1976 UBF Reform Letter: Offering Money Abuses

In 1976, Korean staff shepherds in UBF became so agitated by the condition of UBF ministry that they were compelled to begin a reform movement, even though UBF had just been founded only 15 years earlier in 1961. Their letter lists five allegations of abuse that they saw in those 15 years. The letter actually states these allegations as fact, and it is clear the authors of the letter had enough evidence to back up their claims. For my analysis and reflection today however, I treat the 1976 claims as allegations because even though I have read the plethora of testimonies on the internet which substantiate the 1976 claims, I don’ t have personal experience or other evidence to support the 1976 claims. In fact, I was only 7 years old at the time!

So for the sake of analysis, I leave the validity of the 1976 claims to my readers. Personally, I believe the 1976 allegations are true, based on my past 24 years in UBF. But does it matter whether the 1976 claims are true or false? I contend that yes, it does matter for those involved in UBF at that time. And it does also matter for anyone involved with UBF today in 2012.

The 1976 allegations are extremely serious and must be analyzed. Even a secular organization should be prompted to investigate such allegations and make public statements (or at least internal findings and actions). It is unfathomable to me now, to think that an organization that claims to be Christian and obedient to the Word of God would dismiss all the 1976 allegations outright. And it is further astounding to consider that I have heard several leaders in UBF say that such allegations are some sort of “badge of honor” or “persecution that proves UBF is God’s ministry.”

But back to the analysis at hand. Objectively speaking, it does not matter whether I or anyone else believes that the 1976 allegations are true or false. What matters is logic. What matters is that the allegations were made by Koreans 36 years ago.  In tonight’s reflection, I will use the five allegations from 1976 as a basis to discern the state of UBF over the past 24 years of my involvement as a shepherd, a leader and a Director.

If any of the 1976 claims are false, then we should see no evidence of their claims in the past 24 years.  If any of the 1976 claims are true, then we would hope to see evidence that the abuses ended in my 24 years. In fact, one would expect that the 11 years from 1976 (reform movement) to 1987 (when I joined UBF) would have been more than sufficient time to correct such abuses. So logically, during my time in UBF, I should not have seen any evidence of the abuses.

One fact to note is that the allegations cannot be dismissed as just “Korean culture”. Why? The reason is because Koreans started the reform movement in 1976. Also, the same abuses have been reported around the world in a consistent manner: Hong Kong, India, Russia, Ukraine, Mexico, America and Germany have been most vocal in these matters. Unfortunately, and to my shame, America (the land of freedom) is one of the last countries to become vocal about the abuses in UBF.

Here is my analysis:

Did UBF change the past 24 years? If UBF did change, how did it change? Did UBF get better or worse after the 1976 reform movement? How effective and valid were the 1976 suggestions for ministry direction?

1976 Allegation #1 – Offering Abuses

Misappropriation of offering money

CLAIM: The 1976 claim was that the $20,000 dollars offered for Bangladesh was not fully offered to Bangladesh. The offering money was raised by students selling wedding rings, textbooks and even donating blood for money. The UBF members in Korea took this offering seriously. The money should have been handled, then, with utmost care. The claim is that only $1,000 (from a different offering) was actually sent to Bangladesh and that the $20,000 sacrifice was used to buy the Kwan-Ak building (UBF center) in 1975.

FACTS: Indeed, the main ubf.org website in 2012 now claims to have sent $1,100 to Bangladesh: “In 1971, we sent $1,100 to Bangladesh refugees after the flood in that country. In 1976, $11,000 was sent to World Vision and the Christian Charity Institution in Bangladesh. In 1985, $22,000 was sent to Mexican refugees after the earthquake.” And in fact, Kwan-Ak was pioneered in 1975.

COMMENT: Do you see how infuriated you would feel in this situation? In 1976, the Koreans who made these claims were excommunicated by UBF. Yet, now UBF uses the misappropriation of offering as a “statement of glory” to show how sacrificial they are!

Concealment of an accounting book in UBF headquarters

CLAIM: The 1976 claim was that Samuel Lee and a small number of people were the only people who could see the UBF accounting book. There was no external audit and no financial accountability. Nobody knew how the offerings were actually used.

FACTS: In 2002, Samuel Lee died in a fire in Chicago, Illinois. It was only then that UBF started to consider financial accountability.  In October 8, 2007, UBF joined the ECFA as part of the bid to be reinstated into the NAE. It was then revealed that UBF (at least the American headquarters) has nearly $13 million.

COMMENT: Some chapters outside Chicago kept, and continue to keep, detailed offering records. But only a select few leaders are privy to such information. Even with the ECFA information, many questions need to be raised. How will the $13 million be spent? Does the ECFA accounting reflect UBF worldwide or just America? Is the Korean UBF offering separate? How did UBF avoid a major, multi-million dollar fine from the IRS in America in 2007?

