Independent Student Newspaper Since 1969

The Badger Herald

Independent Student Newspaper Since 1969

The Badger Herald

Independent Student Newspaper Since 1969

The Badger Herald


Controversial group recruiting on campus

Known for their what some call “cult-like” tactics and their recruiting of college students for conversion, the International Church of Christ has filled out an application with the UW-Madison Student Organization Office to be an official, practicing student group.

The ICOC has been a controversial group banned from many campuses since its creation in 1988.

The Madison Church of Christ, the local branch of the ICOC, is hoping to practice on campus and recruit followers at UW. They have applied with the Student Organization Office as the Christian Student Movement.

The ICOC’s history began decades ago.

The Boston Church of Christ, under the leadership of Kip McKean, was transformed from a traditional, conservative church into a modern, evangelical congregation in 1979.

McKean’s organization experienced a division in Nashville in 1988, sparking controversy because of its radical difference from traditional Church of Christ congregations.

Later that year, the Church of Christ officially separated from the Boston movement, and the congregation has called itself the International Church of Christ ever since.

McKean moved the group’s headquarters from Boston to Los Angeles, and local divisions now exist in most major cities in the country, including Madison, and now the UW campus.

The ICOC has been banned from such campuses as Marquette University in Milwaukee, Vanderbilt University in Nashville, the College of the Holy Cross in Worcester, Mass., and Worcester State College (also in Worcester).

Officials at these universities have expressed disapproval with ICOC proselytizing, or their attempts to convert students.

Susan Mountin, Marquette University campus minister, said this was the main reason MU banned the organization.

“We don’t turn students into Catholic converts, and it should not be a goal to convert others,” Mountin said. “The Church of Christ did not abide by that policy; it was clear they were trying to make converts.”

The ICOC teaches that the Bible is the inherent message of God inspired by the Holy Spirit, and the only baptized disciples are members of Christ’s Church. Therefore, it re-baptizes all new members and encourages numerous hours of organized Bible study.

There are currently 12 students involved in the Madison Church of Christ, a few of whom attend Madison Area Technical College.

Jeff Mannel, leader of the Madison Church of Christ, said the purpose of the congregation is purely religious.

“We are trying to go by the Bible and get away from tradition,” Mannel said. “We are trying to get back to Scripture and live like those in the Bible.”
Mannel also said there is no issue of cult-like practices in Madison and there has been no reaction to their practices.

“There has never been one complaint, never been a problem with students,” he said. “Students just want to love God and share it with other people.”

Still, many religious leaders and other observers of the group find it to be not only cult-like, but also dangerous.

Rev. Robert W. Thornburg, dean of Marsh Chapel at Boston University, who has been battling the group for 22 years, told the Boston Globe he is fearful of ICOC’s practices.

“They are destructive to freedom of thought, freedom of movement and freedom of activity,” he said. “They cut kids off from their families, and their method of recruiting and keeping kids in qualifies [as] first-rate mind control.”

Like most student groups, the Madison Church of Christ had no problems registering as an official student organization at UW, and they have met all university criteria to practice on and use university space.

“We’ve always had a philosophy of making it very easy for students,” Mary Rouse, assistant vice-chancellor for student affairs and director of the Morgridge Center, said. “Students have a constitutional right to assemble.”

Yvonne Fangmeyer, director of the Student Organization Office, said there are various requirements that student groups need to fulfill to practice at UW, but there is one that is most important.

“The major requirement is that it must be a group composed mainly of students, directed by students,” Fangmeyer said. “The group can be affiliated with a larger, parent organization, and it can include community members.”

It only takes three currently registered UW students listed in the group to be registered.

Further, UW does not have a policy of conducting background checks on registered groups.

“Being a non-discriminatory institution, on our campus it’s very easy to become a registered organization. We have a very flexible system,” Fangmeyer said. “It’s not really our habit to investigate student organizations until a complaint is filed.”

No complaints have been filed against the Christian Student Movement, although the Student Organization Office did receive a request for more information on the group.

While many stories of isolation and vulnerability of ex-members of the ICOC have been reported, none of these have been Madison students or residents. For now, the ICOC will continue to practice in UW facilities and lecture halls.

Leave a Comment
Donate to The Badger Herald

Your donation will support the student journalists of University of Wisconsin-Madison. Your contribution will allow us to purchase equipment and cover our annual website hosting costs.

More to Discover
Donate to The Badger Herald

Comments (0)

All The Badger Herald Picks Reader Picks Sort: Newest

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *