This article was posted by James J. Kim [former Toledo UBF chapter director] April 2001 on the ReformUBF Leaders’ Forum.
In the process of carrying out the reform movement that is spreading like wild fire everywhere throughout UBF, we have discovered four mental and spiritual stumbling blocks that hinder some people from moving forward to reform. These four elements are the very fundamental ethos of UBF chapters that either refuse or are hesitant to change.
The first is Samuel Lee’s view of himself. He thinks that he is a “special” servant of God and, accordingly, only God can chastise or punish him. With this idea in his head he has persistently refused to listen and talk to those who advocate reform.
Second, some, including Sarah Barry, say that even when they did not fully understand what Samuel Lee said or did, they experienced God’s will when they obeyed him anyway. Thus, they reinforce and further feed Samuel Lee’s idea that he is endowed with a special gift and so he is an extraordinary man of God who deserves people’s obedience.
Third, some say that his spiritual authority is so awesome that when they disobey him, they experience God’s punishment on them. Again, such fear paralyzes them to even think about reform.
Fourth, some others, like Mark Yang and John Jun, readily agree that Samuel Lee has done some things wrong but they also insist that he has done good things as well. So they say that we should not force him to change his ways of doing things while he is alive. They think that by attempting, in a Korean maxim, to pull out the horns we may end up killing the ox. They think that if Samuel Lee should go down in infamy, the entire UBF will go down with him.
Because of these ideas, people in UBF simply tolerate Samuel Lee’s bizarre behavior [and carry out his philosophy]. Even when a young man [Samuel Choi] was cornered to take his own life by Samuel Lee’s poor, tasteless training, they still hold on to these ideas and do nothing. In order to challenge and kindle their consciences that have been dull for so long, I would like to analyze and respond to each of them.
As mentioned earlier, this is Samuel Lee’s belief about himself. I must say without hesitation that this is exactly the usual and typical mentality of cult leaders. Such mentality has been noted among the leaders of various notorious and heretical sects, such as Tae Sun Park (Sin Ang Chon), Sun Myung Moon (Unification Church), H. Armstrong (Worldwide Church of God), David Koresh (Davidian Movement), Jim Bakker (in his heyday of PTL), and many others. Do you see this kind of spiritual arrogance and self-aggrandizement in Billy Graham, Mother Teresa, or Kyung Jik Han? They all regarded themselves as ordinary people with extraordinary grace of God. Such a view corresponds rather faithfully to the biblical truth about so-called God’s servants (cf. 1 Cor 15:9-10; Lk 17:10; Mk 1:7).
Seeing himself as a “special” or “unique” man of God tells us that the man is either downright evil, who needs to be removed (like Hitler), mentally ill, who needs psychological and physiological treatment, or spiritually sick, who needs spiritual healing. Forming such a view about himself is completely contradictory to a biblical stance about a so-called servant of God.
Frequently in UBF the conflict between Saul and David is cited in order to tell us that we should let only God deal with his servants. Ironically, using this example is almost providential. First, there is the common hidden consensus that Samuel Lee is like Saul in his power and position. It was pathetic when he tried to liken James Kim and Peter (Man-Suk) Chang to Saul while with all his power and position he tried to portray himself as David. Second, the truth of the matter is that Saul himself never claimed such a special status and immunity as God’s anointed. He did not go around telling people that only God should punish him if he did anything wrong. It was David who out of reverence to God’s anointing said that he would not raise his hand against Saul, God’s anointed, meaning to kill him. But in the meantime, David solidified his home base and earned favor of all the Israelites. Another text that is generally misunderstood and misused by the close associates of Samuel Lee is David’s census.
When David, losing faith in God, took a census to see how much manpower he had and how much tax revenue could come in, God was very angry and challenged him to choose punishment either from God’s hand or from men’s hand (2 Sam 24:1-17). David chose the former. Again that does not justify Samuel Lee’s idea that God’s punished David only directly. It was David’s choice. In fact, God promised to chastise David’s descendants with the rod of men, with the stripes of the sons of men (2 Sam 7:14). Nowhere in the Bible did any man of God think as Samuel Lee thinks of himself.
