Parents, Student Warn of LA Cult’s Local Recruitment Practices
Los Angeles Loyolan, Loyola Marymount University, October 4 2000
By Leanne Salazar, Asst. News Editor
Promoters of cult awareness believe that the best method for preventing involvement in cults is by educating the public and increasing the awareness of the methods used by cults to recruit and keep members.
On Monday, Oct. 2, campus ministry sponsored a Cult Awareness Forum with discussions led by former leading members of a local church, the LA Church of Christ (LACC), considered by mental-health and religious professionals to be a cult. Discussions focused on the methods used by the organization to attract and keep college students separated from their friends and family.
“Often, students are at a point when they are questioning what they’ve been taught as children and attempt to establish what their own beliefs are,” said Fernando Moreno, director of campus ministry. “The group attempts to control and manipulate this [questioning] for their benefit,” he said.
Art and Lynn Ryter, parents of sons currently in the LACC, told of how they were separated from their children. “Our son was recruited in 1989 when he started school, and soon he began preaching at us, his grades went down, and he was always at the mall for the purpose of recruiting others,” said Art Ryter. The Ryters have two sons currently in the LACC who are married to women of the LACC. “It’s changed what we talk about as a family, but what is important to remember is to have unconditional love, rather than the conditional love which the group can only give,” said Ryter.
Held from 7-8:30 p.m. in Ahmanson North, the forum was co-sponsored by the department of theological studies, office of student housing, resident chaplains, student psychology services, and student developmental services.
Speakers also discussed how the organization trains students in recruiting procedures, and the former treasurer described how money was collected from members as a requirement for membership in the cult. Discussions also explained why college students in particular are vulnerable.
Moreno said, “The forum was intended to open others’ eyes and make the campus aware of the dangers of this group.” Moreno hopes that many of the students who attended the forum may be able to help those who are looking for support. “These are good individuals looking for people who care, and this group pretends to care and uses its appearance of ‘innocence’ to its advantage,” said Moreno.
Currently, former LMU students are recruiting at local supermarkets and focus on the Westchester area. Recruiters have recently been seen around 80th and McConnell streets, approaching neighbors and LMU staff members. “It’s not their message but their methods to keep people from leaving which is the concern,” said Moreno. Lynn Ryter said, “People have actually missed the passing of a relative because of a function the International Churches of Christ (ICC) have planned, and they were required to attend.” Ryter said that this had long-term effects on the individuals she has worked with and that it creates a strong sense of guilt.
Once students are in the cult it is very difficult for them to leave. Moreno describes the cult’s methods of separating members from family, friends, and school as brainwashing and “a manipulation of faith with the intent to monopolize the desire of a faith community.”
Dana Davis, senior music major, was approached by the LA Church of Christ when she was a first-year student. Davis said she attended the forum to hear more about other personal experiences. “They [LACC] basically told me what I needed to do to be saved and questioned my history of my relationships to church and Christ,” said Davis. Davis recalls being approached outside of Doheny by a current LMU student affiliated with the LACC. Davis believes they found out quickly that she was a first-year student far from her home in Iowa, and that was part of the reason she was targeted.
The ICC has been banned at one time or another from at least 39 institutions. Moreno says that LMU has been dealing with cult recruiters for many years and recalls a time when basketball players were targeted as the focus of recruitment. “Members are told that they are not a true disciple if they do not bring in new members,” said Moreno. First-year students are also heavily targeted since they are away from home for the first time.
“When I first met them, they seemed really nice and asked if I was looking for a church home. They tried to make their organization seem interesting and like they were my friends,” said Davis.
The International Church of Christ has grown from a single congregation in 1979 with a few hundred members, to a worldwide organization with over 300 local churches spread across six continents and a membership of around 85,000. The official foundation of the International Churches of Christ was set in 1979 in Boston, Massachusetts. The Los Angeles Church of Christ, located at 3530 Wilshire Blvd., was founded in 1989 and has a membership of approximately 8,000.
“The message of Jesus Christ is about freedom, and because of what [the cult] does with its methods it is not about freedom. It’s hard to believe someone could convince us that we aren’t free,” said Moreno. The doctrines of the ICC are the same as those of the “mainline” Churches of Christ from which the ICC came. The ICC believes that no baptism performed outside of the ICC is valid and one becomes a member when he or she are baptized by the ICC.