The following behaviors have been listed by the University Religious Council at the University of Arizona as “red flags” regarding religious groups. A document containing these points was shared by a Facebook group for former members of Faith Christian Church in Tucson and its offshoots (of which Hope Christian Church is listed by the group as one)
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.
1: “Religious Stalking”:“Persistent unwanted door-knocks, phone calls, or hanging around your living space means people have crossed boundaries. You have the right to say ‘no’, and that should be respected”
Summary: As demonstrated on the page concerning “Code of Conduct Violations”, Hope Christian Church’s leaders regularly apply overbearing amounts of persistence in trying to win new members.
-See items 1 and 3 on the "Code of Conduct Violations" page.
2: “Invasiveness”: “Attempts to gain inappropriate personal, financial, sexual, and/or emotional information about/from you”
Summary: Hope’s entire discipleship model is based upon letting Hope leaders into one’s life on every level, not only by way of influence (See the page on “Front Groups and Campus Concerns”; the entry on “Micromanagement”) but by way of obtaining personal information, also.
-One editor was just beginning to share his testimony with certain people about having been molested as a child when he began college at ASU. Sharing this information with one of the leaders he met with regularly resulted in a meeting with Brian Smith, who he had never personally met directly before, at his house one weekend in which he was to share with Pastor Brian his story. Upon hearing that he had been molested, however, instead of expressing empathy or anything, Brian went directly to asking me about his sexual attractions, his first question being: “When you are in locker rooms with other boys in school, did you get erections looking at them?” It was incredibly uncomfortable, and he continued to apply pressure for information regarding the editor's sexuality and sexual history.
-This began to inform how Hope treated the above editor going forward, and his failure to "open enough" enough resulted in denial of membership. Basically, it seemed that Pastor Brian suspected the editor might be homosexual, and was therefore denied membership.
-The same editor later shared about his molestation with a select few people on his Facebook, including close high school friends and members of his Hope small group, hoping to offer hope and testimony through his ordeal (and also "opening up" as Hope had demanded). He was then contacted by the small group leader and told to remove the post. The editor told the leaders he didn’t feel it was inappropriate and that it was marked as only able to be seen by the small group and close friends. The conversation did not end until he agreed to finally delete the post.
-One editor remembers being told a number of times he needed to “get healing” from his past by having a sit down with campus ministers and having a detailed/graphic discussion about all of his past sexual encounters with women (prior to being a Christian). The editor was not comfortable with a such a discussion taking place, and thus declined. This was met with rebuke by the campus ministers, who began to treat him with a certain wariness afterwards as though he were less trustworthy.
-The same editor as above was also told to begin keeping a journal (a diary of sorts) of his deep thoughts and emotional states which he was to share with his “primary care” campus minister.
-Another editor had shared a bunch about the relationship she had recently come out of so Hope knew who her ex-boyfriend was, and that him and the girl he cheated on the editor with both played rugby at ASU and her club team. Hope leaders intensely pressured her for the weirdest details of this relationship. Instead of helping with the processing her emotions and giving real guidance, they wanted detailed descriptions of what sexual sins were committed in the two-year relationship, and how many times of each. No attempts to give her guidance emotionally, or from scripture were made. Hope seemed only concerned with “exposing” my past sins, and having the information "on file" so to speak. The editor also shared with them about the guy she ended up casually seeing out of loneliness for a bit, they played soccer together and she fell into some physical temptation for attention and comfort’s sake a few times. She remembers Hope leaders pressuring her hard on that too. She needed help from people on these issues, and yet Hope just wanted to know how many tallies to write under her name; to know how soiled she was. It felt terrible.
-Another contributor recalls a similar experience to the one above, where the information she shared with her Hope mentors was later used against her (to attack her character, and get her to question her judgment) while she was debating leaving Hope.
-One editor, on multiple occasions remembers that members and ministers would push her to give them personal information, usually about emotionally charged situations, and they would routinely push her past the point she was able to go. One Sunday after her best friend's mom (who was the editor's neighbour and essentially raised her) passed away the first question people asked was if she had been a Christian, when the editor said no, multiple people told her to forget about her friend's mom because she would never see her again, and she was in Hell now. They also chastized her for grieving, and told her she was letting her grief make her hysterical.
