Official Warns Against HOPE On Campus Religious Cult
ASU State Press (Arizona State University), April 29, 1997.
By Rowe Edgell
An ASU police official wants to ban a campus religious cult for unethical recruiting practices and intimidating and harassing students.
ASU crime prevention coordinator Radawna Michelle said she hopes ASU will join the other colleges that have banned the group, Helping Other People Everywhere on Campus.
Currently, the University is taking steps to educate the public about the group. The cult has already been prohibited at least 22 college campuses nationwide.
“This is a destructive cult,” Michelle said. “They encourage sleep deprivation and separation from friends and family and use scriptures to ruin lives. It is not the theology they use – it is the psychology. This does serious mental damage.”
HOPE on Campus was established at ASU about 10 years ago and has about 80 student members, said Jonathan Sullivan, a leader of the parent parish, the International Church of Christ. The International Church of Christ broke off from the Church of Christ in the 1980s. The International Church of Christ has spread out internationally and has become a magnet for students on college campuses. “They do very little that is against the law; mostly they use harassment and intimidation on campuses,” Michelle said.
The UofA had banned the cult for three years after three complaints were filed against it several years ago, Michelle said. One complaint has been filed against the group at ASU. Michelle said her problem with the group is that they use campus facilities such as the Memorial Union and the Palo Verde Beach for their meetings.
Ex-member and ASU student Michael Jordan, 18, said he joined the group after several cult members repeatedly invited him to come to a meeting. “I thought if they are taking so much trouble to get me involved, I should check it out,” he said.
At the meeting, Jordan said the members were friendly and the service was “energetic.” Jordan then attended church services and Bible studies with the group regularly for two months, but was angered when they insisted he be baptized, so he stopped attending the meetings. About a month later he was approached again on Cady Mall by a member of HOPE on Campus. He attended more Bible studies and again found he disagreed with some of the groups practices. “I questioned whether they were the one true church like they said they were,” he said.
The group also wanted its members to give mandatory pledges. “I wasn’t working at the time,” Jordan said. “I would give about $5 a week but they still wanted more.” Jordan went to the leaders of HOPE to express his concerns and tell them he was thinking of leaving the group. “They showed me a passage in the Bible that said if I turned away from God I would go to hell if I left the group,” he said. “If you disagreed with them, they said that you were being argumentative and that you misunderstood them.”
Jordan said while he liked most of the members, a few were too pushy. “They brag about how much they love people,” he said. “But if you are not with them, they don’t want to have anything to do with you.”
Now, Jordan said he is “walking with God” as a member of the First Baptist Church. “They offer me unconditional love,” he said.
Jordan said he has seen some of the members of the group in passing during the past few months. “Whenever we have crossed paths it has been peaceful,” he said.
Not everyone has such calm feelings about the group.
“Their practices mess people up,” said Greg Grimstad of Campus Crusade for Christ. “Instead of a relationship with God and following him, they want you to follow the leaders of the group.” They use tactics like manipulation and “love bombing” to make new people feel like they are the greatest people in the world and that they are really cared for, he said. “Love bombing” involves immersing new recruits with lavish praise and attention so that they feel wanted within the group.
For the most part, the cult has had success gaining new members at ASU, where students are often new to the area, Grimstad said. It seems like a good way to meet people, he added.
Sullivan, a graduate of ASU, said the group recruits their members in an ethical way and follows the Bible’s teachings. “We have a table on the mall outside the Memorial Union,” he said. “We invite people into a way of life and to study with us. The Bible says go and make disciples and preach the gospel.” However, Grimstad said HOPE on Campus’ methods are unethical.
“They make you stand up at the meetings and confess your sins to the group. Then, if you ever question their beliefs, they throw what you told them back in your face,” he said.
“We recruit people,” said Grimstad of the Crusade’s efforts. “But, if you are not interested or you say you go to another church, we don’t try to yank you out of it. We can accept it and then we move on.”
Michelle said to avoid groups like HOPE on Campus at all times. “They will approach in groups of two or three and invite you to a social event or a meeting,” she said. Michelle said many people who come from a strong religious background think they are not as susceptible to cults. “Anyone is vulnerable to these religious techniques,” she said.
Sullivan’s response is that his group is just following the teachings of the Bible and Jesus. “Just like anything else, you can form opinions on us,” he said. “We are not weird. We don’t shave our heads or pass out flowers at the airport. We are following the Bible.
“Christianity today is watered down. We are just trying to be the Christians in the Bible. I guess that makes us radical and different. But we are just doing it by the book,” he said.
Sullivan said he believes the criticism of his group is too harsh. “Unless you see for yourself what we are about, everything else is second-hand knowledge,” he said.
Sullivan also said that in the Bible, Christianity is considered a cult and that anybody who lives for Jesus is a cult member. “I guess by those standards, we are a cult,” he said. “We are just trying to be the church in the Bible.”