Scarlet McCauley stands on the University of Colorado Boulder Campus on Sunday, Dec. 8. McCauley had been with Resurrection Church for nearly a year. (Ryan Corbett/CU Independent)

by Robert Tann

Photos by Ryan Corbett and Casey Paul

Scarlet McCauley remembers sitting on the floor of a study room in her University of Colorado Boulder residence hall. A woman’s hands held McCauley’s, her eyes stared into hers. Before she knew what was going on, the woman screamed into McCauley’s face, “Get out of this body!”

McCauley had just experienced her first exorcism. Her minister, Abbey Branson, told her she had “wicked demons” inside her, all because McCauley said she needed to skip Bible study to prepare for an exam. 

“Part of me was a little scared, a little embarrassed,” McCauley said. “It was very strange.”

McCauley is one of several former members of Resurrection Church, a local Boulder ministry which has been accused of financial coercion, manipulation and emotional and spiritual abuse

Since its establishment in 2008, the church has sought university students to become members. Former members who spoke to the CU Independent were all students at CU Boulder when they joined, and hope that by telling their stories CU will do more to end the church’s influence on campus. 

Resurection is an offshoot of Faith Christian Church in Arizona which was accused by its members of similar manipulative and cult-like practices, leading the University of Arizona to prevent its members from organizing on campus, according to the Daily Wildcat. An affiliate church, Covenant Christian Church, near the University of New Mexico, faced similar accusations of being a cult. The university banned the church from the campus in April 2016. 

Many former members of Resurrection ask why CU Boulder has not followed other campuses’ leads. With the church’s continued presence on CU property, members said students face the threat of falling into an organization that cuts them off from friends and family and creates a culture of anxiety and shame. 

Resurrection Church did not respond to multiple interview requests from the CUI.

‘This is not a church’

McCauley’s journey with Resurrection began her first day at CU Boulder in late August 2017. Near the University Memorial Center, McCauley was approached by a church minister, Branson, who asked a jarring question, “If you were to die today, would you go to heaven or hell?”

Confused, McCauley told Branson she believed she would go to heaven. But Branson said the answer was wrong, at least until she joined her church. So she asked McCauley for her phone number.

“I was very put off and I gave her a fake number,” McCauley said, thinking that would be the end of it. 

The next day, McCauley said Branson spotted her again near the University Memorial Center. McCauley walked quickly and hoped that having in her headphones would deter Branson from speaking to her. But Branson stopped McCauley, told her she had given a fake phone number and grabbed McCauley’s phone out of her hands to put in her own number. 

“I was a bit paralyzed,” McCauley said. “I was just shocked that she put her number in my phone and texted herself.” 

Later that night, McCauley told her resident advisor that the interaction made her uncomfortable. But with no direct threat being made, her RA told her there was little that could be done. 

That’s when McCauley found a website warning CU students of a “cult” recruiting on campus. 

McCauley knew that the woman who approached her was a Resurrection Church recruiter. After reading articles in the CUI in which church members and parents of members discussed instances of abuse and manipulation, she wanted to learn more. 

So she texted Branson and said she had changed her mind. She wanted in. It began as a part of a class assignment for McCauley, who ultimately decided to go undercover in the church for nearly a year. Months of isolation, manipulation and academic struggles followed.

During her first sermon at the church, which does not have its own building but instead rents out space at New Vista High School, McCauley said members welcomed her “with open arms.” 

Everyone already knew her name, something she felt was a red-flag. Still, the initial friendliness of members made McCauley second-guess herself. 

“I would remember thinking, ‘is this a cult? Is it?’” McCauley said. “They’re so nice. They’re about Jesus, they’re about God. And then, of course, I started to see it.”

But McCauley soon became forced to have conversations and make friends within the church. From Bible studies, prayer meetings and Sunday services, the church left little free time for McCauley.

A flyer warning about Resurrection Church. Coletta’s daughter, Melanie, joined the church while attending CU Boulder. She remains in it as a minister. The flyer comes from the website warning students of the church.

