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Evangelical association reviews complaints against church group

By Stephanie Zimmermann Daily herald Staff Writer

The Carol Stream-based National Association of Evangelicals is inves­tigating complaints that the parent organization of a new Glen Ellyn church engages in “authoritarian” methods aimed at “mind control.”

The Rev. Billy Melvin, NAE exec­utive director, said his organization is withholding approval of a mem­bership application by Great Com­mission International, which oper­ates 80 to 90 churches nationwide.

Melvin said Great Commission In­ternational was accepted into the NAE in 1987, but several complaints about the organization’s methods have put its re-application on hold.

“There were questions raised,” he said. “It’s an authoritarian-type sys­tem.” He said the complaints con­cern “an undue authority or control over minds.”

The complaints, leveled by former members and “institutions,” including religious groups, do not directly involve Grace Community Church, a Great Commission affiliate founded a few weeks ago in Glen Ellyn, he said.

Pastor Dan Goering who co-­founded Grace Community Church, defended church leaders’ methods, saying their approach “is really pretty common down the line with many churches.”

While Goering said Great Com­mission church leaders “probably tended to direct a little” in the early 1970s when the church was formed on college campuses, those methods have been “mellowed.” Steve Huhta, director publications at Great Commission International’s Mary­land office, said the organization reigned-in some local groups in 1985.

“We make no apologies,” Goering said. “I really wish (the complaints) would get looked into.”

Melvin would not elaborate on what practices constitute “mind-con­trol” methods or how many complaints his group has received.

If the organization is dropped from NAE it will lose the credibility afforded by NAE, an organization of 50,000 local congregations from 79 denominations.

Some former members of Great Commission-affiliated churches say the services employ subtle control techniques designed to keep church members humble and afraid to hear opposing ideas. Great Commission pastors say the criticism comes because of their success.

In addition to questions raised by NAE administrators, Wheaton Col­lege also this fall apparently took action against a part-time professor alter students complained about his membership in Grace Community Church, which was brought together with a telemarketing campaign in­volving 20,000 phone calls to Whea­ton-area citizens.

About 100 people attended the first service, held at Seventh Day Adventist Church in Glen Ellyn.

Part-time professor Aaron Vigil left the school “after it was mutually agreed to sever the relationship,” said Patricia Swindle, Wheaton Col­lege news coordinator. Officials would not elaborate on Vigil’s con­nection to the church.

Vigil confirmed his leaving the college was related to his involve­ment with Great Commission Inter­national, but defends the group’s methods.

“With any organization or group, you’re going to get people who are disenchanted,” Vigil said. “I think it’s all a big misunderstanding.”

J. Keesey Hayward, a former Wheaton College graduate student and Great Commission churchgoer who works at Christianity Today magazine, said the group’s doctrine is conventional, but its methods are “control-oriented.”

Hayward, who was not involved with Grace Community Church, joined Great Commission churches in Columbia, S.C., and Montgomery County, Md., for about two years be­tween 1983 and 1986. The beginning of his break with the church came when church leaders told the congre­gation to campaign for local politi­cal candidates.

“I brought up some objections and they tried to explain to me that I wasn’t doing my job as a Christian,” he said.

Hayward said church leaders, through a program of “spiritual elitism,” convinced members that their church was God’s only tool to reach the unsaved. Members became dependent on pastors to make personal decisions for them, he said.

Goering said there’s nothing wrong with believing your church is in a spiritual spotlight.

“I know many leaders of groups that would say the same thing. And they should say the same thing,” he said.

“(Great Commission detractors) continue to take it upon themselves to try to damage us,” Goering said. “It’s kind of sad.”

Daily Herald, November 11th, 1988