Investigator 34 (1994 January)

Reprinted courtesy of the Sunday Mail (1993 September 26)


Church leaders have warned against the practices of the Adelaide Church of Christ, a cult movement spreading insidiously across the face of Australia.

It has been banned from some university campuses interstate. Now its adherents have been seen on university campuses here and are recruiting in Rundle Mall.

RAE ATKEY reports.

To its victims the Adelaide Church of Christ seems to be the sect which seldom sleeps.

In some quarters it is known as the "love-bomb" sect because of its method of winning over recruits – "bombing" them with affection.

"They have a working day from 5am until two o'clock the following morning, with a three-hour sleeping pattern only from 2-5am," the Rev Cyril Muller, chaplain at the Chaplaincy Centre of the University of Queensland, said.

"Thus, once they have your name and telephone number, they will call you late into the night and in the early hours – and they'll start again before daybreak."

Mr Muller should know. The university has banned the movement from its campus in the face of extreme harassment.

He's seen hundreds of students and their families torn apart by the sect, also variously known as the Boston Movement, the Multiplying Ministries Movement or the Discipling Movement. In Australia it usually incorporates the home city's name into its title.

It was established in Boston, US, about 20 years ago through roots which linked it tenuously with the orthodox Churches of Christ denomination. There the similarity ends.

The spread of the movement through Brisbane, Sydney, Melbourne, Perth and now Adelaide is controlled from headquarters in London. It always follows the same pattern – the sect has no permanent address and no telephone number. Its meetings in Adelaide are held in different halls.

"Their discipling program does not allow for the development of any friendships," Mr Muller said. "A 'discipliner' or teacher is moved from one student to another before any bond can be formed."

And yet the usual, initial approach seems innocuous enough.

A young man or woman may be approached in the street or on campus by two happy, fresh faced and inviting youngsters of around their own age. A persuasive invitation to a Bible study group may be issued – or perhaps to a social gathering of a Bible group, such as a football match or a barbecue.

"Once they have your name and telephone number, they will go to any lengths to make sure the arrangements are kept. They will ring to confirm the time and date. They will pick you up. From then on they will never let go," Mr Muller said.

"Each church member has a target of introducing himself to 30 people a day and getting a positive response from three of them.

"The handbook they use, Guarding The Gospel, totally twists the message of the Bible. The text segments are used to suit themselves. Members are conditioned to believe that everyone outside the group is 'lost' – that everything outside is blackness."

Mr Muller said it was the harassment aspect which eventually saw the sect banned from the Queensland campuses.

"The phone calls which never stopped, the physical hounding of individuals on campus...all mounted up until some students were breaking under pressure and needing psychiatric treatment," he said.

"We started a support group for ex members at the beginning of this year – and many of them are still finding things difficult.

"Many had problems which made them turn to this sect in the first place, so first of all we've had to unwind the cult problem and then turn our attention to the original issue."

Mr Brian Phelps, consultant for church development and education for the Churches of Christ in SA Inc, said young people were particularly vulnerable to the sect's approaches.

"Many young people are struggling with a whole range of issues and uncertainties," he said. "They're often very confused about life school, university, jobs and families. "Others might be quite intellectual and popular people but very attracted by any kind of idealism.

"Then along comes this sect offering simple solutions to just about everything. Their message is 'Accept what we tell you and from then on life will be simple and straightforward'.

"And once young people have been indoctrinated they go to work on others. It's almost a scorecard mentality – the way to win your place in heaven is based solely on the number of recruits you bring in."

The next step, says the Rev Paul Harrington, rector at Holy Trinity Church, is to encourage young recruits to live in a community-style household. "Most people aren't equipped to engage in logical argument with sect members," he said. A representative of the Sure Hope Ministries Cult Awareness Advice and Support Group in Adelaide said he had received a number of calls from parents whose sons had been isolated from their families by the sect. Some were approached in Rundle Mall, others while they were studying in Melbourne or Sydney.

"It is a growing problem here in Adelaide, dividing families, separating. parents from children, even breaking up marriages," he said.

"Like most cults this one has a clearcut picture of where it is going; it seems to answer everyone's problems. Recruits are subjected to 'love bombing' – they are made the centre of attention; made to feel attractive and important. Suddenly the recruit has 20 new friends, all loving him or her. How involved the person becomes is generally linked to how much has been given up to get into the sect.

"If for example, a young man fails to get his family involved, if he believes they've gone to the Devil and he must reject them – if that kind of sacrifice has been made – then it's very hard for that person to escape. It's very difficult to get of out something for which you've given up everything."