Cult awareness panel discusses religious group

Daily Trojan (University of Southern California)/September 18, 1998
By Dania Alvarez

USC students shared their experiences about their past involvement with the Los Angeles Church of Christ in a session called "Cults on Campus," held Thursday in the Norman Topping Student Center.

The discussion and video presentation was sponsored by the Office of Religious Life and Division of Student Activities in an attempt to make the USC community aware of what Rabbi Susan Laemmle, dean of Religious Life at the University Religious Center, called "very high pressure deceptive religious groups."

Speakers at Thursday's panel were those who were recruited into certain religious groups that are commonly defined as cults. They had difficult experiences when attempting to leave the group.

"As a result of their involvement with this group (Church of Christ) and others like it, I've known people whose life has changed drastically, some, who have had to leave school for years," said Aaron Preston, a graduate student in philosophy.

Preston recalled his experiences with the Church of Christ during his freshman year as an undergraduate in 1991.

He said that he "never became a member, but my entire involvement was during the recruitment process."

"The real emotional pain that I went through, it was so strong and the doubts, this all just made me wishŠthat life would just be over with," Preston said.

On his way to class one day, Preston was approached by someone who invited him to a bible study sponsored by the Church of Christ.

"I, being from a smallish town in Northern California, it seemed to be attractive, and having a religious background myself, was interested in meeting with this group of like-minded people," he recalled.

He eventually met with two people who changed some of his views on religion and life.

"Where I thought that God thought that I was doing OK in life, he didn't," Preston said during the discussion panel about the recruiters he met. "While I thought that my future was secure with (God), it wasn't. So my whole framework took a period jolt, and at the end I was pretty well convinced that what I had been told was true."

Preston remained with the Church of Christ for a couple of months and then went home for Thanksgiving break. He said he was warned by the group that his parents would try to convince him to get out of the church "but I found it strange that they should mention the possibility, maybe having experienced that before."

Janine Marnien, a sophomore majoring in print journalism, said she also had a very similar experience.

"I was baptized within one week," she said.

Marnien ended up staying for only four months, after having moved in with members of the Church, but ended up leaving because she was having a hard time with their beliefs.

Her life was run by the Church of Christ, she said. She added that she would often need to check back with someone called a "disciple."

"I had to compromise my time on my father's birthday which was Memorial Day, because I had a meeting with them that day and I had to attend."

Marnien is in the process of co-creating a group called SOS that will have a web site and other sources for people who are looking for support as they attempt to leave groups such as the Church of Christ.

"There are dangerous groups to be aware of on campus," said Laemmle. "Religion can take healthy and unhealthy forms."

She said that students should "find a place that is comfortable and supportive (when it comes to religious groups), so the answer to avoiding cults is to find a healthy religious group."

Laemmle also made reference to a section in the University Religious Center/Office of Religious Life pamphlet, Religious Opportunities 1998-1999. "A Word of Warning" offers advice on how to avoid cults.

The program also included a speech by David Crandall, director of the Office of Student Activities, who has been on the campus for more than 20 years. He offered his knowledge of the history of religious activity at USC.

Excerpts from a MTV special called "New Religions - The Cult Question" were shown to the audience as well.

The video informed of cults, especially three specific groups. The International Church of Christ was one of the groups, a group known to exist on campus, said students on the panel.

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