13 Nov 2010

Cults on campus: how to spot recruiting techniques of predator conmen

New Jersey News Room - December 1, 2009

Predators on campus: An inside look at cults in New Jersey


Cults are probably the last thing on your mind when considering a place of higher learning for your son or daughter, but these groups regularly use college campuses to enlist kids aching for a sense of community far from the glare of discipline.

“The myth most people have is that people that join cults are looking to join a cult,” says William Goldberg, a licensed clinical social worker with a private practice in Englewood, New Jersey, who co-leads a support group for ex-cult members. “It’s usually not the case. Cult recruiters are predators and learn how to be good conmen. Healthy kids are more likely to get involved because they feel ‘if I don’t like it,’ I can leave.”

That’s not always so easy, as cults smother new recruits with affection to convince them to stay, a tactic known as “love-bombing.” This behavior often escalates to manipulation, threats, intimidation and mind control. Eventually they cut the person off from friends and family so the cult remains the driving influence.

They even have it down to a science – Goldberg says the cult blankets an area by fundraising or proselytizing there, and then sets its sights on bright students who are in a period of transition. Colleges are ripe with them.

Individuals believes they are being invited to join a religious, political or social group, but the cult often hides their true intention and the degree they’re going to attempt to take over a person’s life.

According to Rick Ross, of the Rick A. Ross Institute of New Jersey, groups called “cults” that have a history of recruiting on college campuses include the Unification Church, International Church of Christ, University Bible Fellowship, Transcendental Meditation, Scientology, Soka Gakkai International, Dahn Yoga, International Society of Krishna Consciousness, Kabbalah Center, Falun Gong, National Labor Federation, the Lyndon LaRouche Executive Intelligence Report (EIR), Prem Rawat/Elan Vital formerly known as Divine Light Mission, Twelve Tribes Messianic Communities, the Brethren led by Jim Roberts, Sri Chinmoy organization, Humana People-to-People associated with Tvind and Xenos Christian Fellowship.

And time has not slowed the proliferation of groups that lure young souls.

“Eighteen to 26-year-old college students have historically been the most targeted single demographic group,” Ross says.

He adds that there are cults operating on virtually every college campus, with Jersey as no exception, but the colleges aren’t likely to acknowledge such activity.

Both experts agree – to protect yourself, realize your own vulnerability and though it’s easy to be swept up in the intensity, make sure you thoroughly research an organization before moving forward.

During his tenure at Rutgers University in New Brunswick from 1989 to 2001, Father Ron Stanley, O.P., a former campus chaplain at the Catholic Center, says he became aware of a religious group, Campus Advance (part of the ICC) using high pressure and deception to take control of students’ lives. As a result, their recruits utilized the same unethical methods to scout for additional members and bring money into the cult.

An interfaith group of clergy stepped in and sponsored a panel, “Cults on Campus” that garnered sufficient publicity.

“We were able to get Rutgers to prepare and distribute a leaflet entitled, ‘Responding to High Pressure Groups on Campus’ and to include a skit on high pressure recruitment as part of its orientation for incoming students,” Stanley says.

Steve Hassan spent two years as a Unification Church (Moon cult) leader while a student at Queens College in the ‘70s and that early involvement left an indelible mark. Fresh off a breakup, three women claiming to be students approached him during a lunch break. He asked if they were part of a religious group and Hassan says, “They flat out lied.”

A leading cult expert and licensed mental health counselor, Hassan has studied the phenomenon of free will for more than 30 thirty years and believes that through unethical deceptive recruiting and mind control techniques, including hypnosis and sleep deprivation, dietary manipulation and environmental control – a person can be reprogrammed to have a different belief structure and even a different identity.

“When I was in the ‘Moonies,’ my cult identity would suppress any negative thoughts against the group and re-label my feelings towards my family as satanic,” Hassan says.

Can such brainwashing be reversed? Hassan says if a person has a monumental dissolutive experience, one may wake up to how one is being bullied - but more commonly, an erosion of the cult identity leads someone to incrementally question what’s going on.

He typically does three to five interventions a week and holds steadfast to the belief that making a difference in the lives of those affected by cults is possible.

With counseling, they’ll understand the issue of social influence and it will minimize any sense of guilt or embarrassment that they got involved with the group. Hassan also tries to connect them with ex-members, so they can talk to people who relate and won’t look at them and say, “They did what” or other less than helpful responses.

He offers some words of advice:

  • Remember that cult recruiters are attractive, intelligent, nice people and they don’t have a sign on them that reads, ‘cult member.’
  • Be wary of instant friendships; real friendships take time – and don’t disclose too many personal details with a stranger because they could use that information to manipulate you.
  • Many abusive relationship situations look like cults, except they’re just cultic personalities, religious cults.
  • Legitimate groups and people stand up to scrutiny.

Above all, Hassan says, “trust your gut (and) trust your inner voice.”

For more information:

William Goldberg or www.blgoldberg.com; Rick A. Ross Institute of New Jersey or www.rickross.com; Freedom of Mind or www.freedomofmind.com

This article was found at:



Exposing the abuses and frauds of cults makes advocate a target for regular legal and physical threats

The main difference between a religion and a cult is secrecy and total control of members lives

Books on cults, survivor stories, and recovery.

Video interview by Steve Hassan of top ex-Scientologist at international cult conference in New York

Video of former 30 year Scientologist discussing Jett Travolta based on her personal experiences of medical abuse

Cult exit counsellor gives speech, "Psychology of Mind Control Over Abducted Children", at Amber Alert symposium

Cult Recovery

Cult researcher reveals emotional cost of separation

Interview with psychologist Jill Mytton about religious abuse [VIDEO]

Cult Survivors: Was Membership Your Choice? [video]

How Cults Rewire The Brain [video]

Conquering coercion: Wellspring Retreat helps former cult members recover

Recovery workshop for people born or raised in cults

Apocalypticism is a simplistic but dangerous world view spreading rapidly like a toxic virus

Sects and sex abuse: battle of the apocalyptic sex cults

Kings and Queens of Cults

Their targets used to be university students, but today fringe religious groups are believed to be recruiting school-aged children.

Survivors in New Zealand documentary, How To Spot A Cult, reveal similar tactics used by cults with different belief systems

Cult survivor reveals deceptive recruiting tactics used by Scientology and similar cults

Australian cults "thriving under protection of politicians, police & courts" despite recent evidence of extreme abuse

Intentional ignorance and willful blindness keep members trapped in cults like Scientology

Lessons to be learned when cults make news

Closed societies conceal abuse of power

What makes a cult?

What makes a religious group a cult?

Cult Plus Time Equals Religion


Cults reflect darker side of '60s rebellion for many children of the flower children

Stairway to Heaven: Treating children in the crosshairs of trauma

Family Radio apocalyptic cult says the Bible guarantees Jesus will return on May 21, 2011

Apocalypticism is a simplistic but dangerous world view spreading rapidly like a toxic virus

Canadian apocalyptic cult leader who maimed and murdered followers in religious rituals killed in prison

Apocalyptic cult leader dies, doomsday predictions never materialized

Confused California cult leader just the latest false prophet to endanger followers with apocalyptic fever

Apocalyptic Arizona cult controls members, competes with Scientology for weirdest sci-fi cult

Russian sex cult leader "from the star Sirius" charged with rape, sexual abuse and human rights violations

Novel Faiths Find Followers Among Russia's Disillusioned

Waiting for Armageddon

Sect members dig tunnel, await apocalypse in Central Russia

Cult leader seeks to free children, official says

Second group of cult followers awaits apocalypse in Penza, Russia

Sects and sex abuse: battle of the apocalyptic sex cults

Cult survivors reveal deranged mind of messianic leader of Australian cult Zion Full Ministry

Self-proclaimed prophets: Phillip Garrido, David Berg and Joseph Smith

The Making of a Twisted Sexual Theology: Q+A on "Jesus Freaks"

Enslaved by the cult of sex...for 25 years

UK survivor confirms mother's fears about abusive cult The Family International that tried to recruit her teen daughter

Fugitive leaders of The Family International found hiding in Mexico after former members sought psychological help

Family International a.k.a. Children of God: Once dismissed as 'sex cult,' tiny church launches image makeover

This Is What Wolves In Sheep's Clothing Look Like


Castleconnell area was base for child sex cult, claims victim

Violent sexual abuse, brainwashing and neglect: What it's like to grow up in a religious sect

Underside of cult life emerges

The offspring of 'Jesus Freaks'

The Tragic Legacy of the Children of God

Not Without My Sister [book review]

Cult Activity in Uganda?

