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‘You see your child walking near a cliff’: Parents of former Grace Christian Church attendees speak out about cultlike tendencies

You+see+your+child+walking+near+a+cliff%3A+Parents+of+former+Grace+Christian+Church+attendees+speak+out+about+cultlike+tendencies
Collegian | Dylan Tusinski

Editor’s Note: In 2015, The Collegian published “Cult or community? Questions about Fort Collins’ Faith Christian Church offshoot, Grace Christian Church.” This article is a follow-up to that story and intended to examine the continued presence of Grace Christian Church on Colorado State University’s campus. 

Sandy Wade’s daughter was approached on The Plaza during her first year of college at Colorado State University and asked if she was a Christian by campus ministers of Grace Christian Church.

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It appeared an innocuous enough question to Wade’s family. They were Christian, and Wade’s daughter grew up in an environment with a youth minister and a religious community.

Wade said it all started with making her daughter doubt if her upbringing was Christian enough.

“They started with, ‘Well, how do you know for sure? Don’t you think it’s worth it to come with us and make sure?'” Wade said. “They just made her doubt everything she ever knew growing up, so she started going to church there, and they call it love bombing, right? They were just like, ‘Oh, you know, let us help you move into the dorms; let us help you; we can do this; we have these events … multiple times a week. And then, so literally, it gets to the point that all of their time is spent with this group of people.”

Wade’s daughter’s journey with Grace Christian Church continued with weekly meetings with campus ministers to discuss events in her life. She spoke to the ministers about her home life, her family and any arguments that had occurred, and Wade said the church tried to plant doubts in her daughter’s head about her relationship with her parents.

Wade spoke with her daughter’s youth minister, who reassured her it was a good thing she had found a church family at CSU. Wade’s worries about her daughter’s well-being didn’t fully occur until several months later, when her father was about to be deployed to Afghanistan.

Because her father was a medevac pilot deployed 10 times over, Wade’s daughter was used to the routine of what happens before her father gets deployed, Wade said. Her daughter refused to come home before her father’s deployment, citing she had children’s church to minister and could not get out of it.

“(My daughter said), ‘Nothing’s going to happen to him unless it’s God’s will,'” Wade said. “And I’m just like, ‘Who are you? And what have you done with my child? I don’t even know this person.'”

At some point, Wade’s daughter was baptized at Grace Christian Church — something she did not tell her family until much later.

“When people are baptized, it’s a big celebration; you always come together,” Wade said. “But it was a big secret. Like, she didn’t want us to know until months later.”

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Wade’s daughter was supposed to live with a friend in a townhouse her parents purchased in Fort Collins; however, after a year in the townhouse, she told her parents she wanted to move out and live in a house with girls from the church, saying it was important to live with like-minded Christians.

“I call(ed) the church, and I talked about it,” Wade said. “They just get excited for the Lord, and they decide that that’s what they want to do. But that has nothing to do with the church. … It’s such BS. Like, if you read the stories, they’re all the same about them all living together.”

Following her time at CSU, Wade’s daughter decided against her dream of going to veterinary school and working at a zoo and instead wanted to stay in Fort Collins to work on the staff for Grace Christian Church.

At that point, Wade decided to stage an intervention after connecting with the Former Members of Faith Christian Church website, and she was able to trace Faith Christian Church to Grace Christian Church. Wade panicked and knew she had to get her daughter out of the church.

“My husband always would say, ‘I don’t understand how anyone could get brainwashed. And I’m like, ‘It’s so easy.’ You could brainwash someone so easily, especially when it comes to religion because that’s the most manipulative form as we’ve even seen over the years and all the different things that have gone on in the United States — it’s the easiest form of manipulation.” -Jaime Antolini, parent of former Grace Christian Church attendee

Wade brought her daughter down to Colorado Springs, Colorado, and informed her of other testimonies of families connected with Grace Christian Church.

“I printed out all of these stories (from) people all over the United States,” Wade said. “We’re sitting there, and they’re talking, and she’s saying stuff, and then they’re showing her why it’s not biblical, and she starts to cry. And I said, ‘What’s wrong?’ And she says, ‘I feel like this is an intervention.’ Like, yeah, that’s exactly what it is.”

Wade and her family have rebuilt their lives after years apart. Her daughter went on a road trip to her youth minister’s house and asked, “Well, how long is it going to take for you to deprogram me?”

At the end of that summer, Wade told her daughter that returning to Fort Collins was not an option, and she stayed, leaving the Grace Christian Church.

The effects of Grace Christian Church are still weighing on the family. Wade’s daughter married a boy from the church who also left to be with her and still invited members of Grace Christian Church to her bachelorette party.

“Fortunately, it’s been enough years now that my daughter’s out, (but) you still see some of the damage that they did really come out, but … we’ve spent a lot of time rebuilding our relationship from that,” Wade said.

Wade said the rebuilding process for her and her family took a lot of time, tears and love, and after nine years, the family is healing. Wade now runs the Former Members & Parents of Grace Christian Church Fort Collins, CO Facebook page.

“We’re closer now than we’ve ever been,” Wade said. “And certainly closer now than we were when she was in college. I would say it was a good two to three years there, and the scars are always going to be there for us. But I made it my mission in life. And the other thing I told her, too, is I said, ‘You’re going leave that church, or I will be there. Every Sunday, I will be standing on a pew in the back. I will make so much ruckus and so much chaos for them that they will ask you to leave.’ Had I waited another year, I don’t know that I would have been successful.”

Grace Christian Church is the offshoot of Faith Christian Church, a Tucson, Arizona-based church that has offshoots in other areas of Arizona; Boulder, Colorado; Tampa, Florida; Albuquerque, New Mexico; and New Zealand.