As weeks went on, the church began weighing in on McCauley’s personal life, at one point implying that her mother and sister were sinning for drinking alcohol. Branson even told McCauley not to feel obligated to have a relationship with people who sin just because they’re family. 

“(The church) was trying to draw wedges,” McCauley said. “And I could feel it.”

According to Rick Ross, a lecturer and cult intervention specialist, a major sign of a cult is its reliance on isolating members.

“The idea is to control the environment, control information so that people cannot draw upon an outside frame of reference or alternative feedback and perspective to make value judgments,” Ross said. 

Ross is the author of “Cults Inside Out: How People Get in and Can Get Out,” as well as the founder of the Cult Education Institute, one of the largest free online databases for information on cults. 

“You have a love of your family, and so by eliminating them, they’re eliminating anyone or anything that can compete for their preeminent influence over you,” Ross said. 

But McCauley didn’t feel she could leave just yet. She still needed more evidence of Resurrection’s harm towards students. 

With her second semester beginning, McCauley became more stressed with demanding classes, but her commitments to the church, whether she liked it or not, “would always come first.” 

“Midway through my second semester my grades were tanking,” McCauley said. 

When McCauley told Branson that she would have to miss a Bible study to prepare for a  midterm exam, Branson would not take no as an answer. She told McCauley she had “something inside of you that’s telling you that school is more important than Jesus and God.” Before McCauley could respond, Branson was already at her dorm in Williams Village, where she performed an exorcism on McCauley. 

The church continued to become more controlling over McCauley’s life. Several times McCauley was told by Branson that she needed permission from pastors for her social outings, such as going to a friend’s party or a spring break trip with her sister. Though she was aware of the church’s manipulation, McCauley said she still felt its influence. 

“(Branson) would try to get me to say ‘ok I’m not going,’” McCauley said, who did eventually agree not to go to her friend’s party. “When I’m with them, I’m in a different state. I’m very agreeable … I remember leaving that conversation and being like ‘how did (Branson) do that?’” 

The above recording of Abbey Branson was collected by Scarlet McCauley. Branson is explaining how there are many people who call themselves Christians but ultimately won’t get into heaven. McCauley says she told Branson she had grown up Catholic, to which Branson said she had not been on the right path until she came to Resurrection. 

Isolating members from friends and family became more apparent to McCauley, who said the church used a line from Corinthians 6:14, “Do not be unequally yoked with unbelievers” to push people away from non-members. 

The church referred to non-members as demons, and told McCauley it was in a war against them. 

Friendships outside of the church became strained for McCauley, who said Branson had confronted her about one of her close friends from class who was gay. McCauley said Branson implied that her friend was going to hell. 

“She was just like … ‘do you really want to be friends with her if that’s where she’s going?’” McCauley said. 

While in the church, McCauley also learned recruitment tactics, though she preferred to call it “poaching.” 

Women only stopped women and men only stopped men, McCauley said, who was even told to target students who were “lonely” as well as students with injuries or disabilities. The church told McCauley that praying for students with injuries would be a “gateway” to talking with them about joining the church. 

“Their ideal target is a freshman who’s far from home, is feeling lonely, maybe has trouble making friends,” McCauley said. 

Shad Groverland, minister of Unity of Boulder Church, said proselyting on campus can at times be harmful. He said when Unity has come to CU Boulder to speak with students, it always did so through a booth. 

“It’s unfortunate that the groups that are really good at proselytizing tend to be the ones that are a little bit more extreme in their dogma,” Groverland said. “We’re trying to do it in a healthy fashion.” 

Before the beginning of her sophomore year, McCauley decided she had enough, but it didn’t make her any less terrified to leave the church. Eventually, she worked up the courage to send a text message to Branson saying she was leaving. Branson never replied. 

Over a month after leaving, McCauley was trying to get back to normal life. One day, while walking to her class in Munzinger, she passed Branson near the Recreation Center. Branson, she said, began to follow her. 

