In November 1991, Chris Lee, then a sophomore at MIT, was invited by a friend in his orchestra to join a Bible study group. Looking for spiritual fulfillment at the time, he agreed. “I thought when I first joined, it would just be a Sunday morning service,” he recalls.
Little by little, though, Lee gave over his life to the BCC. Working towards a double major in two fields of engineering, Lee frequently pulled all-nighters and once skipped a Friday night BCC dance event in order to catch up on his sleep. The following day, a couple of members dropped by to express their concern. “They told me I was selfish, that I didn’t want to encourage my brothers and sisters in Christ,” he says. Lee capitulated and promised not to miss any more events.
Identified as a successful recruiter and leader, he soon moved up in the church hierarchy, eventually leading Bible talks of his own and spending 12 to 15 hours a week on church activities. By his senior year, his days became a whirlwind of working in the lab, going to Bible study, writing his thesis and sleeping for a couple of hours. “My family saw me plummet in terms of grades,” Lee says of his fall from straight A’s to failing marks.
Lee thought he could make the BCC better. “When I became a leader,” he remembers, “I saw some things that needed improvement.” He decided to collect all of his thoughts in writing, and spent about 150 hours brainstorming, composing and revising an 11-page paper. Among the points he outlined was his observation that BCC leaders were “basically good salesmen.” He noted that the church always chose charming, eloquent and outgoing members to be leaders, rather than those who were firm and listened well. Also, Lee criticized the church for making its main focus evangelizing—recruiting—rather than caring for the spiritual well-being of current members. Lastly, Lee disapproved of the BCC only giving lip service to academics and not truly allowing students time to focus on school. Lee recalls an older church member once asking him the startling question, “What’s more important, your salvation or your academics?”
“This is a big no-no,” Lee says of his bold suggestions. “[BCC leaders] think they’re perfect.” His efforts were fruitless.
In 1993 Lee made another daring move when he brought together BCC members and Christian students from MIT for what he calls a “reconciliation meeting.” Confessing that he “never bought into the BCC belief that they’re the only true church,” Lee hoped that the two sides could engage in a thoughtful discussion on religion. The meeting did not prove to be as productive as he had hoped, but the repercussions of the meeting were even more harmful. Church leaders found out about the meeting. Taking into account his disruptive actions and his recent failure to attend services (“I was getting sick all the time,” he says), the BCC asked Lee to leave in August 1993. They labeled him a bad example, telling him, “You are causing people to stumble.”
Lee left the BCC in disbelief. A friend noticed his confusion and consoled the distraught Lee with words of wisdom. “You’ve left a bad church,” Lee’s friend explained. “You haven’t left God.”
During the following months, Lee spoke with other former members and came to understand the subtle manipulation—conscious or not—that the church practiced. He recalls how one particularly short Bible study leader was told to better control her group—while everyone else was to sit on the floor, she was told to stand in order to garner more authority and respect, and she was instructed to dress better than the others in her group. During overnight conventions, church members were allotted little time to sleep in order to keep them from being rational, causing them to obey instructions without protest. It is difficult to be objective in a high-pressure environment, Lee says. He points to the BCC’s use of mob tactics: “A group of people talk to you and tell you you’re wrong,” he says, or a leader tells 10 different people to phone a member, in order for the leader to avoid accusations of harassment. Recruiters are just as sly, inviting outsiders to play volleyball with the purpose of surreptitiously gauging their interest in spiritual matters. Lee says he also came to recognize that Bible studies are centered on instruction, rather than discussion. And invitations to recruits translated into “we want to sit down with you and show you our interpretation of the Bible.”
Lee estimates that he donated about $1,000 of his own money to the church each year. As for the leaders themselves, Lee says that the church, originally concerned with the power of love, has became one obsessed with the love of power—especially at the highest echelon of BCC officials. “At that level, it’s no longer about God,” Lee says. “It’s about personality. It’s conducted very much like a business.”
“I thought I was making my own decisions,” Lee recalls of his days as a BCC member. “But what you don’t know actually hurts you. They never give you the full scoop. They show it to you little by little.
“When I was in,” he continues, “I never thought it was a cult. I didn’t realize that my options were being cut down, but they were limiting my decisions in a lot of ways.” Much of this limitation occurred through discipling, he says. “It’s presented as advice, but advice is really a code word for ‘you should do this.’”
Lee started working for REVEAL, an organization for former members of the BCC, in 1995. Today he serves on its board of directors and leads support groups in the Boston area while attending the Gordon-Conwell Seminary. Lee maintains that the BCC is a cult. “I’m very glad that I was asked to leave,” he says.