Let’s grant him the benefit of the doubt. If what he thinks of himself has some merit, he should be then greater than David, or Moses. He should be only next to Jesus in his greatness as the servant of God. But it is quite unlikely. His love of money, various rumors of his moral corruption, the lives of his family members, his violent treatment of those who oppose him, do not really support his claim. Look at the things that are exposed through the Internet. Even if we take only half of all those as true, can and should he be called to be a really unique and extraordinary man of God? Aren’t there quite a few people like him among Korean Christian leaders? Why then should he be exalted highly and obeyed absolutely? Why?
Therefore, his view about himself as a special or unique man of God is merely a self-delusion and self-conceit created by his sick mind and fed continuously by mindless cronies around him, such as MA, JJ, JK, and the like, who are the secondary cause to his corruption. My conclusion about his idea that he is such a special man of God that only God should deal with him only reveals that he is partially evil, psychologically sick, and most of all spiritually sick.
Gather all the stories about how he coerced and oppressed those who challenged him. They are not a few isolated incidents, but they are his habit and obsession. Samuel Lee’s ministry therefore consists of promise of life giving on the one hand, if one is obedient to him, and threat of punishment on the other, if one is disobedient. But the truth is that one cannot be the servant of God and servant of death, servant of God and servant of oppression, and servant of grace and servant of suffocating law. Power of God is not revealed in oppression. Rather, it is revealed in liberation. It is revealed in the world as the power of light and freedom; and it is especially clearly demonstrated through its suffering for the sake of life and freedom in the death of Jesus Christ. The real test as to whether one is truly a servant of God is to see to what extent one sets people free, not control. In order to set people free, God became vulnerable on the cross rather than dominate and control.
Samuel Lee should have not feared being vulnerable when his alleged disciples challenged him and his authority. Instead, trusting in the Lord [God] who establishes his servants, he should have humbled himself and displayed the image of Christ on the cross, in order to win them over in a true sense. Alas, he was terrified, thinking that they wanted to oust him, and so he attacked viciously, showing what a control freak he was. Those who spoke up in ’76, ’89-’94, and 2001 did not intend to remove him from his power. They wanted to reform the abuses and they hoped to see their leader, whom they loved more than their biological fathers, not grow corrupt or oppressive but become Christ-like. He lost golden opportunities to truly demonstrate the cross of Christ by renouncing his human power and gaining much greater spiritual power.
As a result of his wrong choice, while his human power grew greater, his true spiritual power greatly diminished. His authority no longer comes from his fresh teachings of the Word of God but from human manipulation, coercion and incessant propaganda about how spiritual he is. Tragically, he chose the raw oppressive power as his weapon over life-giving spiritual power.
2. You may not understand everything he says or does right now. But obey him anyway, you will experience God’s will.
This is another popular explanation by which UBF tries to convince people to obey Samuel Lee [or any chapter director]. Whether or not it is a valid assessment is only a secondary issue. One must carefully analyze in what context this advice is usually given. (By the way, this is Sarah Barry’s favorite counseling to those who question Samuel Lee’s authority.)
First of all, this advice is not based upon a sound biblical foundation. Rather, it is founded upon other authorities that reinforce the ultimate authority of Samuel Lee. When someone like Sarah Barry, who is widely respected, says it, who can dare to argue? That settles the score. It is also emphasized by various so-called “shepherds” who wield their own power over their “sheep.” Therefore, this advice is already clothed with some kind of authority. And empowered by these minor authorities, this idea becomes the interpretive key to the lives of “sheep.”
