The following indicators, which are embodied by Hope Christian Church ASU are listed by the non-profit organization “Families Against Cult-Teachings” as indicative of cult-groups, and people who are members of cult-groups.
NOTE: It is important to note that none of the behaviors epitomized by Hope Christian Church ASU here are considered “normal” for Christian ministries or faith-based groups to engage in. Any ideas such as “that is just how Church-groups operate” would be egregiously in error.
Dozens of experience reports were collected from former members which demonstrate these violations by Hope Christian Church ASU.
A: Indicators indicative of cult-groups
1: “No Tolerance for questions or critical inquiry”
Summary: This item is fully embodied by Hope Christian Church ASU, and differs “Dissent and Discussion Discouraged” (See the page on Steve Hassan’s “Releasing the Bonds”) in that, not only is dissenting opinion not tolerated in the Church, but even the process of advancing simple questions to learn more about the Church’s practices, or to try and ascertain their moral (or Biblical) correctness is strongly discouraged and stifled
-One editor recalls multiple instances where he attempted to bring questions about the church’s behaviors to staff members, and was accused of various sins, being “silly and stupid”, and “believing lies from the Devil” for having such concerns.
-Another contributor experienced similar behavior, including being told multiple times they were “rebelling against church authority”. During my last leadership meeting with two campus ministers where I officially resigned as a member of Hope, I was told something to the effect of: “We are sorry you feel that way. It looks like we weren’t the right church for you.” They completely turned the situation around on me again after I had clearly brought forward that as one of the issues about the ministry.
-One editor can recall two separate conversations with friends and former members who had brought questions about Hope to leadership, who made statements to the effect of: “They listened to what I had to say, and then completely dismissed my questions, without providing any answers, and closed the conversation.", and “He (a campus minister) told me: ‘Well, thanks for asking that, but we’re not going to talk about it anymore’”
-One editor recalls his roommate and him having a graduation party in which many members were invited and many of them RSVP’d, resulting in our parents buying a ton of food for everyone. However, nobody came to the event, and it turned out they flaked due to a meeting going longer than expected, while others simply just did not show up. When the editor expressed a need to at least mention this up to my small group members, his small group leader at the time (and current executive pastor at Hope), outright laughed at me and got upset, saying, “Well, (name), there was a meeting that day, and we went a few hours longer than expected. I’m sorry, but what do you want me to do?” I actually felt ashamed for being even mildly upset in the first place.
-One contributor recalls having learned of some differences between Christianity and a different religion from a friend who practiced that different religion. When she brought up, out of sheer curiosity, a question as to why the difference exists to a campus minister, the minister got upset and accused her of being unfaithful to God by talking to her non-Christian friend about her differing faith, and refused to answer any questions.
2: “There is no legitimate reason to leave, former followers are always wrong in leaving, negative or even evil”
Summary: Hope Christian Church ASU embodies this tendency in a number of ways, including categorizing members’ motives as wicked if they choose to visit another church, treating former members with avoidance and shunning, deliberately trying to keep members from leaving the church (by refusing to have the required official meeting), and slandering former members as being immature, morally deficient, or sub-par Christians
-One editor recalls telling a campus minister that he had visited another church, and being told that he “had a bad heart behind it (his desire to visit another church)”, and that he was “believing lies from the Devil” about Hope.
-The same contributor also recall multiple campus ministers from Hope on separate occasions bad-mouthing former members of the church. One former member was described as “turning his back on God” for leaving Hope.
-One editor remembers during an Invade mission trip running into some people from another local church who were stopping by. One of the Antioch members was a former member of Hope. Everyone in the editor's "evangelism team" who knew him was really kind to his face, but turned really bitter and began talking poorly about him once he left. This experience elevated the editor's fear of leaving Hope and being rejected and bad-mouthed by their friends.
-One contributor remembers a friend and former member describing the difficulty level of officially leaving Hope church, saying: “It was almost impossible to schedule a meeting with the leaders to leave the church. I waited for three weeks. It was like they were avoiding me so they wouldn’t have to talk about it."
- It took another editor six weeks to be able to schedule a meet with leadership to leave Hope, after having been canceled on several times. It was really frustrating, because the editor wanted to leave but had agreed to having this meeting with leaders when I became a member if I ever chose to leave. (A membership requirement of Hope is you must schedule a special meeting in order to be "released from membership" if you ever want to leave)
-Another contributor deliberately avoided telling his minister why the editor needed to meet with him when he decided to leave, because he knew that if the minister found out the editor was leaving he would attempt to talk the editor out of it or make him second-guess his rationality or decision making.
