Cult menace alert to students
Sunday Mercury (Birmingham, UK), 8 January 1989.
By Bob Haywood
Banned sect moves into Midland universities
A controversial religious cult, accused of blighting the lives of brilliant young students, has infiltrated two Midland universities, it was revealed last night.
The Central London Church of Christ, which has already been formally banned by two major university colleges in London, has been recruiting at the Universities of Birmingham and Aston.
Students have been warned about the dangers of being ensnared by the sect and university authorities are looking at ways in which they can be protected.
Experts, who have made an in-depth study of the fast-growing church, said it:
- Targets high-flying but vulnerable young people often away from home for the first time;
- Appoints spiritual ‘minders’ called disciplers who dictate recruits’ every movement;
- Splits young followers from non-believing parents and friends;
- Demands so much committment to Bible studies that academic work can suffer;
- Asks for contributions of up to 30 pounds a week out of students’ grants.
Mr Ian Haworth, director of the Cult Information Centre, which advises on extreme groups, said: “The Central Church of Christ is a sinister and dangerous cult which can affect people psychologically, spiritually, financially and even physically. It uses brainwashing and mind control techniques. If I was in a position of influence with any university infiltrated by these people, I would do everything in my power to safeguard the welfare of students. They are at considerable risk.”
The Central Church of Christ, which started in the USA 10 years ago, has its British “mission” centred in London. The Church it has “planted” in Birmingham has already attracted more than 100 followers.
The church’s activities at the University of London led to it being banned from King’s College and the London School of Economics. Its status at the university’s other five main campuses is under review.
Graham Baldwin, a London University chaplain, said: “Initially. we made the mistake of trying to be conciliatory with the church. They are now so deeply entrenched that we are fighting a rearguard action. I implore other university authorities not to make the same mistake.”
The three Aston University chaplains have united to warm students that the church is on the campus and “that it may require unrealistic committments”.
University spokeswoman Stephanie Snow said: “Officials are currently considering the movement of this group. We are taking the matter very seriously.”
The Rev Stuart Burgess, Methodist chaplain at the University of Birmingham said: “We are very concerned about the way the Birmingham Church of Christ is pursuing its activities.”
The Birmingham Central Church of Chirst holds weekly bible study sessions at Dr Johnson House, run by The Quakers, and Sunday “worship services” at the city council owneed Josiah Mason Lecture Theatre.
Its minister in Birmingham, Mr Tim Dannatt, said: “We are not a cult. We are a Christian church which is attracting young people because we are a lively, exciting group. There is nothing sinister or underhand about us.”
Mr Dannatt, who joined the church five years ago while training to be a vet, said: “We have become accustomed to the whispers about us but we are a straightforward Christian church taking a simple approach to the Bible. Much has been made of our discipling programme but the disciplers are there only to teach others to become better Christians. Church members are encouraged to give as much as they can to the church, but it is in no-one’s interest for them to get into debt. We encourage members to keep up their academic studies.”