Now they are equipped with a way to interpret and make sense out of the happenings in their lives, which they had formerly not easily understood. Not only so, the entire community has already adopted this view and has acted on it for quite a while. So, whatever happens, now in this community everything is connected to Samuel Lee. Even when events in their lives have in actuality nothing to do with him, they are conditioned (or brainwashed) to look at them in connection with Samuel Lee anyway. When things happen, within such a context, what else do you expect but hear, “Bingo, it is because I obeyed Samuel Lee or because my husband disobeyed Samuel Lee.” You know, if his bizarre letter, “Yearning for the reunification of my country” had not backfired, many people in UBF might be saying now that it was Samuel Lee’s prayer and writing that caused the effort for reunification between South and North Korea. But the truth is that without him it took place anyway. Oh, how he lost the golden opportunity to become a demi-god through that one. Too bad!
Second, this advice to just obey is fundamentally flawed. It is one thing to obey the Word of God, if it is clearly spoken to one’s heart, even when one does not understand everything of it. Then surely that person will discover God’s will (cf. John 7:17). But obeying a mere man blindly to find God’s will, even when he contradicts God’s Word? What kind of advice is that? Obedience is not a light thing. It has a tremendous effect on one’s attitude toward the one whom he or she obeys (cf. Rom 6:16). When one offers one’s absolute obedience to God’s Word, one’s attitude toward God becomes unconditional obedience. In it one’s whole being is totally open and given over to God and God’s control. In a sense, in obedience one throws oneself at the mercy of the power and control of the one whom one obeys. Obedience makes one totally vulnerable to the object of one’s obedience.
For this reason, obeying a mere man is such a dangerous act. The man obeyed becomes ultimately a god to the one who obeys, because the act of obedience, especially that of absolute obedience, is fundamentally the act of worship. Thus, absolute obedience to a mortal man is a dangerous and idolatrous concept, which should never be allowed. Christ said in his temptation, “Worship the Lord your God, and serve him only.” It is also the gist of the First Commandment given through Moses.
Third, this advice subtly emphasizes Samuel Lee’s favorite philosophy: “The end justifies the means.” It does not matter whether one feels immoral or violated by Samuel Lee. In the end, one will realize God’s will and how great Samuel Lee is. Is it an accident that this philosophy is so blatantly advocated in Hitler’s “Mein Kampf” and Machiavelli’s “The Prince”?
According to this philosophy, the means is not important. What is important is whether one achieves the goal or not. So, get there by any means. Be successful. Only those who are successful can laugh. This is Samuel Lee’s philosophy. Perhaps it reflects his poor upbringing. But the truth of the matter is that in Christ the means is everything. You know why? The means was his cross. When Jesus was tempted by the devil to use his spiritual powers to solve the bread problem, create a world empire and mystify the people, so that he could lead them to salvation and peace, Jesus categorically rejected them all. If Jesus had established a world kingdom, as the devil suggested he could have led people much more easily and successfully, right? But why did he reject it? Was he just too naïve and idealistic? No, it was because the means was everything to him. The way of the cross was everything to him. Mahatma Gandhi also said that the means is everything, when he was provoked and tempted to give up his belief in non-violence and take up the means of violence. He believed that peace gained by violence violates its own principle and cannot truly liberate the oppressors and the oppressed.
Can Samuel Lee’s so-called saving ministry mixed with violence and unrighteous oppression be indeed regarded as pure salvation work? Can a person be saved by violence, which is in principle the power of death? Can light and darkness coexist in Christian ministry? Often I shudder at the thought that if Samuel Lee had been born in the Medieval Age or even during the time of the Reformation as one of the prominent church leaders, he would have been one of the most ruthless persecutors. Thank God that he is in an environment where he cannot exert such power. Samuel Lee’s ministry that is supposed to save souls through the death of Christ is horribly contaminated by hatred and violence. How should we regard such a ministry?
