Varsity, Cambridge’s Student Newspaper, 30 January 1998.
By Dawn Howerth
The fastest growing cult in Britain has started a recruitment programme targeting Cambridge students. In just two weeks, the Cambridge International Church of Christ has managed to attract between two and three hundred people to its events. The group has already been banned in 34 universities from using their campuses for public meetings.
The “Church” has come to the attention of the University after the alarm was raised by three students concerned about their housemate. They were alarmed when they noticed that the girl had dramatically changed her lifestyle, becoming totally absorbed in the organization. CUSU has also been alerted, and a letter to JCR committees and Chaplains is advising them to “calmly educate” and not “get hysterical about this.”
According to the Cult Information Centre, the group has a tendency to use especially persuasive methods. The main one has been called “Love-bombing” and involves bombarding vulnerable people in an attempt to draw them into the organization. Their aim, according to Ian Howarth (General Secretary of the Cult Information Centre) is “creating a sense of family and belonging through hugging, kissing, touching and flattery.” This strong attachmentt between member and group often makes it very difficult for poeple to leave.
Ex-members of the association have told Varsity that the group also tries to form a “financial bond”, encouraging memebrs to give at least 10% of their income in order to prove how zealous they are. In some extreme cases, those involved have been persuaded to sell their homes and move into accommodation owned by the group.
John Partington, a senior member of London wing of the Church, was unabashed at what has been described as the intrusive nature of the group’s recruitment. He said that this was “what they were all about” and justified their tactics by quoting Jesus’ commission: “Go and make disciples of all men.”
Michelle Shriley, spokesperson for the Cult Information Centre, said: “We are extremely concerned about the International Church of Christ and have been getting a large number of phone calls from individuals who have either been in the group or whose family or friends are in it, expressing their concern.” Many undergraduates have been approached directly over the last week on the streets of Cambridge. They have handed out cards and been asking for the names of Christian Union representaives of their respective Colleges.
INFORM, a charitable trust, maintain that the majority of the members of London Church of Christ banch, which claims 1,600 members, are “under forty and well over half are in their 20s or late teens”. According to someone who was at a recent meeting in Cambridge, there was only one member over the age of 30.
The group has been meeting at the Unitarian Church in Cambridge, whose Minister, Rev Frank Walker was approached by them asking if their hall could be used for a Bible Study. Rev Walker stated: “We are a very liberal and tolerant church. We would not want to be associated with anything were it proved that illegitimate pressure has been put on young people.” The church is still allowing the group to meet on its premises but is concerned about the comments that have been made regarding the methods of recruitment the movement is employing.
Many Christian Unions in Cambridge have already been contacted by the movement in a push for publicity. Dave Gobbett, President of CICCU, expressed his reservations: “We should be focusing on Jesus and His teaching, not Church politics.”
Mr Ayman Akshar, an ex-member and campaigner against the organization said that as many as seven members connected with the cult have attempted suicide, in the UK. “Because of the pressure and the varied sorts of manipulation, in amny respects I consider it an evil practice that leads a vast majority of members into a mental state where they cannot disclose what’s going on in their lives to anyone else.”
Anyone wishing to discuss the issue raised should contact TOLC on 0181 577 1115. Mobile: 0410 255 573