The University of Arizona’s religious council has revoked the membership of Tucson-based Faith Christian Church, which ex-members say aggressively recruits for members on campus.
The University Religious Council, a coalition of the ministers and directors of religious and spiritual groups at the UA, will also include Faith Christian on a list of spiritual groups that have had their membership revoked, council treasurer Michelle Blumenberg said Tuesday. The list will be published inside a directory distributed to students during orientation, along with the council’s list of red flags for “religious practices gone awry,” she said.
Faith Christian and its affiliated on-campus recruiting arms will be the only groups on that list, she said.
The council’s decision should send a message to UA students and their parents that the church’s practices are not endorsed by other spiritual groups on campus, Blumenberg said.
“The number, seriousness, and pattern of red flags raised compel URC members to no longer believe that Faith Christian Church and its affiliates operate at the highest level of integrity, transparency, safety for students, and respect for students,” which are standards required for council membership, according to a statement from the council, sent to the Arizona Daily Star.
“This has come to light via numerous letters and testimonies recently sent to URC members which have brought to a head historic and current concerns related to the campus activities of Faith Christian Church and its affiliates,” according to the council’s statement.
Former members of Faith Christian expressed relief Tuesday at the UA’s University Religious Council decision to revoke the church’s membership.
“Their action validates our experiences and contributes to the ongoing healing process,” former Faith Christian associate pastor Jeff Phillips said Tuesday in an email.
“As former members of Faith Christian Church who experienced spiritual abuse there, we are very heartened by the University Religious Council’s action in this matter. We thank the URC for their willingness to listen to our stories and to take action to help prevent further abuse.”
Ex-church staff member Jeremy Morgan said Tuesday he hopes the decision will encourage the UA to change its policy on what qualifies as an “official complaint” against a campus group.
Morgan says when he tried to submit a complaint against the church and its ministries around 2007, the dean of students’ office told him it wouldn’t be valid because he was no longer a current UA student.
“For me, it’s a validation that what I experienced was wrong and that somebody is actually now taking seriously the harm that was done to me,” he said Tuesday. “It’s a thing that’s been a long time coming.”
The council began investigating the church, which has been recruiting on campus for 25 years, after a Star investigation was published in March, Blumenberg said.
The investigation, based on interviews with 30 former church members and parents, found that the church can be highly controlling with members, requiring them to tithe, isolating them from non-church members and shunning members who leave the church or question its leaders.
A separate UA dean of students’ office inquiry is looking into the church’s on-campus student clubs, but the school does not have jurisdiction over the church itself, UA officials have said.
“The Dean of Students staff are continuing to follow up on the reports we’ve received, checking in with the student organizations and ascertaining our students’ well-being,” UA spokesman Chris Sigurdson said.
This month, more than 30 UA alumni or their parents have submitted complaints to the dean of students’ office criticizing the church, which they say aggressively recruits students at a vulnerable time in their lives.
Last week, University Religious Council board members met with Faith Christian senior pastor Ian Laks and two other pastors to discuss ex-members’ allegations. Executive pastor Stephen Hall did not attend and has not responded to the council’s questions, Blumenberg said.
All 15 council members at the Monday meeting voted to revoke the membership of Faith Christian and its three on-campus clubs, Blumenberg said. The council has 20 members total, excluding Faith Christian.
For the past five weeks Hall and Laks also have not responded to the Star’s requests for comment about former members’ allegations about the church.
Faith Christian’s three on-campus student clubs — Wildcats for Christ, Native Nations in Christ and the Providence Club — are still official clubs at the university. It’s up to the university’s dean of students’ office to revoke club status, Blumenberg said.
Last week two college campuses in New Zealand banned ministers from a Faith Christian-affiliate church from campus. The affiliate, Victory Christian Church, is a “carbon copy” of Faith Christian, said ex-member Phillips, who helped launch the New Zealand affiliate in the early 2000s.