“I picked up the pace, went right by my class, to the girl’s bathroom and was shaking and had a panic attack,” McCauley said. For the rest of her semester, she began taking alternative routes to her class, worried that Branson might follow her again. 

“Still seeing them (on campus) is terrifying,” she said. 

McCauley tried for weeks to convince CU to listen to her story and do something to stop the church from recruiting more freshman students. After being “thrown around” to different offices, which included Counseling and Psychiatric Services, all she was told was the church is protected by freedom of speech. 

“(CU) should have a responsibility to keep the campus safe,” McCauley said. “They require freshmen to live on campus … and they know about this dangerous and detrimental organization that is targeting freshmen students. And they are not saying anything about it.” 

McCauley said she had asked CU to send an email warning students about the church. 

“(CU) sends us emails all the time about ‘bundle up cause it’s cold,’ why not inform students ‘watch out, there’s a cult that’s on campus that will stop you?’” she said. 

When it comes to off-campus groups unaffiliated with CU Boulder the university “does not have the means to monitor the group’s off-campus activities in an on-going manner,” according to CU Boulder spokesperson Melanie Parra.

“In regards to conduct that jeopardizes safety, there are campus policies and state laws against harassment,” Parra said in an email to the CUI. “If anyone on campus experiences harassment that jeopardizes safety, it’s best to contact CU Police and file a report.”

Ross himself has lectured at over 30 universities around the world. He once lectured at the University of Pennsylvania in Philadelphia after a student left a a religious cult, one he said was similar to Resurrection, and died by suicide following depression. More recently, Ross was invited to lecture at the University of Arizona to give a panel discussion on destructive groups recruiting on campus. 

“The best prevention is awareness and education,” Ross said. 

McCauley called CU’s lack of response “neglectful.” 

“CU’s dragging their feet about doing anything,” she said. “They are putting students in danger and not doing anything about it.”

“This is clearly not a church,” she said. “This is clearly something more sinister. They break students down, isolate them, make them think that (the church) is their only friend, that they’re their only ticket into heaven. And it’s incredibly sad.”

Kendra Buck on the University of Colorado Boulder campus on Sunday, Dec. 13, 2019. Buck said being in the church led to one of the "worst" years of her life. (Ryan Corbett/CU Independent)

‘When am I going to leave?’

Kendra Buck first went to a sermon with Resurrection Church as a senior in high school after her boyfriend at the time, Austin, invited her. Austin, then a freshman at CU Boulder, became involved with the church nearly as soon as he got to campus. It wasn’t until the beginning of her second semester at CU in 2014 that Buck began regularly attending church practices. 

But only a few weeks into her time at Resurrection, Buck said she was “walking on eggshells” when it came to the topic of her relationship with Austin.

“‘Oh you’re dating Austin,’” Buck remembers church members saying. “They’d smile about it but weren’t okay with it because it’s not biblical.”

The church’s control over Buck’s life started with who she dated.

After months of speaking with her assigned minister, Angel Mayerle, Buck decided to break up with Austin because her relationship “wasn’t biblically sanctioned.” Austin agreed, fully devoted to the church. Soon after, the church put in place rules prohibiting the two from communicating. 

“It seemed really weird to not be allowed to talk to someone,” Buck said. “It was a pretty rough time after that.” 

Like others, Buck faced pressure to distance herself from non-church members. One of her closest friendships freshman year with a student who she met in a Japanese class became strained once the church learned her friend was gay. 

“I remember just being told that that friendship was wrong, like pretty strongly,” Buck said. 

While she turned away from outside friends, Buck was expected to pay 10% of her net income monthly to the church, which she said became incredibly financially stressful. 

“It was almost contractual as a member of the church,” Buck said. 

Most Sunday sermons saw Aaron Brechtel, Resurrection Church’s pastor, encouraging members to spend as much time with one another as possible, which Buck felt created a culture of isolation. 

“It just pitted anything else as automatic sin if you could have the opportunity to be hanging out with church members instead,” Buck said. 

Never did Buck feel her actions would be judged by God. Instead, she said, her worries came from not knowing what the church would say. For Buck, anxiety only became worse. 

