Vol. LXXVIII, No.5.PAGE 12-13
September 5, 1990.
“They Can Turn Your Mind Upside Down”
by Paul Hayward
“They will get you to write down your fears and concerns, get you to confess hidden doubts and then they scare you and hold them over your head,” Gord Gillespie of Manitoba Cult Awareness
The experience is probably a familiar one. On the bus, outside the Dafoe Library or in the Fireplace Lounge, you are approached by a well dressed individual, almost always oriental, perhaps to ask for directions. Instead a Bible is produced, and you are asked whether you would be interested in opening your life to Christ. An innocent enough incident, probably shrugged off without a second thought.
However, for those who have accepted the invitation it can instead be a profoundly distressing, even frightening experience. Students who have been drawn into the group, usually known as the University or Campus Bible Fellowship, have deescribed its practices as disturbingly similar of a cult.
Last June, the University of Manitoba, in response to around 20 informal and five formal complaints banned the UBF from the Fort Gary and Downtown campuses. While the campus police have on several occasions escorted members of the group from the U of M campus, this is the first time legal sanctions have been authorized. Any member who is not a student and who, upon investigation, is found attempting to recruit will formally be charged with trespassing. U of M students guilty of recruiting will face as yet unspecified academic penalties.
The ban here follows a similar action against the same group by the University of Winnipeg in 1986. Winnipeg’s third major post-secondary institution, Red River Community College has so far refrained from banning the group, although activity on that campus has been reported. Last September, the college administration warned students that known members of the group were attending classes with the intention of recruiting, or fishing, to use the group’s own terminology. A second-year Red-River student drew national media attention last April when she revealed how the group had increasingly grown to manipulate her life and had even tried to arrange a marraige for her.
Also last September Ontario’s Guelph University banned the UBF. The group is further known to have laid roots in Hamilton and at York University. While outright banning of the group has proven successful at the U of W campus, skepticism persists over how effective a deterrent a ban will be here.
“I doubt it will have any effect here” said Dave Morphy, the U of M Vice President for Student Affairs. “From my one interaction with a member of the group, I have a general sense that, given their assertiveness, they won’t give up. But this is about as far as the university can go.”
Gord Gillespie of Manitoba Cult Awareness agrees. “They’re awfully persistent, one hell of a nuisance. It was easier to catch them in action at the U of W. But the U of M’s so huge and their are many night classes.”
The chief of U of M Campus Police, Bill Colbourne, remains guardedly optimistic, but did agree the next few weeks would be telling.
“Last year in August, they were running rampant. The new students are very vulnerable, especially those from rural areas who are just getting over the shock (of leaving home). Only time will tell, but I feel positive.”
But is the ban really necessary?
One handful of non-Korean members at the U of M, and Engineering student named John Giesbrecht, declined comment beyond saying that from the viewpoint of the group, the ban was undeserved.
“We probably see things from different perspectives. As a servant of God, a believer whose purpose in life is to please God, my perspective is different from those who don’t have a similar perspective,” said Giesbrecht.
Neither was any response forthcoming from the group’s house at 3 Emory Road. A lady who identified herself as Mrs. Lee said the members were very busy but perhaps she could speak another time.
The fellowship’s founders, American Sarah Barry and Korean missionary Samuel Lee, claim the group is a Christian group, Presbyterian in background, which was started in 1955 and now has several dozen chapters across the U.S. and around the world.
Where the UBF exhibits many of the characteristics traditionally used to label a cult, it has been suggested the incidents arise from simply a cultural misunderstanding, brought about by the groups almost exclusive membership of Koreans.
Barry said from her Chicago office in an interview with the Globe and Mail last April: “We’ve found that working as foreign missionaries…with cultural differences…all of us find that sometimes we don’t maybe understand people as well as we should. Anybody can say ‘no’.”
However, those who liken the group to a cult say they engage in subtle but persuasive psychological techniques to prevent you from saying `no’.
“The initial approach is to introduce Christianity into your life. They use an orthodox Bible, but they twist it to their own purposes. Then they explain the meaning. They will get you to write down your fears and concerns, get you to confess hidden doubts and then they scare you and hold them over your head,” said Gillespie.
The remarkable similarities among the complaints received by Colbourne has led him to agree.
“I have a file on these people you wouldn’t believe. Once the student is a member, the practices become very cult-like. They are very professional. The students often find the tactics smothering, controlling. They rule out activities such as reading newspapers, watching TV, and maintaining ties with family and friends.”
“They are very polite and co-operative when dealing with the police but when dealing with a potential recruit they can be very insistent.”
According to Peggy Patterson of Guelph University administration, the decision to ban the group there was based on “concerns regarding coercive activities, set attitudes, a very authoritarian mechanism, subervience of women and very opportunistic prosyletization.” In addition, Patterson pointed to an extensive `tithing practice’, where the group would try to lure entering students into a home and take control of their financial affairs.
