On January 27, I wrote a blog titled: “The Korean Revival and the Ministry of UBF.” UBF is the University Bible Fellowship, an indigenous and international tent-making mission that was birthed through the impact of the Korean Revival some 75 years ago. UBF is a mission that has produced a dynamic movement of evangelism that follows the principles developed by people like John Nevius and other influential Asian missional thinkers who encouraged every-member ministry and tent-maker leadership. This approach is so different from North American forms of local church development that is has both incredible strengths and potential weaknesses, both of which I briefly cited before.
I knew when I posted this particular blog that I would engender the kind of response that appeared on my site over the next several weeks that followed. I have read the numerous responses, and kept an open mind through it all. I will continue to observe UBF, learn from them, and speak the truth in love to them as best I know how. And I assure all of the critics of UBF that I am not an "easy target" for any kind of UBF propaganda, not if you actually knew me personally. I have my own share of opponents. I have gained opposition over many years of ministry because I have time and again spoken truth to power when I felt I had a clear reason to do so. UBF does not own me nor does UBF owe me anything except Christ’s love. I am a free man in Christ, who alone is the Lord of my conscience.
Do I see certain "control" issues in the history of the UBF movement? You bet. I assure those of you who wrote to me, or posted comments on my site, that I remain vigilant in my relationships with all UBF leaders and members about such issues. I will also give them the human benefits that love demands, even if some of what the critics say proves me, and them, wrong. I never suggested that UBF had made no mistakes in the past or that there were not problems in the movement at-large.
Churches and movements always have to face their own problems if they would be faithful to the renewing witness and work of the Holy Spirit. UBF is no exception to this principle. I believe there are many in UBF who recognize this principle and are working to help the movement mature and develop in these areas of concern.
Having said this I do find it quite odd that the critics of UBF generally have never come to me openly and directly. (The only exception is one or two private letters that I received from really concerned former-members who wrote me with dignity and obvious love.) The tendency that I have seen, for well over a year now, is that critics make various accusations against UBF, even ones that carry some weigh with generally impressive words, but then the critics tend to remain anonymous, using the Internet as their means for criticism in most cases. I find this odd and very unfortunate. If UBF had controlled me in the past then I would be the first to come out in the open and make my case in the light of day, not to attack them per se but to help bring about reformation in every way possible. (Again, remember we are not talking about a group that teaches heresy here but one that is accused of bad shepherding practices!) If UBF leaders rejected you, or hurt you wrongly, then you may have no choice, in some cases, but to move on and allow God to be their judge and yours. I will not be personally controlled by another human leader who exercises false and ungodly influence over me. I do, however, submit to human authority. I am required by Scripture. Finally, we must all submit to Christ alone in our conscience and I will defend the freedom that we all have in Christ against every false claim. Even if my biological family might call upon me to disobey Christ, which the gospel clearly demonstrates can and does happen, I would follow Christ. This very point is a major argument in Paul’s letter to the Galatians as well thus Paul is your model and mine about freedom in Christ as a new man and how we all ought to rightly defend it.
So, what should a former UBF member do? In short, make your case, state your concerns in the open to the proper UBF leaders, but move on in Christ to a healthy place where you can grow and mature. And do not spend endless effort on “correcting” UBF in public as if God has now called you to draw a target on these brothers and sisters and you have the unique calling of “exposing” them to the world via the Internet. (This underscores how dangerous the Internet can be and how it can be used to do much good and great harm. I am convinced we will all answer for every word we speak or write, at least if I read Scripture properly.)
Having said this, the numerous comments made against UBF neither surprised me nor did they reveal anything that I did not already know about the movement. I have time and again discussed these kinds of issues with present UBF leadership in North America. Could it be that some of you did have a really bad experience, which I do not doubt, but that UBF is improving and changing as they interact with the wider Christian world beyond their own history? Could it be that UBF is simply not the right place for you now in your journey but it might be a good and wholesome place for many others? We must charitably allow for growth and change on the part of other believers, including UBF leaders. If UBF leaders do begin to reach outside their movement to study, to get training and real positive exposure to the larger Christian church, and to receive direct input such as what I gave them on January 26 in Chicago, on being true servants, this may help them mature as a movement. You may never be led to go back to UBF, if you left in deep pain and anguish, and I would not suggest that you do. But you can surely "believe the best" about UBF, as Paul tells us love will always seek to do (1 Corinthians 13). You can become more positive about their future even if you do not intend to be a part of it. (And if your friends are in the movement and you tell me you are concerned for them still being there then I suggest to you that your extremely negative approach will not, generally speaking, help them understand your concern.)
Furthermore, Dr. Lee is now gone. I sense that he did many very positive things but that he was a flawed man in several ways. (Most strong leaders are greatly gifted and very often flawed. A long list of great names in church hsitory could be provided at this point.) I am not his judge, and cannot render anything close to an intelligent response other than this very broad statement: Whatever he did that might have been improper I know, and so should you, that God is his judge, as he is both your judge and mine. UBF is clearly seeking new paths since his death and it seems to me to be a movement that is learning from many of us who are not being duped in any way. Robert Coleman, for example, spoke at the North American UBF leaders’ meeting in Chicago recently. This man is no fool. He is a senior statesman who possesses immense wisdom and is respected across almost every spectrum of the church. (Coleman is a Methodist, by the way, and I am Reformed, so you have some very significant theological divergence in that fact alone.) He has made perhaps the greatest contribution in our lifetime on real discipleship and true evangelism in his two great books on these subjects. I talked with Dr. Coleman in December about UBF. He has the same response that I do. UBF has a history, has made some mistakes, and it needs to move forward but it is not a cult if a proper definition of a cult is employed. Comparisons to the International Church of Christ are most unfortunate. The ICOC is not only guilty of major control issues in ways that go far beyond UBF’s issues but it is a group in denial of several basic orthodox Christian doctrines, teaching that it is not only the true church but that it alone practices the only true saving baptism. Any comparison is both unwise and unfair to UBF.