Cult Claims To Be "Living by the law of love"

Children of God: Haunted By a Dark Past

Child-Custody Deal Favors Escapee of Notorious Cult 'The Family' aka The Children of God

Cambodian NGO exposed as a charity front for The Family International cult

Member of San Francisco pop duo, Girls, is a survivor of notorious Children of God cult, a.k.a. The Family International


  1. Universities learned the lesson of cult mischief, get proactive

    The Japan Times Thursday, May 31, 2012

    Kyodo - Toshiyuki Tachikake, an associate professor at Osaka University, pointed to a close-up picture of a man and asked his class of first-year students if they knew who the figure was. Only a few, perhaps about 30 percent, raised their hands.

    The person projected on the screen was Shoko Asahara, the infamous Aum Shinrikyo founder who is on death row for masterminding the 1995 sarin gas attack on the Tokyo subway system and other crimes.

    The students' response reflects how memories of heinous incidents involving cults — even Aum, the worst of the lot — are gradually fading away and how the older generation has failed to educate young people about what happened.

    Tachikake's class in early May was part of a compulsory course on various aspects of college life for incoming students at Osaka University. While also covering problems such as alcohol and drugs, Tachikake and his colleagues devoted a significant portion of the course to the dangers of cults.

    "It's a university's social responsibility to prevent (students from being recruited into) cults," Tachikake says, while stressing that attention is paid to ensure freedom of religion.

    Osaka University, some of whose graduates were among the highly educated members of Aum involved in the sarin gas attack in Tokyo and another in Matsumoto, Nagano Prefecture, in 1994, is known for being one of the colleges that began tackling the issue of cults early on.

    But even though cults' recruiting efforts on university campuses made headlines in the past, many students today appear to be unaware of this danger.

    Even today, so-called religious groups continue to recruit students by initially identifying themselves as campus sports, music or volunteer clubs.

    "There are many camouflaged groups out there," said Tachikake. "The problem is that they do not follow the rules of communication and fail to disclose accurate information (about their activities)."

    At Taisho University, a Buddhist school in Tokyo, religious scholar Tatsuya Yumiyama told some 100 students in his introductory course on religion: "You're probably thinking only weirdos join cults. Well, you're wrong.

    "You may think that a 'sempai' (senior student) with high aspirations gives you a helping hand and prays for you, and with 100 percent good intent," said Yumiyama, a professor known for his research on Aum and expertise on the relationship between young people and religion. "But that is illegal soliciting."

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    To illustrate how often it is the most serious-minded students who fall prey to the repeated cycle of cult recruiting, he told the class of a case in which a university student joined a such a cult out of admiration for a sempai and ended up having to quit school.

    At the same time, Yumiyama stressed the importance of learning about true religion.

    He said many students told him after the class that they now realize how wrong they had been to think they would not be deceived by cult members.

    Kenji Kawashima, president of Keisen University, a Christian women's school in Tokyo, warns that cults have grown increasingly sophisticated in their recruiting tactics.

    For example, cultists passing themselves off as members of volleyball or other sports clubs will rent and host activities in gyms at public elementary schools to give their targets a false sense of security, Kawashima said.

    Also, as universities have stepped up measures against cults, recruiters have shifted to younger marks — high school students. Of particular interest are those preparing for their university entrance exams.

    Cult members typically approach such students as they cram for their tests in coffee shops and other public places, he said.

    Kawashima, a former pastor, said the shock from the Aum incidents prompted him to look into cult activity in Japan. He and others founded a nationwide network of universities to address the problem. It now numbers about 150 schools.

    He said his conviction that religious belief is important weighs heavily when he considers that students, aspiring to do good in society and thinking seriously about their futures, have been drawn into cults, where they have suffered both psychologically and financially.

    "I believe that had they not been taken into the cults, they would have been promising and talented members of society," he said. "It's a tough job, but one worth doing."


  3. Shower baptisms, Armageddon and the Second Coming of Christ: the Korean church recruiting Manchester students

    Andrew Williams investigates the World Mission Society Church of God, a mysterious Korean church hoping to convert you on your doorstep

    By Andrew Williams, THE MANCUNION MARCH 28, 2013

    “Imagine this is earth,” says Samuel, using the lid of a Pringles tube to illustrate his point, “and here’s heaven. The most valuable thing you can imagine on earth is less valuable than the least valuable thing in heaven. God sees this planet as a speck of dust.”

    At the age of 24, Samuel has left his home in London to live with members of a little-known church in Manchester. Pleasant, inquisitive and well-educated, he is far from the type of person you might imagine to join such an organisation, and yet he is utterly consumed by his new-found faith.

    The somewhat cumbersomely-named World Mission Society Church of God has accumulated 1.7 million members worldwide in its fifty year history. Whilst some of the basic tenets of the church’s teachings are in common with the more established branches of Christianity, it only takes a fleeting discussion with one of their members to realise that there is plenty that sets it apart; a leader revered as the Second Coming of Christ, a rejection of worship on Sundays, and a fervent belief that we are living in the ‘end times.’

    Founded in South Korea in 1964, its leader, Ahn Sahng-Hong, proclaimed himself to be the reincarnation of Jesus Christ during his lifetime, joining a less than illustrious list of Messianic claimants including Charles Manson and the former BBC Sport presenter David Icke. Upon his death in 1985, Ahn’s ‘spiritual wife’, Zahng Gil-Jah, assumed leadership of the church. To believers, they are God the Mother and God the Father; the female aspect of God being a vital component of their faith.

    WMSCOG has gained quite a following in Manchester and the group has become increasingly prominent in recent times. After members of the group visited his house in Fallowfield, Religion and Political Life postgraduate student James Jackson brought the group to The Mancunion’s attention, telling us of reports that the church have been going door to door in student areas in an attempt to recruit new members.

    “When they came to my house they said they were theology students giving a presentation. Having studied theology for three years, I said I wasn’t interested in what they had to say, but they were extremely insistent,” James explained. “Once inside they opened straight up on the book of Revelation and started talking about Satan. It became clear that they were trying to convince me that the Roman Catholic Church was Satanic. At one point when I protested, I was accused of being in league with the Catholics and therefore, implicitly, Satan.”

    He continued: “I was alarmed to find out that one of the members had only joined a month ago and was already living communally with them and acting as an evangelist.”

    As suspected, James is not alone in having been visited by the group. Indeed, it appears that WMSCOG members are actively targeting student areas in their attempt to recruit new members. Reverend Dr Terry Biddington, the University of Manchester’s Chaplain to Higher Education, expressed concerns about the group’s tactics. “We are aware that this group goes ‘cold calling’ door to door and tries to pressurise students to attend meetings. Apparently one student dropped out of university having joined,” he told us.

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  4. Though we have been unable to confirm whether this is the case, we have spoken to several students who have encountered members of the church. Jonnie Breen, a second year History student, was perhaps more polite than most when the church’s followers pitched up on his doorstep in early September.

    Having lived in South Korea for much of his childhood, Jonnie was amenable to the Korean trio who came to his house. “There were three of them, and they basically asked if they could come in and show me a presentation,” he recalls. “I got talking to them about Korea so we struck up a bit of a rapport, but before long they were pressing – fairly hard – for me to be, in their words, baptised by them. They weren’t intimidating, and I didn’t want to tell them to fuck off, but they kept coming back to this baptism.”

    Jonnie was told in no uncertain terms that his prospects were bleak unless he accepted the church’s teachings. “They said, ‘unless everyone recognises what we recognise, and formally accept it, you’re going to go to hell; but we can save you by baptising you, we can do it in your shower.’ That’s the point when I remember starting to get freaked out. They kept repeating themselves; ‘we can do it really easily in your shower, right here.’ They repeated it maybe three or four times and I said, look, I really don’t want to do that, but I’d be happy to come and see you at your church.”

    A month later, Jonnie made good on his promise. “They picked me up from my house, and this time there were some local Mancunians who had joined the church. As we drove in I realised that I wasn’t just there to have some food with a bunch of Korean guys. They showed me a half hour long film they had made about their church all around the world.”

    Though he didn’t feel physically threatened, the rhetorical bombardment made Jonnie feel “uncomfortable.” It was the last time he spoke to anyone from the church, but not for the want of trying on their part. “Perhaps stupidly, I gave them my phone number. They kept calling me – probably about four times a week for a month after I had visited the church. They’ve stopped calling now but it shows how incredibly persistent they are.”

    Gemma Reed, who has just completed a Masters degree in History of Science, Technology and Medicine, is another student who was recently visited by members of the World Mission Society Church of God. No mentions of shower baptisms here, but much of her experience tallies with those of James and Jonnie.

