Elohim Bible Study Club addresses human trafficking claims

The Elohim Bible Study Club cleans up Robeson Boulevard and Joe B Rushing Road on Nov. 28 in Fort Worth. The street cleanup is a part of the reduced crime campaign in the Fort Worth and Arlington area. 

The Elohim Bible Study Club is a religious student organization at UTA that has been facing slander on both social media and through word of mouth for some time now.

Some students refer to the organization as the “God the Mother group,” club president Jeremy Morel  said. The student organization follows the teachings of the World Mission Society Church of God, which is a Christian religious movement that teaches about the existence of a God the Mother in addition to a God the Father.

The movement began in South Korea and has followers in 150 countries worldwide. It is different from Christian denominations because it holds service on Saturdays. They reject the use of statues, crosses or crucifixes, deeming them as idolatry, and believe in God the Mother, who is a woman and co-founder of the movement living in South Korea.

The slander the campus organization received is because of claims that the religious movement was involved in a human trafficking operation, Morel said. Human trafficking is organized criminal activity in which human beings are treated as possessions to be controlled and exploited, according to Merriam-Webster.

UTA Police Capt. Mike McCord said in an email that the campus police have not investigated the religious student organization.

“We only received one report of the interaction with the group,” McCord said. “There were no criminal offenses that occurred.” 

Similar claims have afflicted the religious organization’s reputation on college campuses across the country, as reported by The Vanderbilt Hustler, The Daily Mississippian and The Daily Free Press.

Finance junior Alex Tran said he has seen the rumors on social media a couple of times. He said the social media posts often talk about how the religious movement is involved in human trafficking and how people feel uncomfortable when approached by members.

Tran said he has been approached at UTA a few times by the group, but he has never had time to talk to them. The group usually approaches him in the evening and never in the day. Although he didn’t feel uncomfortable, he said doing the outreach during the day would probably make people feel more comfortable.

Morel said the club does outreach during the day too, and sometimes does tabling events explaining what the club does and why. The group has set up a system where outreach is done on a gender basis to alleviate the uncomfortability. For example, women approach other women and men approach other men about the club.

Tran said the club and religious movement having to deal with the unsubstantiated claims is unfair, and he hopes that students do their own research on the group instead of taking the accusations at face value.

The way UTA students perceive the organization has been affected, Morel said. Student membership is small, and when he tries to advocate for more participation he is often met with backlash about the human trafficking claims, he said.

Students warn other students not to come to the organization’s meetings because of the claims, and it deters people from attending, he said.

Club coordinator Simon Kwak said there have been a few times when the organization has been doing on-campus outreach and members are confronted about the claims, distracting students from learning about what the club does. He said he’s been accused by four or five people of brainwashing members.

Kwak said it’s embarrassing when the accusations are brought up when trying to spread their message of peace and respect. He said he tries to leave when it happens to avoid further confrontation.

The club meets on campus three times a week to read and study Bible scripture, Morel said. Sometimes the organization holds seminars and volunteers in the community, he said. The club works closely with a similar student organization at Tarrant County College.

One of the big initiatives of the religion currently is a “Reduce Crime Campaign,” and the UTA student organization plays a part in it as well, Morel said.

The general idea is that if something appears to be better taken care of, it is less susceptible to become a victim of crime. The organization uses a car windshield as an example to illustrate the campaign. If two cars are parked on the same street, one with a broken windshield is vandalized more often than the car with an intact windshield.

Members of the student club volunteer to help clean nearby communities to reduce their crime rates, Morel said.

The Elohim Bible Study Club at UTA has adopted two streets in Fort Worth to exemplify the campaign, he said. Additionally, the club has worked to remove graffiti in the Fort Worth for the same reasons.

“If you’re not sure about the allegations are false and you believe that you and other students lives are at risk, please consider why the university has allowed us to continue as a student organization,” Morel said. “Human trafficking is an extremely serious issue. No one involved with such an organization would be allowed to continue such criminal activity.”

@HeitmeierDalton

news-editor.shorthorn@uta.edu

Dalton Heitmeier is the 86th Texas Legislature beat reporter.

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