"In our estimation, the compiled facts and experiences contained within this report demonstrate beyond a reasonable doubt that Hope Christian Church often violates University policies, rules and regulations, applies emotional, psychological, and spiritual damage to students, and is more than just a Christian Church, but is in fact a bona fide religious cult. These experiences cover a range from 2005 (shortly after Hope was first established) up until the current year. The experiences catalogued over this 11-year period demonstrate a clear pattern of code of conduct violation, abuse of students, and cult practices. Each and every editor of this document, at some point in the last 11 years, approached Hope Christian Church leadership with his or her concerns, and for 11 years, the pattern has not yet changed. We are confident and have full faith that whatever response is forthcoming from the University, it will be the correct one to protect the well-being of ASU and its students." (pg. 119)
The above excerpt from a complaint submitted to ASU explains why former members came together to write the complaint, and where they hope it will go from here.
For former member Cameron Hernandez, his attitude toward church may never be the same. He attends a new church that he enjoys, but said he will never feel comfortable trusting church leadership again. He said he continues to feel guilty for leaving and speaking out against a place he once called home.
“You’ll be fine if you go to Hope Christian Church,” he said. “Just don’t ever become a leader. Don’t go to any event. Just go to church. Don’t accept their invitations to anything ... because the sole purpose of all that stuff is to get you to become an intern — eat the bait, so they can use the leverage against you.”
Former member Ashley Perea said she hopes Hope Church can recognize and take ownership of the fact they are hurting students rather than caring for them.
"They should not demand love or trust," she said. "It's supposed to be earned. Also for them to be accountable, they should not be taking advantage of students to build the church's kingdom on the ASU campus."
Former member Savannah Drake said she also hopes the church will recognize that it is hurting more people than it is helping.
Former member Jeff Phillips said he would like Hope Church and Senior Pastor Brian Smith to embrace a healthy model of discipleship that does not control, manipulate and abuse students at a vulnerable and impressionable stage of life.
"If Hope Church refuses to change and continues to abuse ASU students, I hope that the ASU administration will take appropriate steps to ensure their safety," Phillips said. "Until change is forthcoming or action is taken, our Facebook page exists to warn students and parents that abuse continues to occur in Hope Church and the other Faith Christian Church offshoots and to provide a place for the hurting to connect and experience healing in sharing their experiences."
Former member B.D.*said Hope Church leadership needs to allow people the freedom to follow God the way the spirit is leading them — not the way they decide is right for people. She also said the church must be more receptive to the feedback and concerns students bring to them.
"They (should) understand they have hurt people and apologize and work to rebuild relationships with people," she said. "Ultimately though, I think they need to shatter the church and let people go other places. There's too much deep deception there I think for it to be fixed."
Stephen Wicker said the ideal scenario would be that Hope Church leadership makes systemic changes in its ministry to weed out the manipulatory practices so that God might be fairly and faithfully represented at ASU.
Kolton Nelder said he wants Hope Church leadership to put more energy into caring for its current members than recruiting new ones.
"I want them to focus on the people and staying with them as a relationship-focused organization," Nelder said. "They should lighten up on recruitment techniques and put more energy into fostering the people that are there now."
ASU is still in the process of investigating the allegations against Hope in the complaint, and the Office of Student Rights and Responsibilities will make a ruling based on the information presented.
As for Hope, church leadership said they are looking forward to working with the University to resolve the issues and saddened that former members of the church have not had a positive experience.
*B.D. requested to be identified by her first and last initials because she did not want to be identified and contacted by members of Hope Church.
Investigating Hope: The Series
This article is one in a series of investigative pieces about a complaint filed with ASU regarding accusations against on-campus ministry Hope Church.