Are UBF Leaders Cult Leaders?
Question. Brian asked a legitimate question on a previous post Spiritual Bullying: “Does Mr. Ludy explain what many senior UBF leaders have been doing for 50 years?” Ludy describes in great detail the multiple characteristics of controlling and manipulative cult leaders in A Cult Leader’s Worst Nightmare.
My answer (which may please no one) is: “No, but … UBF has (what cult groups have called) cult-like behavior.” Why?
UBF leadership is authoritarian and hierarchical. Authoritarianism invariably results in cult-like behavior by both the Christian leader and their members. For 2 decades as a UBF fellowship leader, I practiced most, if not all, of what I describe below. I am convinced that many in UBF can relate to or have personally experienced the following (If this is not true, please refute and categorically contradict!):
1) The leader makes you think and feel that he has the God given right and authority to decide your life and your future: who you (can or cannot) marry, when you marry, how you marry, threats to cancel your wedding unless…, not support your independent decisions. As a result, some UBF members live in fear of their leader (cf. Prov 29:25). They learn how to “act” and “behave” to be seen in their good graces, so that they will be given “the blessing to marry,” or so that they won’t be mentioned as a bad example in the Sun message or announcements. I have lied countless times as a fellowship leader by misreporting the number of people who came to church, so as to “avoid receiving training.”
2) The leader is practically and functionally like God. You cannot question the UBF leader without often suffering some retaliation, repercussion, caricature or marginalization. Likely, some will be greatly offended by the title of this post. Likely, they will not read it; if they do, they will not respond. So far, only a few UBF leaders have commented. Some want to shut down UBFriends.
3) Legalism based on the leader’s method, directives, preference, training, which becomes “absolute” and usually non-negotiable. Freedom is lacking because you cannot do what the leader doesn’t like or approve. For eg., “Shave! Otherwise, you cannot marry!” A young man once told me about a girl he liked in church. I said to him, “There is absolutely no way that you can ever date or marry her, because you are a new young unknown UBF member, while the girl is a senior UBF leader’s daughter.” He left UBF.
4) Unhealthy dependency of UBF members on the leader’s direction, and of leaders expecting compliance and “absolute” obedience/submission from members.
5) Leaders have great difficulty acknowledging or apologizing to subordinates for their mistakes. This may be because their mistakes stemmed from their well meaning good intentions, which I believe is often true. Even if they may apologize, they may do so out of “duty,” but it may not be from the heart with brokenness and contrition. I once apologized to a Bible student for calling him a punk. But in my heart I felt fully justified for doing so, and was not really sorry for “telling him the truth.”
6) Deep trinitarian equality and friendship with others is lacking, because the leader may carry themselves as “above the rest.” John Stott says it best in Basic Christian Leadership: “…it is my firm conviction that there is too much autocracy (or oligarchy) in the leaders of the Christian community, in defiance of the teaching of Jesus and his apostles, and not enough love and gentleness. Too many behave as if they believed not in the priesthood of all believers but in the papacy of all pastors.” For decades, I refrained from being vulnerable before my church members; otherwise I could not “train them.”
UBF is not a cult. Despite all the above, UBF leaders are not cult leaders, because they love and trust the Bible, even if they may overemphasize certain teachings, such as obedience to God/them, rather than the gospel of grace (Acts 20:24) or Christ crucified (1 Cor 1:23; 2:2). They do not go off to extra-biblical revelations, as cult leaders often do, as described by Ludy. But I understand that it would be very easy to think of us as cult leaders, because many do not realize how controlling and manipulative they may be. As I said, I know this full well. I did it for over 2 decades and felt perfectly fine!
Christian leaders have historically been abusive. The prior paragraph may be terribly hard to swallow for those who have clearly been abused by some authoritarian UBF leaders, because abuse, intended or not, results in deep inner wounds that may take years, even a lifetime, to heal.
These quotes are my current signature in my Gmail:
- “History is full of disgraceful examples of self-righteous Christians who acted as though their own convictions about God’s call justified their ill treatment of others.” Anthony Gittins, Reading the Clouds.
- “Of all tyrannies, a tyranny sincerely expressed for the good of its victims may be the most oppressive. Those who torment us for our own good will torment us without end for they do so with the approval of their own conscience.” C.S. Lewis.
- “There is no deeper pathos in the spiritual life of man than the cruelty of righteous people.” Reinhold Niebuhr, An Interpretation of Christian Ethics.
I am optimistic that UBF will gradually change and is gradually changing, not because we are able to change, but because God is good.
Is this a satisfactory answer? Please chime in, comment, critique, correct, contradict, and communicate in context concretely your consciousness and your conscience, or offer concise (or elaborate) counter proposals.