“Cases were documented where students, especially young women, were required to be subservient and were not permitted to associate with others. The group lacked respect for independence of thought. Intellectual inquiry was discouraged and reduced, abstracted to `good’ or `bad'”.
In support of the argument that the group’s motivations are sincere is that very few complaints are based around money.
“I don’t think money’s at the root of it. I think it’s a cause that has gotten started,” said Colbourne.
Gillespie, who had a son involved with the Moonies, was less charitable in his assessment of the group’s motives.
“There are only two reasons why cults are formed to attract followers – either to make money or for an ego trip. The UBF in the U.S. is the same as the rest, they are out to make all the money they can get.”
Gillespie attributed the UBF Winnipeg offshoot’s disinterest in money to an attempt to establish a beachhead in Canada.
“Perhaps they are willing to finance from the outside to get a foothold. I imagine it’s quite a drain for them.”
“A 22-year-old medical student”
A 22-year old medical student first encountered UBF three years ago whilst still in the third year of her undergraduate science degree. She describes her `shepherd’, a Korean woman named Ruth, as a generous but very focused woman who increasingly attempted to divert her away from her studies to a more subservient lifestyle. Although she has since made it plain she wishes no further part of the group, the phone calls continue…
“My first contact was on a bus. A lady approached me and asked if I were interested in a Bible study. I said I was too busy but I told her my name. I bumped into her again and we exchanged numbers. Then she showed up with a friend to a ice show where I was teaching skating. At that point I was really impressed -what a bunch of really nice people!
I decided to drop by their church in Fort Richmond. We started one-to-one hour long seesions once a week, beginning with Genesis., going through it verse by verse and then we would sing a couple songs.
“They were always kind to me, buying me lunch. They took me to the ballet. Her husband in Korea brought over a beautiful knit sweater. When he came I felt I ought to be more friendly.
“My studies started to pick up and I had other priorities. But they increased the pressure, there were tons of phone calls.
“Then they showed up at my (former) boyfriends parents’ house (in a small town four hours out from Winnipeg. I was embarrassed but we invited them in…They also showed up while I was visiting a friend in Thompson. I thought, `My God, you’re here! What are you doing here?!’
“They questioned the amount of energy I devoted to my studies and they thought I should re-evaluate my career choice of becoming a doctor. They said I should put more emphasis on learning how to cook, clean and sew…’
“At first I thought they were great but my two roommates were suspicious. I remember calling my best friend and cring. I felt low, that I had gotten into something evil, perverted…”
“Dave first went public..”
Dave first went public with his story back in November, 1987, in an interview with the Manitoban, where he warned the UBF, recently banned from the University of Winnipeg, had started to `fish’ on the U of M campus.
“The group came to Canada to work in a sewing factory, and set up the cult in Winnipeg with a small number of Korean women…”
“I originally went to them because of my interest in becoming closer to God…Their Bible studies were in depth. They made it attractive for us to go there because they were so nice to you and provided elaborate meals…they feed you every time you go and for students, thats a big deal.”
“On the surface it always seemed great, but once I got more involved with them, they asked me to make choices in my life…my family or God, school or God, with God being the group.”
“It always seemed like they were making us do things by laying a guilt trip on us and saying if you want to be closer to God you had to do what they said. Before I knew it, I was being controlled. They were able to manipulate the scriptures.”
“When I first started going, I found it really scary. It was Samuel Lee this and Samuel Lee that. I think it’s a big ego thing for him because money never seems to be an issue for them. It all revolved aound personal commitment to the cause.”
“The Bible study is just the fish hook. Once you show interest in learning about Christ, they ask you to become more and more involved. They start you studying Genesis, and as you work your way through it, they begin to ask you to go out and find more sheep…they call it fishing.”
“A 22-year-old human ecology student”
A 22-year-old Human Ecology student, whose shepherd was called Mercy, recounts how she first got involved with the UBF last summer.
“I was out catching some rays when I was approached by a woman…I went to a house on the corner of Emory street. The Bible studies were one-on-one. They were very in depth compared to what I learned before. We started with Genesis. We went through everything slowly, it would have taken 10 years to get through the whole Bible! Every phrase was made to be symbolic. A lot of it seemed reasonable. There was nothing shocking. I quite enjoyed the sessions, I learned some things. But I was cautious; I had heard they were a cult, but I didn’t believe they were the cult people were talking about. I can see how some people could fall into it.”
“I also went to a service which was scary, not what I’d expected. The men and women were segregated. The men were very forceful, preaching, telling the women what to do. Some of the women were screaming. This church is not a forgiving or a loving church.”
“Mercy always invited me over and said she wanted us to become good friends. I didn’t think it was sincerely motivated. How can you be someone’s friend when you don’t even know them? That’s their mission, they think they’ll be rewarded, the more they harvest.”