-One editor remembers telling a campus minister he was thinking about leaving Hope Church, and he was told, quote: “God called you to Hope for a reason. He wouldn’t have called you here in the first place if he didn’t want you here. You have to make sure you are obeying God.”
-Another contributor was told similar things by her campus minister. The minister told her that God wouldn’t call me into Hope only to call her out less than two years later, so she couldn't possibly be making the right choice.
3: “Former members often relate the same stories of abuse and reflect a similar pattern of grievances”
Summary: The testimonies which fed the report submitted to ASU, demonstrate clear patterns of behavior in Hope Christian Church ASU, which have remained unchanged for 11 years, despite concerns being repeatedly taken to Hope leadership.
-A survey of this site, the testimonials contained herein (Which date 2005-2016), and the testimonials included on this site which have been obtained from elsewhere on the internet contain common themes throughout, where former members often had strikingly similar experiences.
-The fact that this last statement is true is the reason one contributor left Hope. She spent almost six months believing the leaders' criticism of her character for wanting to leave. However, there was part of her that couldn’t fully believe this. She began to seek out members who had left during her time at Hope, and sat down and had discussions with nearly 20 people. After talking to several people, she began to notice several trends that she herself was experiencing. Hearing other people’s stories gave her the faith to believe in herself and her own rationality and realize the issues she saw within Hope were genuine.
4: “There are records, books, news articles, or television programs that document the abuses of the group/leader
Summary: There is a website and Facebook group dedicated to exposing the abuses of Faith Christian Church and its offshoots (including Hope Christian Church ASU), and multiple news sources, and scholarly publications categorizing the abuses of all of Hope’s parent and grandparent organizations (see the “Cult History” pages). News outlets have also previously taken interest in covering the Hope Christian Church.
The aforementioned website is at formerfccmembers.com
-Upon visiting the Former FCC members site, there is a page called "Survivor Stories", where if one uses "find on this page" and searches for Hope, they can find many more testimonies regarding Hope Church. Other places on this site make mention of Hope as well, as does the Facebook Page. Hope has been referenced in several of the news articles about Faith Christian Church in Tucson
-3 News stories are in progress currently about Hope.
-A story was once in progress by the AZ Republic which included dozens of interviews, but was never run.
5: “Followers feel that they can never be ‘good enough’”
Summary: Hope Christian Church creates this environment by initially lauding students with love and affection, making them crave validation from the Church (while also cutting off their social ties with non-members, discussed elsewhere), but then later on providing constant commentary on student’s character flaws and spiritual weaknesses, which they never really indicate have been resolved. This makes students feel like they need to continue chasing after approval from church leadership
-One contributor remembers feeling like he was never spiritually progressing while at Hope Christian Church. As soon as he would try to fix something the leadership had told him was wrong with him (character flaws, behavior tendencies, spiritual conditions, etc), there would immediately be a new problem which was presented by leadership. There was simply a never a positive outlook forthcoming on his spiritual development.
-One editor was barred from becoming a member for a couple years unless he agreed to seek out what they believed to be sufficient counselling due to his abusive father and having also been molested as a child. The reasoning for this was so that he become a “more productive member” of the church afterward. He could not afford the level of care Hope demanded of him, and in the meantime, people who had only been attending the church for a few days were being accepted in and paraded out to people in front of the church for their introductions. It put a significant stress on the editor at the time, leaving him feeling used.
-Another contributor was constantly told that she was immature or not ready for certain obligations because God had told the campus ministers this. God didn't tell the editor this.
-Likewise, another contributor was constantly rebuked for being “more immature” than anyone else around him. This however, was coupled with campus ministers lauding him with praise about his great potential and the skills he possessed in regard to the ministry, and yet his supposed immaturity, “rebellion” and “problems with authority” continued to hold him back in the eyes of the Church. This created a vicious cycle where he was constantly vying (unsuccessfully) to receive more validation from Church leadership which the editor imagines, is likely what they wanted
-Due to one editor's class schedule they weren't able to go to enough bible studies to become a member. When she asked why she had to fulfill a certain quota of Bible studies, even though she has been studying the bible essentially her entire life she was told that she had been studying the bible incorrectly. The editor was told that if she truly understood the bible she wouldn’t draw attention to herself by trying to "take on males roles" within the church and her life. Later on the fact that she refused to further discuss details about her past abusive encounters resulted in denial of official membership.