According to Ross, cults use fear of God to control members’ decisions. He said it is important for people trying to leave a cult to be able to separate God from the organization.

“You … can function in your faith separate and apart from the group,” Ross said. “The group is not synonymous with God. That’s crucial.” 

For Buck, activities outside the church became more stressful. While at a rock concert her junior year, Buck remembers feeling constantly worried that someone would catch her “being sinful.” The church reached everywhere into Buck’s life. 

“I came home and was just freaking out,” Buck said. “The whole time I was terrified that someone would find out that I was there.” 

“The whole time I was terrified that someone would find out that I was there,” Buck said about her experience going to a concert. She says being in the church brought constant anxiety. (Casey Paul/CU Independent)

Reeling from guilt, she eventually told her minister, Mayerle, who exorcised her for going to the concert. 

“I didn’t believe that I needed to change in some of those ways,” Buck said. “Debasing yourself or groveling at the feet of God in prayer for something that you didn’t think was wrong in the first place is hard to do.”

During her senior year, Buck said she lived a “double-life” when she met someone in her class who she began to date. She knew the church would not approve, so she kept it a secret, which Buck said became “the worst year of my life.” At the time, Buck lived with other church members in an apartment, making hiding her relationship even harder. 

Buck said she spent months internally asking herself the same question, “how and when am I going to leave?”

After speaking with other former church members for advice, Buck decided to tell her roommates, all three of whom were church members, that she was leaving. She barely heard from anyone in the church again.

“(While in the church) I could never really embrace the things that were the most important to me,” Buck said. “I could only be myself to a certain extent. In the church, there’s a suppression of individual identity expression. Like you’re allowed to have an individual identity, but the only thing that you should ever express is your Christianity.” 

Groverland, the Unity minister, said his church aims to allow for open dialogue between members. 

“We have a big focus on people questioning what they’re hearing,” Groverland said. “You don’t grow and learn if you’re just stifled, or mind controlled, into a dogma or creed. We’re not trying to tell you the way life is.” 

He said members are encouraged to interpret the Bible and other religious texts outside of Christianity, for a much more organic spiritual experience. 

Reflecting on her time in Resurrection, Buck said she believes it is a cult operating on campus. She fears that the church will continue to mask its intentions to freshmen. 

“You don’t have to try really hard to make friends cause there are all these other members that are already willing to be friends with you,” Buck said. “And it’s really tempting as a freshman and it is in a lot of ways helpful when you’re a freshman and you don’t know anybody, you get this automatic friend group. Eventually, they will make every attempt to control your every movement in your life.” 

“The good is intentionally fronted and the more controlling and damaging aspects are intentionally hidden until it’s too late,” she continued. 

Buck wishes CU would take more action to inform students about the dangers of the church. 

“It’s just as bad to get sucked into a cult as it is to be hanging out with criminals,” Buck said. 

“(Coming to CU) is the first time for most students, if not all, that they are making decisions for themselves. We aren’t really prepared to think of our own agency past that.”

Nick Eichler on the University of Colorado Boulder campus on Saturday, Dec. 14, 2019. Eichler was encouraged by the church to change his major and spend less time with school. (Ryan Corbett/CU Independent)

‘They were it’

Nick Eichler described his freshman year as “pretty lonely.” Coming into CU in 2010, Eichler struggled to make close friends. 

“I had tried to find community elsewhere, but you know, freshman year awkwardness wasn’t really working out,” Eichler said. “I got involved (in Resurrection Church) because people (were) actively wanting to take time out of your day, which was what I was looking for in all honesty.”

Eichler had found community with the church, who were happy to drive him to and from activities. But like other former members, the church soon consumed Eichler’s life.

The church gave Eichler Bible packets that were expected to be filled out each week. But as a double major in economics and political science, Eichler blew through it, focusing most of his time on schoolwork instead. Before long, the church’s pastor, Aaron Brechtel, urged Eicher to drop both his majors and pursue an English degree, hoping to shift Eichler away from his studies and towards the church. 