I suggest that if you who disagree with UBF pray for the rest of us, asking the Father to help us and impact UBF through our collective labors, you will be doing a far better kingdom service than by attacking UBF month after month. I also urge you to "put behind you" those things that have so deeply hurt you, as much as God can give you the grace to do so. I have been crushed, attacked, and nearly run out of the ministry on several occasions. I have seen the harm of this even in many I have loved over the years. I know there can be real pain in these things thus I am very serious in saying this. In God’s kindness, through much love and prayer, most of these relationships have been altered for the better. There are a few who have hurt me, or whom I have hurt, that I have found it impossible to be reconciled with because they refuse to talk to me but with most I now have meaningful reconciliation, though we have gone our own ways in terms of ever sharing ministry together.
I want to reiterate that I do know what control is about in relationships within a church. I meet with people regularly who are led to doubt their own salvation (falsely it often seems to me), often because a group becomes too heavy-handed and authoritarian. I have known group leaders who do this well. In one case a group leader loved me, at least for a short season, and then turned on me when I became deeply involved in his church schism where he was also involved as a small group leader. He was sweet, very kind and always helped people at every turn. He was also magnetic and powerful. He knew his Bible inside and out. People sat at his feet and soaked in his every word. But those who could not get into his gifts and style felt lost and hopeless, out of touch with Christ and his strong demanding faith. He was very intimidating. So, yes I know these types of dangers are very real. I fear there has been some of this in UBF and thus I am determined, as God grants me the grace, to keep working to address anything that I see that strikes me as approaching such a form of control. The difference here may be that I have not been personally hurt by UBF thus I am not threatened by UBF in any personal way. I can more easily love them and speak the truth in that love. If they reject me then I will move on knowing that I have done what I can and should do. If they love me they will be loved back by me and I will teach them as faithfully as possible. It is really that simple.
I suggest that all of you who are concerned about this friendship pray for me and for UBF as we get to know each other better. I am not the answer to anyone’s problems but as a servant of the living God I can speak truth in the freedom that I have in Christ wherever I am asked to teach. I promise you, by God’s grace, this is what I will do with UBF as I do with everyone else.
I will expand on this blog over the next few days, with a concluding postscript about UBF. I will include some comments taken anonymously from letters to me, and show how I think some of the pain of the past should be processed for the glory of God. I am praying for all of you who have been hurt, for those who are growing to love Christ more every day because of the ministry of UBF, and for the healing of all who have been touched by this unusual movement of Christians that clearly shows deep love for Christ. Clearly the issue with UBF is not doctrinal, in the essential sense. And clearly it is not about true love for Christ. No one denies that there is deep love for Christ in UBF groups. What is consistent is the charge of some that UBF abuses people’s freedom in Christ. I will say more about that tomorrow, God willing. I hope my heart and concern will show through clearly in these words, which are written for the purpose of healing and reconciliation.
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Hi Dr. Armstrong,
We sincerely thank you for the love, concern and help that you are
giving to current and former UBF members.
Everyone in UBF is a sinner and we make countless mistakes in our
personal lives and relationships. It is difficult and painful to come
to a godly understanding of my own sins as an individual. How much
harder it is for a close-knit group like ours to accurately diagnose
systematic problems in the ministry and take corrective action. The
impassioned, public criticism that we receive from some former members
is clearly symptomatic of some wider problems, but from their vantage
point they cannot accurately diagnose the problems either. Their
criticism generates plenty of heat but not much light.
All criticism of a ministry, however valid, needs to be put in proper
perspective. For that, we need help from the outside. This is why
your input has been, and continues to be, extremely valuable for us.
The thoughtful presentations that you, Dr. Coleman and other speakers
have made to our members are helping us, perhaps more than you
When I first tried to share my faith as a newborn Christian, I said
and did some truly stupid things. Looking back on it now I
cringe. What a jerk I was! But was it wrong for me to share my faith,
however foolishly? How did God see it? If I did it by faith in Jesus
Christ, then it was precious in his sight. When a baby is learning
how to crawl, it makes little sense to criticize him for not being
able to walk or run.
As a zealous, immature gospel ministry, UBF made many mistakes. How
could it be otherwise? The danger is not found in past mistakes, but
in a continued refusal to change and mature. I have witnessed dramatic
changes in the five years since Dr. Lee passed on. I also saw dramatic
changes in the five years before that. And in the five years before
that. And so on.
I’m glad that you are taking seriously the hurt felt by some former
members of our ministry. Their hurt is obviously genuine. Anyone in UBF
who refuses to acknoweledge that is mistaken. But in fairness–and
you are certainly fair–readers of this blog should also be
aware of the deep hurt that some of these ex-members have caused us.
They have hurt us as a ministry and as individuals. Hurting people
usually do not have the wisdom and self control to respond to
While Dr. Lee was alive, he repeatedly counseled us not to respond to
public criticism in kind. Rather than fighting a public relations
battle or criticize our critics, we have, for the most part, simply
prayed and allowed people to observe what we do, so that they could
decide for themselves if we were genuine. This policy of silence has
surely kept us from making even more stupid mistakes. But it has also
left us extremely vulnerable as an organization. Some whom God has
placed in postions of leadership have, based on secondhand
information, published damaging statements about us. We were
described negatively as a “fringe church” in the book Churches that
Abuse by Ronald M. Enroth (1992: Zondervan). If you visit the website
of Apologetics Index, you will find UBF coded in purple, which means
that we “profess to be Christian but are outside orthodox
Christianity.” We also receive bad press from Rick Ross. I know that
these cult watchers are sincere and mean well. But Christians can be
a very trusting lot. They tend to read faith-based articles and books
to be encouraged, edified and instructed, not to challenge or think
critically about what is being said. So-called experts who write
about specific ministries like UBF need to rely on more accurate
information and sound methodology. Writings like Enroth’s have a long
shelf-life; they remain in circulation for decades and are rarely
Readers of this blog should also be aware that UBF has also
been targeted by individuals and organizations who have vested
interests in stirring up controversy. Much of the anti-UBF material
floating around today was compiled in the mid 1980’s by Cult Awareness
Network (CAN), a non-Christian organization that acted as a conduit
for professional deprogrammers who illegally kidnapped and detained
young people to bring them out of whatever kind of lifestyle their
parents did not like. CAN maintained files on more than 1,500
organizations; their list contained bona fide cults but also many
genuine Christian groups including Jews for Jesus, Promise Keepers,
Campus Crusade for Christ and Wycliffe Bible Society. CAN purposely
gathered only complaints-they had no interest in looking at both sides
of an issue-and was notoriously lax in verifying the authenticity of
the information they spread. In 1996, CAN leaders were found guilty
of participation in the kidnapping of a young man and were ordered to
pay more that $1 million in damages, after which the organization
declared bankruptcy and disbanded. But CAN materials have resurfaced
in various places and are still circulating.
