Members of the local arm of the International Church of Christ, an international group that critics characterize as a cult, have been barred from campus, according to Protestant Chaplaincy Director Rev. Bryant Oskvig.
Oskvig would not specify when the group was barred but said that the organization and a number of other non-affiliated religious groups have been operating on campus in violation of university policies.
Georgetown requires all religious groups that operate on campus to become affiliated with the university, meaning that they must function under the auspices of the Office of Campus Ministry.
“We want these groups to agree to the essential principles and ideals of the university,” Oskvig said.
Georgetown is among several universities that have banned the International Church of Christ, which often recruits members on college campuses.
The university sent a broadcast email to the campus community Tuesday informing students about the presence of such groups. The email, which was signed by Vice President of Mission and Ministry Fr. Kevin O’Brien, S.J., and Vice President for Student Affairs Todd Olson, warned students about the negative influence these groups could exert.
“When engaged with any religious group, no student should feel any undue pressure to join or remain in the ministry or to sacrifice their primary academic commitments or alienate themselves from family and friends,” the email read.
The email also invited students to a discussion event with Jenny Hunter (COL ’93), who joined the ICOC during her senior year at Georgetown but has since separated from the church.
Hunter said that she doesn’t blame the university for her negative experience with the ICOC, but feels that Georgetown needs to make students better aware of its existence and that of groups like it.
“I was 21. I was young. I was naive. I never would have believed that there were these predatory groups on campus,” she said. “Had I been informed that there were groups that you should be very careful about … I think I would have never gotten involved with them.”
Hunter first encountered members of the group at a meeting held at an on-campus apartment. Drawn to the companionship and spirituality she perceived in the church, Hunter began attending daily Bible studies and spending four to five hours each day trying to recruit new members.
“I hate to even think of the number I could put on how many hours I spent with them,”” she said. “”I had been a very good student, very passionate about what I was studying, but that just became secondary.”
Three days after graduating from Georgetown, Hunter moved to California — against her parents’ will — to join the group’s ministry there.
“I threw away everything for this one dream that they had. I was totally willing to do anything for this group,” Hunter said.
During Hunter’s 12 years with the church, its leadership controlled every aspect of her life: whom she could marry, where she could work, whom she could contact.
“I totally, completely bought in to what we were doing,” she said. “I was so under their influence that I thought anything they wanted to do was God’s will.”
In 2004, Hunter left her position in the church’s ministry and cut herself off from the church completely the following year. She divorced her husband and moved to Virginia, where she runs a nonprofit called the Alliance for Cult Recovery and Education.
Drew Bratcher, a reporter for Washingtonian Magazine who wrote a July 2008 feature about Hunter’s experiences, will also speak at the event, which is slated for March 20.
Hunter said she hopes the discussion will prevent other students from having the same experience she did.
“The biggest gift I could ever do for someone is share my sad story, and if I could help any young 21-year-old not walk down the path I went down, then that’s made my 12 years [in the ICOC] worth it,” she said.