Cult targets Oxford students
Cherwell, the Independent Oxford University Paper, 31 October 1997.
By Sarah Habberfield & Benjamin John
Oxford University Student Union (OUSU) has denied banning an American religious sect which has been barred by Manchester and Birmingham Universities. The group has sparked controvery by using buildings owned by the Guild Society for its meetings.
Oxford students have been warned by OUSU that they may be at risk from the activities of the International Churches of Christ which is believed to prey on young people. The sect, which considers itself to be the only true group of Christians, places an emphasis on total commitment and encourages members to give it 10% gross salary.
Michael Dagan, President of the Guild, said, “The link between the Guild and the ICC is non-existent. They use one of our buildings for a Sunday morning service, but the Guild is playing no part in them achieving their aims.”
A female student at Manchester University has donated her entire grant to the organisation. Concern about incidents like this one caused the ban imposed at both Manchester and Birmingham University campuses.
Donna Green, VP-Women, strenuously denied accusations that OUSU had imposed a ban. She did warn students against giving any money to religious groups without careful consideration.
The religious sect was set up in Boston, USA ten years ago. John Partington, an elder of the ICC, said that the group encourages people to act from the heart. He continued, “We want people to fall in love with God and then do what they think they should.”
Some Church leaders have interpreted the religious group’s practices as making “unwarranted time and emotional demands” on its members.
The difference between the ICC and mainstream Christianity is that the sect demands a much greater degree of commitment, according to Partington. He denied the existence of a targeting scheme for recruiting new members. “We work on a one to one, like disciples,” he said.
The Rev. Vaughan Roberts, student pastor at St Ebbe’s Church, commented that the emphasis on total commitment can lead people to give more money than they should. Vaughan Roberts said, “These are excessive pressure tactics.”
He expressed concern over the possibility of an hysterical reaction to the ICC. Rev Roberts said, “Banning of religious groups sets a worrying trend as there are appropriate ways of sharing faith, although this is not necessarily one of them.”
Information Network Focus on Religious Movements, a government-approved body, said that it had received a number of complaints concerning the activities of the ICC. They are known for high pressure tactics and the ability to easily extract money from their followers.