6: “The group/leader is always right”
Summary: See the page on Steve Hassan’s “Releasing the Bonds” item 1, and item 1 on this page.
7: “The group/leader is the exclusive means of knowing ‘truth’ or receiving validation”
Summary: Hope Christian Church embodies this indicator by regularly questioning, and actively doubting the faith of those who were Christians prior to involvement with Hope, and pressuring them to admit that they were not, and were in fact “counterfeits”. Hope also stressed that in order for college students to have a “healthy relationship with God” they must not only be a part of a church community, and “submitted” to its “spiritual authority”, but that this community must be one full of other college students. Being that Hope is the only Church in the area which focuses solely on ASU students, following this rhetoric gives Hope an (almost) exclusive status as the means of truth and validation.
-All the editors of the report (excluding parents and family) affirm that Hope Church regularly and actively doubts the faith of people who were previously Christians before having contact with Hope. It is an ingrained belief at Hope that many who claim to be Christians are actually “counterfeit Christians” and thus they are often quite persistent in trying to debunk student’s testimonies of Christian experience prior to becoming involved with Hope, so that one can have their "real" moment of salvation within the context of Hope's superior ministry and teaching.
-One editor would like to mention that this phenomenon manifested itself with particular intensity in her experience with Hope. She was coerced into a conversation with her campus minister “mentor”, along with one of the pastors at Hope and his wife, which ended with me in tears and a state of emotional collapse. During this very lengthy exchange, they essentially ganged up on her to convince her that I had never been a Christian, and tried to get her to disavow my former Christian experiences. She was told that, up until coming into contact with Hope, any previous faith or experience with God she had had was a lie. Not only was she not “saved” but she had essentially been a deceiver, a farce, for 13 years of her life.
-In addition, Hope ministers have members write out their Christians testimonies, and again, often try and drive them toward the conclusion that they were not Christians before having contact with Hope’s ministry. If a student is unyielding on this point, they will instead have them, in effect add an “extra” component to their testimony, where they emphasize the superiority of their Christian experience at Hope compared to any prior experience. All former members who edited the report affirm these facts.
-One contributor recalls various times in church sermons, as well as conversations with campus ministers, where the view that a Christian is completely powerless to have a “healthy relationship with God” not only without a Christian community (which is perhaps reasonable), but specifically “submission to spiritual authority” within a Church. As demonstrated elsewhere on the site, this term is not used in a Biblical way in terms of holding oneself accountable with HELP from leaders, but actually used to denote submission, in a literal sense, to the personal, often arbitrary authority of Church leaders throughout life.
-Another editor of this remembers hearing this same view mentioned above expanded to assert that Christians who are college students must be involved with Church community with other college students and graduates in order to have a healthy relationship with God. While there are other campus ministries at ASU, Hope is the only one who has service on campus, and the only one exclusively focused on "reaching" college students. From these statements it follows logically that Hope is given an (almost) exclusive status as the only viable means for ASU students to have a healthy relationship with God.
-All the former members who contributed to the report confirm that Hope often portrays themselves as being superior to other ministries, local in particular. Hope ministers often brag about Hope's statistics in terms of "leading people to the Lord", noting that their success rate in evangelism is well above the national average for campus ministries (Which is unsurprising considering that their sole focus is evangelism, and that they operate on America's largest University). In addition, when Hope members interact with members of other ministries on campus (particularly ones which have former Hope members), there is an uncomfortable sense of trying to end the conversation as quickly as possible, and the outside ministries are often condescended by Hope members afterwards.
-One contributor notes there is definitely an unhealthy trend within Hope where most of the individuals who go there became Christians through their ministry. This means that they do not have experience outside of Hope to understand what a truly healthy and loving community is like. For those who were Christians before coming to Hope, there are definitely a lot of hoops you have to jump through in order to “prove” that you are in fact Christian. The editor, though they didn't cave-in, received a lot of pressure from Hope leaders to deny their previous faith and affirm that they had only come to "true faith" through Hope.