“I think they perceived that would give me more time for them,” Eichler said. “It seemed to come from all sides (of the church), ‘Hey, you should drop out of this, you should make some more time for us.’” 

Eichler said the church told him the decision was “for God.” He remembers reflecting on the decision and doubting his own idea of what he wanted in his life. 

But while in a room with other students who were planning on switching their majors, Eichler realized he had no reason for wanting to switch beyond what the church was telling him. 

Deciding to stick with his majors, the church eyed Eichler’s external relationships, drawing wedges between people Eichler began to meet. 

Eichler met another student involved with a Christian sorority on campus and the two quickly bonded. But Resurrection had been explicitly clear that not only was he not allowed to date anyone outside of the church, he could not date until God ordained it, which Eichler said was code for Brechtel’s approval. 

“Looking back, (Brechtel) totally organizes every single relationship within this religious organization,” Eichler said. “‘When God says’ is always functionally for ‘when Aaron says.’”

“That goes for pretty much everything in the organization with great consistency. This whole thing seemed like it was kind of feeding back into itself and nothing else. It was all to kind of create this environment where they were it.”

“This whole thing seemed like it was kind of feeding back into itself and nothing else. It was all to kind of create this environment where they were it,” Eichler said. While in Resurrection, the church became more controlling of his relationships and who he dated. (Casey Paul/CU Independent)

In his study of cults, Ross said that decisions that hurt people’s future, such as dropping out of school, giving up a job or being financially obligated by the cult, allow undue influence from the organization. 

“It might hurt your finances, it might hurt relationships, but you are acting in the best interest of the leadership in the organization, even if it’s to your detriment,” Ross said. 

Along with friends, Eichler recalls the church warning that parents would corrupt members as well and “turn them away from God.”

“By which they mean (turn you away) to the outside of the organization and not further in it,” Eichler said. “It gave off a very potent vibe that would probably shut down anyone who was trying to speak out against that.”

On a few occasions, Brechtel would talk about the church’s beliefs of reprimanding children, specifically hitting infants as a way to discipline them. Sermons also regularly involved praying in tounges, something Eichler became more uncomfortable with. Above all, the stress of a “panopticon” lifestyle, as he described it, affected him the most. 

“They want to control who you dated, they want to control what you’re doing with your time, they want to control what you’re pursuing in life,” Eichler said.

Along with an over-controlling culture, Eichler grew concerned about the church’s use of funds. Multiple interviews with former members revealed that the church never engages in philanthropy or charity outreach. Aside from renting the high school, money is spent on recruiting and facilitating members, with one exception, according to Eichler. 

Once a year, church staff take a trip to Mexico. A secretive trip only for longtime staff, Eichler said he and other members knew it had nothing to do with church service. He believes the church used money paid by members, including students, to fund the trip.

“It seemed like kind of a gross use of funds,” Eichler said. 

Though he never stayed with the church long enough to experience one of the organization’s most controversial practices, Eichler said given enough time, the church does encourage members to live in Brechtel’s basements and eventually marry other members. 

John Coletta, the father of a current church pastor, Melanie, said he had been told his daughter had become “a basement girl”  when she moved into Brechtel’s basement years ago. 

Eventually, Eichler faced pressure to leave the church from the student who he said he had been dating on and off. But before he left, Eichler was made to do an “exit interview” with Brechtel. 

Eichler, who would continue to see members on the CU campus after leaving, said that the university has a part to play in all of this.

“(Free speech) is a valid thing to be defended in general, but I do think it is being abused here,” Eichler said. “I think that they do end up kind of trafficking (students) and putting them in situations where they have increasing vulnerability and decreasing access to the outside world. And if CU is just going to allow that to happen, that seems deeply irresponsible.”

Ross believes that just because an organization has freedom of speech, it doesn’t make it “immune to rules.” Being intrusive and deceptive to students, Ross said, could be cause to bar it from campus. He said he has known many university campuses that have barred organizations identified as cults.