Because UBF has been marginalized in all these ways, it has been only
more difficult for us to enter into productive dialogue with Christian
leaders and organizations and with sincere ex-members to address the
real issues that you have mentioned. This is why your input is so
valuable to us now. Rebukes are painful, but they humble us and
continually prompt us to examine ourselves, repent and reform. We fall
so far short of the holiness of Christ that it is amazing that God can
use us at all. But he has, and he does.
Thanks again. God bless you.
I concur about Ronald Enroth’s comments on UBF. I had several conversations with him when he was writing this material many years ago, in the early 1990s. (I was doing research of my own on several groups at that time and this is how we met by telephone.) He was primarily doing sociology thus, as you note, his work is not updated at this point and the shelf-life makes it very dated for the present discussion. I believe, knowing Ron as I did at that time, that even he would agree on this important point.
I also believe you demonstrate the very spirit that I have seen first-hand in many I have met. If we can all “listen” better we may see more reconciliation, which I hope and pray for personally.
Dear Mr. Armstrong, thank you for writing some more words about this case, so we understand your case better. Somehow however, you give the impression that we should stop talking about UBF and leave that to you. Sorry, UBF has ruled every minute during 10 years of my life, they even arranged my marriage, I gave all of my heart, time, money to UBF during that time, so I think I have all right and more right than you to discuss UBF issues, wouldn’t you agree? And I know other dropouts who have been in UBF much longer, or whose marriage was divorced or broke due to UBF.
You wrote assured us that you are not an “easy target” for any kind of UBF propaganda, and I want to believe that, but still I feel you are a little bit too self-secure here. You also wrote that you have your own share of opponents. But maybe that makes you also vulnerable and inclined to defend your point of view just because you feel you’re under attack and don’t want to admit you made a wrong assessment? I still wonder how anybody can really understand the dynamics of UBF who has not been a rank-and-file member for many years – since only then they reveal their real face, and spoken to many ex members, and heard their experience.
Concerning your claim that UBF criticism was only anonymously, I don’t understand that. Many have written their testimonies with their full names already! It started already 1976 with the letter signed by the 7 Korean senior shepherds. What happened? It was called a “rebellion” and they were expelled. All the testimonies have been written non-anonymously originally. When I published testimonies on the Internet, I abbreviated the names because I was not always sure whether people would like these testimonies to be worldwide readable by everybody over all the years. Many are actually embarrassed about themselves of having been so foolish. We would not really want everybody, who would not understand, to know in which kind of cult we have been and how foolishly you tolerated the abuse there, just by a Google search. We would not make it a secret, but it needs some more explanation that cannot be given in one Internet testimony. And there are email addresses on the websites where you can always contact and ask for more information.
We also had discussion forums for a long time where the only people who wrote anonymously were the UBF defenders who sometimes visited to curse us, but never joined any meaningful discussion. By the way, these forums have been closed for quite a while and the websites have not been update for some years now. We wrote an open letter to Sarah Barry, under my name and postal address, which was never answered. Please also understand that 99% of the people who left UBF are not the kind of people who would write publicly on the Internet. Contrary to you, they are very shy, self-insecure, struggling with feelings of guilt and shame, unable to defend their own opinion against others (that’s the kind of people UBF is able to keep and manipulate).
“If UBF leaders rejected you, or hurt you wrongly, then you may have no choice, in some cases, but to move on and allow God to be their judge and yours. I will not be personally controlled by another human leader who exercises false and ungodly influence over me.”
I think that’s the crucial point, Mr. Armstrong. UBF invites people which have a different personality from yours, people who are shy and insecure and feel lonely and long for appreciation etc., people who allow other people to control them, either because it’s a mental weakness of them or because they are as young students in a phase where they just feel lonely, rejected or struggle with life, examination fears etc. They are also much younger than you are when they are invited. There are phases in our lives, where we are not mature and strong, but immature and vulnerable, and that are the phases when UBF catches the people. And then, over the years they are *taught* that being personally controlled by another human leader is something spiritual! They are taught that humbleness consists in not having your own view and speaking up against leaders. They are taught that obedience to these leaders is obedience to God, since these leaders are “God’s servants”, who cannot be questions. In his Sunday message, my chapter leader taught that we must obey, even if we don’t understand them (i.e. question their teachings and commands) simply because they are God’s servants. We also learned that “moving on” is something out of question, since UBF is called “God’s work” and who wants to leave God’s work? If you have been fed again and again, over many years, in many group and 1:1 sessions, that UBF is God’s work, is God’s calling for you, and that abuse is only training and an expressino of love, and UBF leaders are God’s servants, then some day you start believing it, and then you don’t leave so easily, right?
Also, the problem of most people who join a cult (let’s say the Moonies) believe that they are strong and nobody can influence them. But they are not aware of the power of mind control exploiting the full scale of human emotions for their means. Mr. Armstrong, do you know how mind control works? You may have some experience with excessive control and controlling people, but the quality of mind control in real cult groups is different. Did you ever study that phenomenon, independently of whether UBF is a cult or not? How do you think the Moonies, “Children of God”, Jim Jones etc. etc. operated and were able to manipulate all these people? Many of these people were weak, but others were strong or believed to be strong, but the mind control in the group was stronger. And then how come that whenever I read a book about these things, or testimonies of ex members of such groups, I’m always reminded of UBF (and I’m not the only one who noticed that)?
I remember a TV interview with Teddy Hembekides as UBF spokesman where he claimed that “people are free to leave.” Yes, that’s true, but it completely misses the point. People are usually not forced physically, but they are trapped mentally. First they manipulate you over the years that your leader is God’s servant and UBF is God’s calling for you, and you will not be blessed if you leave, and then they tell you “you are free to leave”? How does this fit together?