This is another deeply sad and tragic atmosphere at UBF. Instead of being filled with love and freedom in the Spirit of the Lord, the fundamental ethos that controls people’s emotions is this fear of Samuel Lee. Quite a few people buy into this nonsense. I think this it the most dangerous and deceitful control mechanism of LeeBF [because UBF is so much influenced by Samuel Lee, some people started to call it LeeBF]. I wholeheartedly condemn this practice of Samuel Lee as evil.
First, Samuel Lee’s [or any chapter director’s] spiritual authority is not awesome because of his commitment to the Word of God but largely because people so readily lay down their God-given freedom, rights and power at his feet, thus feeding his power more and more. Instead of speaking the truth, even if it contradicts his opinions, people gave up their critical faculties and freedom to discern the truth of the Word of God. They foolishly relinquished their rights to interpret and read the Word of God according to their consciences and let him do all these things for them. They not so much take what their consciences say to them as what he says to them. By doing so, they have contributed a great deal in corrupting this already corrupt man, making him to be like a beast that tramples on people in the name of Christ and truth.
Any servant, due to their task of interpreting and speaking the Word of God, possesses or is given with some kind of spiritual authority. The congregation should watch over him, however, so that the authority of the pastor or leader may come mostly from his or her commitment to the word of God. When a pastor’s authority extends too far, taking charge finances, marriages, and personal and arbitrary personnel appointments and the like, the congregation must put a check on it. In LeeBF, however, the congregations strongly manipulated and conditioned by Samuel Lee and has miserably failed in doing its job.
Second, such a fear tactic is an outright crime against the fundamental truth of the gospel. Christ has come to set us free from any fear, especially the fear of God. Through his death and resurrection, He set us free from this fear, the fear of God’s judgment: “There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus” (Rom 8:1). When we were born again through the Spirit of the risen Christ, we did not receive a spirit of fear again. But we now can run to God and call him “Abba, Father” (Rom 8:15). Does a little child fear his father? This is our new birth, a birth into freedom from fear to freedom to love God.
But Samuel Lee has brought back this fear again to those who have experienced the glorious freedom through Christ. Such a reversal of what Christ has done for us, in essence, amounts to something demonic. Does this sound too harsh? But what else can you say when you see the glorious work of Christ undone by a man’s foolish ambition to establish his name? Such an act should be loudly and without hesitation denounced and condemned. We can and should tolerate his shortcomings. But we cannot and should not remain silent when he violates the gospel and reverses what Christ achieved on the cross. Who is he that he dares to do such a thing to the precious children of God? How can he bring those whom Christ has set free back to the slavery of fear again, even that to the fear of him, a mere mortal man? It is a spiritual crime and undoing of Christ’s great work of salvation. Whoever works through fear is the servant of the devil.
Third, the idea that if one disobeys him, God will punish him also functions as the interpretive key for people in LeeBF to understand and unlock their world. When so-called your “shepherds” say that when they disobey Samuel Lee, they experience a series of bad luck, you end up hearing it as authoritative explanation and you take it seriously. At the same time, when you are surrounded by people who think that way and who look at their personal lives through this interpretive method, you think maybe that is the way it is. Or even without knowing it, you adopt that worldview. You begin to read every event in your life that way, too. One must realize the power of the idea of cause and effect. Once one is bound by it, it becomes a tyrannical master of your life. By buying into LeeBF’s idea that your disobedience to Samuel Lee leads you to God’s curse, you have become a slave to Samuel Lee. He has you.
There is a friend of mine who used to be a missionary but left LeeBF. He had not liked what he saw in Samuel Lee and left it for a while. Suddenly he got sick. He presumably repented and came back. He served well for a couple of years. Then he left again. According to Samuel Lee’s account, he should be struck to disease and be dead, right? He should be miserable with all kinds of troubles with their children, right? He can’t be happier, going to a local church with beautiful and obedient children. How do you explain someone who is extremely loyal to Samuel Lee but is very sick? Maybe he had some secret disobedience. Or maybe he is a secret reformer.
