Ten years after the Boston Church of Christ was banned from the Boston University campus for aggressive recruitment practices, students report that group members still hound them to join their ranks.
Marsh Chapel Dean Robert Watts Thornburg has classified the Boston branch of the International Church of Christ as a "destructive religious faction" that pervades its members' lives, demanding their complete devotion and often the contents of their bank accounts.
Even after a 1987 decision that prohibited the group from soliciting members on BU property, students consistently report run-ins with church members, who often use "sneaky and devious" methods to rope them in, according to Thornburg. "They are quite literally the most destructive religious organization that we've ever had," Thornburg said of the 4,000 member BCC. "They were banned because they are congenitally unable to keep their word or subscribe to the basic rules applied to all other groups."
No other religious group has been ever banned from BU, which currently recognizes 23 religious organizations. The decision to prohibit the group from formally worshipping or recruiting was spearheaded by Thornburg.
The motivating factor to ban the BCC was its recruiting, which borders on harassment, according to some students.
Vincent Collado, a College of Arts and Sciences sophomore, is one of many students who have experienced BCC harassment. "He told us we were going to go to hell because we weren't in the BCC," Collado said.
Chris Lee, a Massachusetts Institute of Technology graduate, was a member of the BCC until 1993. He was kicked out of the church for skipping a meeting. He now counsels former members. "In a way that the church controls members' lives, it's more subtle," Lee said. "members would say things like, 'Do you really care about members of the church? Are you just being selfish?' They would use manipulation and guilt."
But BCC members said they have been unfairly stereotyped and defended their church's values and methods of attracting new members. "We don't target campus students," said BCC member Jimmy Rogers. "It's totally paranoid hype of the critics against the church. But that is a false statement."
Rogers emphasized that the BCC does not recruit, but does "invite" students to join the church. "Matthew 28:18-20, the great commission of going and making disciples of all nations," Rogers said. "Yes, we do believe that everyone is a disciple of Jesus and should have the intent of seeking and saving the lost, so we do believe that members should [have the] one purposes of going and making disciples."
As long as Thornburg is at BU, one of his priorities is to keep the BCC away from campus. This year, he gave several speeches about cult awareness for BU students. He has also been consulted by national news media to share his observations about the BCC.