-One editor recalls hearing campus ministers make very critical comments about other local ministries near ASU. In particular two come to mind, where Antioch Community Church was described as “not knowing how to do effective evangelism” and Campus Crusade was described as “not really preaching the Gospel”, and "Not really Christian"
-Another contributor remembers that Hope was very critical of her being involved with the work of other Christian ministries while also attending Hope. Her failure to devote all of her time and Christian focus to Hope’s ministry was viewed as selfish and unhealthy by church leadership, and she was pressured to cease such involvement with other Christian groups. This also contributed to Hope leaders views (which they espoused to her) that she was "not a real Christian"
-One editor, during his junior year, whilst deeply involved with Hope, met a leader from another church in the area who asked him if he wanted to do a Bible study with him (Looking back, the editor likes to think the minister from the other Church was trying to help him). The editor told his Hope mentors who he lived with about this, and they suggested not attending the Bible study because the other minister was not part of Hope, and he didn't want to start "growing in a different direction".
B: Indicators indicative of members of cult-groups
1: “Extreme obsessiveness regarding the group/leader resulting in the exclusion of almost any practical consideration”
Summary: Members of Hope Christian Church often embody this characteristic by having intense loyalty to the Church, even in the face of “red-flags” and concerns. In fact, being confronted with the issues within Hope often heightens its members loyalty and pride in the organization.
-One editor recalls a lengthy conversation with a friend and current member about some of the big issues within Hope (a lot of the ones discussed on this site), who emphatically said, quote: “I mean, I understand Hope has a lot of issues and isn't entirely healthy. But they are my family and I will be loyal to them no matter what.” The editor immediately had to close the discussion after this, because he realized any more discussion of Hope’s flaws could anger his friend.
-Another contributor recalls bringing up concerns about Hope with a friend, who said in effect: “The fact that people criticize us just proves we are doing the right thing”.
2: “Whenever the group/leader is criticized or questioned it is characterized as ‘persecution’”
Summary: Hope Christian Church often refers to criticism as “persecution”, even when this is not an accurate label.
-Since submitting this report, Hope pastors have tried to get one of our contributors in trouble at his workplace simply for aiding in the effort (his employer has not punished him) and have accused him of persecuting the Church, when all he did was offer a few critical words in our report.
-One contributor recalls, after a scathing editorial was written about the Respect Movement (which referenced its relationship to Hope) in the State Press, one of his closest friends and affiliates within Hope, who was also the Man Up student President, and a Hope campus minister, saying that the Respect Movement and Hope themselves were being persecuted by this article.
-Another editor remembers, after explaining to a campus minister that his parents wanted him to come home for the weekend instead of going to a Church event, in order to prepare for a test the coming Monday, the campus minister encouraging him to call his parents to try and persuade them against their position, and remembers how the campus minister began to pray against "persecution" from the editors parents.
3: “Uncharacteristically stilted and seemingly programmed conversation and mannerisms, cloning of the group/leader in personal behavior”
Summary: Hope Christian Church embodies this characteristic in the way that their staff members often have very programmed conversational tendencies, as though reading off a script (and in fact, Hope does provide scripts for their leaders to use in various situations with students). The use of “thought-terminating cliches” would also fall in this category, covered in item 6 on the page which cites Kathleen Taylor’s “Brainwashing: The Science of Thought Control”
● Seemingly programmed or “scripted” conversations:
-One contributor remembers a friend who used to work in the Church office (he’s no longer a member) telling him that Hope kept massive binders full of situational scripts for staff members. These were supposed to cover any conceivable situation that could arise with a student, and provide the staff member with a script to memorize for each of them.
-Before one editor had their final meeting with two Hope staff members regarding their decision to officially leave Hope, they were called by each of the staff members who would be present to ask about what they (the editor) would be bringing forward at the conversation. At the time it didn’t make sense to the editor, but it would make sense after their final conversation with the ministers. At the meeting, the two campus ministers had very robotic, measured, and scripted responses to what the editor was saying. It was very clear that they had talked before hand about how they were going to behave during our conversation, and how they were going to respond afterwards. Instead of it being a discussion like the editor was expecting it to be, it became the editor simply listing the reasons why they were leaving with explanations as to why they were important. After they finished their explanation, the ministers told the editor they were sorry they felt that way, it seemed like they weren't a good fit for Hope, and dismissed any responsibility for the issues mentioned. They would often pause and look at one another as if to say "your turn" in the conversation, and it was very clear these were near-scripted responses.