    “They’ve actually been round a couple of times,” Gemma tells me. “A young Korean girl came to my door the first time around. She said that she was doing a theology presentation and she wanted to practice it on us. I was shown a video about all of the work that the church does in the community, and whilst we were watching it she told us the Bible predicted nuclear Armageddon, and that we could save ourselves by joining the church. It didn’t really make any sense.”

    “I was just really aware of how vulnerable she was,” Gemma continues. “What she was saying to me was obviously a script. It was basically a load of small shreds of evidence which were picked from here, there and everywhere and put together to form this kind of mosaic which fits their narrative. But they really believe it, and I respect them for that.”

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  5. Having not been visited by any members of the church myself, James and I arranged to meet with two members of the church to discuss their faith. The aforementioned former student, Samuel, is here with his friend Lot, a South Korean student who has moved to Manchester to spread the word of the church. Whilst Lot was born into the church, I am intrigued as to why Samuel elected to join of his own volition.

    “I was interested in learning about the truth, because there are a lot of lies out there,” he tells us. On the evening that we meet, white smoke emerges from the chimney of the Vatican to signal the election of a new Pope. How do Samuel and Lot feel about Catholicism?

    “Unknowingly, the Catholics worship a Sun God, because God never instituted Sunday as a day or worship,” Samuel explains. It’s a claim which would doubtless offend many Christians, and possibly some of the students whom the church are attempting to recruit. With that in mind, I ask how students tend to react them. “People are mostly quite nice, but sometimes they just say ‘go away’. It depends,” Lot tells me.

    Over the course of the next hour, the pair going into great detail in an attempt to explain to me why they are convinced that their leader, Ahn Sahng-Hong, was the Second Coming of Christ. Lot retrieves a heavily highlighted Bible from his bag, along with a huge tome embossed with the words ‘EVIDENCE BOOK’. I am shown numerous passages from the Bible which mention Christ’s Second Coming emerging ‘in the east’ or ‘from the farthest corner of the earth.’ With the help of a map, a hastily drawn timeline and a host of nonsensical charts, he is attempting to convince me that the Bible prophesised that the reincarnated Christ would come from South Korea.

    I am keen to delve deeper into their belief that we are living in the ‘end times’. The World Mission Society Church of God is adamant that Armageddon will be visited upon the Earth in our lifetime – does the thought not consume them with fear? “No, it makes me happy,” Samuel tells me cheerily. “We don’t have to be scared, because if we receive salvation we can go to heaven.”

    Frankly, I am quite terrified at the thought of the imminent destruction of the earth, and no less concerned by the fact that Samuel and Lot believe it to be the case. However, my overwhelming feeling is one of sympathy towards two young men who, to my mind, harbour such a bleak outlook. James Jackson echoes my thoughts shortly after we leave the pair.

    “I don’t think that the church is sinister,” he says, thinking aloud. “They seem to have a degree of freedom lacking in some other new religious movements. In a pluralistic society like ours everyone has a right to their beliefs, however intolerant or strange.”

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  6. James is, however, concerned by the church’s determined pursuit of new student members. “I worry about the reports of a student dropping out of university, and their posing as theology students to enter student houses. Students are at a vulnerable time in their life and evangelistic groups can take advantage of that.”

    Ian Haworth succumbed to such an organisation in the late ‘70s. Having been “brainwashed” by a woman who stopped him in the street to tell him about her organisation, he resigned from his job and gave the church $1,500 – all the money he had. Though he quickly left, it took him many years to recover from the experience. He now runs Cult Information Centre, an organisation which monitors the activity of mysterious religious and political movements.

    Haworth is reluctant to use the ‘c word’ – cult, that is – but suggests that there are legitimate grounds for concern about the group. “We have had a couple of calls from people who are concerned about the World Mission Society Church of God. We have taken these calls seriously and it is a group about which we are concerned,” he told The Mancunion.
    “People who become involved in groups such as this one tend to be people who have changed and, according to family and friends, changed for the worse. Personality changes are a very common phenomenon in the field, and certainly in the two cases we’ve dealt with that is the claim of the families.”

    Haworth believes he has an explanation for the church’s focus on recruiting University of Manchester students as new members. “The easiest people to recruit are usually described as people with average to above average intelligence, well-educated people, people who come from an economically advantaged family background, and they’re usually people who are described as caring.”

    “Whilst they can be of any age, the average person who is recruited has probably been in higher education in the past if they are not already in it. Students are easy targets, and because students are smart, they assume that it is people who are lacking in some way who get involved; and that it could never happen to them, because they think that strength of mind and intelligence are things that would perhaps safeguard them. But that’s a complete and utter myth.”


  7. Wheel Of Fortune Star Vanna Whites Teenage Son Joins Hare Krishna Religious Cult

    Radar online September 3, 2013

    Bad grades, partying too much, relationship trouble — that’s what most parents have to worry about when their kids head off to school. But Wheel of Fortune glamazon Vanna White is struggling with an even more terrifying issue as her son Nikko is reportedly being “brainwashed” by a dangerous religious cult!

    The National ENQUIRER has all the details on the scary situation involving the University of Arizona sophomore.

    According to the ENQUIRER, Vanna’s son was swept into the infamous Hare Krishna cult after meeting 34-year-old monk Jaycee Akinsanyaas a freshman. The two now live together near campus and the magazine claims Nikko even asked his parents to give the man $1 million to build a new ashram!

    Vanna and the boy’s father, her ex, George Santo Pietro, were adamant that they wouldn’t lend their financial support to their son’s new friend, so Jaycee told Nikko that his parents have got to go.

    “Since then Akinsanya has been reminding Nikko that he should follow his own path and advance his spiritual life,” a source told the mag. “It’s like Akinsayna is trying to brainwash him!”

    Indeed, a cult expert explains, that’s been textbook behavior for the Hare Krishnas for decades.

    “They pressure members to reject family members and friends and even quit their jobs to live in the temple full time and serve the guru,” Nori Muster, a Hare Krishna member from 1978 to 1988 and author of Betrayal of the Spirit: My Life Behind the Headlines of the Hare Krishna Movement tells the ENQUIRER.

    “They also pressure members into giving their inheritances, bank accounts and material possessions to the guru.”

    Since Vanna is worth $40 million and her restaurateur ex sold a home in 2011 for $23.5 million, Muster says Nikko is a clear target.

    But Nikko insists he’s just building his own life, like many other college students.

    “Jaycee has not brainwashed me,” he told the ENQUIRER. “I didn’t ask my parents for a million dollars for a new Ashram. The money I asked for was for my living expenses — food, gas and for living my spiritual life with Jaycee.”

    For more details about the alleged monk’s shady past and troubles with the law, pick up the latest issue of the National Enquirer on newsstands Thursday.


  8. I started attending Xenos back when it was known as Fishhouse. I was there for 7 years and the doctrine was thoroughly orthodox. There was a great sense of community and a sincere desire to love God in both intellectual and practical ways. However the immaturity of the Senior Pastor produced a very cult-like style.

    Typical leadership behaviors passed down from the Senior Pastor to local homechurch leaders seen at Xenos between 1980-1987:


    They never recognized the rights of others and see their self-serving behaviors as permissible. They appear to be charming, yet are covertly hostile and domineering, seeing members as merely an instrument to be used. They dominate and humiliate their members.

    Lack of Remorse, Shame or Guilt

    Often when manipulation or humiliation didn't work the leaders would expose a deep-seated rage. They didn't appear to see others around them as people, but only as targets and opportunities. Instead of friends, they have victims and accomplices who end up as victims. The end always justifies the means and they let nothing stand in their way.

    Poor Behavioral Controls/Impulsive Nature

    Rage and abuse, alternating with small expressions of love and approval produce an addictive cycle for leader and member. Many of the leaders believe they were entitled to every wish, no sense of personal boundaries, no concern for their impact on others. The followers see them as near perfect.

    Leadership meetings would involve being cussed out and humiliated by the head Pastor for "not hitting your !@#$ing growth numbers." Much time was devoted to gossip about members of the home groups under the guise of "planning their spiritual development".

    In short, they exhibited many of the qualities of antisocial personality disorder (Sociopathy) stemming again from the one central extremely influential leader.

    I left knowing much more about scripture, evangelism, discipleship and community (all orthodox)than when I joined. These things I learned were also, to be fare, probably a result of this same Senior Pastor (and for that I am grateful). I also left with a notebook labeled "Abusive Leadership" filled with hundreds of things that I swore I would never do as a leader of a local church.

