RyeSAC put up posters like this one to warn students about the Church of Christ.

Photo: Allan Woods

RyeSAC worried by aggressive religious recruiting

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By Claire Gagne

The Toronto Church of Christ is stepping up its recruiting on campus this fall, and RyeSAC doesn’t like it.

According to RyeSAC campus groups administrator Leatrice Spevack, more students have complained this year about being harassed by the Toronto Church of Christ than have in the past few years.

“These things go in cycles, and we’re at a high point right now,” said Spevack.

The Church of Christ is a controversial religious group that uses aggressive recruiting tactics.

Spevack is careful how she refers to the group.

“I wouldn’t say that they are a cult, or we’d have their lawyers in here,” she said.

Over the last decade there have been numerous complaints about the Church of Christ approaching students on campus.

Spevack says that such groups approach lonely students, and slowly bring them under their control by putting a lot of demands on them and calling them at all hours of the day.

“Once a student is gone, they’re gone,” she says. “I’ve had parents crying at my door.”

Ryerson Security will respond if people complain of being harassed, but Spevack says it’s impossible to keep the Church of Christ off campus because many of its members are Ryerson students or faculty.

“We can’t kick people off the campus,” Spevack said.

RyeSAC has launched a poster campaign this week, aimed at warning students away from the Church of Christ.

Kate McBurney, a third-year graphics communications management student, says he was approached by a Church of Christ member recently near lake Devo.

“She was dressed totally normal, just in regular jeans, a blouse, totally like one of us,” said McBurney. “She was really, really friendly.”

Ann Whiteside, discrimination and harassment prevention officer, and these groups are always looking for new members.

“These groups get people off their tract,” she said. “The students change their original reason for going to school.”

Whiteside believes that international students are the most vulnerable, because they are the furthest away from home and they are looking for friendship and a place to fit in when they arrive in Canada.

RyeSAC recognizes five Christian groups on campus, with the Church of Christ not among them. A RyeSAC approved group would never approach a student in the hall and ask them to join a group, said Spevack.

Ryerson president Claude Lajeunesse said that he did not think Ryerson had a serious problem with aggressive religious groups.

“We make sure that security is alerted to the activities of cults on campus, and do whatever is needed to be done when that happens.”

Lajeunesse said he had never been approached by religious recruiters.

“Nobody has asked me to be part of anything,” Lajeunesse said. “I can tell you that I’m not part of any cult.”

The Toronto Church of Christ declined to comment, referring all questions to their lawyer, who was out of the country on vacation.

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