AIO at heart of rumors

Fraternity's mission has made it the stuff of legends

The Daily Tar Heel/March 9, 2005
By Emily Steel

The first time Darrell Lucus ventured up to campus from his room in Hinton James Residence Hall, he immediately connected with a Christian community that would shape his memories of the University.

That community was Waymaker Christian Fellowship, an organization with a mission to deliver the Gospel of Jesus Christ and to nurture Christian leaders through evangelism, accountability and discipleship.

But as Lucus attended church, studied the Bible and developed significant relationships, political debates and ideological differences divided him from other members of the fellowship.

The 2000 UNC graduate, who now works in a warehouse outside of Charlotte, said his participation in Waymaker Christian Fellowship was a huge mistake.

"I finally said, the longer I stay in this, the closer I am to losing my humanity," he said.

Waymaker Christian Fellowship since has disbanded, but several campus ministries - including InterVarsity Christian Fellowship, Campus Christian Fellowship and Victory Campus Ministries - provide a similar outlet for Christian students.

Since leaving the University, Lucus has united with two self-proclaimed cult-movement experts from Minnesota and Louisiana who say such Christian organizations tainted their pasts and haunt their memories.

They are determined to expose "very dangerous campus cult" movements that the researchers say are infecting the livelihood of institutions of higher education throughout the country.

UNC's Alpha Iota Omega - the three-member Christian fraternity now embroiled in a lawsuit against the University - now stands as a target.

Drawing connections

Lucus has e-mailed several media outlets and created a Web log to uncover what he describes as strong connections between AIO and Maranatha Christian Church, an organization that disbanded in the late 1980s in the wake of widespread criticism for cult-like practices.

"I don't want to let them get away with it," Lucus said.

Lucus' blog linked him with William Mackenstadt, 48, a student at the University of Minnesota-Twin Cities, and Bridget Jacobs, 41, who works at the University of Louisiana at Lafayette.

Both Mackenstadt and Jacobs also have spent several years attempting to pinpoint any connections between Maranatha and other groups. The trio claims that several campus ministries and organizations throughout the country, such as AIO, are fronts for Maranatha.

Mackenstadt, a former member of Maranatha Campus Ministries, has committed the last five years of his life to studying cult movements. He has sent 1-inch stacks of material to dozens of publications, religious organizations and higher education officials, including Chancellor James Moeser.

"Hardly anybody has responded," Mackenstadt said. "We see a very, very large movement that has been kept under wraps for many years."

Several reports from the 1980s labeled the evangelical organization a cult. They state that Maranatha, especially through its campus ministries, used authoritarianism and mind control to recruit, then trap, college students to the ministry.

"(The founder's) exotic blend of Bible-thumping, born-again Christianity and conservative politics is drawing criticism from an increasing number of angry parents, Maranatha dropouts and other religious leaders," reads an article that ran in The Wall Street Journal on Aug. 16, 1985.

"They complain that Maranatha uses a form of mind control that isolated students from their parents and then guides decisions on such personal matters as career choices, politics and marriage."

Criticism of the organization continued to escalate until Maranatha disbanded in 1989.

But Mackenstadt claims that its leaders then hid under the cover of organizations - like Morning Star International and Victory Campus Ministries - to permeate campuses with manipulative practices.

"I fully admit that the AIO members probably are members and probably just don't know what they have gotten themselves into," he said. "The leaders don't want the followers to know their past. & That is why they focus on college students."

Fragile links

But AIO members said the foundation of such arguments is built on loose ground.

"I have never heard that before," said Jonathan Park, vice president of the fraternity. "If I felt like there was a hint of that in this organization, I wouldn't have even joined."

Rick Ross said he is following the fraternity's story from the New Jersey institute that bears his name - an organization dedicated to the study of destructive cults, controversial groups and movements. It appears that AIO's founders could have ties to Maranatha, he said.

Mackenstadt highlights a connection between students' involvement with the fraternity and Victory Campus Ministries, an outreach effort of the Durham-based Kings Park International Church, founded by a former Maranatha member.

The ministry has branches at Duke University, N.C. Central University, N.C. State University and UNC-Chapel Hill.

Reggie Roberson, campus director at Duke and NCCU, and Charles Kiefer, campus director at UNC-CH, both were founding members of AIO. Roberson now serves as chairman of the fraternity's board.

The fraternity's national board, Alpha Iota Omega Christian Fraternity Inc., is incorporated in Durham under Roberson's name.

Ron Lewis, founding pastor of Kings Park, is the key link to the fraternity, Lucus, Mackenstadt and Jacobs said. The 1982 UNC graduate had ties to Maranatha before it disbanded in the late 1980s for what he called "controlling practices" that were "not the most healthy."

Lewis has since incorporated Maranatha Campus Ministries International Inc., according to documents filed with the N.C. Secretary of State's office. The church's name last was changed in 1997 to King's Park International.

Two members of AIO, Trevor Hamm and Carlon Myrick, worship at King's Park and participate in Victory Campus Ministries. Some fraternity alumni also attend services at the church.

"Here is the connection, but it is not that great of a connection," Lewis said. "We had zero involvement."

Lewis said that while he knows some of the fraternity members, he hasn't had a hand in Alpha Iota Omega's developments.

AIO members scoff at the mention of such affiliations, noting that most of them were in grade school when Maranatha was practicing.

"Part of the reason why some of these rumors, why I feel like they are substantiated, is because they don't know about the history of the fraternity," said Tremayne Manson, president of the AIO's board of directors. "When you look at a cult, and if you look at our organization, how can you possibly think that?"

A small army

During the summer of 1998, three UNC students prayed, asking God for direction in establishing UNC's first Christian fraternity.

Seven months later, Alpha Iota Omega emerged with nine men - including David Cooke, Mr. UNC 1999; '99-2000 BSM President Christopher Faison; and UNC football standout Steven Fisher - comprising the founding pledge class.

"Although we weren't getting the same kind of press that we are now, a lot of people knew who we were," Manson said. "That kind of level of influence and broad appearance on campus has kind of faded & But you never know what the next pledge class is going to bring in."

The fraternity seeks to serve members of Greek organizations through evangelism and mentoring in university communities.

Requirements for membership include: participation in a campus ministry, a 2.5 grade point average, involvement in a campus group that is not ministry focused, attendance at any Christian church and a commitment to live by the Christian faith, Manson said. Members commit about 5 hours a week to AIO.

Since its establishment, AIO has initiated about 40 men, many of whom have continued on to law school, ministry and business.

The fraternity, which has a chapter at N.C. Central and is affiliated with Alpha Epsilon Omega Christian sorority, is looking to expand to other universities in the southeast.

The fraternity has dwindled to three members this year - a chapter of AIO's story marked by the contentious lawsuit filed against the University in federal court.

The fraternity's official recognition, which was revoked when members refused to sign the University's nondiscrimination policy in December 2003, was temporarily reinstated last week.

But members say it is too late to recruit a new pledge class this year.

With Hamm, the president of AIO, graduating this spring, Myrick and Park will continue to uphold the founders' mission at UNC.

"We are just trying to establish a place for ourselves, not to be separate from our community but to be a part of it," Park said.

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