Recent student reports indicate that a religious group not affiliated with UR has been soliciting students on campus during the past few weeks.
Students report that member/members of the World Mission Society Church of God have been approaching them and attempting to recruit them for a Bible study group off campus.
The members of this group have been reported approaching students and asking to use their cell phone or for directions. These conversations have quickly turned to talks about God and the Bible. Students are then invited to join a Bible study with the group in the library or off campus.
According to Father Brian Cool of the Interfaith Chapel, four or five students have left campus with this group. Cool was not aware of this group until it was mentioned in a discussion with one of his students.
“It was in a casual conversation with one of my students: ‘I met this group and I went over to their place.’”
The group’s brightly colored website shows photos of young people participating in community service acts around the world. According to their information page, their basic theology is to spread the word of God worldwide.
“And God has opened a new age for the Church of God and entrusted this church with the mission of the worldwide evangelization,” the site says. “We all church members are sensible of our responsibility for the mission. And we are trying to perform the mission that the Christ has given us (Matt. 28:18), doing good and practicing love.”
According to their website, the religious group does not yet have an established sanctuary in Rochester but have been meeting in a house; their closest established chapel is in Buffalo, NY. The group also has locations in Boston, New Hampshire, New York, New Jersey, Maryland, Washington DC, Virginia, North Carolina, and Florida.
Students who have left campus with the group say they were taken to a house and fed dinner. “Then they were taken someplace called the ‘truth room,’” said Director of Religious & Spiritual Life Rev. Dr. C. Denise Yarbrough. “They were shown scripture passages to show that what they were talking about it true. Students reported being off campus for 4-5 hours.”
When asked about the group, Yarbrough said she had done research about them after hearing they were on campus.
“They seem to be aggressive proselytizers,” she said. “They tend to target college campuses. We just wanted to be sure that students know they are not affiliated with the Interfaith Chapel and they are not authorized to be on campus.”
Dean of Student Matthew Burns continued, saying that students should not feel they are in danger by this group but to exercise caution.
“There are all sorts of red flags that come go up in our minds,” he said. “Because whether or not this particular religious organization is involved in cult-like activities or not, that is exactly how cults feed. Usually young, usually lonely [students]. On the off chance they find someone like that, they are vulnerable.”
All groups affiliated with the Interfaith Chapel have specific guidelines they have to follow, one of which is an agreement that they will not proselytize students on campus. Yarbrough said that if approached by a student, faith community leaders are welcome to talk to students about their individual faiths. But they are not, under any circumstances, allowed to approach students and encourage them to join. “It’s pretty sneaky stuff they’re doing,” Yarbrough said.
Public Safety officers have been briefed on this issue and notified that this group has been soliciting. “Just as someone is soliciting money, no one has the right to come and solicit you for a bible study,” Cool said. “We need to be a little more attentive to that. I am encouraging students to make security reports.”
Officers do not have a clear description of the solicitors so it is difficult for them to find them and keep them off campus. “It’s going to be hard for security to keep these people off campus if they don’t know what these people look like,” Yarbrough said. “They are not even authorized to be on campus.”
Burns suggested that students think seriously before leaving with the group. “I think they should exercise caution and ask a lot of questions,” he said. “You are able to believe and think anything you want on campus. If in the end you’re interested in the organization, that’s your free choice. But these policies exist because bad things have happened when we didn’t have them.”
Sanguinetti is a member of the class of 2015.