OUSA have formally disaffiliated a controversial religious group, labelled by many as a cult, after “bringing OUSA into disrepute, ignoring OUSA directives and breaching the [association’s] constitution”.
Elohim Bible Academy are a subgroup of the World Mission Society Church of God (WMSCOG) and base their Dunedin operations out of the Roslyn Presbyterian Church in Highgate.
They commonly attempt to recruit new members by door knocking, especially in the North Dunedin area, spreading the message of a South Korean man born in 1964 named Ahn Sahng-Hong who they claim is the second coming of Jesus Christ.
Criticism has been directed at them for their ‘forceful’ nature when door knocking, especially as they have been “presenting false information ... pressuring people into uncomfortable, and in some cases unsafe situations,” according to Lachy Stark, just one such student who had a negative experience when two young women and a man he says were from the group appeared at his flat earlier this year.
He told Critic: “even trying to identify which church they belonged to proved almost impossible [and] I definitely felt pressure from them ... they repeated certain phrases and answers and the repetition made it feel as though they were unwilling to leave until I was 'converted'.”
OUSA President Hugh Baird explained that the association “doesn’t believe they have any grounds to say that they have been treated unfairly. This has been an ongoing battle where we have clearly outlined our concerns and offered ultimatums including disaffiliation and it hasn't worked. With complaints about the club still coming through we feel as though this is now the only option that we have left.”
In a feature article in Critic entitled ‘I Escaped Getting Baptised Into a Cult’, Esme Hall detailed the experience that she and her friend (referred to as ‘Tina’ in the article to protect her anonymity) had after being approached by the group earlier in the year. After feeling unable to say no, Tina found herself “in a car with two Korean girls she had just met, going to get baptised”.
Only after Tina told Hall about the baptism did she “realise how an innocent conversation with them could turn into something quite pressured and hard to escape from”.
Tina was made to change into a robe and, surrounded by girls in veils, knelt in a bathtub while a man, presumably a minister of the WMSCOG, poured water over her, prayed, and explained that he was absolving her of her sins. She wrote her name in the ‘Book of Names’, which Hall explains was more like a book of personal details, before being dropped back at her flat.
Within that feature, University of Otago Proctor Dave Scott advised “anyone who meets them should call Campus Watch,” as Scott wants a word with “the recruiters and [is considering] trespassing them from the campus”.
Critic messaged Scott to ascertain whether any action ended up being taken to trespass the group, or whether he ended up having a word with the group, but received no response.
Baird noted that OUSA “wouldn't rule out the possibility of the club re-affiliating in the future, however they would have to be able to prove that they had taken our comments on board and change the way in which they operated.”
Critic spoke with the Bible Elohim Academy but they were unwilling to go on the record to comment on the decision.
A University of Otago spokesperson told Critic, “The decision was made by OUSA. We support the Association in what was a considered decision.”