FCC, church or cult?
Action taken against church for alleged cult behavior and exploiting vulnerable students
Graphic by Joey Fisher
For more than a decade, Faith Christian Church has operated on the UA campus via ASUA official clubs — Wildcats for Christ, Native Nations in Christ and The Providence Club — and has been questioned for alleged misconduct and “cult-like” behavior.
On April 8, the Associated Students of the University of Arizona held a senate meeting to discuss the presence of the FCC and its affiliates on the UA campus with featured keynote speaker Cody Ortmann, a former ASUA senator, UA alumnus and former FCC member. The week prior, the UA’s University Religious Council concluded its investigation and revoked recognition of FCC and it affiliates.
In the ASUA meeting, Ortmann presented testimonies from other former members and reasons for which the clubs should lose UA recognition. While Ortmann’s goal of the meeting was to encourage ASUA to hold a vote to determine if the clubs are still eligible for recognition, no action was taken, and ASUA will discuss the information further before any decision is made.
Both ASUA and URC claimed that action was not taken until recently due to lack of evidence and complaints, or extended wait between the complaint and time of the incident.
Three years ago, on Oct. 9, 2012, the Arizona Daily Wildcat introduced the story regarding the FCC’s alleged “cult” behavior through the manipulation, extortion and brainwashing of members.
Since then, on March 7, the
Star reported 21 former FCC members who said the church was operating as a cult. They reported “hitting infants with cardboard tubes to encourage submission, financial coercion, alienation from parents, public shaming of members and shunning of those who leave the church or question its leaders.”
On March 30, URC declared the FCC no longer eligible to be recognized by the organization after finally choosing to pursue to investigate recent claims.
Michelle Blumenberg, URC treasurer, said the complaints by former FCC members and UA students were common over the years but found it difficult to investigate claims.
After concluding the investigation, Blumenberg said it is clear the organization has broken all the red flags listed in URC’s Religious Conduct on Campus Parent Resource, which outlines warnings signs of religious groups acting unethically.
ASUA currently does not recognize the FCC but does recognize its affiliates as UA clubs. Christopher Hargraves, Assistant Dean of Students, said complaints are difficult for ASUA to investigate because those who file them may move after graduation.
That, along with a lengthy period of time between the incident and it being reported, combine to complicate the investigation process.
“Going back and trying to find those individuals, it’s kind of hard,” Hargraves said.
After multiple attempts to contact the FCC leaders and its affiliated UA clubs, a representative has yet to respond.
Melissa Vito, the UA’s senior vice president of Student Affairs, told the Arizona Daily Star that Arizona law required state agencies like universities to “neither inhibit nor promote religion.”
Origins of FCC
The church was created in 1990 after the dissemination of the Maranatha Fellowship, which was disbanded because of allegations that the church was a danger to college students.
The Maranatha Christian Church was resurrected under the new leadership of Stephen Hall with a new name a and new home in Tucson. Its goal is to recruit college students because they claim most individuals become a Christian before the age of 25, as stated in their ministry video.
FCC campus ministers will stand on the UA Mall, sidewalks and outside of classroom buildings. Students will often be approached with a religious survey.
The most recent formal complaint filed through ASUA was in March by Kathy Sullivan, a concerned UA parent of Sean Sullivan, a business junior.
She reported changes in her son’s personality since joining the church and his surprising plans to become a campus minister and recruit for the church instead of pursuing a business career.
Ortmann, 33, joined the church during his second semester of freshman year in 2001 and was dismissed his senior year in 2005. While in the church, he served as president of the FCC affiliate, The Providence Club.
He sought inclusion and acceptance from his peers, like many incoming freshmen, but described his experience as very controlling, demanding and intrusive.
“I wanted to fit in,” Ortmann said, “and I wanted their approval.”
In the Arizona Daily Star’s coverage, Rachel Mullis, 38, a former member of the church from 1994-2004, described being “love-bombed.” This is where campus ministers shower students with affection or gifts and try to be their best friend. This can be lucrative for new students like Ortmann trying to acclimate to a strange, new campus.
Marcus DiMarco, a UA alumnus, was a member of the church since his sophomore year in 2006 until 2012. He said he felt that he was struggling to fit in and took solace in being a part of a group like FCC.
“I was in a really vulnerable part of my life,” DiMarco said. “I had a really bad spring break.”
He served Wildcats for Christ as vice president for a year and president for six months in 2008 through 2009, as well as one of the top recruiters for the church.
“People were shocked about how many people that I could recruit,” DiMarco said. “They told us to look for receptive people — basically, people that would go along with what you would say. People who were impressionable, people who were passive, those are the kinds of students we would look for.”
He filed a complaint last spring, when he was a senior, against the FCC and its affiliates for the fixing of elections and threats against him.
DiMarco said instead of holding a vote for the club officials, Faith Christian elders would appoint students to the positions despite the Student Organization Constitution, stating that there must be democratic procedures for nominations, elections and removal of officers.
In 2009, the Wildcats for Christ’s treasurer left the church due to psychological distress brought on by the FCC. As a result, DiMarco was threatened to resign. FCC elders told him that he could choose an “easy way or a hard way” out of his presidency. DiMarco was forced to step down, and the club broke the democratic procedures rule once again.
When DiMarco left the church in 2012, he made sure not to report the FCC and Wildcats for Christ until he was ready to graduate, out of fear that members would harass and threaten him during his remaining time at the UA. He filed the complaint in 2014, but ASUA found it difficult to pursue.
After multiple incidents, Brittany Prince, a UA alumna and former FCC member in 2008, also filed a report but with the University of Arizona Police Department regarding harassment by the FCC.
She recalled walking to class one night when three FCC members cornered her at the Student Union Memorial Center and “asked me all these weird questions, and I hadn’t talked to them in months.”
According to Prince, UAPD told her there were multiple complaints from various students, but they could not do much with her case.
The FCC is also accused of controlling members’ finances through tracking how much they donate to the church through a practice called tithing, which calls for members to donate 10 percent of their income to the church.
“If you didn’t give 10 percent that week, you had to give double the next week,” Ortmann told the Arizona Daily Star.
Clubs on campus
DiMarco said the clubs’ main purposes were to host parties for FCC recruits and reserve UA classrooms for FCC events, which were under the name of Wildcats for Christ, Native Nations in Christ and The Providence Club.
“We would reserve rooms for prayer service every Saturday that had nothing to do with Wildcats for Christ,” DiMarco said. “We were reserving them for the church because that was a church event.”
Ortmann recounts how the clubs would use free food to encourage students to come to their events and, in hindsight, would identify his club as an extension of the church to reel in UA students.
“I felt that they used [Providence Club] as an arm to bring the students in,” Ortmann said.
He was asked to leave the church after deciding to take a mission trip to Morocco after graduation instead of becoming a campus minister and continuing the expansion of the church.
Today, former church members can communicate and share testimonies through a Facebook page called “Former Members of Faith Christian Church Tucson and its OffShoots.” It was developed a few years ago by Jeff Phillips, has more than 350 likes, and serves as an open forum for communication and expression.
“The clubs are just hollow,” DiMarco said. “They are just a shell; there’s nothing to them. The clubs are just arms of the church, and that’s a good enough reason to kick them off.”
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