Controversial religious group recruiting in the area
The Collegian (Penn State University), November 11, 2002.
By Nichole Dobo
A controversial religious group, The International Churches of Christ (ICC), has entered the State College area.
Though the ICC frequently is referred to as a cult, members of the group strongly refute this label.
“I would like to ask these people what their definition of a cult is,” said Mark Morris, evangelist of the Greater Harrisburg Church of Christ, which is part of the ICC. “Anytime we expect someone to uphold a standard of living, it causes conflict.”
The group, which sometimes goes by a variety of pseudonyms such as “Christian Advance,” has been the topic of special investigative reports on national television programs, including 20/20, Inside Edition and The Fifth Estate.
“Many times people judge us by what they have seen within the media or online,” Morris said. “But this is not an accurate representation of us or our values.”
According to the ICC’s Web site (www.icoc.org ), it began recruiting new members in the State College area in January. The Web site lists no address or contact information for the group here.
The ICC was formed as a spin-off of the Church of Christ. However, the Church of Christ is no longer affiliated with the group.
“[The ICC] is a cult. There is no way around it,” said Michael Wilk, evangelist of the State College Church of Christ. “It’s a very controlling lifestyle. If a member ever decides that they want out, the church will make it very difficult. And if they do manage to get out, it will be a long time until they can think on their own again.”
He also criticized the ICC’s method of getting members.
“They usually target people on the outside, like freshmen,” Wilk said. “At first they give them a lot of attention and love. The next step is when they take over the person’s entire life. Members of this group feel like they can’t do anything without asking first.”
Past members of the group sometimes elect to join REVEAL, a nonprofit support group for former ICC members and their families.
“[ICC members] truly believe that they are the only people who are going to heaven,” said Yun Blair, a member of REVEAL and a former member of the ICC.
“They do really strange and intimidating things,” Blair said. “On the outside they are nice people, but if you don’t do what they say, they try to intimidate you into doing what they deem correct.”
Blair said members of the ICC are required to keep a daily journal and free time is frowned upon.
“They think that any and all free time should be dedicated to reading the Bible or helping to recruit new members,” she said.
The group requires members to donate 10 percent of their income to the church.
“I wasn’t paying all of the 10 percent and was placed in a room with the elders and was made to feel like an inferior person,” Blair said. “They intimidated and harassed me.”
Morris said that within his group, no intimidation is used when members do not give 10 percent of their income.
“Although tithing [giving 10 percent of one’s income to the church] is a good biblical practice, we don’t require it,” Morris said. “We do talk about it and approach the individual from a biblical standpoint.”
Morris said what Blair experienced is not a practice at his church.
“I can’t comment on something that I had no part in or any knowledge on,” Morris said. “However, I know that I would never approve or support anything this woman is describing. We never coerce or intimidate people. We simply try to hold them to standards of living.”
The group has been banned from club status at nearly three dozen universities, including Boston University, Harvard University, Northeastern University, Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Brown University, Georgia Institute of Technology, University of California-Los Angeles and the United States Military Academy at West Point.
It has been denied club status for a variety of reasons, but most universities cite the way the ICC spreads its message and the way it treats members.
The group is not banned at Penn State, but it has not sought club status.
As soon as the ICC in State College reaches the size that meets Penn State’s criteria, it will apply for club status, Morris said.
Although Blair does not encourage anyone to join the group, she questions universities’ motives behind banning the group.
“I can’t see how [universities] could do that,” Blair said.
“They would have to ban a whole bunch of other people like Jehovah’s Witnesses if they did that.”
On June 1, 1979, Kip McKean, the founder of the ICC, called 30 “would-be disciples” to be totally committed to Christ, according to the group’s Web site.
The church later became known as the Boston Church of Christ.
The ICC Web site said it has 150,000 members in 153 countries.