3: “Deception”: “Failure to clearly identify themselves. A religious group’s identity, affiliation, and advertising should be unambiguous, with beliefs and practices transparent. For example ‘surveys’, ‘contests’, should identify the organization and the full purpose of the contest/event.”
Summary: Hope embodies this through their use of front groups, as well as through many of their techniques in “discipling” members.
-See the post on the home page about Front Groups, and also the "Front Groups + Campus Concerns" page.
-One editor remembers, on multiple occasions a staff member would schedule a time to talk to him or call him and another staff member would be at the meeting or listening in on the call without notice or disclosure.
-One editor was curious how the church structure worked so she asked Pastor Brian how the church's religious leaders were structured and where he fit in and he refused to answer and another man told the editor that the information was classified and not for her.
4: “Pressure”: “Pressure to not date or associate with others outside the religious group; to lie and/or disengage from your family and/or religious community; or to avoid other campus activities and groups.”
Summary: As mentioned elsewhere, Hope embodies this characteristic by pressuring its members to not engage in other religious activities, or personal relationships, which do not directly involve Hope Christian Church or are not monitored by them.
-One editor was pressured to disengage from all Christian activities not specific to Hope Church.
-One contributor began dating another Christian while at Hope, and her Hope leaders vehemently opposed the relationship (and tried to get her to end it), and specifically stated it was because he did not go to Hope.
-Another contributor was pressured to cut off ties with one of her best friends because the friend was unwilling to convert and attend Hope. She was also rebuked harshly when she attended a social event with this friend that was hosted by the wife of a Rabbi. She was told she could not be a good Christian and maintain this friendship at the same time.
5: “Shame”: “Religious groups who say that if you don’t join their group, give money, or spend time with them, then you don’t really love God.”
Summary: When Hope leadership identifies something they are not pleased with in a members, the member is often publicly shamed in front of large groups. Certain criteria are also expected to be met by student members to “prove” or “demonstrate” that they are really “committed” or “sold out” for God and the church, including financial giving and time-commitment.
-When one editor brought some concerns about the Church to her Hope mentor, instead of the mentor trying to address them herself, she had the editor publicly meet with Pastor Brian after service one Sunday in front of other people. She asked him the questions she had previously posed to her mentor, and Brian was scarily stern. He explained that her mission did not align with that of Hope and that she therefore needed to find another church to attend. Essentially she was "kicked out" of the Hope community for bringing up small concerns.
-One contributor multiple times, was told by Hope ministers, in front of perhaps 15 other members, that he was doing a disservice to God by either missing a church event due to prior engagements, or by not disclosing deeply personal information (particularly about his past, or about his “feelings”) to Hope ministers.
-The same editor also had a meeting with a minister and roommate in his discipleship house, along with a member of the pastoral team where they discussed whether he should be removed from his discipleship house for poor grades the previous semester, and for “not being open enough” about his life with his roommates. For his failure on these two fronts, the editor was told to apologize to his family and his mentor for "being a bum".
-There were numerous occasions where one editor would bring something up with a campus minister in private during the week, and the minister would bring it forward in front of their small group to talk about, whether the editor had consented to this or not, and even if she had explicitly asked that the matter not be publicly talked about.
6: “Religious Manipulation”: “Methods which target vulnerable students. Methods which seek to break down, and then rebuild students. Instances of over the top niceness used as a form of entrapment”
Summary: Hope fully embodies this methodology, which is sometimes referred to by Hope leaders as “love-bombing”. Hope leaders intentionally seeks out students who are vulnerable or insecure, bombard them with affection (which is often, though not always, non-genuine) in order to gain their trust, and then get them to “open up” about their personal lives, followed up by the assertion (immediately or at some point down the road) that Hope Christian Church is the solution to their problems. Hope leaders will even “assign” members to be the “primary friend” to various “guests” if they see a particularly vulnerable student and think that a certain member would do well in getting them to the “opening up” stage.
-All of the editors of the report confirm being encourage by Hope leaders to:
-Bombard non-members with love in order to win their affection so they would become interested in Hope. This was always clearly understood as a persuasion method, and as being (at least partially) non-genuine.
-Get non-members to “open up” about their personal lives or traumatic experiences in their past, and then assert Hope Church as the solution to their problems. This again, was always clearly understood as a persuasion method.
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."