‘Love-bombing’ group at University of Arizona called cult, thrown out of religious council

The University of Arizona campus in Tucson. (AP Photo/Visit Tucson, David Jewell)

Too much love, apparently. A religious council at the University of Arizona, after looking into reports that a longtime on-campus ministry known for what one student called “love-bombing” recruitment efforts, was, in fact, a cult, has revoked the church’s membership on the council.

Earlier this month, the Arizona Daily Star reported that 21 former members told them the church, which has operated on campus for 25 years, was operating as a cult, controlling members’ lives and enforcing disturbing rules such as disciplining infants who lift their heads by smacking them with a cardboard tube. The student who said they were known for “love-bombing” added that they lured in freshmen with repeated friendly gestures.

After numerous complaints about student safety, the University Religious Council of the University of Arizona revoked the membership of Faith Christian Church and affiliated campus ministries.

Church officials did not immediately return messages seeking comment.

Michelle Blumenberg, of the executive committee of the religious council, sent the following statement:

“Effective immediately, the University Religious Council (URC) at the University of Arizona revokes from membership the organization known as Faith Christian Church and its affiliates Wildcats for Christ, Native Nations in Christ, and Providence Club.

“Reason: 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, standards required for URC membership.

“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.”

University officials are looking into more than 30 complaints, but because many of them involve internal actions of the church or allegations about alumni and non-students, they are limited in what they can investigate, said Chris Sigurdson, a spokesman.

“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,” he said.

“I believe the University Religious Council wanted to be fair and take into account the numerous complaints from fellow students about the church,” said Warren Throckmorton, who teaches at a Grove City College in Pennsylvania and has interviewed former members of the church for blog posts at Patheos.com. “Given the allegations, it seems understandable that they would take action.”

The Evangelical Council for Financial Accountability issued a statement about the church:

ECFA evaluates and accredits ministry organizations, including churches, only with regard to their compliance with our Seven Standards of Responsible Stewardship. Occasionally we are presented with complaints or accusations about a member organization and while we do not automatically dismiss such concerns, the scope of our investigative authority and purview is, according to our bylaws, necessarily limited to issues directly related to these seven standards. With regard to Faith Christian Church, we are working to ascertain if, in fact, any complaint expressed from former church members falls within the scope of our seven standards.