Church draws skepticism

Church draws skepticism

TC Daily Skiff (Texas Christian University), April 25, 2000
By Jill McNeal, staff reporter

ICOC seeks to help people grow closer to God, members say

Sophomore Lynn Glienke said she was invited to a Bible study by the acquaintance of a friend last semester. After the first meeting, she had no reason to be suspicious, but the second Bible study left her in tears.

“We were at an apartment off campus,” said Glienke, a movement science major. “(The acquaintance) started talking about the order you had to do things to become a Christian, and she was twisting Bible verses around. She got me to say that I wasn’t a Christian. Everything I had ever learned before just left me, and I could only focus on what she said. She told me we needed to have a Bible study every day and get me baptized in the church. I felt so overwhelmed.”

Glienke said she had been able to sort things out by the time the girl called back a few days later.

“I prayed a lot and talked to people from my own church,” she said. “I had the courage to tell her that I didn’t need to do this and why. It’s your heart that matters, not in what order you do things.”

Glienke said only later did she find out the girl was a member of the International Churches of Christ.

“She just said she was part of a nondenominational church,” Glienke said.

Ronald Flowers, the Weatherly professor of religion, said the International Churches of Christ began in Florida in 1979 by Kip McKean, who felt the Church of Christ should have higher demands. There are now more than 375 churches in 160 countries that are part of the ICOC. A local ICOC group meets Sunday mornings in Fort Worth at the downtown Ramada Plaza.

Al Baird, a national spokesperson for the ICOC, said the church’s aim is to help people develop the kind of relationship with God that God expects them to have.

“I can’t apologize for what Jesus taught,” he said. “Jesus Christ took very hard-line stands, and we teach those and expect those of anyone who wants to be a member of the church. That makes us unpopular in some cases.”

Because of the First Amendment, Baird said the ICOC cannot be banned from college campuses. According to a U.S. News & World Report March 13 article though, “At least 39 at least institutions, including Harvard and Georgia State, have outlawed the organization at one time or another for violating rules against door-to-door recruiting, say, or harassment.”

“We won’t agree to share our faith only at a certain time and place,” he said.

Tom Kriss, a member of the Fort Worth ICOC, said he knows of several TCU students who are involved with the church.

“It wouldn’t be right for me as a minister to give out their names,” Kriss said. “It’s not really my place to answer questions about the church.”

Phone calls made to other ICOC members and the local church headquarters were not returned.

Kriss said college students come to the church in search of a relationship with God.

“The deeper commitment level attracts some people; for some people, it doesn’t,” he said. “It depends on the individual.”

Flowers said college students are drawn to religious groups like the ICOC.

“There is a lot of uncertainty to the college life about things like vocation, marriage and moral standards,” he said. “Folks are very fluid and unsettled in their lives and are making crucial decisions about where their lives are going to go.”

Stuart Harrison, a sophomore international finance major, said he was invited to a local ICOC function by a friend.

“The church service seemed fine, just regular stuff,” Harrison said. “Afterward, a graduate student from TCU asked me if I wanted to sit down and have a Bible study with him. It was about God’s word being the truth.”

Like Glienke, Harrison said he began to feel uncomfortable during the second meeting.

“I don’t know if these people are trained or what, but he definitely knew where he was going with his questions,” he said. “He tried to turn (what I was) saying, (because) I sometimes make mistakes, into me admitting I wasn’t a Christian.”

The Rev. John Butler, university minister, said attracting the young adult population is important for any faith tradition.

“When you have members joining who are going into the years when they have their whole professional lives ahead of them and are making faith commitments that will last, think about what that means for the future of your organization,” he said. “The life expectancy for that group will be at least 40 or 50 years.”

Amelia Kleymann, who runs a Website and support group for former ICOC members from her home in Arlington, said she was 18 years old when she joined an ICOC group in Kansas City, Mo.

“I wanted to prove to my parents that I could live my own life and make my own decisions,” said Kleymann, now 22. “I ended up joining a cult.”

Kleymann said after nine months with the ICOC, she left.

“They told me everything that was going wrong in my life was because of my sin,” she said. “They told me where to go, what clothes to wear and how much make-up to wear. I felt more criticized than uplifted.”

Baird said the term “cult” is often used to describe new, unorthodox forms of religion.

“The early church was viewed as a cult,” he said. “That word (cult) conjures up thoughts of mass suicides and weird practices. We are absolutely not a cult.”

Kleymann said because she was living alone and working two full-time jobs she could afford to give 60 percent of her income to the church.

“They had my paycheck stubs so they knew exactly how much I made,” she said. “I gave $14,000 to the church in nine months. I knew college students who sold their cars and couples who sold their wedding rings.”

Flowers advises students to take groups like the ICOC seriously but to maintain a degree of skepticism.

“You make judgments all the time in the classroom about whether or not things make sense – it should be the same for religion,” he said. “Don’t swallow anything hook, line and sinker. That’s why the university experience teaches critical thinking skills.”

Kleymann encourages students to make healthy religious decisions based on knowledge and prayer.

“Parents tell their kids to be careful when they go to college,” she said. “They say don’t walk alone and lock your stuff up so your roommate won’t steal it. They never say be careful which church recruits you.”

Back to other media reports about the International Churches of Christ.