Obscure expenses and expenditures

CLAIM: The 1976 claims were that Samuel Lee did a lot of obscure spending of money, such as buying a lot of real estate without discussion, spending more than his salary of $100, and bribing Korean religious leaders who were criticizing him.

FACTS: I simply don’t have any facts here. Some would say it doesn’t matter what Samuel Lee did because he is now dead. It matters tremendously however, because his influence was everything up until 2002.

COMMENTS: The 1976 letter has an intriguing comment: “You show us that the love of money is the root of all kinds of evil (1 Timothy 6:10).”

2012 Allegation #1 – Offering Abuses

Lack of financial accountability in satellite and international chapters

I claim that the 1976 allegations of offering abuse exist in 2012. Although the Chicago UBF headquarters has taken steps toward financial accountability by joining the ECFA and avoiding a large IRS fine, the satellite UBF chapters remain unaccountable. Each UBF staff conference has a morning “financial” session, quickly thrown together and often not in the program. Offering accountability is still left to a small number of people, who try to do a good job, but simply cannot enforce any valid accountability in satellite chapters. Chapters outside Chicago UBF in the USA are left to their own accounting methods, although they are asked to submit a form (yes a single form) to the UBF headquarters on a yearly basis. The typical non-profit accountability methods are not employed in UBF in the US. And who knows what the accounting is like in other countries and especially in Korea?

Obscure expenses and expenditures

In spite of the ECFA membership, obscure expenses still exist. Random and odd expenses have routinely occurred in my experience the past 24 years.  Often, the various UBF committees do not even know exactly where some satellite chapters are! It took many years for my contact information to become correct in the UBF daily bread booklet, even though we’ve had the same address since 2006. I repeatedly gave the same contact info every staff conference since then. Examples of obscure expenses: A UBF director calls the chapter bookkeeper at 4:30 am in the morning demanding cash. A UBF director is offered something called “UBF insurance” for things like car accidents. A student gets a parking ticket while on a UBF conference trip, and UBF pays for the ticket. When proper accounting controls are in place, people feel confident that their offering money will be used as stated. In 2012 in UBF, such confidence does not yet exist.

5 thoughts on “1976 UBF Reform Letter: Offering Money Abuses

  1. Hi Brian! I just want to say, that in Kiev we had pretty transparent offering accountability, for some people even extremely transparent. In fact everyone was given the list with detailed info about all incomes and outcomes. since 2007 detailed reports were not given to everyone, but everyone who gave offerings faithfully were able to see it anytime they wanted. I did it at least once. I could remember one time when we offered for some special needs and we didn’t use the money for that need for a while. I’m not sure what happened to them finally. That is not accusion – just one fact I can remember. But yes, other fact was that pretty often money were used in the way when it was mostly our director decision. Though for pretty long time missionaries offered pretty big part of all offerings.
    One other thing which I can see regarding offerings, that often they were used for training purposes. That’s can be good or bad. When I mentioned above that someone didn’t like our transperent accounting – probably they did mostly b/c of using the size and faithfullness in offerings for honor/guilt/comparison etc. So it was easy to offer just before men with desire to escape guilt or to be honored.
    And also we mostly offered for our UBF activities – conferences etc. The validity of this sacrifices also can be questioned. They could be God pleasing and could be not as well.

    • Thanks for sharing. It is interesting to see the extremes that offering abuse can take. Someone might think that transparency is a good thing (and normally it is indeed a good thing). But if offerings are SO transparent that individual offerings are published, the abuse is even worse.

      I remember hearing that individual offerings used to be posted publicly on the walls of the Chicago UBF center. In Toledo UBF, we only posted Bible study and Sunday attendance numbers like that, on large billboards in the worship room (those have since been taken down and only the conference numbers are posted as such).

      For many years, I was in charge of counting the offering and often produced offering reports. I was asked to create offering reports that listed every person’s offering in descending order on a regular basis. I would help analyze those reports and heard many discussions about who went up in their offering and who went down in their offering. Soon after those discussions, I would be in meetings where life direction was given. As I look back now, I think much of the new direction given to people was tied to their offering performance.

    • Hi Brian, what do you mean that “life direction was given”? and “new direction”? Was this some kind of favoritism? And in regards to what? What kind of life direction was given, and was it to a person or regarding a family situation? Thanks.

  2. Hi CM, I remember generating the reports several times. During those times, I also remember students being given direction by their shepherds or chapter director about life situations, such as marriage, school choices, job choices, and even offering direction to increase offering if it had slipped. Sometimes the shepherd of the person whose offering had slipped was asked to find out why. Such direction was not really favoritism, but more like training for not being obedient enough. I wish I had paid more attention to things like this back then!

    • This was a long time ago and I don’t recall all the facts correctly. But this was in the 1990’s, during the time when some single brothers were asked to write down all their daily schedule of activities and turn it in daily or weekly.