In the wake of the International Church of Christ’s recent ban from university property, Jenny Hunter (COL ’93) shared experiences from her 12 years with the organization in an effort to raise awareness about the dangers of predatory religious groups Tuesday night.

The event opened with remarks from Drew Bratcher, the Washingtonian Magazine reporter who wrote a feature about Hunter in 2008.

“The issue that we’re talking about tonight is not that devotion to a religious group is bad,” he said. “The issue is that the International Church of Christ makes claims in ways that emphasize devotion to their group over devotion to God.”

ERICA WONG FOR THE HOYA
ERICA WONG FOR THE HOYA

Hunter was a senior at Georgetown when a classmate first got her involved in the group. Although Hunter was uninterested at first, she attended a group dinner in a university-owned townhouse after much persistence from her friend.

After the dinner concluded, the group began to partake in a Bible study, facilitated by a man unaffiliated with the university. The friendliness of the group and Hunter’s desire to connect more with God attracted her to the group’s message and other programming.

“Within a week and a half, I was spending all of my waking hours studying the Bible with this group,” she said. “They always had these amazing speakers that would continually inspire you and pump you up.”

Hunter’s dedication to the group, which she now deems a cult, grew to the extent that she agreed to relocate to San Francisco with it two weeks after graduating from Georgetown, despite her family’s attempts to intervene.

“I got a lot of special attention. It felt really good at first,” she said. “It appealed to my ego.”

However, once Hunter was committed to the group, ICOC leaders controlled her living situation, implemented a curfew and selected a man for her to date.

“Everything in this group was manipulation,” she said. “Over the period of a year, we were manipulated to be together.”

Over their 12 years as members, Hunter and her husband ascended in church leadership and were soon responsible for recruiting and converting new members, including wealthy locals in the San Francisco Bay Area.

“I was never physically or sexually harmed, but psychologically, I was harmed greatly and I’m sad to say I psychologically harmed others,” she said.

The breaking point for Hunter occurred when her mother-in-law died. After traveling with her husband to the funeral, the two were publicly chastised for failing to convert the deceased to the ICOC.

“Basically, for four to six hours, as we are grieving this woman’s death, we’re being told that we are responsible for her burning in hell,” Hunter said.

After the incident, Hunter decided to leave the ICOC. It took over two years for her to move back with her family in the D.C. area and another two years before she felt fully healed from the emotional trauma.

Hunter has since developed a nonprofit Alliance for Cult Recovery and Education in hopes of protecting others from similar experiences.

“There are dangerous, predatory groups that are looking for targets,” she said. “I want my story to help someone avoid living my story.”

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2 Comments

  1. Thank you for speaking up and speaking out, Jenny. Your life experience does indeed have powerful insights that can empower the next generation. Georgetown must be so proud of you.

  2. Kathy Ellis says:

    Your story Jenny is my daughter Yvonne Ellis who grew up in Palo alto…went through family divorce as child..raised as Christian but recruited while at Cabrillo Community college invited to bible study by girls who clung to her etc.. and ucsc. to live in college cell groups they have there. Discipled by and Babysat for leaders family …husband selected.by icoc…except she is still stuck in icoc in anchorage called Greatlands iwhere they were sent to keep away from family as much as possible given well paid position as ministry with her husband Jeff San Juan and my two grandsons Caden and Isaac. They also went to the San Francisco church of Christ and the one in davis . how can I help ucsc Cabrillo other colleges be warned? Kathy

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