Church stirs concerns on Tech campus

Critics claim movement employs tactics of cult

Lubbock Avalanche-Journal, Sunday, February 21, 1999
By Beth Pratt, A-J Religion Editor

A church movement that “began with the power of love and ended up with the love of power,” according to one of its former members, has made its debut in Lubbock.

Critics of the International Churches of Christ say it is a cult that employs mind control.

Students on college campuses are primary targets for the ICOC, which sent a team to Lubbock late in January to establish the Lubbock Christian Church. Invitations to its first meeting were distributed at Texas Tech.

“(The church) attracts the young, single, mobile and very idealistic,” said Jerry Jones, a Bible professor who spent five years as an elder and evangelist with the group. He lives in Oklahoma.

“I’d throw them off campus when they walked on because they are going to cause problems,” he said. “I am not saying they aren’t going to help people sometimes.”

But once a student gets involved in the group, which was formerly known as the Boston Movement, “grades fall, they are alienated from their families and drop out of school. Basically, a person who becomes part of the group has to surrender his will to do what he wants to do. So it falls under a form of mind control. You cannot think for yourself,” Jones said.

The presence of the movement at Texas Tech is opposed by a group of campus ministers, who are warning students away from the Lubbock Christian Church.

Lubbock Christian Church Minister Brian Akins told The Avalanche-Journal that he would have no comment concerning the views of the campus ministers.

In a response to a television report on Fox in January, Al Baird, an ICOC media official based in Los Angeles, disputed the assertion that students’ grades fall after they join the church.

“First, we expect every student to be the best student that he/she can be. Not only do we not encourage students to drop out of school, we want them to become better students after they become disciples,” Baird said.

Among the good things about the group, Jones said, are high moral values and a belief that the Bible is the word of God. But the leadership also believes that “the end justifies the means,” he added.

The first ICOC service in Lubbock on Jan. 24 was followed by a five-day seminar in one of the meeting rooms at the Lubbock Memorial Civic Center. The group continues to meet at 10 a.m. on Sundays and on Wednesday nights at the civic center.

“It’s classed as the most damaging cult today,” said Rodney Plunket, pulpit minister at Broadway Church of Christ.

“They take the Gospel in the most clever way and just tear people’s souls out,” he said. “One of their approaches is to get you to sit down and confess every sin you’ve ever committed in graphic detail.”

Later, that information is used against a person who wants to leave the group, he said. People who do come out are “so frightened, so paranoid. I don’t know that it is ever completely healed.”

Jones was a professor at Harding University, a Church of Christ school in Arkansas, when he became acquainted with the group in 1983. At that time, the group was referred to as the Boston Movement.

“I became an elder in the Boston Movement in 1983,” Jones said in a telephone interview. He was attracted to the group because of its success on college campuses “working with people who were into drugs and homosexuality and seeing a real turnaround.”

Jones earned his doctoral degree at New Orleans Baptist Seminary. He had taught Bible at Harding for 17 years, serving the last nine years as chairman of the Bible department, before joining the movement. The group’s vision was to evangelize the world. He was impressed by the church’s growth in the Boston area where “historically Baptist and Church of Christ congregations are not strong,” he said.

Jones left Boston in October 1986 to help with the start-up of a new congregation in St. Louis called The Gateway Church. Over time, Jones became uncomfortable with changes in the authority structure and theology.

“It first started out believing in one-on-one discipling” in which two people studied together as discipleship partners. “Then, it became one-over-one discipling, establishing a hierarchy situation,” he said.

The Scriptural underpinnings for the authority structure were a “misuse of the Old Testament theology by analogy,” he said. “What they did was dream up what they wanted to do and then find some Old Testament story to support it.”

This technique, Jones said, “led to the idea that there were no Christians in the world before 1985. It led to a mass rebaptism of their own converts.”

Jones stayed in the church until the spring of 1987 when “I saw it going too far on this authority issue. That’s when the Boston Movement emerged and did a takeover of Highlands Church of Christ in Atlanta, Ga. Most of the Highlands’ staff went with the movement.”

Jones spoke at the divided Atlanta church in July 1987, describing his concerns with the movement, which, he said, are misuse of Scripture, misuse of authority, discipling procedures and the preaching of rebaptism.

The movement, which grew out of the Church of Christ tradition of separate, self-governing congregations, began to look for control over its congregations, he said.

“At that time, we did preach autonomy for the congregations, but the Boston boys realized if they were going to do this thing, they were going to have to get rid of autonomy.”

In 1989, Jones published the first of a three-volume set on “What Does the Boston Movement Teach?”

As it spread beyond the United States, the movement adopted International Churches of Christ as its name. The ICOC refers to his books, Jones said, as spiritual pornography. He did not have problems getting out of the group because he was older and more mature, he said.

“I grew up in St. Louis, so I stayed there. Nobody wanted to tangle with me because I knew too much. I was marked as a dangerous wolf to the flock of God. If I walk into their assembly, I will be thrown out.”

Jason Wrench, who is teaching and working on his master’s degree at Texas Tech, wrote an undergraduate thesis in 1997 on the International Church of Christ.

“I was looking at the correlations between group-think and thought reform D the concept of taking an individual through a series of processes, changing how they think about family relationships and religion,” Wrench said.

“ICC does a lot of damage to people,” he added. “They segregate (converts) almost completely from family and destroy a lot of relationships, all in the name of God.”

At first introduction, the ICOC teachings sound much like that of any church, Wrench said, but it becomes dangerous for those who get involved.

Kip McKean is leader of the ICOC. The headquarters now are in Los Angeles. In the top echelon with McKean are the 12 world sector leaders.

“If Kip dies,” Jones said, “the 12 will meet together and the oldest person will chair the group. They will cast secret ballots for the leader from among the 12. If there is a tie, the oldest person will break the tie.”

McKean was converted in the 1970s as a college student with Crossroads Church of Christ in Gainesville, Fla. Under the leadership of Chuck Lucas, the Crossroads congregation grew rapidly and also was accused of becoming a cult.

Plunket said he has a brother and a sister who were members of the Florida church during those years.

In 1977, McKean was fired from his ministerial staff position by Memorial Church of Christ in Houston “because of his un-biblical teachings,” according to Steven Hassan, author of Combating Cult Mind Control. Hassan surmises that McKean learned his mind-control techniques from the Crossroads group.

Hassan spent more than two years in the One World Crusade, “a front group for the Unification Church, also known as the Moonies.” After coming out of the Unification Church through deprogramming, he became a professionally trained therapist who works with people damaged by destructive cult involvement. His chapter on the ICOC is titled “Exit-counseling: Freedom without Coercion.”

Hassan stresses that the movement should not be confused with “the mainline Church of Christ or with the United Church of Christ.”

Jones said the average convert stays in the group six years. “You won’t see many older people,” he said. “It’s a survival of the fittest with no place for the slow.”

He still averages a call a week from someone wanting help in getting out, Jones said. “The average counselor can’t work with this person because they don’t know what happened to them. A lot of times you have to separate what we call Bible from Boston.”

Those who leave are slandered and discredited, he said. “People have gone through what I call a spiritual rape. They think they caused it, like a woman who goes through physical rape.”

See also: Campus ministers warn against new movement