Students interested in joining the Christian Advance Club at the University of Calgary will have to look elsewhere for membership after the prospective group was denied official club status earlier this year. The proposed Christian Advance, comprised of members of the International Churches of Christ, was rejected by the Students' Union Clubs Committee because of the church's history on university campuses throughout North America and Europe.
The ICOC, also known as the Boston Movement, has periodically come under fire from both media and religious critics for its aggressive recruitment tactics and cult-like character. Now active in over 115 countries worldwide, the ICOC has been banned from some 40 university campuses including Boston and Harvard Universities, UBC, York, McMaster and the University of Calgary.
"It was brought to our attention that the ICOC had already been banned from a number of campuses," said SU Vice-President Operations and Finance Robbie White. "We consulted both the Chaplains' Centre and Campus Security before deciding that it wasn't in the best interests of students to sanction this particular club.
"According to the Chaplains' Centre, the ICOC characteristically employs manipulative recruitment practices, solicitation of students, peer control and door-to-door dorm conscription. Members of the organization, now more than 130,000 strong, believe that theirs is the only true church and that a disciple is not truly "saved" until they are re-baptized, implying that other forms of baptism are invalid.
"I don't necessary think the ICOC is a cult, but they are definitely very extreme," said United/Presbyterian Chaplain Tim Nethercott. "I won't argue against their religious beliefs, but I will say that I don't like the way they treat people."
According to many campus ministers and religious academics, the ICOC and its members may prove to be a dangerous affiliation.
"It's the most destructive religious group I've ever seen," commented Robert Watts Thornburg in an interview with Christianity Today. Thornburg, dean at Boston University's Marsh Chapel, believes that although members of the ICOC may have a friendly exterior, their motives are less than wholesome.
"When they're recruiting, they are polite and respectful," he said. "[However,] peer control is this group's most important weapon."
Campus Security has been aware of the ICOC's presence at the U of C for several years.
"We've known about them for at least the past five years that I've been here," said Campus Security Manager Lanny Fritz. "We've only had one harassment incident involving this particular group reported to us in the past two years; however, people do call us regularly to let us know what groups like the ICOC are up to on campus.
"According to both Campus Security and the Chaplains' Centre, the ICOC is not the only group of its kind active on campus. Several other religious and ¨political groups have presented harassment problems on campus both recently and in the past.
"We've had 18 incidents of harassment or soliciting on campus during the past two years," said Fritz. "Individuals found to be soliciting are usually asked to leave the campus and given the option of paying for a booth in Mac Hall where they can display information."
Chaplain Tim Nethercott points out that international students are often vulnerable to the advances of religious groups such as the ICOC.
"Quite often students from out of the country experience loneliness in their new surroundings and are looking for some form of affiliation," he said. "This makes them particularly good targets for aggressive religious recruiters."
Nethercott also asserts that affiliation with the ICOC and other groups of its kind remains a personal decision.
"Unless a person is unhappy with the group and wishes to leave, quite honestly it's not my place to question their religious convictions," he remarked. "However, should a person approach me with the objective of leaving the group, I would of course encourage them to make the decision that best affects their happiness."
For now, an official club representing the International Churches of Christ will not exist at the U of C, although members of the church continue to actively recruit new members from within the student population.
Representatives of the Calgary branch of the ICOC would not comment on the issue this week.
If you are feeling pressured or are being harrassed by members of a religious group, contact the Chaplains' Centre at 220-5451 or the University Harrassment Advisor at 220-4486.