Campus group labeled destructive; group leader refutes accusations
Mace & Crown, Old Dominion University Student Newspaper, October 9, 2001.
By Zach Hardison
The name of the group is RePete 1:5-7 and, according to Dana Burnett, vice president of student services, they are associated with a church that he considers to be a cult- The International Church of Christ. Without venturing so far as to specifically label this campus group a cult, Burnett does refer to them as potentially destructive.
Although he admits to having no hard evidence, Burnett has received reports of cult-like activities performed by members of RePete 1:5-7. He shares one story concerning an ODU student who was encouraged by members of RePete 1:5-7 to disregard her parents’ wishes for her to not attend the meetings.
Geri Jones, Catholic campus minister, has had some more direct contact with this group and gives a more detailed account of the student Burnett refers to. Before getting involved with RePete 1:5-7, Jones says this student was a part of the Catholic Campus Ministry. At one point she was attending both groups and was told by leaders of RePete 1:5-7 that she had to choose one of the two. She could not attend both the Catholic group and theirs. Jones says they also informed this student that her Catholic baptism was invalid.
Concerned with her involvement with RePete 1:5-7, the student’s father forbade her to attend. Her father’s orders were disregarded and Jones believes that she was encouraged to do so by leaders of RePete 1:5-7.
“Very deceptive in nature,” Jones says remembering a face-to-face encounter with one of the members. “Are you part of RePete 1:5-7?” Jones asked the student. Avoiding the question, the student responded, “I follow the Bible.”
Jones also claims that RePete 1:5-7 distrubutes flyers with invalid phone numbers on them. It has been confirmed that the flyers handed out at ODU’s Main Street event did have an incorrect number. When the number on the flyer was dialed, a man answered and was alarmed to learn that his phone number was listed as the contact number for a religious campus group. “I don’t know anything about that. I don’t even go to ODU,” the man replied.
David Persons, Methodist campus minister, has expressed similar concerns. Due to a conversation he had with one of RePete 1:5-7’s leaders at Main Street, Persons says the group is too secretive and seems to have something to hide. Like Jones, Persons states that members of the group do not like to identify themselves as a particular group.
Burnett, Jones, and Persons have all made it very clear that their aim is not to label this group a cult, but have communicated deep concern about the group’s actions here on campus.
RePete 1:5-7’s campus leader, Kirk Valencia, knows of all the accusations. Valencia says his group arrived in the fall of 1999 and, according to Burnett, they are a recognized campus group and followed all the necessary steps to acquire that status. Valencia says they have faced opposition since its inception as a campus group, but now it has grown in intensity as campus leaders accuse RePete 1:5-7 of being deceptive, destructive, and manipulative.
In response to accusations of putting church before family and convincing students to disown their families, Valencia says he and his group do not teach such ideas. He says that God is first and not the church. He does, however, admit that just as in Matthew 10:37, anyone who loves his family more than Christ is not worthy of bearing the name of Christ.
Kirk Valencia says that the persecution he and his church are facing here is mild in comparison with other campuses. Although the situation is complicated, Kirk says it is no surprise. He turns to the scripture for assurance.
Valencia identifies himself as a modern day Paul preaching the truth and facing strong opposition as a result. Furthermore, Valencia says that his situation is similar to that of the Christians in the Bible in that those administering the persecution are religious leaders.
In the midst of this, Valencia and other members of RePete 1:5-7 have not forgotten their purpose: to help others find the true path and to live out the verses in 2 Peter 1:5-7 on which they have based their name. These verses contain a list of character qualities Christians should strive to schieve, beginning with faith and ending with love. Valencia says that their goal on campus is to “live up to the commission” that Jesus gave the disciples in Matthew 28: 19-20, to go and spread his name and baptize.
According to Timothy Vango, a junior at ODU, the path that the leaders of RePete 1:5-7 guide you down is not so good. “They are so persuasive to take people down the wrong road. Yes, the Bible is true but the endpoint is wrong.” According to Vango, potential converts are taken through a step by step process ending with baptism “which saves you and makes you a disciple.”
When Vango first got involved, having been asked by a leader of RePete 1:5-7 to meet for a Bible study, he thought the study would be one-on-one. When Vango arrived at the study, he was surprised to see that the leader had two others with him.
After a few such studies, he realized that they were always asking him questions and he did not have the opportunity to ask questions of his own. “Did I feel deceived? Yeah!”
Vango began to realize that there were always two or three members of the group used when converting one person, which seemed to be an intimidating form of persuasion. He remembers meeting another convert who had some similar feelings, that something was not right in the process they were being led through. This inspired Vango to begin studying the Bible for himself. He continued attending and explains that at one point he sincerely approached one of the leaders to share that he was ready to commit his life to Jesus. Vango says he was denied the opportunity to be saved and was told by this leader that his reason for wanting Jesus was for fear of hell. Vango remembers it well. “I felt rejected.”
Vango then questioned as many members of RePete 1:5-7 as he could about why their means of salvation was so exclusive. No one gave him an answer. He then met with the preacher of Chesapeake Conference Center, an International Church of Christ, to share what he had learned by studying his Bible. The preacher informed Vango that what he believed was wrong. That was the end of Timothy Vango’s relationship with RePete 1:5-7.
Kirk Valencia’s story is a little different, but begins the same way. Valencia also initially felt deceived just as Vango had. Valencia, however, says that he later found the truth. “The Bible changed my life,” Valencia said recalling the early stages of his faith. Now he is one of the group’s leaders.
Valencia warns students. “Don’t just listen to what other people are saying. Look for yourself into the scriptures.”