Banned student cult "eyeing South-west"

The Guardian (London)/August 20, 1994
By Sarah Boseley

FORMER members of the London Church of Christ fear that the fastest growing religious cult may be planning a recruitment drive in the South-west after a conference to be held at Exeter University this weekend.

Exeter's vice chancellor, Sir Geoffrey Holland, has publicly dissociated the university from the "methods of recruitment and activities of the London Church of Christ which may be prejudicial to the welfare of students."

The cult, which has been banned from many university campuses, has a particular interest in students. A handbook for member states: ""f the Garden of Eden was the paradise of for mankind, then Halls of Residence are the Christians' evangelistic paradise. They provide the best environment imaginable for seeking and saving the lost."

In the fist two weeks of term, evangelising members are urged to meet 10 to 20 new people each day, with a view to bringing them to Bible study meetings.

Following local publicity, an offer to withdraw from the church, but only if compensation was paid. The university decided it could neither afford to buy them off nor lose the #100,000 booking which would go to subsidize student accomodation.

Concerns about the cult, whose groups take local names, such as the Birmingham or Liverpool Church of Christ, stem from its authoritarian methods and exclusivity.

The Committee of Vice Chancellors and Principals has warned universities of its activities. The commitment required by the cult to recruiting new members can cause students' work to suffer. The National Union of Students is also concerned.

Paula Ferris, director of external relations at Exeter University, said the university knew nothing about the London Church of Christ when the booking was made. When the nature of the cult's activities was brought to their attention, they consulted a lawyer but were told they could not cancel.

She said: "We hope very much that as a result of the visit to the university, pwople in the South-west will be aware of them and their activities in a way they would not otherwise."

Nevil Lee, UK administrator of the London Church of Christ, said the conference was just a business arrangement with Exeter University and there were no plans to campaign or start a church in Exeter at this time.

He said: "Most people will probably remain on campus during the conference…but the Bible puts a responsibility on Christians to evangelize and if people invite one or two people while they walk around the town that's up to them. But we're not a cell or whatever down there."

Asked about the church's interest in recruiting students, he said: "The Bible gives us a responsibility to evangelize, whether it be a student or old age pensioner."

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