Worcester, Mass. -- An international church has been banned from meeting and recruiting members on the College of the Holy Cross campus because a school official said the group uses tactics commonly associated with cults. "This is an international church," Katherine M. McElaney, director of college chaplains at Holy Cross, said Thursday of the church known variously as the International Churches of Christ, the Boston Church of Christ or the Worcester Church of Christ.
"I know their international work and reputation quite well," McElaney said. "I'm not banning it on this campus because of the impact it has already had on students here. I'm banning it because of the very destructive results and steps it's taken in the lives of others across the country."
She said at least one Holy Cross student is a member of the church, but declined to name the student. McElaney said recruiters for the church group use heavy proselytizing and religious harassment for the sake of gaining converts, mandatory tithing and psychological and spiritual abuse. Strict obedience without question, punishment through slander or exclusion and threats or intimidation are used to keep members in line, she said.
McElaney also said the church pressures members to cut ties with friends and family, education and careers, and promotes dependency on the group and fear of reprisals for leaving it.
The Boston Church of Christ, founded in Lexington in 1979 and now operating as the International Churches of Christ, espouses a fundamentalist Protestant theology. The top Worcester official of the International Churches of Christ, Guy Prince, denied that the group is a cult.
Prince said the characterizations of the group by McElaney are "totally unjustified and unfounded and not true. Nor have we gotten any complaints from Holy Cross zero." According to a statement on the Web site of the International Churches of Christ, "The International Churches of Christ are no more a cult than was the church that Jesus started as described in the Bible. The word 'cult' is a prejudicial label in today's society."
The International Churches of Christ is entirely separate from the United Church of Christ. "This has been an issue and a problem for many colleagues at other Jesuit colleges," McElaney said. "Holy Cross is fortunate in not having a cult-like or destructive group get a toehold here. In a lot of ways, it's a testimony to how successful the group is in insinuating itself into circumstances that would make recruiting possible."
Any group that uses disparagement, harassment, intimidation, fear-based tactics or pressure, she said, explicitly violates the principals of religious freedom and free inquiry on the Holy Cross campus.
The church was barred from Northeastern University, Boston University and the University of New Hampshire five or six years ago because it operated like a cult, said The Rev. Peter J. Scanlon, head of campus ministry at Worcester Polytechnic Institute. According to the Boston University Web site, the church is officially banned from its campus.