The Boston Church of Christ has drawn fire from the media, former members and cult experts who consider the group dangerous to the emotional and psychological well-being of students, yet NIU officials are torn as to whether the problems the church poses are serious enough to merit action.
The Northern Star did a series last month on The Boston Church of Christ and several sources spoke out on the dangers of the group, which they labeled a cult.
Marty Butz of the Cult Awareness Network in Chicago said the network receives more calls about the Boston Church than any other group in the nation.
A former church leader, Rick Bauer, has said that he believes the Boston Church of Christ poses a threat to the psychological and emotional health of the students they recruit.
Kyle Degge, who split from the church at NIU in 1987, said he’s repeatedly warned the NIU administration of the dangers the church poses and attributes the formation of the Chicago and Milwaukee Churches of Christ to the NIU administration’s neglect to acknowledge the church as a serious threat, as both churches have DeKalb roots. Current DeKalb Boston Church leaders verified that the two churches were planted out of DeKalb.
The Boston Church of Christ also justified abusive authority in 1986 according to Jerry Jones, one of the three senior elders of the church, who left for that reason.
ABC’s documentary program 20/20 focused on The Boston Church of Christ, denouncing it as a cult.
Barbara Henley, vice president of Student Affairs, said she couldn’t really consider the church a threat to students or make any judgements without doing her own research.
Henley said the office of Student Affairs has not gotten around to looking into this issue.
“It’s just one among 50 things to do and there are just so many hours in a day,” she explained.
Henley made clear that anything that could psychologically or physically damage a student is a serious issue. The few students, both current as well as past members of the church, she has talked with have assured her that the church does not appear to be a physical or emotional threat, she said.
Henley estimated there to be 50 students on campus involved with The Boston Church of Christ. She said that Student Affairs will not start banning a church from a public university campus because the students who are members have the freedom to be a part of any religious group they want.
Henley said her office has scheduled an appointment with the current leader of the Boston Church and will continue to be vigilant.
Larry Bolles, director of NIU’s Judicial Office, commented that last year about seven students came to him convinced that The Boston Church of Christ was a cult.
The students explained that there was a process of stages to go through in order to become part of the church. It was when these students reached the final stage that they clearly believed the church was a cult and refused to complete the process.
Bolles said that although this information is unsettling, there is no concrete evidence that the church is a cult as no students documented formal complaints, nor let the Judicial Office use their names.
Bolles noted another hindrance to taking judicial action since students did everything within the church voluntarily.
NIU’s Judicial Office, during a routine study on the church, was given advice from Chicago State University that NIU should undoubtedly be concerned about The Boston Church of Christ. Bolles said Chicago State University was very cautious about what they said, but made it clear that NIU should monitor the actions of the church very carefully.
Bolles said he was not aware of any investigation of The Boston Church of Christ, and that he wasn’t sure if NIU could legally start an investigation.
“We (NIU’s Judicial Office) would have to be convinced of a threat to students, because if church members ask what the threat is, we have to articulate what the threat is,” Bolles noted. “We can’t just say we heard of it.”
Rev. Dave Schmidt, director of United Campus Ministries, said he has been working with students for the last three years that have either been approached by The Boston Church of Christ or are trying to get out of it.
Schmidt remarked that his study of the prior history of the group has shown that in the Boston “mother” chapter, the members that are tested by the Myers-Briggs Personality Test were seen to have undergone a definite personality change after being involved in the group.
As a Christian, Schmidt said he believes that the tactics of the church in drawing people in are deeply disturbing as they are seen as very manipulative. The church has people write out a list of past sins that they use to coerce people into changing the way they act, he said. “The response the church wants from people is based on shame and guilt.”
This year the church has seemed to approach a lot more students, and from what has been learned from other campuses about the church is that they lay groundwork and then lay on a major push, Schmidt said.
“I believe these people are Christians, and I don’t doubt their faith,” Schmidt commented. “I am upset with the way they practice their faith, and I am concerned that the approaches they use are not always healthy.”
Rev. Steve Potter of the Newman Center noted that the parishioners and students that have had contact with the church cannot describe their interactions as healthy or positive.
Potter said the church uses guilt to manipulate its members into doing what the church wants, by using confessed sins that have been put on file.
“If students are manipulated then the Office of Student Affairs should get involved,” Potter said, “and from what I’ve been told from the people that have sat in my office, yes, they have been manipulated.”
“I believe these people are Christians. I am upset with the way they practice their faith, and I am concerned that the approaches they use are not always healthy.