Previously identified religious cult remains on campus
Have you been approached on campus by a person wearing sunglasses and an empty backpack asking you to take a survey on religion?
If you have, you were probably approached by a member of the Faith Christian Church. In 2015, over 20 former members alleged this Christian ministry had cult-like practices, according to an Arizona Daily Star investigative article.
This investigation, however, has not prevented group members from being on campus and interacting with students.
The alleged cult-like practices included teaching members to corporally punish their children, financially coercing members and encouraging members to alienate themselves from their families.
FCC was a member of the University Religious Council until the article was published, prompting the URC to investigate FCC and revoke its membership.
John Winchester, outreach coordinator for the Arizona Center for Judaic Studies, said even after the FCC had its URC membership revoked and the Daily Star’s investigations, FCC still has a strong presence on campus.
According to Winchester, FCC is not allowed to use any of the university’s facilities.
Winchester said FCC has responded to the Dean of Students Office restrictions by organizing its events, such as Bible studies, at off-campus locations.
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“All the Dean of Students Office did was say, ‘you can’t do anything organized on campus,’” Winchester said. “So they took it off campus.”
A defining characteristic of FCC’s influence on campus is its campus ministers.
According to FCC’s website, it has 30 campus evangelists, whose jobs are to go to campus and reach out to students through religious surveys and other practices.
“They’ve got more people as far as any other Christian groups on campus,” Winchester said, explaining FCC ministers are consistently on campus on a day-to-day basis.
What has been done
According to Randi Kisiel, secretary of the University Religious Council, the URC has not monitored FCC since 2015. She explained FCC is no longer under the URC’s jurisdiction.
The URC has a red flag program, which is a list of warning signs of a religious organization potentially being dangerous. The list can be found in pamphlets for UA incoming freshman, where there is also a warning specifically about FCC.
Kendal Washington White, dean of students and vice provost for Campus Life, said the responsibility of monitoring FCC came under the Dean of Students Office, but they never technically had jurisdiction over FCC, because FCC is not officially associated with the UA.
The DSO does have jurisdiction to investigate anything that involves official UA organizations, such as official Associated Students of the University of Arizona clubs.
During the Daily Star investigation, three ASUA clubs were said to have affiliations with FCC: Native Nations in Christ, Wildcats for Christ and Providence Club.
According to Washington White, they would have Dean of Students Office staff members attend meetings of the three clubs unannounced to see if they were following UA and ASUA restrictions and guidelines.
DSO staff members attended multiple meetings of these clubs but discontinued after a year and a half.
“Our staff had multiple unannounced attendance at their meeting and there were no signs of misbehavior and FCC leaders were not present,” Washington White said.
Soon after the results of the investigations came out regarding FCC, the Dean of Students Office held a presentation on campus in April 2015 led by Doni Whitsett, a professor from the University of Southern California and expert in cult-related issues.
The Dean of Students Office has not sponsored any education sessions on cults since then, according to Washington White.
Washington White said the Dean of Students Office watched certain areas where FCC members tended to be seen but has discontinued observation because of the lack of reports.
“We did spot checks for a year and have not continued to do so as we have not received reports from the UA or Tucson community,” Washington White said.
Washington White explained monitoring is incredibly difficult, because the DSO can’t keep track of all organizations that set foot on campus.
Kisiel said she believes the main reason FCC potentially survived its negative media coverage in 2015 and is still able to convert people on campus is the UA’s prioritization of free speech.
She clarified she believes in freedom of speech and freedom of religion but is also concerned when groups like FCC are continuously influencing students.
After complaints of its presence, Kiesel said, “I then refer them to the Dean of Students Office with the hope that the Dean of Students Office will take care of them.”
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According to the Dean of Students Office, the university free speech policy is: “The University is committed to protecting the free speech rights of students, faculty, staff and invited guests. The purpose of this policy is to respect the Campus Community’s rights to free speech and expressive activity within public and designated public forums, while preserving public health, safety and welfare, the normal business uses of the campus and the rights of others to legitimately use and enjoy the campus.”
TJ Hoshiwara, a pre-computer science sophomore, was approached by members of FCC with a survey the beginning of his freshman year, in the 2017 fall semester.
After this first encounter, Hoshiwara went to church services, which he said about 200 members attended, and met with an FCC campus minister once a week for six months. According to Hoshiwara, the one-on-one sessions consisted mainly of the FCC campus minister’s questions about when Hoshiwara was going to convert or change his lifestyle to FCC’s preferred belief set.
Hoshiwara said he believed the FCC member displayed a genuine interest in his personal well-being, making it hard to understand their motives and priorities. He said the first time FCC started raising red flags for him was when his friends from other Christian groups on campus told him about the allegations against FCC. However, the biggest red flag for him was he began to doubt his beliefs after many meetings with the FCC campus minister.
Hoshiwara said he confronted the FCC campus minister he had been meeting with, and together they met with an associate pastor of the church to address the accusation Hoshiwara had heard. According to Hoshiwara, they were very open to talking about it with him, but at the same time did not really directly address the accusations.
After that meeting, Hoshiwara met with the FCC campus minister a couple of times but declined to go to FCC’s church services. The meetings quickly stopped after that.
“From what I’ve read, FCC has hurt a lot of people, and I believe there is a lot of validity to a lot of these claims,” Hoshiwara said. “But the people I met from there were genuine, and they’re on campus every day because they want to share the gospel with as many people as they can, which I admire.”
Despite the investigations and administrative responses in 2015, FCC has continued its presence on campus and influence over students.
The Daily Wildcat reached out to FCC but it did not respond.
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