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International Churches of Christ (ICC) (ICOC) * Boston Movement * Crossroads Movement


1987-Present: The ICC/ICOC Era

Although the ICC did not adopt the name "International Church of Christ" formally until 1993, we consider the "Great Reconstruction" to represent the breaking point. The earlier Boston Church of Christ had a real, although uncomfortable and contentious, relationship with outside Churches of Christ -- churches whose doctrines and practices differed significantly from those of the leaders in Boston.

After 1987 the Boston Church of Christ became law unto itself. It recognized no one but itself as part of the Church; it made no effort to communicate with outside churches; it followed its own path, or (as former members generally believe), Kip McKean's path.

Once shed of the limitations posed by the need to conform to the practices and expectations of the mainline Churches of Christ and, even more, by those of the independent discipling movement churches, the ICC moved forward fast. It began developing the complex hierarchy that is now one of its characteristics. Leaders in various parts of the world were put in charge of proselytizing areas covering several countries -- these areas are now called the World Sectors. The unofficial lines of authority between certain large, old churches and the churches that had been "planted" by mission teams from the large churches were formalized. Formal requirements and mechanisms were put in place for all churches to support the leadership in Boston. (This structure is described in greater detail later.)

In 1990, Kip McKean moved from Boston to Los Angeles, and the central church of the Movement became the Los Angeles Church of Christ. This finalized the break with the "Boston years", although the Boston Church of Christ itself is still in existence.

In the late 1980s and early 1990s, the ICC saw an explosion of new church plantings, and in in the size of many existing churches. The demographics of the ICC also changed -- while previously, many of those in the movement had come from within the mainline Churches of Christ, this was no longer true of new members. They came from all religious backgrounds, or none. Most didn't know much, if anything, about the mainline Churches of Christ -- their entire understanding of the ICC was formed by the ICC itself.

It also led to an increasing number of people leaving the ICC, burned out by the high pressure lifestyle and unreasonable demands of the group. The complaints grew. Previously, most complaints about the ICC had been heard primarily from people inside of the mainline Churches of Christ, and were often dismissed by those outside of the Churches of Christ as sectarian squabbles. But the new complaints came from all quarters -- Christian churches, Jewish leaders, and secular psychologists who had seen a string of patients who showed evidence of severe psychological abuse and who had all been members of the ICC.

In 1991, a fourteen year leader from the Crossroads movement days left the movement -- Rick Bauer. Six months later, he was followed by his wife Sarah, also a prominent leader in the movement. Unlike many of those who left, Rick had a significant amount of theological training and an ability to articulate exactly why he had left and what he felt was wrong with the movement. Rick began to speak out, and became a significant thorn in the side of the ICC. Rick's story and that of his wife Sarah are in the REVEAL library, for those who want to know more.

Across the Atlantic, a member of the London Church of Christ also left the movement in 1991 -- a Syrian convert named Ayman Akshar, who left with his wife Jane and their baby daughter. (Ayman's conversion had cost him greatly -- he lost all contact with his Muslim family, who disowned him for becoming Christian.)

In early 1990, Ayman was put in charge of the finances of the London Church of Christ, and as such had been present for a number of private meetings. He found a number of financial improprieties, about which he notified the leaders, thinking they would be as horrified as he was and fix the problem. When he was told to keep quiet, he agonized for a few months and then left, concluding that the ICC was not what it claimed to be if it would not even respect the laws of the country in which it was operating.

He also reported these financial improprieties to the authorities, which later brought about an investigation by the British tax authority and resulted in the London Church of Christ being required to pay a substantial amount of back taxes.

A couple of years after leaving, Ayman teamed up with a man who had lost a girlfriend to the ICC, Graham Cluley, and they formed the first former member's group, TOLC -- Triumphing Over London Cults. TOLC began writing letters to the newspapers, picketing ICC services, and otherwise opposing the ICC in the United Kingdom aggressively at every turn. Because of their work, the London Church of Christ got a tremendous amount of bad publicity, was asked to leave several universities in the United Kingdom, and lost more than half its membership.

At first, the ICC leadership dismissed all this as attacks by Satan on God's church, and to be expected, but the criticism told. In 1992, Kip McKean gave a sermon in which he confessed to certain unspecified abuses in the movement. He stated that he'd been wrong to teach that disciples were required to obey their disciplers on matters of opinion, and stated that this would no longer be taught.

If this was ever intended to change how things worked at the rank and file level of the ICC, though, it largely failed. People who left the ICC after 1992 tell much the same stories as those who left before, and public, large-scale defections increased rather than decreasing.

In 1993, the first large-scale "defection" from the ICC since the "Great Reconstruction" took place when most of the mission team in Milan, Italy left the movement within a couple of weeks of each other. This mission team consisted of solid, committed ICC members who worked together in Milan for almost two years prior to leaving, and who left because of severe doctrinal differences with the ICC leadership, differences the ICC leadership refused to discuss or acknowledge, and for which it disfellowshipped and "marked" almost the whole Milan team. A timeline and testimony from the Milan Mission team is included in the REVEAL library, for those who want to know more about this.

This pales next to the 1994 defection of most of the Indianapolis Church of Christ, though. "Indy" (as it was called in the ICC) was one of the fastest-growing ICC congregations and its evangelist, Ed Powers, an up-and-coming leader in the movement when, in February, he hurt his back and was stuck in bed for a week. During that week, Ed studied the Bible intensively to see if certain ICC practices with which he'd become increasingly uncomfortable could be justified by the Scriptures, and concluded that they could not.