Mr. Armstrong, when you say “I will not be personally controlled by another human leader” I see a certain amount of pride and self-security, and a certain amount of ego-centered view. Yes, I believe you, that you are a mature man now, who can have a view of his own. But there surely were also phases in your life where you would have been vulnerable to join and stay in a cult, virtually *any* cult. That’s not to say you’re a silly person, but to point out the power of mind control, if it is exercised in the “right” way at the “right” time in life of a person. We are human beings, are we are not only driven by rational thoughts and spiritual desires, but we are so easily led by our irrational feelings and views, much more than we like to admit. Also, there are other people who have a different kind of personality. They are not used to have their own views, but they like to depend on others, they like to be controlled by others, they like to be told the exact rules they have to obey to become saved and be acceptable to others etc. Instead of helping such people to become mature, UBF exploits these weaknesses and makes them even worse. You cannot say because these people are weak, it’s all only their own fault.
“Even if my biological family might call upon me to disobey Christ, which the gospel clearly demonstrates can and does happen, I would follow Christ.”
The problem here is that people in UBF have difficulties to understand the difference between following Christ and following UBF. In UBF, following Christ means by definition following UBF. We never learned to decouple these things, never learned that what is written in the Bible and how UBF interprets the Bible could be theoretically in contradiction etc. If you make Bible study with UBF, then over time, you adapt their wrong interpretation of the Bible. You are not able to discern where “following Christ” and “following UBF” would be different. That’s the whole goal of UBF’s activities in the life of a member. So, “following Christ” in UBF means neglecting your parents and family in favor of being busy with UBF activities, caring for the well-being of some students you invite first, instead of caring for the well-being of your parents and kids at first etc.
“And do not spend endless effort on “correcting” UBF in public as if God has now called you to draw a target on these brothers and sisters and you have the unique calling of “exposing” them to the world via the Internet.”
Does this not contradict a bit what you wrote earlier “If UBF had controlled me in the past then I would be the first to come out in the open and make my case in the light of day,”? Anyway, Mr. Armstrong, I assure you that 99% of UBF’s dropouts *have* moved on. But on the other hand, there are very few others who feel compelled to make others aware of the problems, so that their experience had not been in vain. If you had fallen into a pit, would you not warn others of its existence? Anyway, the people who left UBF deal in various way with it, most of them simply want to forget because even the memory is too hurtful or shameful. What you may not understand is that leaving UBF is almost always a traumatic experience, hence the extreme reactions from taking a lot of time discussing what’s happened to simply wanting to forget. It’s not easy to simply go over 10 years or even 20 years in your life. And by the way, maybe God *has* called some people to target the abuse of UBF and continually challenge them?
“Could it be that UBF is simply not the right place for you now in your journey but it might be a good and wholesome place for many others?”
Could be, but that was never an option when we were in UBF. It was either accept God’s calling = UBF, or “run away” and be condemned. UBF simply does not let you choose whether you would like to stay or not, and be equally blessed. And actually no, an environment that does not foster maturity and does not address its unbiblical practices, but shuns its critics, where leaders are not accountable, and the Bible is twisted, can never by a wholesome place of anybody. In any way, it does not legitimize UBF to continue in its old ways, without repentance and change.
“Furthermore, Dr. Lee is now gone.”
We know. But his spirit lives on in UBF. It is even called “spiritual heritage” in UBF and they are determined to keep it with any means. It was not only his “flaws” (sins) and personal misconduct, but also his practices and teachings which are still taught in UBF, which are the problem. Also, where can I find an official document by UBF admitting that the man had any real “flaws”? Instead, every year on “founder’s day” they praise him. (By the way would you call ordering an abortion by a UBF leader a “flaw” only?.)
“Comparisons to the International Church of Christ are most unfortunate. The ICOC is not only guilty of major control issues in ways that go far beyond UBF’s issues but it is a group in denial of several basic orthodox Christian doctrines, teaching that it is not only the true church but that it alone practices the only true saving baptism. Any comparison is both unwise and unfair to UBF.”
Yes, it’s unfair since ICOC has openly addressed these issues at last something which UBF was not able to do. Kip McKean has written an apology (a fake one, admittedly), which Sarah Barry or John Jun did not do. Sorry for being sarcastic. And the “only true church” and “only true saving baptism” was never really official in ICOC, it was the typical insiders teaching that to some extend also existed and exist in UBF similarly. The baptism in ICOC was the point where the disciples became “disicplers”, and similarly in UBF, it is the step of sharing a testimony where you make a commitment to become a UBF shepherd which is presented to you as the only true saving act in UBF.
The point is: Does the group convince its members that their membership in the group is the absolute will of God and His calling for them, and that they will not be blessed if they leave? It does not matter whether the group makes this teaching official. The difference is that ICOC was always more outspoken than UBF. They even published membership numbers, so by comparing these numbers with their own claims people finally started to recognize something was wrong. The problem with UBF is that they never make anything public in order to avoid criticism or being able to be evaluated in any way. Take for instance their teaching about “marriage by faith” or “absolute obedience” etc. You will not find any public or internal document about these things. This allows them even to deny the existence of such teachings in public. So I don’t judge a group according to what they preach in public, but according to what rules and regulations they enforce in practice, and what teachings they in end effect establish in the minds of their members.
Mr. Armstrong, did you read Samuel Lee’s teachings about people who were cursed because they did not obey UBF leaders (http://www.ubf-info.de/int/slee/horrorstories.en.htm)? Yes, Samuel Lee is dead, but I was taught similar things in 1:1 Bible study by my UBF missionary. How can you say that you are free in UBF to leave if you are fed with such fears? Is it not even more cult-like than what the ICOC was doing? Yes, UBF officially does not claim that they are the one true church, but they teach that they are the one true church *for you* if you are a member which in end effect does not make a big difference.
“I also urge you to “put behind you” those things”
I think we will put them behind us when they are really settled. This means public repentance, apology, admittance of the wrong teachings and practices and real change in UBF. And even then, would it not be good to remind the things that happened in the past in order not to repeat the same mistakes in the future? I don’t mean reminding them as a grudge, but as a mistake that has been made, that has been corrected, that has been apologized for, and that should not be repeated? Why do we need to study church history if not in order to learn from it?
