In the 11-0-0 vote not to approve the club's purpose, the members followed the recommendation of the Constitution Committee, which stated that the group's purpose violated both the Union Model Constitution and several items in the Criteria for Club Approval document.
In its stated purpose, Upside Down Bible Talk claims an affiliation with the International Churches of Christ (ICC), an organization that has been criticized for questionable recruiting practices on college campuses and extreme manipulation of its members' lives.
Mostly due to its link with the ICC, the Constitution Committee's opinion was that the club's purpose involved religious discrimination, that it encourages students to terminate their education prematurely, and that it involves a high risk of personal injury and potential liability for the Union.
As a forming club, Bible Talk had been permitted to use Union meeting rooms and participate in the Activities Fair. With the disapproval of their purpose, they will no longer be allowed to do so.
Bible Talk first attempted to obtain recognition in 1995. According to E-Board records, its purpose was approved in spring of that year, but later rescinded when the E-Board learned that a leader of the club had falsely presented himself as a student.
Antwan Clark, a member of Bible Talk, described the club as "a discussion for people of all backgrounds, for Christians and people who don't believe in the Christian religion, like Muslims, atheists, or whatever. They can just come in and get an introduction to the Bible through our discussion."
"One main goal is to make what we study in the Bible very practical," added Ylvonne Thomas, another member of the club.
It is the affiliation with the ICC that the E-Board members found unacceptable.
The ICC has been accused of overly aggressive and deceptive recruiting practices on college campuses, and former members have claimed that the church assumed an unusual and unhealthy degree of control over their lives, including where to live, what friends to have, and whom to date and marry.
According to materials provided to the E-Board by Upside Down Bible Talk, the ICC is an offshoot of the mainstream Church of Christ that began in 1979. The ICC expects its members to offer a total commitment to the church; a key idea is that members consider themselves "disciples," and each has a "discipler," a more senior member of the church, who guides them in their spiritual growth.
Many members of Upside Down Bible Talk are also members of the ICC. The Bible Talk's sessions are facilitated by Scott McNair, a minister in the Capital District Church of Christ, a branch of the ICC.
In studying the issue, the Constitution Committee looked at a variety of documents, including books and journal articles describing the activities of the ICC, and personal accounts of former members of the church. Also, at the Tuesday night meeting of the E-Board, several invited speakers presented their experiences with and knowledge of the ICC.
Cynthia Tang '00 became involved in the ICC in Boston during summer break last year. In her presentation at the E-Board meeting, she emphasized the amount of control the church expected to have over members' lives.
"They kind of take over your life in that they make your decisions for you," she said. "You have to go by what they say otherwise, you're being prideful; you're sinning."
She went on to say that she wasn't allowed to date anyone outside the church; that she'd be expected to leave school if it took too much time away from the church; that she was asked to leave her family and almost did; and that she was expected to end relationships with non-Christian friends if they disagreed with her.
"They believe that it's okay to lie to someone or to deceive someone if they're helping you become a Christian," she added.
Tang later left the ICC.
One key issue addressed at the meeting was the religious doctrine of the ICC. Several E-Board members suggested that their extreme exclusionary views constituted religious discrimination. "The minister [of the Boston Church of Christ] said that all Buddhists were going to hell," said Tang. "I was taught that Methodists aren't real Christians ... I was taught that Catholics aren't real Christians."
Rick Hartt '70, Director of the Union, said that a Bible Talk member had told him that he, as a non-believer of ICC doctrine, was going to hell. At the meeting, the member denied making the statement.
Bible Talk members said that the question was one of beliefs, and not of activities of the club, which was the subject of the E-Board discussion.
The written documents and statements by speakers convinced the E-Board not to approve Bible Talk's purpose.
"The evidence before us is that the International Churches of Christ has in the past violated one of the club criteria by which we approve clubs," said club/ICA representative Zach Berndlmaier '98 at the meeting. "That is my main objection to the purpose." He added, however, that he'd be willing to approve the club if they ended the affiliation with the ICC.
Members of Upside Down Bible Talk did not dispute the personal accounts, but emphasized the positive influence the club has had on its members.
"There have been students here at RPI that were part of the church, that were part of the bible discussion, that have moved on to lead successful lives people who have been leaders on this campus," said Thomas. "There are those of us here at RPI that have moved on, that have graduated who have led academically strong lives, that have led career strong lives, and have done great things. I really, really want to stress that."
Thomas also denied that the club used any unusual recruiting methods. "All we do is invite people-that's it," she said. "We hang up flyers, we send out e-mails to people who've shown an interest we do basically what any other club does."
Indeed, none of the written documents and little of the negative information presented at the meeting specifically involved Upside Down Bible Talk or the Capital District Church of Christ.
The only complaint against the Bible Talk club itself was from Chris Richardson '01 who claimed that McNair dominated a bible discussion session he attended. "Every third word was said by Scott," he said.
Several E-Board members questioned the role of McNair in the club activities and the need for the explicit affiliation with the ICC.
"The only role the ICC has [in the club] is we ask our minister, Scott McNair, to facilitate our discussions," said Thomas. "Those of us who decided to form the club were members of the International Churches of Christ, and we asked Scott if he would be our facilitator." She explained that it would have been deceptive for them to omit the affiliation from the club purpose, since so many members of the club were also members of the ICC.
But, she said, the club strives to keep the activities of the club separate from the activities of the church. "We try very hard not to impose our beliefs during the Bible discussion."
Bridget Olson '00, E-Board secretary, asked whether the club would therefore be willing to have other facilitators besides McNair lead their discussions, suggesting RPI's chaplain.
The club members present were unreceptive to the idea. Clark said that the club had no rapport with the chaplain.