“Until you’re in, they seem super innocent and if you want to believe that they’re okay, then you can force yourself to believe that,” Eichler said. 

After leaving the church, Eichler said he tried to go to CU to ask the university to help students but was told the “same line they tell everyone.”

Trevor Sweet on the University of Colorado Boulder campus on Sunday, Dec. 8, 2019. After leaving Resurrection Church, Sweet said he struggled with anxiety as he re-learned how to communicate with others. (Ryan Corbett/CU Independent)

‘They break you’

Sitting against a tree on the CU Boulder campus one day during his spring semester in 2010, Trevor Sweet remembers that a person approached him and asked if he knew what would happen to him when he died. Sweet, having been raised Christian, said he “knew all the answers,” pleasing the person who he later knew as a representative from Resurrection’s sister church in Arizona, Faith Christian Church. 

During the University of Arizona’s spring break, members of Faith Christian take a trip to the CU campus to recruit new members for Resurrection, Sweet said. The member who approached Sweet quickly put him in touch with a minister for Resurrection. Before long, Sweet, was spending hours with the church. 

“We were all college students, all doing our homework together, all eating lunch at the C4C together,” Sweet said, adding that the community he gained from Resurrection at first seemed like a great thing. 

At the beginning of his sophomore year, Sweet joined Alpha Phi Omega, a co-ed service-based fraternity. Eventually, he said the church began to pick away at relationships Sweet was forming inside the frat, telling him he was spending too much time outside of the church. 

“Almost every relationship I had (in the fraternity) was pretty much severed,” Sweet said. 

Sweet remembers being told, “fellowship with the world is hostility towards God.” When spending time with others outside of the church, Sweet was made to feel he was exerting hostility towards God. When it came to controlling his life, the church backed up everything it did with scripture.

“(But) context is king,” Sweet said. “It was always, let’s take this one phrase and say it to you. And that was how they could take the Bible and not necessarily turn it upside down, but just twist it enough to manipulate.”

Going home to visit his family for the weekend became more difficult, with the church claiming it took away from Sweet’s time with it. 

“There was always a ‘them versus us,’” he said. 

“It shocks us how any church could be teaching exclusivity and separatism and shame … when the fundamental message of Jesus was ‘we’ve got to learn to love each other … regardless of what your faith, your race, your sexual orientation, any of that stuff, is,’” Groverland, the Unity minister, said. 

Unity of Boulder Church sees several members who came from former churches they found abusive, according to Groverland.

“(Religion) is designed to make your life better,” Groverland said. “Not to be breaking you down and creating more shame and fear and judgment in your life. And a culture that is creating that, I don’t see a place for it.” 

Other aspects of Resurrection, such as its treatment of women, were also cause for alarm for Sweet, who said women in the church were “submissive to a fault” and were taught to be obedient to men, particularly ministers and pastors. Any form of physical touch between men and women was prohibited, even holding hands. 

While he sometimes struggled internally with some of the changes the church pushed him to make, Sweet said he ultimately would go along with whatever he was being told. It made his life after the church even harder. 

“It was very easy for me to funnel what they were saying on other people,” Sweet said. “And when I left, I found that I was pushing it on other people and I had many fights about specific things that (the church) made me believe.”

Ross described this as a cognitive dissonance that many in cults experience. 

“You feel in between what the group has told you and what you’re experiencing,” Ross said. “Who do you go to? Well, if you’re in the bubble and you’re socially isolated, you go to other group members or the leadership. And of course they’re going to give you their spin, which will be to resolve the conflict in their favor. So you are locked in.” 

Sweet said the church drew many parallels to figures in the Bible to manipulate its members into adhering to a certain behavior. He said women in the church would be referred to as a “Jezebel,” a figure in the Bible associated with seduction, rebellion and sin. 

“(The church is making) a comparison to someone who is very bad in the Bible, and you, of course, don’t want to be like that person,” Sweet said. “So you do what they tell you to do.”

Sweet, like other members, was taught how to stop people on campus, which he called “deliberate targeting.” He remembers being told by some members to not let himself be “outnumbered” by the people he was talking to.