You are saying that you are writing for the purpose of healing and reconciliation which is a good goal, but I assure you that most UBF critics have the same goal. But maybe the problem is how we think healing and reconciliation can happen? If you downplay and diminish the problems of UBF and write one-sided articles full of praise of UBF, you have to understand that you don’t help the healing of those who have been abused by UBF and that you provoke the anger of those who think that UBF has *intrinsic* problems that can only be solved by a fundamental reform. The first step to any healing, reconciliation and change is that the problems are admitted, repented of and apologized. I cannot see these steps are being taken. Where can I find a declaration of confession, repentance and apology and explanation which things have been handled and taught wrongly in the past and how this is going to be changed? The ICOC, the Worldwide Church of God, the Fort Lauderdale Shepherds and many others have done that, but not UBF. Again, the first step towards healing and reconciliation and improving things is admittance of the problem and confession of sins. Let’s make the first step first.
Mr. Armstrong, it was good to read from you that you know what control is and that you also experienced it to a certain amount. But anyway I am sure that you have never experienced the amount of control and manipulation I experienced in my 10 years. I also believed I was smart, but they were able to brainwash and manipulate me for many years.
You wrote “(Again, remember we are not talking about a group that teaches heresy here but one that is accused of bad shepherding practices!)”
But the problem is that the border between bad shepherding practices and heresy is fluent. I remember UBF missionaries who told their sheep “I am God (for you)” or another one “Obey me as you would obey God” which sounds like heresy in my ears.
You wrote “Clearly the issue with UBF is not doctrinal, in the essential sense.”
I think that’s the point were we really disagree. UBF’s understanding of shepherding and role and authority of leaders totally contradicts what Jesus taught in Mt 23 and other places. That’s not a light thing, since it influences everything. (See how Jesus almost curses the Pharisees in Mt 23 – it *is* not a light thing).
Maybe the problem is how we understand “doctrinal.” In terms of what UBF makes public and official, what they literally write down and speak out publicly, it sounds more or less orthodox. But they never make their real teachings about shepherding, marriage, money handling, etc. explicit. They teach it only through 1:1 sessions, subtle manipulation, between the lines etc. The problem is which doctrine they enforce and teach in practice, which is very different. But that’s the thing that counts in the end. It’s like with the Pharisees, their doctrine sounded well, they even seemed to live according to these teachings, and seemed very eager, so did they have a doctrinal issue (I mean in terms of the Torah)?
“And clearly it is not about true love for Christ. No one denies that there is deep love for Christ in UBF groups.”
Probably there is also deep love for God in Jehovah’s Witnesses or the Moonie groups. And there is surely deep love for God in ICOC groups. That’s a different issue. The problem is how much is the image of God or Christ distorted in UBF and how much are they directly dependent from Christ and their conscience, without interference by leaders?
Sorry I wrote so much again, but I think it helps you better understand our position and the real problems of UBF.
John, thanks for the response.
At this point, UBF leaders really do need godly counsel on how to deal
with these problems and, God willing, effect reconciliation wherever
Your advice to “listen” is important. I will try to read statements
like those posted by Chris carefully and prayerfully. To go beyond
that, however, we all need a strategy. Chris correctly points out that
our ministry has done little in the way of explaining or apologizing.
He wants and needs a response, but it’s really difficult to do that
properly in public, quasi-public or even private places. This will
have to change. Perhaps the Internet can play a role for the good,
but I’m not sure how. I would love to hear your thoughts on any
models that we can follow to pursue reconciliation individually and
It will be interesting and fascinating to watch the sequence of
comments unfold in this blogspot. Such discussions–such as the one
that ensued over ecumenism, Anglicanism and the Roman Catholic
Church–can be useful and illuminating, but only if they involve
listening. For communication and reconciliation to begin, the parties
involved need some common ground on which to stand. If there is no
common ground, then either or both sides have to retreat a little so
that we have room to place our feet. What is the common ground? Of
course it is Jesus. He must be our Mediator. Progress will be made
when we extend the grace of forgiveness without condition.
I will pray for this.
Dear Brian (I remember you as a UBF spokesman and apologist) wrote: “How much harder it is for a close-knit group like ours to accurately diagnose systematic problems in the ministry and take corrective action.” Yes, we understand that. But the problem is that UBF is not willing to accept the diagnosis of the many people from inside and outside who did already accurately diagnose the systematic problems. The latest such attempt from inside was the 2000 reform movement, which was vehemently rejected and called a rebellion. Samuel Lee even refused any talk, and when he died Sarah Barry had the same stance towards the reformers. Instead, UBF should be happy about any such discussions. Also, your personal reaction towards criticism of UBF was always either defense or denial, you never showed genuine interest to really discuss such issues, unfortunately.
You also wrote “The impassioned, public criticism that we receive from some former members is clearly symptomatic of some wider problems, but from their vantage point they cannot accurately diagnose the problems either. Their criticism generates plenty of heat but not much light.” It’s good that you admit some wider problems (I’d like to hear that from the mouth of a top UBF leader), but I do not understand why they should not be able to accurately diagnose the problems. Many ex members have very accurately diagnosed the problems. The heat is produced by UBF’s handling of this criticism, namely denial and rejection. Again, I would like to mention the 2000 reform movement. The critics wanted to truly reform UBF, not produce heat. The heat was produced because they were called “rebels” and discussion was completely rejected and they were expelled. The heat is also caused by Sarah Barry or any other official refusing to give any reasonable answer to us.
You said UBF needs help from the outside. But how can an outsider really understand what’s wrong? Should UBF not directly deal and answer its critics from their own ranks in the first place? UBF has always refused to do that.
You suggested that UBF should be regarded as a “immature gospel ministry, like a baby” and thus all mistakes should be overlooked. Sorry, I cannot follow you here. If UBF leader really had this stance towards their sheep, admitting they are spiritual babies, everything would be fine. But UBF leaders claim to have absolute authority, to be *the* servants of God etc., the commanders (see the examples written by Samuel Lee) and demand absolute obedience. That’s why they are judged so strictly by us. As James already has written, those who claim to be teachers have to be judged more strictly. But you want to turn it around and let such people be judged *less* strictly. I cannot follow you here. It’s like the “apology” of Kip McKean who wrote that everything was a “big religious experiment” so it should not be treated so seriously, but in all the time before, he sounded very different, it was God’s ministry of the time, the leaders were God’s representatives, and following them was a matter of life and death, etc. not just an “experiment”.
