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Arizona State University accuses Tucson-founded church of hazing, stalking students

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PHOENIX — A church founded in Tucson is being investigated after Arizona State University officials accused it of hazing, stalking and other misconduct on campus.

The investigation was first made public in December by the State Press. According to the newspaper, ASU is looking into seven disciplinary charges against the Hope Christian Church. Five clubs related to the church are also being investigated.

The allegations include hazing — described as “acts of mental harm, personal degradation and embarrassment” — stalking, unauthorized entry to student housing, unauthorized use of student information, and discrimination based on gender or sexual orientation.

The investigation began after 14 people submitted a more than 120-page complaint to ASU about the church in July. Misconduct proceedings began in November.

The complaint alleges the church is a “bona fide cult” that uses student groups to solicit new members. It also said that once students shared contact information with the church, they were bombarded with text messages that were “harassing and intimidating.”

According to the Arizona Daily Star, the complaint also contained allegations that church members solicited new members in dormitories — which is not permitted per ASU rules — on multiple occasions and that some church members were forced into unveiling their sexual histories.

An ASU senior who attended Hope from 2014 to 2016 said she came to regret telling a campus minister she’d been sexually assaulted during freshman year. The minister and three other staffers later pressured her for details of her “relational sins,” including the sexual assault, the student wrote in the recent complaint to ASU.

“I was forced to relive the experience in a space I was highly uncomfortable in with people I did not want to be talking to,” she wrote. The exchange took place in a hotel room during a church trip, she wrote.

Hope advisory board member Gary Kinnaman — a former megachurch pastor who runs a religious consulting firm — said he and others had worked with the church to create a more welcoming atmosphere.

“Has Hope been controlling? Yes. Extremely controlling? Perhaps in some cases,” Kinnaman told the Star, adding that church leaders made recommended changes.

Church officials deny any wrongdoing and told the Star they are cooperating with the investigation.

“We’re confident that ASU will be able to determine which student complaints, if any, need to be addressed and which complaints are simply an attempt from outside detractors to promote religious discrimination and intolerance through bullying and hate speech,” he said.

Vale, along with other church leaders, said the allegations stem from a former employee who posted on social media.

The accusers said the complaint was already in the works when the former employee’s post was spotted.

In addition to the allegations, public records showed the church received thousands of dollars worth of taxpayer-funded rent. The church was allegedly asking student clubs — which can book campus facilities at no cost — to rent space for services.

The church has recorded annual revenues north of $1 million.

Hope was originally founded in Tucson as a satellite of the Faith Christian Church, which has also been the subject of cult accusations and was later censured.

The Tempe church is led by one of the Tucson founders, though the branches had a falling out nearly 10 years ago and have not been in contact since.

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