Two Tampa churches say they have formed an alliance with Scientology as a vehicle to provide helpful programs to their needy communities. The pastors of Glorious Church of God in Christ in east Tampa and Joy Tabernacle Cathedral in Ybor City are enthusiastic supporters of programs inspired by Scientology founder L. Ron Hubbard and are encouraging their members to utilize the programs and help others discover their benefits.
Members of both churches are learning Hubbard’s so-called “study tech,” which is a method of studying that Hubbard designed and which he claimed improved learning. The church members hope to teach “study tech” to children in the churches’ neighborhoods.
Glorious Church also will host, and its members will help teach, an after-school, phonics-based reading program operated by Bright Sky Learning, a Clearwater-based company run by Scientologists. Public money, as much as $1,300 per child, will be paid to Bright Sky through the federal No Child Left Behind Act.
What’s in all of this for the two churches? Both ministers say their mostly low-income, minority neighborhoods need these kinds of programs. Pastor Charles Kennedy of Glorious Church also wants something more material: He hopes that Scientologists will help pay for construction of a community center on the church grounds – where Kennedy wants to teach Hubbard techniques to more people.
Neither minister seems troubled by linking their Christian churches to Scientology. They say the Church of Scientology doesn’t push its religious practices through the programs and “they don’t recruit people.”
That statement is naive at best. The Church of Scientology does recruit – in fact, it has an extremely active recruitment center in Ybor City. It has missions in towns all over America whose purpose is to market Scientology and recruit new members. However, the church has scored perhaps its biggest gains with a more subtle approach: weaving itself into the fabric of communities through programs that may offer benefits but also familiarize enrollees with the concepts and unique lingo of Scientology while sharing little of the controversial history of the church.
Scientology is getting something very valuable out of its alliance with Glorious Church and Joy Tabernacle: public acceptance in an area the church is targeting for recruitment. If the two churches really want to be helpful to their communities, they will avoid becoming mere mission outposts for Scientology, and they will explore the whole range of public and private programs that could provide valuable services to their neighborhoods.