-Another editor remembers every time they met with their mentors they seemed so robotic and there was no originality to the conversations. The conversations felt superficial and it seemed like the Hope leaders only knew how to have “scripted” conversations. The robotic and too formal manner they would speak to the editor always felt like there was a hidden agenda which ultimately made the editor not be trusting of them. It would seem if the conversation didn’t go as planned or “according to script”, it would be quickly shut down.
4: “Dependency upon the group/leader for problem solving, solutions, and definitions without meaningful reflective thought. A seeming inability to think independently or analyze situations without group/leader involvement”
Summary: It is often extremely difficult for members of Hope Christian Church to make decisions without the oversight of their Hope leaders. In addition, members will often decide on a course of action which they are not actually comfortable with, but feel obligated to commit to because it’s what their Hope leaders want.
-All of the former members who edited the report recall extreme difficulty in making personal life decisions for themselves during their time at Hope. We all have experienced the phenomenon of feeling dependent upon our Hope leaders to help us make life decisions. In fact, this culture is cultivated by Hope, as staff members do not take kindly to any life decisions being made by students without first consulting Hope leadership
-Just to add a specific example, One editor recalls a text conversation with a friend and current member, who did not want to attend a Respect Movement event that night but planned on going anyway because her “Hope mentors” wanted her too. The editor made a joking remark, which he expected a humorous reaction to, saying: “So basically you’re not an autonomous adult who can make her own decisions? xD”. To this, his friend replied: “Yeah, pretty much!”. After further conversation, it was ascertained that she was being 100% serious.
5: “Hyperactivity centered on the group/leader agenda, which seems to supercede any personal goals or individual interests”
Summary: Not only does Hope Christian Church often apply pressure to students to drop their academic or career goals in favor of the Church’s agenda, students are often more than willing to do so because of the importance of Hope in their lives.
-See the "Campus Concerns" page, regarding academic and career goals.
-One editor recalls texting a friend who had told him that she had a lot of homework due that night, saying: “How is the homework coming?”. She responded: “I forgot I had ‘campus hours’ (service time with Hope) tonight-- no time for homework!”. When the editor asked if campus hours were worth the poor grades that would result from not doing her homework, the friend became indignant and defensive.
-Another contributor remembers there was an event happening one week, and he was asked if he could help out. He declined, noting that he had work during that time, and he was promptly told that he should consider asking for the time off so that he could assist with the event. The editor noted that he only worked part-time and it would be too short notice, and the leader still insisted he try to get the time off. Other similar instances occurred, be it with work or with homework, and if the editor declined, he was challenged and accused of not using my time wisely, or being selfish.
6: “Increasing isolation from family and old friends unless they demonstrate an interest in the group/leader”
Summary: Members of Hope Christian Church often wind up cutting ties with friends who are not interested in or a part of the Church, and many parents of current and former members have reported completely losing all relationship with their children due to the ingroup/outgroup biases intentionally employed by Hope Christian Church. As discussed elsewhere in the document, Hope actually encourages such severance of ties.
-An editor remembers having a moment where he realized he had not spoken (for some time) with any of the friends he had prior to involvement with Hope Church because they were not interested in Hope. He also, at this time, was very rarely in contact with his family and regularly referred to the Church as his family in conversation and his internal thought processes.
-Many parents of current and former members have reported losing all, or most of their relationship with their student sons and daughters because the students had been conditioned to view them in a negative light by the Church
-A former pastor at Hope has had many parents and family members come to him over the years who have lost all contact or relationship with their sons and daughters due to their involvement in Hope. One instance was particularly striking, where he had a mother sitting in his living room, weeping and exclaiming “I’ve lost my daughter.”
-Several editors recall being discouraged from seeking parental advice, because their parents were not strong enough Christians in the eyes of Hope.
7: “Former followers are at best considered negative or worse evil and under bad influences. They can not be trusted and personal contact is avoided
Summary: Former followers of Hope Christian Church are no longer considered “friends” by the membership, especially the leaders, and are shunned, and often bad-mouthed.
What Former Members are Saying
"...It is important for us to humble ourselves through this process, pray for God to move, and pray for God to reveal to Brian and Wendy the destruction they have sown through Hope. Pray for their eyes to be opened and for God to break them down to the point of true repentance."