  9. Tucson ministry a cult former followers say

    By Carol Ann Alaimo, Emily Bregel Arizona Daily Star investigation March 07, 2015

    The University of Arizona is investigating a religious group that more than 20 former members and staffers describe as a cult.

    Faith Christian Church, which is led by a self-proclaimed former criminal, has operated on the UA campus for 25 years. It is initially welcoming, then slowly imposes control over most facets of members’ lives, an Arizona Daily Star investigation found.

    The Star interviewed 21 former employees and church members — most of them UA alumni — and nine of their parents. Their stories include reports of hitting infants with cardboard tubes to encourage submission, financial coercion, alienation from parents, public shaming of members and shunning of those who leave the church or question its leaders. Some say that since leaving, they’ve spent years in therapy for panic attacks, depression, flashbacks and other symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder.

    Methods the church has used, as described by former members and staffers, meet all five warning signs for “religious practices gone awry” listed on the website of the UA’s University Religious Council.

    “The best word I can think of is ‘insidious.’ It starts off subtle,” says ex-member Scott Moore, 32, who graduated from the UA in 2005 with a degree in agriculture.

    Moore says his self-esteem hit rock bottom after he joined Faith Christian in 2000 at age 17. Church leaders’ criticism and authoritarianism caused him near-constant anxiety during his five years as a member, he says.

    Some ex-members and their parents say the UA should have acted long ago to investigate the church and the campus ministries it lists as affiliates: Wildcats for Christ, Native Nations in Christ and the Providence Club. But the university must abide by an Arizona law requiring all state agencies to “neither inhibit nor promote religion,” says Melissa Vito, the UA’s senior vice president in charge of student affairs.

    The UA wasn’t previously aware of what the Star’s investigation found, Vito says. It doesn’t monitor groups for signs of trouble, but relies on formal complaints related to current students. Former Faith Christian members say the way the church operates makes that difficult because the church often tightens its grip after students graduate.

    The UA can restrict the activities of student groups on campus if they’re not following UA’s standard of conduct. All groups, religious or not, are expected to provide “a positive experience for students,” Vito says.

    The investigation began a few weeks ago after the mother of a UA junior from Los Angeles contacted university administrators, alarmed by a “radical” shift in her son’s personality and behavior since he joined the church two years ago. Kathy Sullivan’s son told her he intends to abandon his planned career in business to become a campus minister for Faith Christian after graduation, she says. Their relationship has become so strained that she worries about losing him completely.

    “They get their members to believe that any questioning, any scrutiny, it’s the devil,” she says. “I want to get my son out of there. I want to do whatever I can to prevent other families from letting their children get in a situation like this.”

    Neither the group’s founder and head pastor, Stephen M. Hall, nor Hall’s neighbor and second-in-command, executive pastor Ian A. Laks, responded to repeated requests for comment over the past two weeks.

    continued below

  10. On Feb. 23, the Star provided Hall, 62, and Laks, 50, with detailed questions about the church’s alleged practices. The 42 questions were emailed to the contact address on the church’s website, as well as hand-delivered on Feb. 24 to the leaders’ west-side homes and mailed that day to the church’s post office box. The Star also left three voicemails at each of the families’ homes and three on the church’s office line. Finally, reporters reached out by telephone, Facebook or LinkedIn to 15 current members of the church staff. None responded.

    The church did provide a copy of its 2013 financial statement last week. Churches that are members of the national Evangelical Council for Financial Accountability, as is Faith Christian, are required to provide the statement upon request to maintain their membership.

    Dan Busby, president of the Virginia-based Evangelical Council, says Faith Christian is a member in good standing and defended many of its practices.

    “The questions you have raised, compared to what we know about the church, does not give rise to a sensational story about the church,” he wrote in an email to the Star. “It is so easy for disgruntled folks who used to relate to a particular church to cast aspersions and create negative perceptions about churches that are doing good work.”


    Faith Christian Church was founded in 1990 from the remains of the now-defunct Tucson chapter of Maranatha Christian Church, state records show. Florida-based Maranatha, which had chapters nationwide in the 1970s and ’80s, folded around 1990 amid allegations that its methods were authoritarian and posed a danger to college students on campuses where Maranatha recruited.

    Concerned parents told the Star that Faith Christian aggressively seeks out vulnerable young people and encourages some of them to give up their career paths to serve the church. Leaders also push them to cut ties with their families, parents say.

    Faith Christian is open about its goal of converting college-age youth, asserting in a 2012 YouTube video that “19 out of 20 people who become Christians do so before the age of 25.”

    Tyler Wachenfeld, the group’s associate pastor, says in the video, “The purpose of Faith Christian Church is to reach college students with the gospel during a very crucial time in their lives and to see them established in a local church, as the Holy Spirit leads.” Wachenfeld, who did not respond to two phone messages seeking comment for this story, is Hall’s son-in-law and one of 10 members of Hall’s family now on staff at the church.

    Weekly services — held in the auditorium at Amphitheater High School — are well-attended by an enthusiastic crowd. On a recent Sunday, nearly 400 people — the vast majority of them young adults — swayed together, hands in the air, many singing with their eyes closed as a 10-piece band played onstage.

    Faith Christian encourages some members, once they graduate, to become “campus ministers” who then work to bring other UA students into the fold. For example, they’ll stand outside dorms on move-in day and offer help, or they’ll approach students at random to take surveys that offer respondents a chance to win a bicycle or other prize.

    Rachel Mullis, 38, who was with the church from 1994 to 2004, recalls being “love-bombed” by ministers on her first day at the UA.

    “They shower you with attention and they’re super nice. They became my instant friends,” she says. “If they came right out and told you from the start that it’s a cult, you’d never get involved. They make it seem really amazing at first, then they hook you in little by little.”

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  11. To support themselves former campus ministers say they had to solicit donations from family, friends and strangers and hand over the money to a nonprofit subsidiary of the church. The church then pays them with that money — some told the Star they received as little as $400 a month.

    Dan Busby, of the Evangelical Council, says the concept “is often referred to as deputized support — an approach in which an individual staff member is responsible to secure gifts sufficient to cover their staff costs. This is a legitimate approach used by many organizations across the U.S. — for anyone to suggest otherwise suggests they are uninformed.”

    Faith Christian’s 2013 financial report shows that its campus ministry took in $880,203 in contributions and paid out $848,435 in salaries and benefits.

    Former campus minister Nick Puente, 32, who was raised in the church and left in 2005, says he once lived for a year on less than $10,000, support money he begged from friends, family and, sometimes, strangers. Puente says he survived on a diet of ramen noodles, boxed macaroni and cheese and cheap chicken quarters.

    Former member Lawrence Alfred, 38, says Faith Christian took away members’ freedom incrementally, over the course of years. He says he was penalized — in a ritual known as “casting the demons out” — for perceived infractions, such as spending too much time alone.

    “You don’t know yourself at the end,” says Alfred, who left in 2009 after nine years. “You don’t know you’re in a cult until you leave. Pretty soon, you’re at the point where you can’t make any decisions.”

    Alfred says that, until now, he’s never talked about what he calls his “traumatic” experience with Faith Christian.

    “I’m doing this for my kids,” he says of his decision to go public. “If they go off to college, I don’t want them to fall into the same trap.”


    Hall arrived in Tucson in the 1980s, ex-members say. Before that, he was living in Florida, and said he converted to Christianity while behind bars on drug charges in that state, they say.

    “I had cut a wide swath of destruction across the College of Agriculture at the University of Florida because I used my education to learn to breed and grow marijuana, and was arrested with just truckloads. ... Nothing to brag about,” Hall said during his Feb. 22 sermon at Faith Christian, which a Star reporter attended.

    “I was really a jerk,” he added.

    Former members say Hall tells tales of life as an outlaw, often from the pulpit. He talks about being busted for running a marijuana farm and working as an enforcer for a drug lord, beating up those who couldn’t pay their drug debts, recalls Nina Puente, 59, of Tucson. She says she’s known Hall since his Florida days and initially admired him, but left Faith Christian after 20 years in 2005 with her son, Nick, husband, Henry Puente, 59, and two other children.

    “Steve said he was sent to jail for growing what the sheriff’s department called ‘the best pot in the state of Florida,’” Nina Puente says. “He would brag about having looked down the barrel of a gun eight times.”

    The Star could not find records of Hall having a drug conviction. Records from Florida’s Miami-Dade County Police Department show he was arrested in 1976 because of an outstanding arrest warrant issued the previous year in Madison, Wisconsin. The warrant was for a charge of extortion. Details of the case are not available: Police agencies and the court clerk in Madison say they either have no record of the original warrant, or their records don’t go back to the 1970s.

