Cult worries surround Bible group
By Carmen Greco Jr. (“Daily Herald,” July 31, 2003)
“When you first meet them [University Bible Fellowship], you think they’re the greatest in the world. It’s the love-bombing thing,” said Young, referring to the practice of showering recruits with positive feedback.
“But they have so many unspoken rules. They want to choose not only who you marry, but when you marry and where you live. They pressure you to cut off relationships with family and friends,” she said. “It is hard to leave the group because they’re all you have.”
Ray, who broke from the fellowship in the early 1980s after becoming involved as a student at the University of Toledo, said she was never physically coerced to act against her will.
The pressure, she and others said, was usually more psychological, such as the planting of deep-seated fears that divine retribution come to those who disobeyed group leaders.
“I ended up leaving college as a result of being involved with UBF, and I relocated to North Carolina to leave those experiences behind,” Ray said. “Many people, especially young people who get involved in cults, are very intelligent people. But they’re easily duped because they really want to do something more with their lives at that age.”
Wheaton: Expert says group is authoritarian, manipulative
Cult Information Services of Northeast Ohio
Cults are usually seen as alien influences invading our culture with attitudes foreign to its basic principles of personal autonomy, tolerance, and the integrity of the family. Recently, however, concern has been expressed by many people about a movement that appears to be spreading through the grassroots of American Christianity. Known by various titles, such as Covenant/Discipleship, Total Commitment, New Covenant, and Discipleship/Submission, elements of the phenomenon are commonly grouped under the heading “Shepherding/Discipleship.”
Its superficial reflection of the “shepherding” concept embraced by many fundamentalist denominations makes the Shepherding/Discipleship movement particularly controversial, since it is sometimes difficult to tell its practitioners from those of certain other evangelical churches. As a result of the large number of complaints received by cult-awareness organizations, however, there has emerged a distinct pattern of cultic exploitation of members by many groups that fall squarely under the Shepherding/Discipleship heading. Testimony of former members has confirmed the basic structure and teachings of the movement, and catalogued its abuses.
Shepherding/Discipleship teaching emphasizes the necessity of each “sheep,” or Christian disciple, submitting to a “shepherd,” or church elder charged by God with responsibility for the spiritual development of the sheep. The shepherd is in turn submitted to another spiritual elder, and so on up the chain of submissions to the “apostles” at the apex of the characteristic pyramidal structure that links both individuals and groups within the movement.
While Christian Growth Ministries, Crossroads, and Maranatha are among the most prominent of the shepherding organizations, there are many others. Most of these are self-contained; that is, they retain the internal sheep-shepherd structure, but may or may not include the pyramidal hierarchy that culminates in a nationwide or international organization. Among these groups are “Gathering of Believers,” led by Larry Tomczak; Carl Stevens’ “The Bible Speaks,” Hobart Freeman’s “Faith Assembly;” “Last Days Ministries,” founded by the late Keith Green; “University Bible Fellowship;” and “Champaign-Urbana Ministries.”
Freedom of Mind Resource Center
Control of UBF members is a long-term process, occurring like the proverbial “frog boiling in water” when the temperature is raised one degree over a period of time. The process of control begins with a simple invitation to a 1 hour per week Bible study on campus. Membership is not open. Every UBF member is required to have a shepherd. The person who invites the student to Bible study is the one who gets to be that person’s shepherd. The shepherd is introduced as only a Bible teacher. Control is instituted by demanding a Bible study appointment every week and by requiring a student to answer a question sheet. Students who do not answer the question sheet are normally required to answer the questions during the Bible study appointment.
Anyone who criticizes UBF or UBF leaders is considered to be part of the “R-group”. This stands for “rebellious group”. Critics are demonized, marginalized and rejected in behind-the-scenes meetings that most Bible students are unaware of. UBF leaders engage in a massive information control effort. UBF has an Internet Committee, who has many tasks such as promoting positive information about UBF and removing anti-UBF material from websites. UBF has begun publishing books that describe various doctrines and activities, but these cost money and are not widely distributed. Each chapter director is allowed to control what books and announcements are passed onto their chapter members.
Emotions are viewed as “bad” and sinful. UBF students are taught to suppress emotions, which are viewed as a humanistic weakness. Those who express emotion are often trained to be “self-controlled”. Some UBF shepherds like to use language such as: You have a “sleeping demon” or you have a “lazy demon”. Students or shepherds are made to feel very guilty for not attending a UBF meeting or keeping a UBF commitment, even for valid reasons. This emotional control is normally emphasized in shepherds or shepherdesses (female shepherds). For example, after attending a family wedding, one shepherd was told “You acted like Satan” and required to confess in front of other shepherds that they had acted like Satan. Emotions are redefined through the question-sheet Bible study and participation in the UBF activities. Joy becomes “going to the center”. Sadness becomes “being away from UBF co-workers”. Bitterness becomes “leaving UBF”. Anger becomes “criticizing UBF”. etc.
Therefore when it comes to University Bible Fellowship, our concerns regarding the organization have not been deminished as a result of the movement’s reacceptance by the NAE.
In fact, we consider the group’s authoritarian, high-demand nature to be evidence of a faulty understanding of the Gospel of Jesus Christ — and of the Bible’s teachings regarding disciples of Jesus.
We do not accept the notion that much of UBF’s cult-like ideas regarding authority, submission, obedience and discipline can simply be explained by the group’s Korean influences. It is not Korean culture that should influence a Christian’s walk with Jesus. Rather, it should be the other way around.
In short, we have seen nothing that suggests University Bible Fellowship’s teachings and practices should not — at the very least — be cause of concern for Christians. In our opinion, the UBF is an unhealthy organization whose teachings and practices provide a breeding ground for spiritual elitism and abuse.
Theologically, we consider the University Bible Fellowship to be at best an aberrant movement. In Christian theology, aberrant means, “Off-center or in error in some important way, such that the doctrine or practice should be rejected and those who accept it held to be sinning, even though they may very well be Christian.” [source]
Our advice to Christians is not to get involved with the University Bible Fellowship.
Dr. Singer’s Conditions
1. Keep the person unaware of what is going on and how she or he is being changed a step at a time. Potential new members are led, step by step, through a behavioral – change program without being aware of the final agenda or full content of the group. The goal may be to make them deployable agents for the leadership, to get them to buy more courses, or get them to make a deeper commitment, depending on the leader’s aim and desires.
2. Control the person’s social and/or physical environment; especially control the person’s time. Through various methods, newer members are kept busy and led to think about the group and its content during as much of their waking time as possible.
3. Systematically create a sense of powerlessness in the person. This is accomplished by getting members away from the normal social support group for a period of time and into an environment where the majority of people are already group members. The members serve as models of the attitudes and behaviors of the group and speak an in-group language.
4. Manipulate a system of rewards, punishments and experiences in such a way as to inhibit behavior that reflects the person’s former social identity. Manipulation of experiences can be accomplished through various methods of trance induction, including leaders using such techniques as paced speaking patterns, guided imagery, chanting, long prayer sessions or lectures, and lengthy meditation sessions.
5. Manipulate a system of rewards, punishments, and experiences in order to promote learning the group’s ideology or belief system and group-approved behaviors. Good behavior, demonstrating an understanding and acceptance of the group’s beliefs, and compliance are rewarded while questioning, expressing doubts or criticizing are met with disapproval, redress and possible rejection. If one expresses a question, he or she is made to feel that there is something inherently wrong with them to be questioning.
6. Put forth a closed system of logic and an authoritarian structure that permits no feedback and refuses to be modified except by leadership approval or executive order. The group has a top-down, pyramid structure. The leaders must have verbal ways of never losing.