A Tempe church that sprang from a controversial campus ministry in Tucson is under investigation by Arizona State University, accused of stalking, hazing and other misconduct.
Arizona State University’s year-long investigation into campus ministry Hope Church has resulted in the group being voted off the university’s Council of Religious Advisors.
The decision allows Hope Church to remain on campus, but it will have to pay for space at ASU’s Tempe campus.
The decision comes more than a month after ASU informed Hope Church that its probe showed it was in violation of the Arizona Board of Regent’s student code of conduct. Among the violations: stalking students, hazing and soliciting in dorm residences.
Former members of the church who filed the complaint that prompted the investigation alleged church leadership would enter dormitories to recruit new members and ask students to attend church events, sometimes without authorization.
Five student organizations that partner with Hope Church — Outlaw Comedy, Sun Devil Survivor, Man Up, Sun Devils Wear Prada and WOW Factor — all have been placed on probation for four years in connection with the investigation. The student organizations collected contact information from students who hoped to join the clubs and then turned over the information to Hope Church for recruitment.
Former members said leadership had a goal of meeting as many new students as possible within the first 72 hours of the freshmen class arriving on campus.
Council of Religious Advisors: ‘Difficult but necessary’ choice
Hope Church Executive Pastor Ricky Ruedaflores confirmed that Hope Church had been removed from the council.
“This is a sad day for CORA, and we are disappointed that the leadership of CORA held a vote on our membership over email without presenting any specific details to its members,” Ruedaflores said. “Several members of CORA have reached out to express their support and to question CORA’s effectiveness going forward.”
Tracy Rapp, president of the Council of Religious Advisors, described the move as “difficult.”
“But it was necessary given the findings of ASU’s investigation,” Rapp said. “CORA members look forward to continuing to support the religious and faith-based groups in the ASU community and to fostering a welcoming and enriching environment for students who seek religious opportunities while pursuing their education at ASU.”
Church leadership, student clubs reprimanded
In June, Hope Church leadership received a letter outlining the violations. The consequences being that church staff would not be allowed to apply for faculty associate status for a four-year period.
The university said in a statement that CORA members will still be able to use ASU facilities for free if they follow the set policy which has not been changed. Hope Church, however, will have to pay for such space.
The facility Hope Church used for services, Neeb Hall, has a daily rate of $3,704, which is $8 per seat as well as a $200 media fee, according to the classroom scheduling department at ASU.
The university said the five student organizations placed on probation are required to be transparent about their affiliation with Hope Church, including what information they collect about students.
“ASU is continuing to meet with these groups and is giving them a reasonable amount of time to comply with the conditions of their probation,” the university said. “The university will continue to monitor, oversee and work with these groups on a consistent basis.”
Former church members relieved
Stephen Wicker, a former member of Hope Church, was part of a group of students who filed the complaint against the church. He said he was pleased it resulted in action against the church.
“It’s unfortunate this had to happen, but CORA made the right choice,” Wicker said. “I’m hopeful this is enough to cause Hope’s leaders to discern the issues present and make a major reform in their ministry.”
Ashley Perea, a former church member, said ASU’s decision was long overdue.
She said when she joined Hope Church in 2005, as its first minister, she felt accepted. However, her positive experience began to change after a confrontation over failing to answer a phone call from the head pastor, she said.
Perea said eventually, she began to feel isolated and fearful that leadership would scold her if she spoke out.
In their complaint to ASU, other members reported similar experiences.
“All of us who went through this were not crazy,” Perea said. “All the stories sound the same. It had to take this long and even for a student that attends ASU to do this.”
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