Listen, don’t be deceived by this unenlightened and superstitious threat. Our life is a mystery and it is complex. There are many things we do not understand. We will carry many questions to our graves. Sometimes nothing makes sense. Other times, we think we know the will of God. We must live not only with a clear view of God’s will in our lives but also with many ambiguities and absurdities of life. Read Ecclesiastes. The guy could not understand the absurdities of life. Job did not understand the paradox of life. You know, you did not have a car accident because you disobeyed Samuel Lee. That is ridiculous. You might have a car accident because you tried to obey him, by feeding so-called sheep too late and did not have enough sleep. That means you had a car accident because you obeyed his dumb and greedy order. Your child did not get sick because you did not obey Samuel Lee. He simply ate something wrong or caught a common cold from his friend. You don’t have to connect everything that takes place in your life to Samuel Lee. Why? Why do you do such dumb things? As a matter of fact, you don’t have to connect anything at all to him, except things that are clearly related to him. Why is he the center of your life? Is he your sun, like MY?
Those who have lived in such fear probably do not have courage to throw off that yoke. I know how tenacious that yoke of fear is. It is the power of death. But you must throw it off to regain the blessing of the glorious gospel, namely freedom, joy and peace in the Lord. Why do you let such a priceless treasure be taken away by a mere man, whose ultimate interest is in himself and his family. See how he has enriched himself and his children. Life in the Lord is not led by that kind of fear.
4. Well, he has done many bad things. But hasn’t he done good things, too? Let’s not try to change his ways while he is alive. When he dies, we can reform ourselves.
[History has already proven that the last sentence was a lie. After the tragic death of Samuel Lee in January 2002 nothing changed in UBF. The new leadership, including the persons mentioned below, has quite contrary to that statement refused and rebuffed reform even more. The spirit of Samuel Lee is still alive in UBF like the spirit of Kim Il Sung in North Korea who died several years ago.]
This idea is surprisingly shared by his closest associates, including John Jun and Mark Yang. I think this is a terrible, terrible idea, although they think it is wise. First, surely he has made some good and important contributions to the birth, growth and expansion of UBF. But he stole many ideas, such as “Bible Korea and World Mission,” from others. (Someone will soon write the untold history of the earliest UBF. We know how Samuel Lee behaved and how he stole other’s ideas. “Daily Bread” was not his idea, either. Neither was “one-to-one Bible study.”) But whoever would have imagined that he would take UBF as his own personal business, LeeBF? Whoever has asked him to accumulate money instead of spending it to raise future leaders? Does anyone remember to ask him to accumulate money for UBF’s future? I think he may be cunning in material things, but he is plain dumb in truly spiritual matters. During an ’89 reform event, Samuel Lee proudly revealed how much money he spent to “raise up” James Kim. It was about $20,000 for 10 years. Wow! I was “really, really, really” moved. He spent about $2,000 a year to raise James. Now it is known that Samuel Lee has saved up $9,000,000. It tells you that his real intent and focus has not been to raise people but to amass wealth for some unknown reasons.
My conclusion is that he loves money very much. He has worked hard, not because he was eager to build the kingdom of God but because he wanted to accomplish his own life. Isn’t that why he tried to hand over LeeBF to his son, although he now denies it, after all the negative reactions. In the Korean army, there is a good lesson to be learned. Those who graduate from Korean Military Academy (called Yook Sa) generally seek after the honor of becoming generals. But those who graduated from so called Sam Sa, knowing that their opportunity to become generals is not so great, go after money in a very dirty and unethical way. Samuel Lee, through his dealing of money, has proved himself to be at best a second or third class leader. Despite his bragging about making UBF rich he is far inferior to Billy Graham or Han Kyung Jik. How can such a corrupt man be compared to these men of integrity? So, he did some work, but most of it is not because of him but because of many people who loved God and sacrificed many things for it. Gee, their sacrifice is all saved up there in Chicago, rather than being translated into raising prominent future leaders. How sad, just because of the foolishness of one man.