You write about “dramatic changes.” Sorry, again I cannot follow you. The fundamental issues of UBF are still the same. And I have spoken with dropouts who left even this year. By the way, making Peter Chang from Bonn the Europe UBF leader that is what I call a dramatic change. A dramatic change to the worse.
You also try to turn the table around and claim that we have hurt you. Yes it hurts, hearing the truth, right? It’s an inconvenient truth, but it needs to be heard.
“While Dr. Lee was alive, he repeatedly counseled us not to respond to public criticism in kind.”
Yes, and that’s why UBF is called a cult. If the criticism is legitimate, it needs to be addressed. UBF fails to do so. in fact UBF has always taught to not respond to *any* criticism. For instance, take the letter of James Kim and other reformers. They were not allowed to speak in UBF, their issues were not discussed, instead they were expelled. Then, when some they published their criticism, it was again not addressed because now it was “public criticism.” As long as UBF does not change this stance, it remains a cult in my eyes. It does not matter whether criticism is public or not, all that matters is whether it is justified or not.
You also wrote “Rather than fighting a public relations battle or criticize our critics, we have, for the most part, simply prayed”, but I remember you as somebody who engaged a lot in public relation battles, with your own web site, with defending UBF in various discussion forums, and also here. You wrote “and allowed people to observe what we do, so that they could decide for themselves if we were genuine.” Ok. I observed UBF for more than 10 years and decided for myself that you are not genuine. So what? Who can decide this? “People” from the outside cannot decide it, but those who have been in UBF.
You wrote “This policy of silence has surely kept us from making even more stupid mistakes.” Sorry, the opposite was the case. This policy kept you from changing, so repeated the same mistakes over and over. Also, I think “policy of silence” is too nice a name. I would call it rather policy of complete unaccountability of leadership.
You wrote “But Christians can be a very trusting lot. They tend to read faith-based articles and books to be encouraged, edified and instructed, not to challenge or think critically about what is being said.” Why do you lament about that? Isn’t that the thing that UBF exploits so well and why not many more members complain?
You mentioned the former CAN, but you did not tell the full story, namely that the process against CAN was driven by Scientology with their money and attorneys, in order to buy the whole organization with name, logo and collected documents after they went bankrupt because of the costs for all these trials, and after having destroyed the CAN director Ms. Kisser in a personal slandering campaign? All of the CANs possessions, name and logo is now in the hands of Scientology who now operate under the same name of CAN (“cult awareness”!). Do you think Scientology can discern better than the old CAN what is a cult and what not? The person who was “kidnapped” now readily admits that he has been in a cult-like church the “United Pentecostal Church” if I remember correctly and that he was only used as a pawn in a game played by Scientology. When CAN was taken over by Scientology, Samuel Lee was very happy and claimed “Now the age of Christ has come”. But don’t you think it’s rather an age of cults, when the cult awareness organization is taken over by the worst cult we have?
The problem is that UBF has *chosen* to be a cult when they refused to respond to both public criticism and criticism from inside (the reform movements, but also the many private talks from people who left with their leaders – it was always the same, they never accepted any criticism). So UBF should not be amazed to be treated that way. If UBF wants to change their policy of silence and unaccountability, that would be great. But I hope you can understand that I am skeptical about that. I cannot see any fundamental change so far. Yes, the Soviet Union changed somewhat after the death of Stalin. But the fundamental change came only after Gorbachev when the crimes of the past were admitted and discussed openly. I’m still waiting for the Gorbachev of UBF.
Your comments are in response to me, not to Brian K. I do agree with some things that you are saying on some levels. I would not mind at all continuing a gentle and respectful discussion with you, but I don’t believe that this blogspot is the right forum. If you have a better idea, please contact me personally. God be with you.
Joe, I appreciate what you write. My understanding is that you never have been in close contact with Samuel Lee in Chicago, experienced his various trainings and abuses, and that your experience of UBF is mostly from the perspective of a leader of his own somewhat (and now very) remote chapter. So even people like you who have been in UBF for a long time may not understand what UBF really looks like for a rank-and-file member under and abusive leader like Samuel Lee or Peter Chang in Germany.
Joe, you wrote that explaining and apologizing is “really difficult to do properly in public, quasi-public or even private places.” Actually, I don’t think it is so difficult once you are determined to really apologize, and not just to write something for political reasons or to silence people. If you’re really serious about wanting to change and really sorry for what happened, then apology will be easy and naturally. I think the difficulty only shows that UBF is not really prepared to make that step, which has something to do with its Confucian background. Even the “Reform UBF” (CMI) was not able to do it, that’s why I did not stay with them. However, it’s the only thing that is really important. It’s the essence of the gospel, of what Jesus preached so many times. And that’s what UBF is missing.
As an example, take the famous public apology by the 5 “Ford Lauderdale shepherds” who had established a big sheperding/discipling movement. After some years, however, the problems of this kind of shepherding became apparent, with many cases of spiritual abuse. The 5 top shepherds who initiated the movement (similar to Samuel Lee, Sarah Barry, John Jun in UBF) admitted this and the flaws in their teaching (i.e. not only accidentally abuse) and issued the following declaration: “We realize that controversies and problems have arisen among Christians in various areas as a result of our teaching in relation to subjects such as submission, authority, discipling, and shepherding. We deeply regret these problems and, insofar as they are due to fault on our part, we ask forgiveness from our fellow believers whom we have offended. We realize that our teachings, though we believe them to be essentially sound, have in various places been misapplied or handled in an immature way; and that this has caused problems for our brothers in the ministry. We deeply regret this and ask for forgiveness. Insofar as it lies in our power, we will do our best to correct these situations and to restore any broken relationships.” (The statement is signed by Don Basham, Em Baxter, Bob Mumford, John Poole, Derek Prince, and Charles Simpson.) (Maybe you know Derek Prince. He died a few years ago, but was a very influential Christian leader even *after* that public apology. An apology does not decrease authority and respect, but increases it.) This was issued in 1976, ironically in the same year when the abuse in UBF became so apparent, but Samuel Lee refused to repent and apologize. So my point is that UBF has not only a problem in 1) its teachings and 2) in the individual behavior of leaders, but also 3) a general problem of admitting and correcting errors and sins. UBF is not a baby, as Brian claimed but this is going on since more than 40 years now! So UBF will have a hard time to convince anybody that they suddenly want to change that attitude. It’s not that I don’t want and pray for and hope that UBF changes its attitude, but it’s just difficult for me to believe and trust after all that happened.
