Safety on campus – presence of Shincheonji Church of Jesus (SCJ)

Some students at our Melbourne Campus have been approached by members of the Shincheonji Church of Jesus (SCJ) in an effort to recruit them to join their organisation. This group can be manipulative and coercive.

ACU is aware of similar approaches made to students on other campuses from other fringe or niche pseudo-religious groups. We encourage students to be vigilant about their own wellbeing and that of their fellow students.

SCJ is a Korean-based, pseudo-Christian group. Its name includes the words Church and Jesus, but it is not recognised by Australian authorities as a church, and its activities bear the hallmarks more of a cult than a religious organisation.

Followers recruit members by approaching students with a harmless-sounding request for directions, about doing a survey or going for a coffee. Initial approaches are often made in our campus libraries or cafes, often from someone who isn’t an ACU student, who then encourages them to attend activities away from campus, sometimes referred to as “bible studies” but without any details provided.

What appears to be an innocent outreach of friendship can become manipulative, drawing people away from their family, friends and trusted networks, developing into demands for huge commitments of time and even money.

ACU respects all people’s right to their beliefs and freedoms. While we always encourage people to explore their spirituality and religious beliefs, we are concerned about any organisation that seeks to coerce and control its members and is secretive about its existence and motivations.

Red flags to watch out for

Some red flags to watch out for include:

  • students being encouraged to drop their studies, and to spend less time with friends, family and networks, saying they are not important
  • someone insisting students prioritise their meetings or demanding they spend increasing time volunteering with the group
  • being told who to socialise with and form relationships with
  • asking students to give money to their organisation for “spiritual reasons”
  • feeling pressured that they can’t say no without being punished or shamed
  • being encouraged to be secretive and not tell their networks about how they are spending their time
  • teaching that SCJ is the only true church and that recruiting others into that group is a requirement of membership
  • concealing the identity of the organisation.

ACU advises students to act with caution to protect their physical and emotional safety from unwanted approaches, which includes being careful about revealing too much personal information.

Students do not have to take part in these activities. They might feel as if they don’t have a choice and are embarrassed to ask for help. We urge them to raise concerns or seek support from a member of staff if they or someone they know has been targeted and are not sure what to do.

Students may directly ask for help from staff in frontline positions, however we can all play a role in safeguarding security and wellbeing on our campuses. This means being aware of the presence of unwelcome visitors and activities on our campuses that may put our students at risk, asking questions and reminding our students where they can source safe spaces and support networks.

The following free and confidential services are available:

They can also contact the police force in their state or territory. In the case of an emergency, call 000.

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