuals to its ranks. "Our church has many members, and it is continuously growing," Martuzky said. "We want to reach out to as many people as we possibly can, but we don't force anyone to join that isn't interested."

CU student Heather Willman doesn't agree. She attended Bible meetings for two weeks before she decided to stay away from the group completely. "They shower you with love and attention, and it makes you feel good. But as time goes on, you start to realize that they are trying to take control of everything you do," she said.

She said the group tries to find out as much information about its members as it can and will often use that personal information to its advantage.

"In the Bible study meetings, they routinely ask you to talk about yourself and personal experiences that you've been through," she said. "It all seems harmless enough, but then I saw where members would use that information to keep you from doing something that church leaders felt was against their rules," she said.

Willman said that higher-ranking officials in the church also frequently try to plan out a member's day. "They want to know where you are, what you are doing, and whom you are associating with," she said.

"I have seen them tell members whom they can and cannot date. Many people become so immersed that they lose all sense of individuality and lose the ability to think for themselves," Willman said. She said it is hard for many people to walk from the church.

"They have given you acquaintances, and it is hard for a lot of people to walk away from that," she said. "They believe that if you do walk away from the church, you are damned to an eternity in Hell.

"The acquaintances you have made no longer speak to you," Willman said. "The church gave you all of these friends; then they take them right back, and that is something some members don't want to face. Being back out there all alone again."

Marutzky called the accusations "slanderous lies. None of these people were members, which makes me question what they know about the church to begin with," he said.

"It they really knew anything about us, then they might be in a position to make more educated statements," Marutzky said. "We are very active, very supportive of each other, and have strong personal relationships within our congregation," he said. "How they take that to be a sign of controlling people I don't know."

"It takes a lot of support to make it on a college campus, and that is what we offer to the student body," Marutzky said.

The three said that the campus church group solicits students on a regular basis in the dorms. Even though door-to-door solicitations are against dormitory policies, they say that the church group continues to do so.

Val Lawlor, housing director in Hallett Hall, said that when students complain about frequent solicitations, security measures are taken against solicitors. "When someone, be it a church group member or a perfume salesman, is routinely pestering students, then it is our policy to patrol the halls and then escort them out of the "dormitory," she said.

She said that five to six years ago, students were being harassed more regularly than they are now. "Security measures have gotten a lot better. A lot of times we will walk up on these individuals ourselves and escort them out of the building," she said. Lawlor said there hadn't been a lot of complaints about the church group soliciting on a regular basis within the dormitory.

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