Marsh Chapel Dean Robert Watts Thornburg said members of the Boston Church of Christ have recently approached four students and claimed to be involved with the campus ministry, an accusation church leaders refute.
The BCC was banned from the university in 1988, though officials say members sporadically reappear. The organization remains under intense scrutiny in the Boston area, as college administrators claim it targets students who are new to the area. Some former members have said the group draws people in, pressures them to reveal their secrets and uses that information to control their lives.
Members pretend to be involved with BU so students accept them as a normal part of campus life, Thornburg said. They often target individuals who look vulnerable or are alone and offer their friendship, he said.
"Never did we say an individual cannot practice their own faith, but an individual cannot try to harass, coerce other students," Thornburg said.
The BCC first appeared on campus in 1979. In summer 1988, an RA saw two members approach new students in a dorm and tell them about a required meeting, he said.
BU administrators contacted BCC leaders, who apologized, Thornburg said. But two weeks later, they were using the same tactics, he said. BU sanctioned the group, meaning students were free to practice the religion but non-student members could not recruit on campus.
Last Tuesday, Chloe Cole-French, a missionary with the Inter-Varsity Christian Fellowship at BU, overheard a conversation in the George Sherman Union in which a BCC member approached a man, claimed to be from the campus ministry and invited him to attend a Bible-study group, she said.
"It was interesting. She went up and started talking to the guy and said, 'By the way...' She got pretty quickly to the point," Cole-French said.
Cole-French became suspicious when she heard the time and location of the meeting-- Tuesdays on Babcock Street. She didn't know of any campus religious organizations that met then. She confronted the woman, who admitted she was a BCC member, Cole-French said.
Church officials said it is no surprise that BU students have been approached.
"As far as I'm concerned, we have never left," said Randy McKean, a BCC evangelist.
McKean said that as far as he knows, the BCC does not send non-students to recruit at BU, though members are free to discuss their faith and invite others to church activities.
Members would not lie about their identity, he said, as the religion prohibits such acts. McKean rejected claims that the BCC manipulates members or controls their lives. The organization is like a family, he said, and members are free to leave at any time.
Michelle, an area resident in her early thirties, recently left the BCC after two months of involvement. She was first approached by members while reading a magazine in a mall after work, she said. They exchanged phone numbers and later met for coffee.
Michelle, whose name has been changed to protect her identity, soon began attending services, and she was baptized into the religion three weeks later.
She quickly became close to members, who invited her to dinner parties and on dates, she said. Some even offered to help her find a new job and roommates, Michelle said.
"They make you feel warm and fuzzy and welcomed," she said. "Unfortunately, you don't know where it's going."
But it didn't take long to learn, Michelle said.
She said the BCC gave her a journal and handbook and asked her to reveal personal details, including those about her family, sex life and whether she cheated in high school.
When members try to leave, that information is used against them, she said.