Bad craziness at Wheaton College

ferozeOn Sunday the Boston Herald published a sobering report about Feroze Golwalla and his small Parsee Ministry Team, also called Baruch Ha Shem International. Golwalla, 36 and a native of Pakistan, describes Baruch Ha Shem as an effort to take the message of Christ to Parsee Zoroastrians (who live in India and Pakistan). But some students who became associated with Golwalla while they studied at Wheaton College in Illinois describe him as a cult leader who used frequent violence to control them. Testimony against Golwalla comes mostly from Carrie Andreson and Andrew Wolfe. Andreson was a student at Wheaton in 2000 and Wolfe was visiting his twin brother, Benjamin, when they met Golwalla. (The Herald published a picture of Andrew Wolfe, left, and Feroze.) Reporter David Wedge helps Herald readers place Wheaton in proper Flyover Country context by writing that it "counts holy roller Billy Graham among its alumni."

Andreson says that Golwalla hit her, ordered her to screw a twisted clothes hanger into her face, and convinced her to lick a filthy bathroom floor. Wolfe describes Golwalla as beating and sexually assaulting his male followers. Both Andreson and Wolfe say Golwalla ordered them to assault other group members in the name of spiritual purification. The Herald could not reach Golwalla for comment, but he denied the same allegations when confronted by the Boston Phoenix in 2003.

The Phoenix delved into the story in far greater detail than did the Herald, concentrating much of its reporting on the efforts of Bob and Judy Pardon, who help people leave groups like Baruch Ha Shem.

The Pardons, who run a recovery facility known as MeadowHaven, take some criticism in the Boston area, though, because they are evangelical Protestants:

A few years back, Bob became a central figure in the Attleboro-sect case, in which members Jacques and Karen Robidoux were arrested in connection with the deaths of two children. Along with becoming a constant presence in news stories about the episode, Bob served as an adviser for authorities handling the case, writing up a comprehensive report on the sect, and was even named guardian ad litem -- or court-appointed advocate -- for the group's remaining children. Today, Bob routinely consults with police, social-services agencies, and lawyers about cult issues.

Andrew Walsh, a religious historian at Trinity College in Hartford, finds this troubling. "I'm by no means an expert on cults," Walsh says. "I wouldn't go around saying that what Robert Pardon does is bad for people. But what's interesting to me is that he got an awful lot of mileage out of being a 'cult expert' while not being open about that fact that he is religious himself. His group sounds academic and nonprofit-y, and he presents it that way because if he called it the Anti-Cult Ministry, people wouldn't call him, judges wouldn't call him. It seemed to me that he positioned himself as a kind of free agent able to comment objectively about the [Attleboro] case, and journalists just ate that up and gave him oceans of ink without saying who he was."

The Pardons do their work as the New England Institute of Religious Research, which identifies itself on its website as a member of Evangelical Ministries to New Religions. (Blogger Bob Smietana mentioned the Pardons' work in a Christianity Today story about the Attleboro case.)

The Herald further reports that Wheaton College faces some furious parents:

The families of Andreson and Wolfe are considering legal action.

"They allowed Feroze to be there and they knew he was bad news," said Wolfe's mother, Christina. "The college did nothing."

Wheaton spokeswoman Tiffany Self refused comment.

On her website, Christina Wolfe includes a letter (dated April 25, 2003) from Samuel A. Shellhamer, Wheaton's vice president for student development, that describes how Wheaton officials confronted Golwalla, telling him he was no longer welcome to recruit Wheaton students or to claim Wheaton's support. But that action apparently was too late to protect Carrie Andreson or the Wolfe twins from one nasty detour from the road of Christian faith.

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