‘They make you feel guilty. They scare you into it”
The Phoenix Gazette / Monday, August 28, 1995
By Courtney Perkes
Judy was a freshman eager to make friends. She also was a Buddhist who wouldn’t mind learning what other religions taught.
When two friendly women from the Upside Down Club approached her last August at Arizona State University, she became involved in the group’s Bible studies and activities.
“I got caught into it,” said Judy, who asked that her last name not be used.
But soon, Judy said, the club was feeling like more of a regime. She was criticized for missing church when she went on a trip, and was told to convert her Catholic boyfriend or break up with him.
“They put down everything,” Judy said. “They make you feel guilty. They scare you into it.”
Judy, now an 18-year-old sophomore, left the Upside Down Club after two months, confused and wary. The club friends who had hugged her when they saw her on campus now ignore her.
The Upside Down Club, which has been called manipulative by some ASU religious groups and has prompted a cult awareness campaign by the campus Department of Public Safety, is affiliated with the International Church of Christ.
Critics say college students, especially freshmen away from home for the first time, may be susceptible to the group’s aggressive recruiting tactics and excessive control.
“They’re new to this environment,” said Paul Peterson, a minister with Lutheran Campus Ministry. “They’re looking for a little guidance and a group to call friends.”
DPS is preparing an education campaign about cults for the fall, with lierature mailings and programs in dorms.
“I was not aware that we had the level of activity we do until spring semester,” Radawna Michelle, DPS crime prevention coordinator, said. “This is a very new area for us.”
Last week a variety of religious groups set up information tables in Cady Mall, and som Christian groups had leaflets available warning students that: “High pressure religious groups may exploit your need to have answers or to belong, especially when you are most vulnerable!”
Rick Ross, a Phoenix-based cult expert, said the Upside Down Club assigns students a “discipler” to monitor their behavior and schedule their time.
“I regard them as probably one of the most pernicious problems of cult proselytizing on college campuses in America,” Ross said.
William Wheeler, an ASU junior and president of the Upside Down Club, said the group has 50 members, but said he does not feel comfortable discussing its activities.
“A lot of stuff has been twisted,” Wheeler said. “We really haven’t been given a fair shake.”
Ross said some devoted members have flunked out of school, sold their computers to raise money for the church and become alienated from family and friends.
“For them to pose as just fervent Christians is a gross misrepresentation,” Ross said. “You are constantly checked on. They don’t reveal all of their doctrines to you. They have rules on things as intimate as quiet time alone.”
Began in 1979
The International Church of Christ began as the Boston Church of Christ, founded in 1979 by Kip McKean. Its Phoenix Valley Church of Christ meets at McClintock High School in Tempe. There are about 60,000 members internationally.
The club has official student group status at ASU allowing it to use campus facilities. It says in an organization listing that, “We invite all who have a desire to know Jesus, regardless of race, religion, upbringing or national origin.”
Calls to Phoenix Valley Church of Christ were not returned.
Judy said she was taught that all people must be baptized by the church and become “disciples” or the will go to hell. She was individually led in Bible study by three people and pushed to go to 6 a.m. meetings.
“It’s confusing at first because everyone’s nice,” she said. “They (eventually) make you feel like you’re the wrong one. I did ask questions, but they were not really answered.”
Judy also worked as part of a pair who approached students and invited them to events, something many ASU students say is common.
“They introduce themselves with their hand outstretched,” said Steve Wenham, a senior involved with All Saints Catholic Newman Center. “They’ll try to make an instant connection.”
Booted off U of A
The group, formerly known as Campus Advance, has been kicked off many college campuses nationwide. In 1992, the club lost student recognition at the University of Arizona after failing to heed warnings from administrators.
“A number of people complained about the group,” Alexis Hernandez, UofA associate dean of students, said. “The complaints had to do with people who were trying to leave the organization and were being harassed and followed. They were followed to their residence halls, into bathroom stalls, work and classes.”
At ASU, a few informal complaints about the club have been made to the Office of Student Life. However, without a formal complaint on file, the group cannot be removed from campus.
No complaints have been made to campus DPS.
Judy says she is glad she left the group but wishes it was without baggage.
“Every time I hear something about the Bible, I shudder,” Judy said. “I shouldn’t be like that.”