News & Politics

University of Arizona Investigates Allegations That a Campus Church Group Is an ‘Insidious’ Cult

Faith Christian Church has been accused by ex-members of public shaming and financial coercion.

The University of Arizona has opened up an investigation into an on-campus church after former members and staffers have come forward accusing the church of being a cult, according to Arizona Daily Star.

Faith Christian Church, which rose out of the ashes of former Tucson chapter of Maranatha Christian Church,  has been operating on the UA campus since its founding in 1990.

In an investigation led by the Star, former members and staffers accused the church of hitting infants with cardboard tubes to encourage submission, using financial coercion to hold onto members, compelling alienation from parents, and public shaming of members, including shunning former members who leave the church or question its leadership.

Former members claim they suffer from panic attacks, depression, anxiety, and other symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder after escaping the clutches of the church.

Faith Christian is led by founder and head pastor, Stephen M. Hall, a self-professed former criminal who boasts of being busted for running a marijuana farm as well as working as an enforcer for a Florida drug lord. Hall has not responded to a list of questions submitted by the Star.

According to critics, the church actively recruits young vulnerable students, “love-bombing” them to break down their defenses.

“They shower you with attention and they’re super nice. They became my instant friends,” said Rachel Mullis, 38, who was a member of the church for 10 years and was approached on her first day at the college. “If they came right out and told you from the start that it’s a cult, you’d never get involved. They make it seem really amazing at first, then they hook you in little by little.”

Ex-member Scott Moore, 32, who graduated from UA in 2005, called their methods “insidious,” saying the church leaders’ criticism and authoritarianism kept him in a state of near-constant anxiety.

Los Angeles resident Kathy Sullivan contacted UA administrators after her son told her he wanted to abandon his planned career after graduation and become a campus minister for Faith Christian.

“They get their members to believe that any questioning, any scrutiny, it’s the devil,” Sullivan said. “I want to get my son out of there. I want to do whatever I can to prevent other families from letting their children get in a situation like this.”

According to university administrators, they were unaware of problems within the church until confronted with information gathered by the Daily Star. The school claims they only respond to formal complaints and don’t monitor the church’s activities. Former members say filing complaints was difficult with the church tightening its grip on students, even after graduation. Additionally the university is hindered by Arizona law that requires all state agencies to “neither inhibit nor promote religion.”

Faith Christian encourages some members to become “campus ministers”  after graduation, recruiting other UA students into the church. Campus ministers stand outside of dorms on move-in day offering help, or approach students claiming to be taking a survey with a promise of a chance to win a bicycle or other prize.

One former member says he is coming forward now, hoping that his kids don’t some day fall into the same trap that he calls “Traumatic.”

According to Lawrence Alfred, 38, the church robbed him of his freedom slowly over a period of time, penalizing him with a ritual called “casting the demons out” for small infractions, including spending too much time alone.

“You don’t know yourself at the end,” says Alfred, who left after nine years. “You don’t know you’re in a cult until you leave. Pretty soon, you’re at the point where you can’t make any decisions.”

“I’m doing this for my kids,” he says of his decision to go public. “If they go off to college, I don’t want them to fall into the same trap.”