As another example, I once was kicked out of UBF for no reason. Literally no reason. I was not given any, but my UBF missionary simply told me during 1:1 Bible study all of a sudden that he did not want to see me any more, probably because I was not submissive enough and did not respond in the way he liked. But as I said, he refused to give any reason, but simply told me I would not fit there. Probably he had given up the hope that I could be transformed in somebody who would swallow everything and obey absolutely and stop having his own opinion. This happened after UBF had told me 3 years that UBF was my calling of God etc. So this was tantamount to that I had missed my calling and God abandoned me. At that time, I had some other difficulties in my life with study etc. so I was on the edge of committing suicide even (by the way, I am now aware of 4 people in my former UBF chapter who *did* commit suicide in similar situations). If you missed your goal in life, if God has abandoned you, what will you live for? I expected the chapter leader to come to me and apologize or explain, since which right had my UBF shepherd to simply kick me out of the church? Shouldn’t there be a proper reason and a proper proceeding as in Mt 18:15ff? But the leader didn’t come, nor anybody else, except one German who tried to convince me that I simply need to forgive. Anyway, half a year later, when other people left UBF and there was a lack of members, I was officially re-invited, again without any reason given why I had been kicked out in the first place and why I now was re-invited. It was just not talked about. I was happy because I thought this was a sign from God that he did not abandon me. Then they managed to finally make me as submissive and obedient as they wished. Anyway, the missionary who had kicked me out. also left UBF after 25 years. He recognized the fundamental problems of UBF and apologized personally for what he had done. It’s so easy! Of course I happily accepted his apology and he is now one of my good friends, visits me when he feels lonely, discusses openly with me etc. There is not the slightest grudge against him in my mind any more. That’s how healing and reconciliation happens. Why does UBF think it’s so difficult?
Sorry Joe and Brian for the confusion. The “posted by” line is arranged in a way that is a bit misleading. Anyway, I assume that you and Brian have similar views and even similar positions and background, so it was probably not such a big mistake.
Joe, you also engage in public praise of UBF, e.g. in your report about Germany UBF which I found very disturbing since it contained things which are simply wrong. You write that “More than 1,200 residents of Bonn attended their tsunami-relief charity concert at Beethoven Hall. This concert helped Bonn UBF to shine the light of Christ and strengthen its ties with the local German community.” Can you explain to me how it shined the light of Christ when God and Christ were not mentioned with one word in the concert? It was an event performed by Peter Chang’s “ISMF” which he handles on a completely secular level, as a purely musical/cultural group. It’s more like a front group for UBF. UBF, God, mission etc. were not mentioned in the concert, the concert flyers etc. as I know from people who attended.
You also wrote that “three second-gens from Bonn began a technology business that is intended to help to support future missionaries throughout the world”. That’s also a misleading information. The one who began that business and is the owner of the company is Peter Chang. The others only work for him. Did you know that many East European UBF leaders and missionaries work for Peter Chang as resellers in his computer trading business?
I see here the intend to give the impression that it was an idea of 2nd gens. Peter Chang is behind all of this. Do you know about the troubled history of Peter Chang and did you read the testimonies of ex UBF Bonn members?
Joe, you said we should all better “listen”. You probably know (at least Brian knows) that we wrote a letter with 16 questions to Sarah Barry. What we got as an answer was a deafening silence. We did not even get the answer that she read our letter. Her reaction showed a complete disdain of us and our opinion and is the oppisite of an attitude of “listening.” Do you think we would get an answer if we write a similar letter to John Jun today? Should we do that? Will he be ready to listen? People like you seem to be responsive, but what about the people who have the real say in UBF?
I believe that you raise good points that deserve proper discussion, but John Armstrong’s blogspot should be reserved for public communication and discourse on what he has written. Let’s think creatively on how to communicate better. I’ll send email. Thanks!
Thanks Chris. Your comments accurately portray doctrinal problems and cultic dynamics that exist in UBF.
It seems to me that UBF leaders or UBF defenders are confused about the notion of “compromise”. They seem to think that criticizing the problems of UBF is the same as “compromise” with truth of God. Do you remember how much we were taught during 1-to-1 Bible study that we should never “compromise”? For so many years, I thought criticizing UBF and my 1-to-1 shepherd was a “compromise” with my “absolute” attitude toward God.
You will see that all current UBF members who post comments here have this problem. They show absolute attitude toward UBF. That is not bad. But what is bad is that they regard their absolute attitude toward UBF as absolute toward toward God. So talking about many obvious problems in UBF is considered a “compromise” with their absolute attitude toward God. It is very strange that they do not think they have already “compromised” the truth of God by not openly criticizing the false theology made up by Dr. Samuel Lee. But as you pointed out, Dr. Samuel Lee’s false theology and unethical/unbiblical but “divine” trainings are permenantly etched in the UBF spirit as great spiritual heritage.
Dr. Joe: Thank you for clearing up the replies. I just said “Amen” above and don’t have any more interest in this kind of dialogue.
I’ve already written many similar things as you and Dr. Armstrong wrote to Chris et al, and I do share many of the same yours viewpoints.
Chris: As I mentioned a couple years ago in our email converstations (which are strikingly similar to all of the above blogging…)– I am still praying for you to find healing and resolution for your soul in Christ.
As a person who have not been a part of UBF, or been hurt by UBF, or been showered with love by UBF, I have a view I want to share. I am convinced as Dr. Armstrong that UBF does not teach a cultic doctrine. However, I am also convinced that they have serious cultic-dynamics and abuses.
Doctrine is important but so is Love. It is quite obvious, there was not and still not much love shown to those that have been hurt by UBF. Granted, there isn’t much love shown to UBF also … but I believe MUCH more grace has to be given to those that have been hurt than to those that have hurt.
I believe in Dr. Armstrong’s character but I can’t help but feel that if he was on the receiving end of pain instead of on the receiving end of love from UBF, his responses wouldn’t seem so one sided. That perhaps he would say, ‘UBF’s doctrine is solid but …’ instead of saying ‘UBF have made mistakes but …’
What I see on the other hand to UBF criticizers he says ‘they have been hurt but … they criticize in hiding and … ’ . and somehow left to feel like they are collateral damage.
