Controversial group to hold a conference
Philadelphia Inquirer, February 26, 2000
By Jim Remsen, Inquirer Religion Editor
Tomorrow’s gathering is for women. Complaints have dogged the organization since its founding 15 years ago.
The Greater Philadelphia Church of Christ, an insular “Bible-focused” group based in Wayne, will hold a women’s conference tomorrow at the Convention Center and says more 2,000 people will attend.
The “Freedom 2000 Women’s Day” assembly, from 1 to 4 p.m. in the grand ballroom, will include inspirational talks, seminars and music.
Organizers say 500 of the women registered are church members; the rest are friends, coworkers and others the members have invited.
The Philadelphia group is an affiliate of the International Churches of Christ (ICC), also known as the Boston Movement. The local group recruits largely on area campuses and says its membership has grown to 950 here in a decade.
Complaints have dogged the ICC network throughout its 15-year history. Cult-watchers say the group has a long record of “thought reform” of members.
The American Family Foundation, the Cult Information Service and other watchdog groups have received thousands of complaints about people being enticed to join ICC and then pressured by “disciplers” to turn over their time and money to the group, said AFF staff member Carol Giambalvo, who has written a book about the movement.
Tom Recchuiti, administrator of ICC’s Philadelphia church, said that he was familiar with the complaints, but that the problems have been isolated and short-lived.
Steve Dubrow-Eichel, a Northeast Philadelphia psychologist, said he has counseled about a half-dozen ICC defectors in his group practice, known as Retirn (Re-Entry Therapy, Info and Referral Network), which works with affected families. He also said he has read ICC material.
The disciplers “get tremendous control over your life,” Dubrow-Eichel said. They will tell people whom to date, whether to take a certain job, and where to put their money, he said. “Every person I’ve worked with who’s come out of ICC has come out broke or close to broke.”
He said people were also taught that “ICC is the only legitimate mechanism by which you can be saved, so Jesus equals ICC.”
Locally, the evangelists recruit at the University of Pennsylvania and, to lesser degrees, the Temple and Drexel campuses. Though some campuses have banned ICC, the local schools have not, citing free-speech protections.
The Rev. William Gipson, a Baptist minister who heads Penn’s chaplaincy office, said he has received reports of ICC recruits being coerced to cut off ties with family and friends and to neglect studies in favor of evangelizing. He said he would give a talk to a student group next week about the women’s event and about ICC’s methods.
Former ICC members have created a Web site (www.reveal.org) to provide support and publicize the criticisms.
The ICC’s Web site (www.icoc.org) states, “We expect every member to be a disciple of Christ as defined in his teachings. The International Churches of Christ were built on the revolutionary and biblical conviction that every person must first make a decision to become a disciple and then be baptized.”
The church does give “strong biblical advice,” ICC’s Recchuiti said, and “there have been mistakes made. There’s been bad advice given, sometimes, and bad advice followed.”
But he insisted that he has seen none of that in his five years with ICC. Family cutoffs aren’t encouraged, he said, and though people are urged to tithe, no one keeps tabs on individual contributions.