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University students report approaches from cult group: Campus workers

St Jude’s Carlton UniChurch assistant minister Sam Oldland. Picture: Elspeth Kernebone

Hannah Felsbourg

25 June 2024

A cult group has been targeting university students across Australia, spreading teachings that diverge from mainstream Christianity.   

Campus ministry workers report that Shincheonji Church of Jesus has been actively recruiting on university campuses, approaching people to bring them into the cult. 

Workers fear the cult will draw people away from Christianity. SCJ believe salvation is exclusive to members and is only obtained through good works.  

St Jude’s Carlton UniChurch assistant minister Sam Oldland said SCJ recruiters tried to infiltrate the church by attending services and inviting people to their Bible study groups. 

Several members of UniChurch found freedom from SCJ teaching and have shared their testimonies of leaving the cult to help others who might still be involved with the group.   

Mr Oldland said the SCJ recruiters visiting the church never revealed where they were from but ex-SCJ members in his congregation had identified them. 

He said SCJ drew people away from the true gospel, and many who left the cult abandoned Christianity entirely. 

Sam Oldland and Bryn Weightman explain more about Shincheonji and other cults.

University of Melbourne Christian Union worker Bryn Weightman said many students he worked with had been approached by the cult.  

He said SCJ recruiters used casual conversation to determine if someone was a Christian then invited them to meet the recruiter’s mentor.  

Many of the students were approached at Melbourne Central Station in the CBD or at South Lawn at the university, but quickly realised something was strange.

One student was approached by a stranger on a similar train line to them and had a lengthy conversation about various biblical topics. 

The stranger said the student reminded them of their mentor and suggested they all meet up together. 

The student sought advice from the Christian Union, asking if it was a cult, and they confirmed it sounded like SCJ tactics. 

Mr Weightman said other Australian Fellowship of Evangelical Students workers from across the country reported seeing SCJ activity on their campuses.  

Read more: Melbourne leaders warn cult targeting young adults

He said universities were a place where young people could explore who they were and what they wanted to do with their lives.  

This opened the way to share the hope and forgiveness of Jesus on campus, but also for cult groups to recruit.   

Mr Weightman said it was important for students to be aware of the differences between Christian organisations and cult groups operating on campuses.  

He said CU were looking for ways to differentiate themselves from cults and show that they were associated with the university. 

Mr Oldland advised Christians to be patient, consistent, and available to friends involved in SCJ, as the cult often isolated recruits from other communities to maintain control. 

He said SCJ recruiters cultivated manipulative friendships with young Christians to bind them to the group, making it harder for them to leave.  

Encouraging them to learn more about the cult and read the testimonies of ex-members was vital to empower them to see the red flags for themselves.  

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