    About six months out of jail, Hall was hired to lead a tiny Florida congregation affiliated with Maranatha Christian Church, Nina Puente says. He did not attend seminary, but that is not uncommon or troubling, says Dan Busby, of the Evangelical Council.

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  12. “The senior pastor has been with the church for 30 years, the executive pastor has been there for 28 years and the associate pastors have all served at the church for more than 16 years each,” Busby wrote. “To take the position that only seminary-trained individuals are qualified to pastor would be tantamount to suggesting that tens of thousands of pastors across the U.S. are unqualified — including my father, who pastored 73 years without even graduating from college.”

    Within a year or two, Hall left Florida and joined Marantha’s Tucson branch. Maranatha at one time oversaw dozens of ministries on college campuses before it shut down around 1990, Christianity Today reported.

    In Tucson, Maranatha changed its name to Faith Christian Church in 1990, Arizona Corporation Commission records show. Hall has been involved in Faith Christian and its predecessor since 1985.

    Claims that Faith Christian is less than a church come as a surprise to a former pastor in Tucson who worked with Hall in a local evangelical group.

    In the mid-2000s, Hall was president of the Tucson Association of Evangelicals, which has since disbanded. Dave Drum, who was also active with that group, speaks fondly of Hall’s work to forge partnerships between Tucson’s evangelical churches.

    Stories of Hall taking control of members’ lives “strikes me as very out of character,” Drum says. “I’ve heard some of the concerns over the years. There’s different perspectives, but I do not have any major concerns.”

    But Drum says he hadn’t heard about allegations that the church promotes corporal punishment for infants or that it tells members they will go to hell or suffer negative consequences if they leave Faith Christian. He would not support those teachings, if true, he says.

    “Most evangelical churches would not say that,” he says.


    Fourteen former staffers and church members, as well as three of their parents, told the Star that, at Hall’s urging, corporal punishment of children began in the crib.

    Some say they ended up leaving the church not long after their kids were born because they wouldn’t use Hall’s discipline methods.

    Spankings typically started soon after birth using a cardboard dowel taken from the bottom of a wire coat hanger, they say.

    “They train you as a parent that, once the babies are 8 weeks old, you have to lay them facedown. If the baby raises its head, that’s a sign of rebellion, so you smack them on the butt with the cardboard dowel,” says Rachiel Morgan, who earned a UA nursing degree in 1998 and worked for Faith Christian until 2008.

    “And you keep doing that over and over until the baby doesn’t put its head up again. And that’s how you train them to go to sleep.”

    Once children started standing and walking, the cardboard dowels were replaced by wooden spoons that sometimes left spoon-shaped bruises on toddlers’ buttocks, parents say.

    The marks never came to the attention of teachers or day-care providers because church children typically had limited contact with the outside world, former members say. Hall required that members’ children be home-schooled by their mothers, they say.

    Morgan, 38, and her ex-husband, Jeremy Morgan, 39, say they left the church when their second child was born. Their firstborn, who was 3 when the spankings stopped, still remembers them now at age 13, they say. Jeremy Morgan, now a nurse in Oklahoma, says it still pains him to recall the boy’s stoic reaction to the last spanking.

    “He just stared and let the tears fall, but he showed no sign of pain besides that. And I said, ‘Oh my gosh, what am I doing?’ I apologize to him every chance I get.”

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  13. Jeff Phillips 42 who graduated from the UA in 1995 with a political science degree, worked as an associate pastor at Faith Christian and its affiliates for more than a decade. He says he and his wife left in 2007 after church leaders pressured him to spank their second child. The boy turned out to have autism, which made him prone to verbal outbursts.

    The church saw the child’s behavior as evidence of willfulness, says Phillips, who attended Phoenix Seminary after leaving Faith Christian and now has a master’s degree in divinity.

    Ex-members say kids were spanked for typical childhood behaviors such as fidgeting, not finishing a meal or not falling asleep when put to bed.

    “The kids were unnaturally good,” says Jennifer Maynard, 38, who attended Faith Christian from 1997 to 2006. “They were like broken horses with all the spirit gone from them, and it broke my heart ... I remember thinking, ‘I’m so glad I’m not a parent right now.’”


    Church leaders were deeply involved in members’ personal finances, tracking how much they gave to the church, former followers say. Members were expected to donate at least 10 percent of their income, a biblical practice known as tithing, and the church disciplined those whose giving levels were deemed too low, ex-members say.

    Tithing and offerings accounted for $1 million in 2013, half of Faith Christian’s income for the year, its financial report shows.

    Connie Cohn, a member from 1982 to 1999, says church leaders criticized her family when their tithing levels dipped after her husband lost his job. When the Cohns said they couldn’t give anymore, elders asked them to leave the church, she says.

    In retrospect, she says, that was a blessing. “I thank God every day we got out when we did.”

    But for years, she says, she was haunted by warnings from church members, who had told her, “If you leave this church, I fear for you and I fear for your family.”

    Cody Ortmann, now 33 and living in San Francisco, says he still is hesitant to give money to a church after enduring Faith Christian’s scrutiny of his budget and insistence on tithing.

    “If you didn’t give 10 percent that week, you had to give double the next week,” says Ortmann, who graduated in 2005 with a double major in political science and sociology, and a minor in marine biology.

    When he graduated from the UA, Ortmann says church leaders asked him to become a campus minister. When he chose instead to do nonprofit work in Africa, he says church leaders told him he was no longer welcome, and all his former church friends stopped talking to him.

    “It’s something I look back on with embarrassment, because I wasn’t really strong enough to stand up for my own self,” he says. “I saw the red flags go off … and I didn’t do anything.”

    Requiring that members tithe “is very common in the evangelical church world,” says Dan Busby, of the Evangelical Council for Financial Responsibility.

    “The church appropriately teaches the congregation to be generous toward God with their lives and their financial resources,” he wrote to the Star. “The teaching of the church is based on their interpretation of the Bible on these issues — which ECFA respects.”

    Faith Christian rents space for Sunday services, currently at Amphi High School at a cost of $990 per week. The church’s assets have swelled from $200,000 in the mid-1990s to more than $5 million today, state and county records show. That includes a ranch as well as two cabins on Mount Lemmon that were rebuilt in 2013 at a cost of $1.38 million, its 2013 financial statement shows.

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  14. The Mount Lemmon site served as a getaway for Hall’s family when it wasn’t being used in the church’s efforts to control the behavior of its members, they say. Members with kids were invited to spend a weekend at a cabin with church leaders, who would watch closely to see if families were following Faith Christian teachings and critique perceived shortcomings.

    Salaries and wages for administrative and support staff accounted for $370,809 in 2013, the church’s financial report shows. Henry Puente, a member of Faith Christian’s financial board for several years, says when he left in 2005, Hall’s salary was around $150,000 a year and Laks’ about $100,000. The U.S. Department of Labor’s most recent workforce statistics in 2013 list the mean average wage for a clergy member in Tucson at $54,040.

    Busby, of the Evangelical Council, says Faith Christian bases compensation of top leaders on “a nationally recognized compensation study.”

    “This national survey data is far more pertinent for church leaders’ compensation than U.S. Labor data, in my experience,” he wrote. “In fact, working with churches for over 40 years, I have never heard of a church using the U.S. Labor data for comparables.”


    As with children, female church members were expected to be seen but not heard, and weren’t supposed to have careers and kids at the same time, former members say.

    Former member Jason Bell, 43, says he was bothered by the church’s treatment of women, who were sometimes accused of having a “Jezebel spirit,” after a murderous female character from the Bible’s Old Testament.

    “I can’t tell you how many times I heard that term,” he says. “They were very much like, ‘Women have a certain place in Christianity, and it’s at the side of a man.’ Any woman that was like, uppity, she has this Jezebel spirit that needs to be cast out of her.”

    Nick Puente, who was raised in Faith Christian from age 6, agrees that, “The Jezebel spirit was something Steve (Hall) believed was rampant in all women. Women were supposed to keep their mouths shut and do whatever their husbands want and they weren’t allowed to have a life outside the home.”

    Single women suffered, too, former members say.

    Joan Moore, now 32 and working as a registered nurse, says she was raped as a UA freshman shortly after she joined Faith Christian in 2001. News of the rape had spread through the ranks of church leaders after she told her minister about it, Moore says. She says church elders suggested she was partly to blame for kissing the man in the first place, and, a couple years later, Hall called her a “whore.”

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  15. Church leaders discouraged her from seeking outside counseling, saying it was better to seek help from them, she says. But Moore says the church community didn’t provide any meaningful support.