Ed unburdened himself to the Indy staff, and found that almost all of them agreed with him, despite some concern that the ICC leadership might not take his criticisms well. In spite of those concerns, Ed broached his concerns at a congregational meeting on February 27, in a sermon titled "Unity or Uniformity?". In that sermon, he presented four conclusions he and the leadership team at Indy had come to:

  1. Policy and Doctrine should not be legislated from Los Angeles.
  2. The ICC are not the only ones saved.
  3. Giving should not be under compulsion.
  4. The ICC's legalistic system is robbing Christians of joy (ie statistics, special contribution goals)

At the end of the sermon, he asked the congregation whether it supported his taking these concerns to the ICC leadership, or wanted him to resign and ask the ICC to send out a new evangelist for the Indianapolis Church of Christ. The congregation voted overwhelmingly in support of Ed's sermon and the points he made -- the vote was over 600 in favor, one opposed, and six abstentions.

The ICC leaders reacted to the Indianapolis leadership team's questions as they had those of the Milan team a year earlier -- they refused to discuss anything with the Indy leaders, disfellowshipped and marked every leader involved, and attempted to win the congregation back by spreading slanderous lies about what had happened and about Ed Powers and the Indy leaders who supported him.

This largely failed -- most of the Indianapolis Church had been well aware of what was going on all along and didn't buy the rewriting of history. So the ICC leaders started a new "Indianapolis International Church of Christ", sent in a new evangelist, hired a new facility, and proclaimed that anyone who remained with the original Indianapolis Church of Christ was disfellowshipped and marked.

A chronology of this situation and transcription of Ed Powers' sermon, "Unity or Uniformity", are in the REVEAL library.

In 1995, just as the Internet was beginning to explode, people in a number of Christian discussion groups on the Usenet, the Internet's bulletin board system, started complaining that people discussing and arguing about the International Churches of Christ were drowning out other conversation. At the request of a former member, Chris Lee, the Usenet newsgroup was created.

This year also saw the appearance of the first WWW pages by former members. The ICC itself didn't get on the WWW for another year, which may explain the ambivalent attitude its leaders have towards the Internet. It was a source of information about the ICC which the leaders could not control, and access to which they could not block. Increasingly, current members who were having doubts about the group would search the Internet for information, find the WWW sites of former members, and end up leaving.

In 1995, at a leadership conference in Johannesburg, South Africa, Al Baird, one of the ICC's "World Sector Leaders", referred to the "shepherding crisis" in the ICC. In this same speech, he estimated that there were two former members for each current member in the group. The ICC leaders resolved to change how the church operated to prevent this -- again.

In 1996, a former member of the San Francisco Church of Christ, who had left in 1994 and spent a miserable year trying to rejoin the group, started holding monthly support group meetings for former ICC members at her home. This was Michelle Campbell. One of the support group participants, whose affiliation with the ICC dated to the Crossroads era and who had left many years earlier, threw together a WWW site with information about the ICC, not intending anything except to put some information on the WWW.

Visitors came trickling, and then pouring, in. After a few months of email and phone calls, some of them heartbreaking, both Michelle and Catherine Hampton (the webmaster) came to realize that a more formal organization was needed, and started REVEAL.

In the subsequent months and years, these few support groups and WWW pages have grown to many, some private, some involved in public activity to oppose the ICC.

In 1997, at the Nairobi Christian Church in Kenya, a number of leaders left, objecting to much the same things that Ed Powers and the group in Indy had in 1994. Lucas Mboya and Joseph Owade, two of them, wrote extensively about their experiences, and their material is in the REVEAL library. (A press release by Richard Alawaye, evangelist at the Nairobi Christian Church, is also included there.) The story told by Mboya and Owade, though, sounds plausible and credible to most former members, many of whom have experienced similar types of abuse.

In January of 1998, Kip McKean signaled another change in emphasis. Apparently disturbed by the large numbers of "fallaways" (the ICC's term for those who leave the ICC), he told the leadership to start focusing less on proselytizing and more on meeting the needs of the members the ICC already has. (Yes, another change.)

During the period of 1999-2001, the ICC's rapid growth began to decline, as evidenced by the article ICC Statistics: The Revolving Door 1999-2001. Arguably, the ICC's methods began to catch up with it.

In June 2000, the ICC announced the completion of its Evangelization Proclamation -- a "Six Year Plan" to plant at least one church in every nation with a city of 100,000 population by the year 2000. Although the ICC took a total of six years, five months and three days to complete the plan, McKean and ICC leadership claimed they had completed the plan six months early.

In November 2001, it was announced that the ICC's founder, Kip McKean, along with his wife Elena McKean, would take a sabbatical from leadership to work on unspecified marriage and family problems. One year later in November 2002, Kip McKean resigned from his senior role as World Missions Evangelist and leader of the World Sector Leaders. REVEAL articles and editorials about McKean's resignation are available here.

In early 2003, a historic letter by London ICC evangelist Henry Kriete called ICC leadership to renounce, abandon and repent of its systemic abusive practices. A process of upheaval and change began in many ICC congregations. This process is ongoing -- for the latest current information on REVEAL, go to What's New. Some ICC congregations are not embracing change as quickly as others -- or have not made significant changes at all. Meanwhile, some people leaving the ICC who contact REVEAL are telling the same sorts of stories former members have been telling for many years.

For more information on the history of the ICC, look at the material in the REVEAL library.

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