Column: FCC case about more than just one church

Former UA-affiliated Faith Christian Church is more than just a cult — it’s a prime example of intolerable religious actions.

For 20 years, ASUA-recognized clubs Native Nations in Christ, Providence Club and Wildcats For Christ have lured students to join the FCC with false friendliness and free food. Once among their ranks, spiritual leaders emotionally abused members and attempted to keep students on tight leashes.

UA alumni have repeatedly told the Arizona Daily Star and the Daily Wildcat about FCC’s past control over their financial, family, sexual and personal lives. As far back as 2011, former members created a website dedicated to testimonials about their experiences and reassuring others that they are not alone.

These students were manipulated into cutting off ties with family and friends outside the church, donating certain percentages of their weekly income and becoming campus ministers upon graduating from the UA. If they disobeyed, they were considered rebels and were required to have “sessions” at executive pastor Steve Hall’s home to “cast out the demons.”

Back in 2012, former FCC member and UA alumna Hillary Hirsch told the Daily Wildcat that when it was learned she was dating outside the church, she was called in for a session. Hall held Hirsch in the room for hours, telling her that her parents didn’t raise her well.

Stories on the Former FCC Members website all tell similar stories of students whose parents grew concerned as their children distanced themselves and eventually stopped coming home for the holidays.

Members were told time and time again that they were not good Christians unless they followed Hall’s teachings. If they left the church without “permission,” they weren’t even looked at anymore by the friendly faces that had once persuaded them to join.

What Hall has done to students over the years is not only spiritual abuse, it’s emotional abuse, and it is in no way acceptable that the allegations against the FCC are only now being taken seriously by this university.

Moreover, the story of FCC should not be understood as that of a lone wolf in the wilderness leading people off the path to devour them. There’s a larger lesson here.

Time after time, people claim that their religious opinions hold value over the lives of others. They don’t.

A religious person or group that is racist, anti-Semitic, homophobic, “pro-life” or the freakin’ Westboro Baptist Church should not be a valid institution that any authority — whether a university, state or nation — should permit to get away with treating others like garbage.

Now hold on, Internet; I’m not saying I’m against free speech, but there is a difference between having an opinion and letting it run your life, and having an opinion and using it to control other people’s lives.

For example, alumna Joan Moore told the Daily Star about her rape during her freshman year at the UA. Afterward, Moore said, she reached out to her minister, and word spread throughout the church.

She was told it was her fault, was discouraged from seeking outside help and was even called a “whore” by Hall.

The FCC is not a church. It’s a bully.

The FCC may have had its privileges revoked by the University Religious Council, but the church’s student-run clubs are still officially recognized by the Associated Students of the University of Arizona.

Recently, UA alumni Cody Ortmann went to ASUA to ask that they disband the club and deny it privileges to use university property and resources. This is the least that ASUA can do in this situation.

When the URC kicked the FCC out, its official letter of denouncement detailed a repeated pattern of red flags, including the 30-plus allegations filed against the FCC to date. Yet, the UA and ASUA have done nothing during the past four years since these allegations first came to light.

It’s high time authorities and individuals stopped protecting religious groups’ right to abuse others, on the public dollar, in the name of free speech.

We can pretend only sticks and stones can break our bones, but it’s not rocks that convinced students to join a cult.

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Ashleigh Horowitz is a creative writing freshman. Follow her on Twitter.


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