When feelings of unease would arise, Sweet said he found it nearly impossible to talk with other members. He said he was told by church members that if he ever had a problem with the church he had to discuss it only with Brechtel. Criticisms of the church would never come up in conversations between him and other members. 

Paying dues to the church became more of a financial burden for Sweet, who said he felt like he “never had the choice” to miss a payment. When he did consider not paying, he would come in conflict with himself, worrying that God would not be on his side and that something bad would happen to him.

Before he left his fraternity, he met another female student who later joined Resurrection. The two became close in the church, but Sweet said that members would at times verbally reprimand him for how much time the two were spending together. 

Sweet remembers one Friday night event when the student was reprimanded for standing too close to him. Sweet said the constant punishment led to increased anxiety. 

Left to right: Trevor Sweet, Kendra Buck and Scarlet McCauley. (Casey Paul/CU Independent)

After four years with the church, Sweet said he knew he had to leave, but he feared the “cut-off” from church members. 

“(You would lose your) living situation, lose all of your friends,” Sweet said. “(You) didn’t have family that was close at this point in time because you had pushed them off. You didn’t have any friends outside of the church because you had pushed them off. It felt extremely scary.” 

Like many other former members, Sweet had been living with church members, a move he said the church pushes in order to further isolation.

Sweet said he pleaded with one friend to stay in contact even though he was leaving. Some, he said, told Sweet they would still be friends even though he would no longer be a member of the church. 

“Not a single person has reached out to me since I’ve left,” Sweet said. “I haven’t received a single phone call, a single text message.”

Life after the church became even worse for Sweet, who said he struggled with communication out of fear and anxiety that he would say something wrong and face punishment. 

“I was extremely corrective to the people I was then living with,” Sweet said. “I was constantly getting in arguments with people.” 

Ross describes the feelings of some former cult members as “emotionally raw.” 

“There may be people who for years have been under very tight authoritarian control,” Ross said. “And when they leave a group they find themselves floundering and having a hard time making decisions and also very fearful. They go through a process of trying to pick up where they once were and to realign themselves and to make those connections again.” 

For those who have experienced a cult, being able to unpack their experiences is crucial. He suggested reading books and watching films to help educate on the forms of manipulation and coercion used by cults. 

“Once you do that I think it lessens the fears,” Ross said. “It establishes boundaries for you so that you feel safe. You feel more resolved about leaving … and you don’t feel ashamed.” 

Sweet, like many other former members, said CU needs to do more to protect its students against Resurrection Church. 

“This group and its affiliates have time and time again shown there is harm being done to people,” Sweet said. 

Sweet said former members he knew had gone into years of counseling due to the anxiety and trauma they faced while in the church. 

“That is not an uncommon story,” Sweet said. “They break you. Every person becomes the same. You become brainwashed.”

“Does (CU) have the ability to stop and shut down the church? Maybe not,” Sweet said. “But do they have a responsibility to inform people about it? Absolutely.”

Ross said it is important for universities to help students know how to identify a potentially dangerous organization. 

“(Universities) wouldn’t necessarily talk about the group by name, but they would talk in a generic sense about groups approaching you and about how to be careful and discerning,” Ross said. 

He added that should he ever receive an invitation from CU to speak about cults on campus, he would “be happy to help in whatever way (he) can.”

“Guest speakers are typically invited through student organizations, academic programs and topic-specific speaker series,” said Parra, the CU Boulder spokesperson. “CU supports its student organizations and academic units in their efforts to bring speakers on a wide range of topics. We don’t have a way to verify if a campus group has brought a speaker on this topic in the past.”

Sweet said he “had no idea what a cult was” before coming to CU and joining Resurrection. He wished the university had done more to educate students on how to spot the signs he says he missed. 

“Isolating you from your family, forcing you to do certain pieces, everything (having) the approval of the pastor and the ministers,” Sweet said. “Then you can start to see for yourself (that) this is not good.” 

Contact CU Independent Editor-in-Chief Robert Tann at