    “I was shamed for it,” says Moore, who left the church in 2005. “I wasn’t really allowed to talk about it. It was kind of brushed aside.”

    Rachel Mullis, who attended Faith Christian from 1994 to 2004, remembers being mortified when Hall denounced a young woman for “fornication” in front of church members just after a Sunday service. Mullis blamed herself for the public rebuke because she’d confided to a junior pastor that the young woman was sleeping with her boyfriend. The pastor told Hall, who thundered his disapproval.

    “It was horrible watching her crumble in front of me as he humiliated her,” Mullis recalls. The woman dashed out and never returned, she says.


    After joining the church, UA students often became alienated from their parents, ex-members say.

    Lawrence Alfred, who spent nine years at Faith Christian before returning to the Navajo reservation in 2009, says he and his family were close before he joined. Afterward, he says, there was a three-year period where he didn’t even go home for Christmas.

    “I wanted to go back home one time, and they rebuked me,” he says. “They used one of the lines in Scripture: Jesus said, ‘Let the dead bury the dead.’”

    Ex-member Jeremy Morgan’s parents thought it prudent to outwardly support their son’s immersion in the church, despite their deep misgivings.

    “What was alarming to us, among other things, was you couldn’t think outside the box of Faith Christian. The chief minister, Steve Hall, had total control of them,” says Bill Morgan, a retired physician in Phoenix who is now getting a master’s degree in counseling.

    But he and his wife, Beverly, worried that their son would cut all ties if they confronted him.

    The church forbade members from dating, and the Morgans say they were shocked when, in 2001, Jeremy announced his engagement to Rachiel, whom he barely knew, in a pairing arranged by the church.

    Rachiel’s parents — whom the Morgans met the day before the wedding — were bewildered, too, Bill Morgan says.

    “We sat down to breakfast, and Jeremy’s (future) father-in-law turned to me and his first sentence is, ‘What the hell do you think is going on with this church?’” he says.

    Last year, Southern Baptist pastor Patrick Branch helped a Colorado State University student quit a Faith Christian affiliate, Grace Christian Church, in Fort Collins, Colorado. (The church did not respond to two messages seeking comment.)

    It took an intervention — organized by the young woman’s mother, Sandy Wade of Denver — to help Kayanna Wade recognize the group’s complete control over her life, says Branch, who’d been a youth minister to Kayanna when she was an adolescent.

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  16. He says Faith Christians teachings are dangerously out of line with scripture.

    “A portion of their ministry was well-meaning. They wanted to lead people to Christ. But when it came to how they did it, it was completely wrong,” says Branch, now a pastor in Alabama.

    Among his biggest concerns: Kayanna had dropped all of her childhood friends who weren’t church members and was spending her summer raising money for the church, cold-calling hundreds of random people in the phone book — all day, every day. She would give the money to the church, which would dole out allotments for her to live on, he says.

    “There’s no scriptural precedent for that anywhere in the Bible,” he says. “If they want to go out and get a burger, they have to ask the pastor for money. It is completely about control. It just really gives Christianity a black eye.”


    Social media has brought together former members for a new kind of fellowship.

    A few years ago, ex-staffer Jeff Phillips and others launched the Facebook page “Former Members of Faith Christian Church Tucson and its OffShoots.” The site, which has about 230 likes, contains dozens of personal accounts. The Star found most of the former church members interviewed for this investigation via the Facebook site.

    Nearly two decades have passed since Bell was a member of Faith Christian in his early 20s. But his reaction was powerful when he found the page and began reading narratives of his old church friends. He says he was overwhelmed with relief that he wasn’t alone.

    “I just started crying,” Bell says. “I realized that it wasn’t just me not being a strong enough Christian. That’s how I felt when I left, that I couldn’t handle it. I realized that was not true. I had done my best. I had given everything I had, and it was not really my fault.”

    Faith Christian leader Stephen Hall responded to the negative Facebook postings during a 2013 sermon in which he told followers they shouldn’t make or read negative comments about a church or a Christian on social media. A former member provided the Star with a recording of the talk.

    “That is one of the most grievous sins. Reading about people’s complaints about other Christians, it’s just like you did that yourself. A grievous, bitter, nasty, nasty thing,” Hall preached. “If any of you read negative things about any Christian on the Internet, you’re participating in wickedness and deeds of darkness, and it’ll come and get you.”

    To Doug Pacheco, a former member of Faith Christian’s predecessor church, what’s most grievous is the negative control the church exerts over its followers.

    When Pacheco uprooted his family and left the church in 1990, he says they lost all of their church friends. Even 10 years later, when they visited Tucson, those friends “would have nothing to do with me,” he says.

    That exemplifies the church’s failings — and its dangers, says Pacheco, who now lives in Indiana.

    “Anywhere someone does not have the freedom to go make a decision on their own, without feeling shunned, without being shamed, it is not a biblical church,” he says. “Churches don’t shun you. Churches don’t shame you. Churches don’t put you in a place where you no longer have any friends.”


  17. UA asks churchs campus recuiting arm for answers

    By Emily Bregel, Carol Ann Alaimo, Arizona Daily Star March 11, 2015

    University of Arizona officials are meeting this week with the president and faculty adviser of Faith Christian Church’s campus recruiting arm to ask about allegations of wrongdoing raised in a recent Arizona Daily Star investigation of the church.

    The leaders of Wildcats for Christ “are going to have to show up and answer questions,” said Melissa Vito, UA’s senior vice president.

    The Star interviewed 21 former employees and church members and nine of their parents as part of its investigation. They described Faith Christian as a cult that promotes spanking of babies that show a “rebellious spirit,” exerts excessive control over members’ lives and finances and encourages students to cut ties with family and friends outside the church.

    Faith Christian’s top leaders, senior pastor Stephen M. Hall and executive pastor Ian A. Laks, have declined for more than two weeks to comment on the Star’s findings.

    Four people have told the Star they raised concerns to UA about Faith Christian Church as far back as the mid-1990s. But Vito said the school was unable to act because doing so requires a written complaint related to a current UA student.

    She asks those with comments to email DOS-deanofstudents@email.arizona.edu or call 520-621-7057.

    Vito said Tuesday that some tactics used by the church’s campus ministries have come under scrutiny over the years and were addressed informally by UA. For example, around 1995, the UA restricted the group’s access to student dorms in response to concerns about overly aggressive door-knocking and soliciting. The UA also banned the group from holding Bible studies in students’ rooms, she said.

    The UA recently began an investigation after hearing from a Los Angeles-based mother of a current UA junior who is a church member. Kathy Sullivan said she has witnessed “drastic” changes in her son’s personality and behavior, and she worries about losing him completely. Sullivan told the Star she has filed a written complaint.

    Since the Star’s investigation was published Sunday, the UA has received eight emails from former students and their parents criticizing the school for not taking action. Some said they would not send their offspring to the UA if the church is allowed to continue recruiting there.

    “I have four children, and I would love to see them go to the U of A as well,” wrote one alumnus. “However, if this cult is still on campus by the time my oldest goes to college then neither she nor the other three will be allowed to attend.”

    The UA also received a complimentary letter about Faith Christian Church from the parents of one former student who joined the church in 2008.

    “I hope you recognize that the Arizona Daily Star was participating in yellow journalism,” the writer said. The names of writers were blocked out of the emails, which the UA provided to the Star.

    Cody Nicholls, an assistant dean of students in the UA dean of students’ office — which handles complaints about campus groups — is a current member of Faith Christian Church. Nicholls acts as a liaison between the University Religious Council and the dean of students’ office.

    The UA said the situation does not pose a conflict of interest because Nicholls has no role in investigating complaints. He oversees veterans affairs and has only acted as the interface between the dean’s office and the campus religious council for about a year, officials said.

    Faith Christian Church is a member of two national evangelical organizations. Neither one will comment on allegations that the church shuns outsiders, shames members who question church leaders and encourages members to hit infants with cardboard tubes to make them submissive.

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  18. Dan Busby president of the Virginia based Evangelical Council for Financial Accountability, expressed support for Faith Christian’s financial practices last week. In an email Tuesday, Busby said, “Since the issues were raised last week, we have had a senior ECFA executive on the ground in Arizona to confirm the Church’s compliance with our standards.”

    Faith Christian also is a member of the National Association of Evangelicals, which has recommended pastoral practices but does not provide any oversight of member churches, said communications director Sarah Kropp Brown. “We provide guidance, but compliance is the church’s commitment and responsibility,” Brown wrote in an email.

    Former University Religious Council chairman Dan Hurlbert said that, as early as 1999, the council was hearing about Faith Christian’s controlling practices and “badgering” of students. Hurlbert was URC chairman from 2000 to 2002.

