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'I think I was brainwashed'
Religious group criticized as cult-like is at KSU

By MICHELLE M. BELL

Stater Staff Writer

A religious organization that has been criticized at other universities for using cult tactics has set up a chapter here and has registered as a student group under the Student Life Office.

The KSU Bible Studies is associated with the New Covenant Christian Church, which has chapters throughout the country. At Ohio State University, the OSU Bible Studies group has been recently attacked by some for brainwashing members and discriminating against gays. Similar criticisms have occurred at Iowa State.

The New Covenant Christian Church used to be called Solid Rock Fellowship until recently.

Anita M. Gilbert, a 30-year-old former Solid Rock member at OSU, accuses the group of having been too people-centered. "They weren't emphasizing Jesus Christ, but rather the members and doctrines of the group.

"I think I was brainwashed somewhat by the group. I was afraid to be different. They make you feet guilty if you question them," she said. "They believe they have all the answers. They know how to make you feel inadequate, like you're the only one that doesn't measure up."

Mike Neutzling, a registered nurse at University Hospital in Columbus, said he's still unlearning all the beliefs that were "subtly spoon fed" him during his five years with the group at OSU.

"They may not be as flagrant as the Moonies or the Children of God, but they do have many things in common with a cult," he said.

There have not yet been any complaints about the KSU Bible Studies group, Student Life officials said.

KSU Bible Studies has been a registered student group here since Oct. 13. Its purpose, as registered with Student Life, is "to glorify God the Father and his son, the Lord Jesus Christ, and the Holy Spirit, through love for God and others, worship, witnessing, bible teaching and study, prayer and discipleship. The primary emphasis shall be developing a love relationship with Jesus Christ, close personal relationships with others, and Christian leadership training."

Bob Bryden, the leader of KSU Bible Studies, came to Kent as a representative from the New Covenant Christian Church in Columbus. Before coming here, Bryden was involved with OSU Bible Studies.

Bryden said the group was established here to teach Christians about the Bible, to give them an opportunity to fellowship with other Christians and to share with others their strong love for God. "We don't pressure anyone to do anything they don't want to," he said.

"How an individual participates within the group is up to the individual. Some members only come on the nights we play racquetball - that's their choice."

But Gilbert said it just "turned her stomach" at OSU when she found the way to success in the group was to copy one of the chosen leaders of the group. "It just takes away your identity and you lose sight of who Christ really is because you're too busy immitating and studying other people."

Gilbert said she joined the group even though she had suspicions because she was a new Christian and felt she needed Christian fellowship and guidance.

"They subtly make you believe, over a period of time, that they and the groups associated with them are the only Christians who are pleasing God, and therefore the only solution."

Gilbert said she was a school teacher when she started in the group, but was encouraged to quit teaching and take a part-time job so that she could devote more time to the group.

Gilbert did quit teaching. She took a part-time job and moved into group housing with other members of Solid Rock. She spent the majority of her time there washing clothes, cooking and evangelizing.

Gilbert said she did things during her time with Solid Rock that she didn't want to, but that the pressure was just too great. She said if you didn't live up to their goals you were verbally and mentally abused.

Gilbert said she realized she had to leave when she began to see that the group's teachings of the Bible were slanted. "They destroy the true beauty of the Gospel - that God loses you and accepts you as you are.

"I didn't want to leave - I wanted to help those around me. I saw so much sorrow - so many people that felt they were failures," Gilbert said.

She said she went to the leaders of the group in an attempt to show them they could be hurting some members by pressuring them through fear and guilt.

At first, leaders acted receptive to her suggestions, but later reacted very negatively to her.

"They told me I had never been teachable, that I was a big failure and they were scared for my life. They said, 'For you to leave now would be like leaving a sinking ship. You're being very selfish. If you leave us you are leaving God.' " Gilbert said.

She said the leaders claimed they were the only group who could reach the world because they were the only ones following God's true plan.

"They really feel they are doing the right things. They do show people the way to Christ, and that's good. It's when they draw them into the group that it becomes harmful," she said.

Gilbert left Solid Rock Fellowship in 1981. She works as a secretary for OSU. She still considers herself a Christian, she said, but finds it difficult to actively commit herself to a church.

Former member Neutzling, meanwhile, is busy unlearning some of the group's beliefs. He was a member from 1976 to 1981.

"Sometimes I forget all about my time with the group, then all of a sudden an idea hits me and I have to stop and think, 'Where in the world did I get an idea like that?' Then I realize it's some belief that was fed to me at Solid Rock," Neutzling said.

Neutzling said he still has a few reservations when it comes to dating because of a doctrine he was taught while with the group. He said the leaders pointed out a verse in Proverbs that reads: "Do not give your strength to women," and told him dating was wrong.

Neutzling said he went along with this doctrine because he was taught that to question the leaders was to question God.

Neutzling said he was considered good leadership material by the leaders and that they put him in a leadership training class, until he broke the doctrine.

"When I started to date a girl outside of the group they bombarded me with guilt trips that I wasn't giving all, that I was holding back, then they dropped me from the leadership program," Neutzling said.

Neutzling said the group takes advantage of the vulnerability of young college students who are looking for something to devote their lives to. They sell their group as the legitimate way to serve Christ, he said.

Jeff Koester, a current OSU member, and Julie Lucieer, a KSU Bible Studies member, both said they had never felt any pressure within the group to do anything they did not want to.

Lucieer said she had never heard of any problem concerning the OSU group. "It's probably just a rumor. The Brydens are very nice people and the group provides a good atmosphere for Christians," she said.

Koester said he has been a member of the group about a year and feels it has had a very positive effect on his life.

Koester attributes ex-member's criticism of the church to guilt feelings over their own inadequacies. "The church is so strong and so eager it probably really intensifies their guilt."

Larry Pyle [sic: Pile], a member of the Solid Rock Fellowship from 1971 to 1977, said he would not call the group a cult even though he thinks members could have been pressured in an unhealthy way.

Pyle said some members he knew while in the group had nervous breakdowns as a result of the pressure, while others completely turned their backs on religion.

Pyle said while he was a member, differences of opinion were not tolerated. "If you had differing opinions you had three choices, you could suppress your opinions, leave the group, or express them and run into problems with the leaders."

Pyle said he would call the doctrine of the church conservative Methodist or Baptist. He said evangelism helped the church, but admitted the emphasis placed on conforming behavior was too strong. "Only a certain kind of person could deal with that kind of intensity," he said.



(The KSU Bible Studies group distributed the flyer shown above soon after starting a chapter here in October. A related group at Ohio State, the OSU Bible Studies, has been criticized by some as using cult methods and discriminating against gays.)

Daily Kent Stater, December 3rd, 1982