International Churches of Christ Introduction

Cultic Studies Review, Volume 2, Number 2, 2003

International Churches of Christ: Introduction

Carol Giambalvo

Director of Recovery Programs, AFF; Thought Reform Consultant


After providing historical background on the International Churches of Christ, troubling aspects of the group’s functioning are described, including its pyramidal structure, totalistic influence over members, isolation of members, and unhealthy personality changes. Although there are signs of positive reform within the group, it remains to be seen whether such reforms will change the abusive character of the group.

Let me start this workshop with a brief description and history of the International Churches of Christ, formerly known as the Boston Church of Christ Movement, aka Discipling Ministries, and formerly known as the Crossroads Church of Christ Movement. The International Churches of Christ should not be confused with the United Church of Christ or the mainline Church of Christ brotherhood, although the movement did grow out of that denomination. The movement actually has its roots in the ministry of Chuck Lucas, and it first became known as the Crossroads Movement, named after the Crossroads Church of Christ in Gainesville, Florida. It was there, in 1967, that Lucas, while working as a campus minister at the University of Florida, began employing what are known as shepherding, or discipling, techniques. Following Crossroads’ termination of Chuck Lucas in August 1985 for “recurring sins in his life,” the leadership of the movement was taken over by Kip McKean, who, while a student at the University of Florida, had been baptized in 1972 by Lucas and trained in the discipling methodology.

In November 2001, Kip McKean and his wife, Elena, stepped down from leadership in the movement, replaced by two leadership couples. The reason for Kip to take this “sabbatical” was to “enable the McKeans to address some serious shortcomings in their marriage and family.” Rumors have it that their daughter had “fallen away” from the church. One thing the McKeans made clear was that their leaving was a sabbatical—meaning it would be temporary.

However, on November 6, 2002, Kip McKean tendered his resignation from leadership. The movement quickly rallied a “Unity” Conference and issued a statement of Unity on November 15th. On February 2, 2003, however, Henry Kriete, a church leader in England, published a very critical letter describing the abuses and authoritarianism of the movement and calling for movement-wide changes, apologies, and repentance. This letter was quickly followed by a published apology by the movement’s mother church, the Los Angeles Church of Christ. This apology recognized: arrogance in its staff, weakening other churches by calling for people and money to be sent to the LA church, encouraging contributions through compulsion, authoritarian leadership and discipling techniques, improper teaching that they are the one (and only) true church, measuring spirituality of members by how many people they recruited, improper (and unbiblical) hierarchy of leadership, and abusive accountability to church rules and attendance. While these are definitely steps in the right direction, it remains to be seen whether such changes can take place in a movement sullied by abusive dynamics for so many years.

Hence, we remain concerned about the International Churches of Christ movement because the discipling techniques are well established in the hierarchy. Concerns about the movement emanate from observations indicating that the following have reflected the group’s functioning to a troubling degree:

The pyramidal structure of the movement: Kip McKean is self-appointed and not ordained, and he claims to have an exclusive view of the scriptures.

The nature of the group: It affects every area of the member’s life, including where to live and with whom, how to spend one’s time, whom to date, whom not to date, who one’s friends are, personal finances, the marriage relationship, how to discipline one’s children . . . and on and on.

The isolation of the group: Outside relationships and influences are discouraged and discredited so that individuals become dependent on the group for their only feedback. The group becomes the ultimate authority in all areas of members’ lives.

Phobia induction within the group: It has the Truth. No other religion has the truth, and if members leave this group, they are leaving God. Individuals begin to fear loss of their salvation and try even harder to do the work of the group.

The confession of sins/shortcomings: Members confess to their discipling partner, and often to the family group.

Unhealthy personality changes: These changes are documented in Dr. Flavil Yeakley’s book, The Discipling Dilemma.

Consistency with Lifton’s criteria: The group meets all eight of Lifton’s criteria for a thought-reform program: milieu control, mystical manipulation, the demand for purity, the cult of confession, the “sacred science”, loading the language, doctrine over person, and the dispensing of existence.”

As some of you may know, I’ve retired from doing intervention work. But for most of the years I’ve done interventions concerning the ICC movement, I’ve worked with Jeff Davis, who still does interventions. The last few years we worked together, we concentrated heavily on family preparation—implementing a family prep session before we even scheduled an intervention. We expected the entire family team and the intervention team to take part in the prep session, and we found that doing so enabled the intervention team to assess the assets of each member of the family team and better determine the roles they would be able to play during the intervention. This involvement also gave the family a much better idea of how an intervention worked and the seriousness of undertaking an intervention. It also better prepared them for the resistance they would meet from the group member.

I want to point out one particular family we worked with whose daughter was in another state, deeply involved in the ICC. One brother, a sister-in-law, and her two parents would be the family team. I’ve rarely encountered a family who worked harder to prepare themselves for the intervention. When the intervention team arrived to do the family prep, the mother handed every member of both teams a notebook. The notebook contained the following:

all the important documents from the ICC’s own site that we had asked the family to read;

chapters from Captive Hearts/Captive Minds and Cults In Our Midst that I had asked them to review;

the “Ethical Standards for Thought Reform Consultants”;

the critique of the movement’s pre-baptism studies, as well as the movement’s documentation on the studies; and

an article from the ICC movement’s magazine Upside Down entitled “Who’s Brainwashing Who,” and a response, with documentation, that I had written to the article.

It was clear from the very beginning of the prep that all family members had done their homework. Even the role-playing with ex-members went extremely well. Needless to say, the intervention was successful, and it really demonstrated how smoothly interventions can go with a family that puts so much time and effort into being prepared.

In my work with ex-members of the International Churches of Christ group at workshops, extensively by phone, and often in visits to my home from a few hours to a few days, I have found so much anguish. They are going through the usual things we see former members who have just left their group address in their recovery:

An intense identity crisis: Who am I?

Grief: losses of loved ones left in the group, loss of innocence, loss of belonging to something special, loss of their purpose or cause in life, sometimes loss of money or career goals, and sometimes loss of a marriage.

Varying symptoms of post traumatic stress: panic attacks, inability to make decisions, inability to concentrate, floating back and forth between the “cult self” and the current self.

A need to re-establish their healthy boundaries, and to gain trust in themselves and others.

But former members of this particular group also face some other issues:

Intense feelings of betrayal, sometimes even betrayal by God.

For walkaways, often a feeling that they can’t measure up and are insufficient.

A feeling of having been spiritually raped.

Fear that they will go back to their old, “sinful” nature.

Fear that they need to find another “right” church that is “on fire for the Lord.” Yet, when they attend other churches, they often are triggered and become scared they’ll never be right with God.

Thankfully, with patience, time, family support and love, and education, they do heal!

This material was originally prepared for a presentation at AFF’s annual conference, June 14-15, 2002, at the Crowne Plaza Hotel, Orlando (FL) Airport.