Second, those who wait for him to die, like Mark Yang and John Jun, assume that they will outlive Samuel Lee. How can they be so sure of that? Are they God? Samuel Lee’s family has a reputation to live into their 90’s. Also, how can you wait for someone to die, especially him they call their spiritual father? I think Samuel Lee’s regime produces hypocrites instead of genuine saints. They act as though they love him and are faithful to him, but their consistent counsel to those who want to reform UBF has been just that. I conversed with Peter [Man-Suk] Chang and learned about his talk he had with Mark Yang during the ’89 reform attempt. The latter’s strongest advice was: “Wait. How much longer can he live? Once he dies you become the successor in UBF USA. Then you and I can work together and do great work for the Lord, since I am the de facto leader in Korean UBF, while John Jun is a dejure leader.” What a terrible thing to say as a man of God!
Third, the Bible does not teach us to wait until the sinner dies so that the sin can be corrected. It is our duty to rectify what is wrong in the Lord as soon as we see it. In fact, it should have been done in ’76 or ’89. Because we did not actively attempt to correct the wrongs among us, we are paying a high price now. Remaining silent instead of positively speaking against evil is no better than actively condoning it.
Fourth, people worry that by trying to correct Samuel Lee’s wrongs the entire UBF might be destroyed and ruined. One thing is right with this view. They admit the gravity of his wrongdoings. According to ubfnet.com, Mark Yang said that if he opened his mouth, UBF would be destroyed. That means that the people in the inner circle of Samuel Lee also are aware of the seriousness and the danger of Samuel Lee’s behavior and darkness.
So, indeed, what if UBF goes down the drain as we try to correct Samuel Lee’s transgressions? If indeed it does, it will show something very clear. The whole organization was founded upon not the truth but on Samuel Lee’s crooked and bizarre character and thus it did not have the true foundation that could last. If that is the case, is it worthwhile to try to maintain an organization that is basically sick? If that is indeed the case, what have people loved all these years? An illusion? Or what they thought it was or it should be? Do you keep loving what is sick, deceiving yourself that it is actually the most beautiful thing?
I think it is a time of test and judgment of God upon UBF. Having served him for 40 years, it is being challenged to purify itself and prepare itself for a further vision of God, or to remain stubborn and obstinate to God’s call. I do not think of the reform movement as a threat to the survival of UBF, but as God’s invitation for further service. But to get there we need to clean up ourselves. We need to be a fresh new bride of Jesus Christ, clothed with the gospel truth and throwing off the heavy, deceitful yoke of a sick man. It is time to be liberated from the fetters of fear that have long plagued many genuine hearts. It is time to burst out of the Lee monopoly and bring the church back to the people and the Holy Spirit. Without Samuel Lee’s annoying interference, we should again dream dreams and see visions for spreading the gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ faithfully to the ends of the earth.
In conclusion, these above analyzed four elements are detrimental not only to the reform movement but also to the spiritual health of those in LeeBF. Many know the truth and yet hesitate to take action to embrace the truth because of these four attitudes. They are poisoned by them. They gave up their careers and human dreams to serve God and in the end they have become servants of this one sadistic man. They do not experience the power of the truth because even when they know, they are afraid to act on it because of fear of this man. Oh, what has happened to their dreams of their youth for the truth! Whatever happened to them, O Lord, who, like lions, fearlessly gave up everything for the truth? What has become of their youthful spirit and courage, by which they roamed college campuses to bring people to the gospel? Have they ever dreamed that their life would be so shackled by one man that they cannot even think on their own about truth, express their emotions freely and decide fearlessly for the truth? I hope you can seriously think about where you are, what is holding you back from living the truth and courageously move forward and embrace the gospel again. It is not a special person but the gospel of Jesus Christ to which we owe our life, loyalty and future. May God and God alone be exalted.