I am sure no matter what UBF does to reconcile, many would never be pleased but I am convinced that UBF is the one that needs to show grace and reach out. it all just seems so sad …
Thanks for praying for me, Brian. But I think I personally have not much grudge or hurt left. What I’m saying and doing is not motivated from personal hurt or seeking an apology to the things done to me personally. You miss the real problem, it’s much more global. I think I wrote to you that I also pray for you to open your eyes about these real problems instead of staying in denial mode and trying to defend or belittle things that are simply wrong and need to be changed.
Joe, I’m amazed about the amount of frankness and clear language in your last posting, and how much you are ready to admit. I am positively surprised and am looking forward to a personal discussion on that level.
Your observation about “absolute attitude” (indeed a typical UBF buzzword) and how it influences the way UBFers think about UBF is interesting. I myself would formulate it differently. The crucial problem is that UBF fosters a mindset in which God, God’s ministry, God’s calling for your life and UBF are inseparably connected. You cannot think of one without the other. As in the song text, they “go together like a horse and carriage.” Doubts about UBF are equated with doubts in God, so you better do not start questioning anything. Leaving UBF means leaving God, etc. As I said, when I was kicked out of UBF I really believed that God had abandoned me, I could not make any sense out of it. This was not *my* strange idea, but the idea that had been imposed continually on me in the years before by UBF, before they dumped me. The fact that I even had suicide thoughts because of that shows how much this “UBF = God’s plan for you life” is ingrained in every UBFer, and this is the outcome and goal of most of the UBF activities (sogam sharing). If you say “UBF may not be for everybody” this is fine, but they teach you the opposite, that’s the problem. They strongly support the idea that God has already prepared one and only one plan for your life (UBF), that God has already prepared one marriage partner for you (the one UBF arranges) etc. I met several people from my chapter alone who confirmed the same feelings of having been abandoned by God when UBF dumped them (sometimes they do this, when sheep do not develop in the way UBF expects, i.e. becoming UBF shepherds).
With the same equation, UBF = “God’s ministry” they also scotch any criticism from the beginning since it is not possible to criticize God’s ministry, right? And in the same way, the UBF leaders cannot be criticized since they are considered “God’s servants.”
And lastly, criticism of UBF doctrine is made impossible by UBF not having any official doctrine or system (even being proud of having “no system”), by not making their teachings of marriage by faith etc. explicit, but simply practicing them, more or less hidden and more or less consequently. That’s I think also one of the major points where we had difficulties, because we had nothing to really get a grip on.
As Joe suggested, I’ll continue the discussion on a private level. I *am* tired of all of this, but anyway if I see only a slight spark of genuine willingness to discuss, as in this case, I am ready to give it a try with an open mind.
Concerning the need for those who’ve been spiritually abused in UBF to move on and “put it behind them,” I have mentioned the past generations of UBF critics at http://johnharmstrong.typepad.com/john_h_armstrong_/2007/01/the_korean_revi.html#comment-28749888 . The Korean staff who objected to Samuel Lee’s already strong abuses in the mid-1970s in Korea moved on with their lives, becoming pastors, Christian leaders, etc. The Korean leaders who brought to light even stronger abuses such as ordered abortions and financial impropriety by Samuel Lee in the late 80s also moved on with their lives and ministries. The American recruits such as the “Tom Brown” mentioned in Ron Enroth’s book, who opposed UBF in the 80s and 90s moved on with lives and ministries (yes, ministries). The large chunk of Korean UBF which broke off in 2000-2001 after attempting reforms to correct the effects of decades of totalitarian leadership in UBF has moved on. This current generation of UBF critics will move on with our lives as well, never having received any real acknowledgment of or apology for the abuses we received, but forgiving anyway (as we have been commanded), but never forgetting. The passage of time has that effect on anger, especially for those of us who know how much we have been forgiven. We do have lives and even ministries to attend to after all. But don’t miss my point. As one generation of UBF critics moved on, another generation of former members raised their voices, and guess what, the abuses I experienced weren’t essentially different from the abuses suffered by members in the 70s, 80s or 90s. So, Chris, I and others will move on eventually, healed by grace, time, necessity, etc. But as has already been mentioned, more people are still leaving UBF with stories of the same spiritual abuse that we are personally familiar with. The onus is on UBF to, again, clean the inside of the cup as well.
As for why some current UBF critics don’t approach you directly, (to be blunt) how important are you? (For that matter, how important is UBF, which in spite of grandiose numeric goals and self-congratulatory bluster, has probably seen an overall decrease in membership and has been spinning its wheels in North America for decades?) Maybe it’s because you aren’t the target audience. I myself am content to inform the Internet-consuming public about the dangers that they or their sons and daughters may face in UBF.
As for the reason for my anonymity, I still have family involved in UBF.
Chris, I think there is a misunderstanding with the posts (it’s very confusing). The name of the writer of each post is listed on the bottom of each post, not the top. I made this same mistake because of the line that separates. This may cause further misunderstandings of people’s views, so I just wanted to clarify. Dr. Joe Schafer wrote the posts that are above his name, not below it.
Dr. Armstrong, thank you for your article and your sincere desire and prayer for our ministry, as well as towards those who are hurting. As we all know, healing and reconciliation cannot be found through our own human efforts, but only through our Lord Jesus. I pray we may find reconciliation not through attacking others, but through remembering the grace and forgiveness of Jesus.
Susan, though statements like “As we all know, healing and reconciliation cannot be found through our own human efforts, but only through our Lord Jesus.” sound very spiritual, I do not fully agree. We should make every effort to apologize if we hurt somebody, and not excuse by claiming that this is a “Jesus issue only.” Often, healing and reconciliation is very easy if you are willing to admit your wrongs. This willingness is the crucial point.
Simply forgiving somebody who is unrepentant is a nice thing, but is not true reconciliation and does not help that person.
Also, I tried to explain that I and many others who have already moved on really do not have a reconciliation or healing problem since we do not hold a personal grudge against anybody any more and do not feel much hurt any more (if only because time heals many wounds). The issue is rather that UBF has a problem and the question is whether UBF continues in their ways, hurting, abusing and confusing future generations as well, displeasing God, and also endangering their own souls by stubbornly refusing to repent for their very obvious and systemic sins over decades.