Jaime Antolini, another parent of a former Grace Christian Church attendee, said the church encourages parents to discipline babies by hitting them with cardboard from a clothes hanger to break their spirits when they are strong enough to sit up.

Young adult girls are encouraged to live with other religious women in the church to prepare for marriage in ways that include cleaning, cooking and housekeeping.

The church is aware of and controls all finances and tithes its members 10% of their income, and it requires financial statements from each member.

Antolini’s son was involved in Grace Christian Church during his time at CSU and was a campus minister for 10 years. Similarly to Wade’s family, Antolini’s son married into the church after only a few months of dating.

“They would say, ‘Well, because they’re not Christian, they can’t be, like, part of your life or in the wedding,'” Antolini said. “I mean, it was horrible. The whole process of when he got married and his wedding and everything was horrible because we weren’t really allowed to be involved at all.”

When Antolini’s son started having children, she and her husband were not allowed to be involved in their upbringing whatsoever. Sleepovers, birthday parties and even visits to the Antolinis’ home were controlled, and the children were not allowed to be alone with Antolini or her husband, which resulted in a two-year estrangement when Antolini did not have contact with her grandchildren until they left the church.

“My husband always would say, ‘I don’t understand how anyone could get brainwashed,'” Antolini said. “And I’m like, ‘It’s so easy.’ You could brainwash someone so easily, especially when it comes to religion because that’s the most manipulative form as we’ve even seen over the years and all the different things that have gone on in the United States — it’s the easiest form of manipulation.”

Antolini said she still is not completely sure of what happened to make her son leave the church and reconnect with his family.

“When we reconciled and got back together, (we said), ‘Now it’s fine,'” Antolini said. “And it’s been really good. But during all that, we just let them control it. And we were just super nice and, like, kissed their butts, so we never got cut out. It was just very weird and strange. And there were tons of things we didn’t agree with. But we just didn’t say anything.”

Antolini began connecting with other parents of children connected with Grace Christian Church and saw the similarities.

“We would share stories,” Antolini said. “And that’s when we found out that everything was the same, even the same verbiage. … You get the same answers from other parents. … You could tell they were being spoon-fed these replies (and) these statements, like, ‘Say this to your parents.'”

Antolini has other grandchildren who live in California, and she said the experiences of her grandchildren who were impacted by Grace Christian Church in comparison to her other grandchildren are noticeably different.

“There’s still residual stuff,” Antolini said. “They’re going to have regrets in time when the kids are grown and realize what has been taken from them (and) what they’ve missed out on. It’s heartbreaking because they see what my other grandkids get to do, and then they see their life. And, you know, it’s devastating. I mean, it really is. It’s … just devastating and something you can’t get back.”

The college years, Antolini said, are the most pivotal times in human development for organizations like Grace Christian Church to take hold.

“When you’re in college, you’re away from your parents; you finally get … to maybe make your own decisions for the first time,” Antolini said. “It’s just the perfect age that you can just get in there and say, ‘Oh, your parents are horrible.’ That’s how they lay all the groundwork, and it’s so easy. It’s so easy because, I mean, look at all these kids that have bought into it.”

The Collegian contacted Grace Christian Church for comment and did not receive a response.

Reach Allie Seibel at news@collegian.com or on Twitter @allie_seibel_.

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About the Contributor
Allie Seibel
Allie Seibel, Editor in Chief
Allie Seibel is the editor in chief of The Rocky Mountain Collegian, a role she loves more and more with each day. Previously the news editor and news director of The Collegian, Seibel has a background in news, but she’s excited to branch out and experience every facet of content this and following years. Seibel is a sophomore journalism and media communications major minoring in business administration and legal studies. She is a student in the Honors Program and is also an honors ambassador and honors peer mentor. She also is a satellite imagery writer for the Cooperative Institute for Research in the Atmosphere at Colorado State University. Seibel is from Colorado Springs, Colorado, and loves how The Collegian has gotten her acquainted with Fort Collins and CSU. When she’s not writing, reporting or in class, you can always find her with a book, cross-stitching, planning where to travel to next, trying out a new recipe or listening to Taylor Swift. Seibel is incredibly proud of The Collegian’s past and understands the task of safeguarding its future. She’s committed to The Collegian’s brand as an alt-weekly newspaper and will continue to advance its status as a strong online publication while preserving the integrity and tradition of the print paper. Seibel is excited to begin a multi-year relationship with readers at the helm of the paper and cannot wait to see how the paper continues to grow. Through initiatives like the new science desk and letting each individual desk shine, Seibel is committed to furthering The Collegian and Rocky Mountain Student Media over the next few years.

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    AndrewMay 8, 2024 at 9:48 pm

    It doesn’t take secret rituals, dark robes, and blood sacrifices in the middle of the night to be a destructive cult. Experts have long acknowledged that this kind of behavior — high control tendencies mixed with totalizing authoritarian philosophies — form spiritually abusive environments. These new ‘cults’ can range on spectrum and appear normal from the outside as an educational, political, commercial, or religious organization, but internally subject members to self-doubt, deference to leaders/authority figures, and — ultimately — abuses of power.

    Wade and Antolini were very courageous to wait for an opportunity to speak to their family members and for speaking up about this now. There are many healthy churches in the Ft. Collins area that are sure to be a better fit than GCC, as reported here.

    Students looking to avoid being sucked into a dangerous organization should take steps to research the group first, talk to former members about their experiences, and keep lines of communication with family members and friends open. While these groups entice recruits with hints of realizing secret truths that “everybody else” gets wrong, students can stay clear if they remember that honest organizations give freely and transparently — they do not expect a ‘quid pro quo’ for getting special access to truth.

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