University of Cincinnati weighing status of church. Group faces ban for practices
The Cincinnati Post, November 19, 1998
By Stephen Huba
Marta Bowling was converted on campus 14 years ago while a freshman at the University of Cincinnati.
But she left the Cincinnati Church of Christ in 1992 after becoming convinced that its theology was wrong.
“I left with such a clear conscience. I had figured things out,” Ms. Bowling said.
The church’s practices, not its beliefs, are what could get its Campus Advance ministry permanently suspended as a UC student organization. The Student Activities Board is meeting today to consider the ministry’s status.
The Cincinnati Church of Christ, and its Campus Advance ministry, belong to the International Churches of Christ, a 30-year-old movement with no formal ties to the independent Churches of Christ.
UC officials believe Campus Advance is the same group that once called itself Christians on Campus and was suspended nine years ago over allegations of “mental and physical abuse” after students who left the group complained of being harassed.
Campus Advance currently is under an indefinite suspension.
“This is not an issue of freedom of speech and/or religion,” said Rabbi Abie Ingber, director of the Hillel Jewish Student Center, “but one of an academic community that is committed to the wellness of its student population.”
Ms. Bowling, who now attends a Cincinnati Vineyard church, said her first encounter with the Cincinnati Church of Christ was in 1984 when she was a new student at UC.
“I was sitting in a restaurant at the student center, and someone just came up to me and asked if I wanted to study the Bible,” she recalled.
That sounded harmless enough, and soon Ms. Bowling was being “discipled” by another member.
“They get into your life and become your “best friend.’ But the only way to keep that friendship is to become part of the group,” she said.
Ms. Bowling said the Cincinnati Church of Christ is a “controlling” group that brooks no dissent from its pastoral leadership. Her story is posted on the Web site of REVEAL, a counter- cult organization, under the title “Gone with the Windbags: The Day I Stopped Listening to the ICC.”
Ms. Bowling’s experience is not unlike those of other former and current UC students who have been attracted by the church’s offers of Bible study and fellowship.
On Wednesday, the Rev. David Harper, a former UC campus minister who has done exit counseling for ex-Cincinnati Church of Christ members, met with resident assistants from UC to discuss Campus Advance. Rev. Harper said the ministry has, in the past, tried to influence RAs to “grease the slide” for student members to get out of their dormitory contracts.
The church encourages “disciples” to live together. Ms. Bowling said she shared an apartment with other female members but was asked to leave when she broke with the group.
Church member Brian Rupel said a number of Campus Advance members, possibly as many as 30, recently moved back to UC residence halls from off campus. He said that may account for the group’s increased “physical presence” on campus.
“We’re definitely much more zealous than most Christians,” Rupel said. “People can interpret that as being very aggressive and in-your-face.”