    He recalled the mother of a student mailed her concerns to then-UA president Peter Likinsaround 2002. She said her son was so deeply involved in Faith Christian that he was failing academically and was harassed by campus ministers after trying to distance himself from the church, said Hurlbert, now senior pastor at Tempe First United Methodist Church.

    Former Faith Christian member Jason Bell said that after he left the church in 1996, he spoke with someone in the UA dean of students’ office about how Wildcats for Christ funneled students to Faith Christian and about the church’s controlling practices.

    “They were concerned, but they needed more people, and they needed more formal complaints,” said Bell, now 43. But he said he didn’t file a written complaint because he felt he would be targeted by the church. He was already hearing rumors that church members had been telling his friends he was mentally unstable since he left the church.

    “I didn’t want to be alone trying to fight that fight,” he said.

    Susan Barnes, a nurse educator in Oklahoma whose daughter Rachiel Morgan left the church in 2008 after more than a decade, said she called the dean of students office around then to share her concerns about the church’s practices. She said she got a “very, very lukewarm” response from whoever answered the phone.

    The person who answered told her everything seemed fine because the UA had no complaints about the organization, Barnes said. She was promised a call-back but said she didn’t receive one even after she called back to leave a reminder message.

    UA alumnus and ex-member James Peeken, now 42, also said he spoke to an employee in the dean of students’ office in 1995. Peeken, who joined Faith Christian as a UA sophomore in 1993, left the church after a year and a half. He said he was disturbed by leaders’ control over members, their intense focus on tithing and the pressure to confess sins publicly, during Bible study groups.

    Church leaders would exert control by saying they’d received “a word from God” about minute details of members’ lives, he said.

    “They would get a word from God about what classes you should take, what car you should buy. If you didn’t follow that, you would be accused of having a rebellious spirit,” he said.

    “After I went to them and said, ‘This is really troubling,’ I felt like they kind of dropped the ball,” he said. “That should have raised some red flags.”

    UA seeks feedback

    University of Arizona officials ask that anyone with concerns about Faith Christian Church or its campus ministries email the dean of students office at DOS-deanofstudents@email.arizona.edu or call 520-621-7057.

    Website: health.arizona.edu/caps.htm


  19. Love bombing group at University of Arizona called cult thrown out of religious council

    By Susan Svrluga, Washington Post April 1, 2015

    Too much love, apparently. A religious council at the University of Arizona, after looking into reports that a longtime on-campus ministry known for what one student called “love-bombing” recruitment efforts, was, in fact, a cult, has revoked the church’s membership on the council.

    Earlier this month, the Arizona Daily Star reported that 21 former members told them the church, which has operated on campus for 25 years, was operating as a cult, controlling members’ lives and enforcing disturbing rules such as disciplining infants who lift their heads by smacking them with a cardboard tube. The student who said they were known for “love-bombing” added that they lured in freshmen with repeated friendly gestures.

    After numerous complaints about student safety, the University Religious Council of the University of Arizona revoked the membership of Faith Christian Church and affiliated campus ministries.

    Church officials did not immediately return messages seeking comment.

    Michelle Blumenberg, of the executive committee of the religious council, sent the following statement:

    “Effective immediately, the University Religious Council (URC) at the University of Arizona revokes from membership the organization known as Faith Christian Church and its affiliates Wildcats for Christ, Native Nations in Christ, and Providence Club.

    “Reason: The number, seriousness, and pattern of red flags raised compel URC members to no longer believe that Faith Christian Church and its affiliates operate at the highest level of integrity, transparency, safety for students, and respect for students, standards required for URC membership.

    “This has come to light via numerous letters and testimonies recently sent to URC members which have brought to a head historic and current concerns related to the campus activities of Faith Christian Church and its affiliates.”

    University officials are looking into more than 30 complaints, but because many of them involve internal actions of the church or allegations about alumni and non-students, they are limited in what they can investigate, said Chris Sigurdson, a spokesman.

    “The Dean of Students staff are continuing to follow up on the reports we’ve received, checking in with the student organizations and ascertaining our students’ well-being,” he said.

    “I believe the University Religious Council wanted to be fair and take into account the numerous complaints from fellow students about the church,” said Warren Throckmorton, a professor at the university. “Given the allegations, it seems understandable that they would take action.”

    Susan Svrluga is a reporter for the Washington Post, covering higher education for the Grade Point blog.


  20. DVD shows how easily cults can recruit young people

    by Kentaro Isomura and Yu Yamada, THE ASAHI SHIMBUN May 07, 2015

    Working with lawyers and psychological experts, victims of cult groups have released a DVD to warn young people of the danger of joining religious cults and antisocial organizations.

    The DVD was created by the Japan Society for Cult Prevention and Recovery (JSCPR) to coincide with the 20th anniversary of Aum Shinrikyo’s nerve gas attack on the Tokyo subway system that left 13 people dead and thousands sickened.

    The DVD is titled “Cult: Sugu Soba ni Aru Kiki” (Cult: Crisis just beside you).

    “What is important is that people understand cults can exist right beside them,” said Kimiaki Nishida, a psychological professor at Rissho University who serves as chairman of the group.

    Nishida added that some cult groups are currently working to enlist recruits as young as junior and senior high school students.

    “I will be happy if our DVD will be used for classes and orientations at schools,” he said.

    The group, formed after the March 20, 1995, attack by Aum Shinrikyo, works to develop strategies to combat groups that violate human rights and exhibit antisocial behavior. These include religious cults and groups that claim to hold self-improvement seminars, but often have other aims.

    The DVD features interviews with five former cult members who warn students how skillfully cult members can deceive them.

    A woman interviewed says she joined a cultist group at a state-run university believing it was simply a volleyball club.

    “Links with members came to be more and more important to me,” the woman said. “I felt they gave me the meaning of life, which then led to a thought that I was relieved thanks to them.”

    In the documentary, Takashi Uriu, a JSCPR director, shows through role play how cult members entice new recruits.

    A typical technique is adopting an over-the-top friendly attitude, even toward strangers, such as suddenly tapping them on the shoulder and saying hello.

    A student playing the role of an individual wooed by a cult member eventually reveals to the cultist his Line social messaging account, illustrating how easily young people can be fooled into cults.

    “I did not feel a sense of wariness, and rather thought joining the group may lead to more connections with people,” the student says in the video.

    The “Cult: Sugu Soba ni Aru Kiki” DVD is available for 8,000 yen ($66.90).


  21. Tucson church some call a cult laying low

    By Emily Bregel, Carol Ann Alaimo, Arizona Daily Star December 26, 2015

    The holidays weren’t always happy for Doug Pacheco, but this year he feels blessed by a season of forgiveness.

    For years, Pacheco says his family suffered because of his unquestioning devotion to the leaders of Faith Christian Church, which encouraged corporal punishment of infants, unquestioning obedience to church leaders and mandatory tithing even by families in financial distress.

    He shared his story last spring as part of an Arizona Daily Star investigation into the Tucson-based ministry that’s been recruiting members on the University of Arizona campus for more than 20 years.
    Twenty-one former followers described the church as a cult that targets UA students and inflicts financial, spriritual and emotional abuse.

    New parents were trained to start spanking babies soon after birth to rid them of “rebellious” spirits, the former members and staffers said. They often used cardboard dowels from wire clothes hangers to hit infants who wouldn’t sleep, then switched to other implements as children grew, they said.

    Pacheco, who joined Faith Christian’s predecessor church and left in 1990, said he and his then-wife accepted the church’s teachings. When the Star’s initial story ran in March, Pacheco — now remarried and living in Indiana — emailed links to the story to each of his children, now 33, 31 and 29.

    “They knew just by me sending that article that dad is facing up to something here,” Pacheco, 58, said in a recent phone interview. “I got to call each of my children and tell them I loved them and apologize to them.

    “Each of them said, ‘We love you, we forgive you, we’re with you.’ Ever since that time, my relationships with all three of them has just improved.”

    His eldest son, Isaac, was about 8 years old when the family left the church. He recalls harsh discipline, living on food-bank donations and dumpster-diving for canned goods, even as his parents kept giving to the church.

    “I just remember my parents fighting and crying and not having enough money for anything, like gasoline for the car, and still giving that 10 percent,” said Isaac Pacheco, now the editor of a U.S. State Department publication in Washington, D.C.
    After reading the article, Isaac called his father and they spoke for a long time.

    “It was kind of like the smell after a big rainfall. The air is clear again,” Doug Pacheco said of their conversation. “It was exactly like that.

    “I think what my son needed to hear me say was, ‘I recognize that that was not right.’ Saying those words set him free like a bird out of his cage.”

    Faith Christian’s head pastor Stephen M. Hall and executive pastor Ian A. Laks have refused for months to respond to allegations that members were harmed by the church’s practices. Neither has replied since March to dozens of calls, emails and letters from Star reporters.
    Hall often advised his underlings to lay low when facing criticism, said Jeff Phillips, a former associate pastor who left the church in 2007. Phillips now is an adjunct professor at American Christian University in Phoenix.
    He recalls Hall’s advice for dealing with negative publicity like this: “If someone throws mud at you, don’t try to wipe it off. Just wait for it to dry and it will fall off on its own.”


    At the University of Arizona, officials say they are keeping closer tabs than in the past on three student clubs linked to Faith Christian, which has been recruiting on the UA campus for more than 20 years.

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  22. UA spokesman Chris Sigurdson said staff members from the dean of students’ office now drop in unannounced at club meetings, a practice that began at the start of fall semester. The staffers, whom Sigurdson wouldn’t identify, haven’t found any problems that would warrant disciplinary action, he said. The UA also made the clubs’ advisers take cult awareness training.
    UA officials say they have authority over the student groups and must tread carefully because religious freedom is protected by law.

    The UA will take complaints only from current students or their parents, but former followers say those who leave often are too traumatized to come forward until years later.

    The University Religious Council, a campus entity separate from UA administration, isn’t bound by the same rules and has taken the most definitive action against the church. Council leaders did their own investigation and banished Faith Christian from the council because the church’s leaders refused to answer questions about the allegations, council spokeswoman Michelle Blumenberg said.
    “The number, seriousness, and pattern of red flags raised compel URC members to no longer believe that Faith Christian Church and its affiliates operate at the highest level of integrity, transparency, safety for students, and respect for students, standards required for URC membership,” a statement from the religious council said.

    To warn the new crop of freshmen that arrived this fall, the council announced its actions against the church in fliers that were included in UA orientation packages.

    The council also added “religious manipulation” to its list of red flags for “religious conduct gone awry.” Religious manipulation includes “strategies that target vulnerable students, methods which seek to break down and then rebuild students, and instances of over-the-top niceness used as a form of entrapment,” the URC wrote.

    The addition was specifically aimed at the Faith Christian recruiting tactic former members called “love-bombing” — showering new students with attention and affection to gain their trust.

    “The University Religious Council hopes that the situation which happened with Faith Christian Church will lead more students and parents to do their homework about faith groups with whom they would like to become involved,” Blumenberg said in an email.

    Faith Christian doesn’t answer to any larger policymaking body, the way a Presbyterian church falls under a synod, or a Catholic parish, a diocese.

    The little accountability that did exist evaporated in April when the national Evangelical Council for Financial Accountability began an investigation into complaints from former Faith Christian members about high-pressure demands for donations and other church practices.

    Faith Christian responded by resigning from the financial accountability council. The resignation halted efforts to determine whether the church met council’s standards for responsible stewardship, a council spokeswoman said.

    The church remains a member of the National Evangelical Association, and touts that membership status on its website. The evangelical association has recommended pastoral practices but does not oversee member churches to ensure they are followed, the group’s communications director said.


    About a dozen former Faith Christian members and supporters picketed the church’s Sunday services at the start of fall term, typically the church’s busiest season for bringing new UA freshmen into the fold.

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  23. In years past, a few hundred freshmen usually showed up. This year, “I was shocked by how few students we saw,” said former church member Rachel Mullis, 39, one of the picketers.
    “It seemed like attendance was way down from what it historically has been,” agreed picketer Phillips, 43, the former associate pastor.

    Laks, Faith Christian’s second-in-command, called police, but officers who responded found the picketers weren’t causing trouble and allowed them to stay, public records show.

    Faith Christian, which has never built its own worship facility, has been without a home for several months. For years, the church used rented space at Amphitheater High School for its Sunday services, but chose to leave shortly after the school district began its own investigation in April.

    In recent months, the church has held its services at the Tucson Marriott University Park hotel just outside UA’s main gate. Last week, a few days after the Star tried again to reach church leaders, Faith Christian’s website was changed to remove any reference to the location of its Sunday services.

    The negative publicity may be affecting the church’s fundraising efforts.

    Former church member Connie Cohn said she’s been approached five times in recent months by current or prospective donors who said they were put off by news reports of Faith Christian’s methods and the church’s refusal to address the allegations.
    All five said they had decided against giving to the church, said Cohn, 52, a former lay leader who left Faith Christian in 1999 after 18 years.

    Henry Puente, a member of Faith Christian’s financial board for several years, says when he left in 2005, Hall’s salary was around $150,000 a year and Laks’ about $100,000. The mean average wage for a clergy member in Tucson was just over $54,000 in 2013, U.S. Department of Labor statistics show.
    The church also employs at least nine members of Hall’s family, according to a staff list on its website. They include Hall’s wife Teresa, the couple’s five grown children and three sons-in-law. It isn’t clear how much the relatives are paid.

    Faith Christian’s assets have swelled from $200,000 in the mid-1990s to more than $5 million this year, state and county records show. That includes a ranch as well as two cabins on Mount Lemmon that were rebuilt in 2013 at a cost of $1.38 million, the church’s 2013 financial statement shows.


    Faith Christian has six satellite churches as far away as New Zealand, all of which recruit on college campuses.

    In New Zealand, New Palmerston Victory Christian Church — launched a decade ago by staffers who trained at Faith Christian — recruits at Massey University. In March, Massey banned nine representatives of the New Zealand church from setting foot on campus. School officials there said they’d been looking into complaints about the church prior to the Star’s investigation, but said the newspaper’s findings prompted additional scrutiny.

    Massey officials became “sufficiently concerned about the actions and behaviour of certain members of the Victory Church,” spokesman James Gardiner said in a March email. “What has been alleged is that vulnerable young people have been offered friendship and support, but then made to feel dependent on the church and its members and isolated from other support networks, such as family and friends, with a consequent loss of self-esteem.”

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  24. In April, the Tampa Bay Times investigated Faith Christian-affiliate Cornerstone Christian Church, which recruits on the campus of the University of South Florida campus. That school received complaints from two former students about the church’s overly controlling practices, but officials said there was little they could do without complaints from current students.

    In August, the Florida school received another complaint from a former church member who claimed Bill Cooper, the church’s senior pastor, had a yacht. The writer also described the church’s controlling tactics.
    “They want to know all your business. All your misfortunes. All your weaknesses. All your sins. All your family problems. If you don’t open up to then, you will be accused of a rebellious spirit,” the complaint read. “Once you decide to leave or if you’re kicked out, your contact with church members ceases. ... I couldn’t believe how fast my friends of three years forgot about me. People struggle for years after they leave.”


    The mother of a UA junior from Los Angeles launched the Star’s investigation into Faith Christian when she emailed a reporter with concerns about her son. His behavior and personality had changed dramatically after two years with Faith Christian, Kathy Sullivan said. She feared losing touch with him entirely and was bewildered by the level of influence church leaders wielded over him.
    “I felt like I was in a tug-of-war with strangers over my son,” she said in a recent interview. When she made the decision to contact the newspaper, “I felt like a mother bear protecting her cub.”

    Sullivan is cautiously optimistic that her son, who graduated from UA this month, has read the Star’s reporting and could one day pull back from the church. In recent months, he’s been warmer and more like his old self, she said. But they never talk about Faith Christian and have not directly addressed Sullivan’s role in the media coverage.

    Sullivan said she believes speaking out has protected others, if not her son.

    “Even if it doesn’t succeed in getting him out, it’s had a positive impact and I’m very happy for that,” she said.

    The Star’s coverage also fueled conversations within the UA’s religious community about healthy church conduct, said Ben Garren, chaplain of the Episcopal Campus Ministry at the UA. The ministry is a member of the University Religious Council, a coalition of ministers and directors of religious and spiritual groups at the university.
    Garren said he heard the same refrain from many students in the wake of the Star’s reporting: “I thought there was a problem, but I thought I was the only one who saw it.”

    “Once the information was out there, students started talking about it,” Garren said. “Then suddenly, they’re all nodding their heads.”

    Garren said he wishes the UA could do more to shield students from Faith Christian’s influence. But without hard evidence, he said, the school can’t ban church representatives from a public campus without risking violating the principles of freedom of speech and freedom of religion.

    “I’m stressing to students the need to report when they have concerns to the dean of students’ office, so if there is something happening that is chronic and systematic, the dean can see that and act upon it,” he said. “Without concrete evidence, they can’t do much.”