4/22/2015 Comments closed. As of 4/3/2015, comments are not being accepted on this blog. If you are a ubf person who wants to tell me what to do or how to live my life or why I am so wrong, go fix your cult organization instead.
5/3/2015 Why I say UBF is a destructive cult. In 2011, I wrote an article where I wrestled with the question, Is ubf a cult? Others have asked the same question, are ubf leaders cult leaders? Today I want to share the reasons why I can say definitively that ubf is indeed a cult that is harmful–seven reasons that have surfaced from my thousands of discussions about ubf the past four years.
I am well aware of the provocative title in this article. This is intentional because as a non-Korean UBF shepherd for over 20 years, I found only two ways to share my perspectives with Korean missionaries at UBF and to raise issues and pains of conscience with them. Those two ways are to 1) use the cult label and 2) leave, or threaten to leave, UBF. Here is my attempt to comprehensively and concisely share my thoughts on this subject.
My Resistance to the Cult Label
It must be noted first that the term cult did not come from me. I resisted this label for decades. Even after leaving, I wrestled with whether to use this term or not. In the past, I was “Mr. UBF” and argued intensely to defend the UBF organization for many years (2002 to 2007). I worked with Sarah Barry and others to erase negative information about UBF on the internet. I called Mr. Fisk of the NAE to argue in favor of re-instating UBF to the NAE organization. So for most of my life I hated the cult label and fought hard to remove it.
In 2008 I met John Jun at a UBF staff conference breakfast and listened to him gleefully tell me how UBF lawyers had removed the threat of Chris and his ubf-hate website. My eyes began opening to the facts.
In 2009 or so I discovered that James Kim (of Toledo UBF) had died. I was furious that no one told me so that I could attend his funeral. I was told another James Kim drove Paul Hong and Mark Gamber to the funeral. After this I decided to read the entire letters of James Kim and Rebekah Kim. I highly recommend reading these and processing them: http://www.ubfriends.org/2011/05/14/my-confession/
Where does the cult label come from?
I began researching the issue online in the following years. I have now built up my priestly>nation website as a resource for links to everything related to UBF. One major resource is my list of links to newspaper articles that mention UBF as a cult, most of which pre-date the widespread use of the internet. The cult label started being applied to UBF right away in Korea and later in 1977, after missionaries from Korea UBF went to Canada.
There are now many organizations that have files on UBF. The primary two, in the West at least, are from Rick Ross and Steven Hassan. Both websites have a wealth of information about undue religious influence and how to cope with such influence. Both have extensive documentation about UBF.
The cult label came from the public. That is the primary way the public still sees ubf in 2015.
Cult Education Institute
Freedom of Mind Resource Center
What does the term cult mean?
My first source is Merriam-Webster’s dictionary.
: a small religious group that is not part of a larger and more accepted religion and that has beliefs regarded by many people as extreme or dangerous
: a situation in which people admire and care about something or someone very much or too much
: a small group of very devoted supporters or fans
The cult label conjures up a lot of emotion and images but in itself, the word cult is not bad. For example, I am a full-fledged “member” of the Star Wars cult! I love all things Star Wars. In this sense, the term cult refers to the fanaticism that can surround many things. Some see a Jesus fan-club cult in the West. These things are not necessarily dangerous or harmful; just a phenomena.
Qualities of Cults in Religion
In the religious realm, the word cult takes on a different nuance. Lifton and Singer are two of the most robust thinkers in the use of the word cult in religion. In my 24 year experience at UBF and my 4 years experience outside UBF has given me thousands of examples of how Toledo UBF and UBF HQ fits into the realm of the religious use of the cult label.
Lifton’s Three Qualities of a Cult
- A charismatic leader, who increasingly becomes an object of worship as the general principles that may have originally sustained the group lose power.
- A process [is in use] call[ed] coercive persuasion or thought reform.
- Economic, sexual, and other exploitation of group members by the leader and the ruling coterie.
Singer’s Three Qualities of a Destructive Cult
- The origin of the group and role of the leader.
- The power structure, or relationship between the leader[s] and the followers.
- The use of a coordinated program of persuasion, which is called thought reform [or more commonly, ‘brainwashing’”].
I would urge everyone to read the material on the FAQ at the Cult Education Institute and make up your own mind. The six most liberating words ever spoken to me were from John Armstrong: “I will not bind your conscience”. So while I use the term cult, everyone here is free to disagree. I only ask that we are able to discuss reasons why we disagree.
What kind of cult is ubf?
Clearly ubf was a personality cult from 1961 to 2002, the span of Samuel Lee’s influence. There are still many pockets of personality cult life in various ubf chapters where there is a strongly narcissistic leader who needs some sort of narcissistic supply to function. My term for ubf is that the organization as a whole is a destructive ideology cult. Here are seven reasons why.
1) Family neglect.
The first reason ubf is a cult is because they teach neglect of family. Using proof-texted ideas from the bible, they claim that it is more spiritual and pleasing to God to sacrifice your family and be mission-centered. ubf is now your family. Don’t believe me? Then try this. Share a testimony at ubf entitled “God’s will is to be family-centered. One word: I love my family.” And then skip a ubf meeting for a family event. You can expect to find many angry and sad faces when you return. To say you are “family-centered” at ubf means you are unspiritual, sinful and in danger of losing God’s approval according to ubf teaching. They further disrespect family by the requirement that every ubf shepherd must go through their arranged marriage process called “marriage by faith”.
2) Identity breaking.
The second reason ubf is a cult is because they are identity snatchers. They encourage you to adopt the viewpoint that your pre-ubf life is bad, sinful, unspiritual and the like. Your new ubf life is now good, holy and pleasing to God if you adopt the “Shepherd X” identity. To make a decision to be a ubf shepherd means everything to ubf people. Your pre-ubf identity is chipped away and cut out, meeting by meeting, until you lose touch with your authentic self. This is done in the name of self-denial and taking up your cross, strongly bound to more proof-texted ideas from bible verses. Dr. Hassan describes this as the cult identity, and it has just enough of “you” to make it seem real. ubf breaks you down through sleep deprivation at numerous conferences, continual indoctrination at daily meetings and repeated reminders of your shortcomings. Your identity becomes assimilated into the ubf community, as your life becomes intertwined with other members’ lives.
3) Decision control.
The third reason ubf is a cult is that the shepherds at ubf manipulate the members (called sheep) to control and check their life decisions, such as who to marry, when to marry, where to work, where to live, etc. The supreme values of most ubf people are loyalty and obedience to the ubf authorities. The leaders take control of people’s lives. Some leaders are called directors because they are charged with directing the affairs of their own chapter or sub-community within the ubf network. ubf leaders live a scripted life. Going “off script” is rarely tolerated, especially for repeated offenses. ubf leaders have a very difficult time in any situation where they cannot control the outcome.
4) Culture destruction.
The fourth reason ubf is a cult organization is that they destroy the culture of the host countries they send missionaries to. They consider American or German or Mexican culture to be bad or at best only useful for propagating the ubf culture. Being Korean is not bad. There are many good things about Koreans. But ubf missionaries from Korea have made the big mistake of imposing their own culture onto the countries where they go. A survey of people in ubf once asked people to describe their own ministry in one word. The most repeated word was simply “Korean”. ubf missionaries tend to ignore their host country culture and often speak of being “re-charged” by going back to Korea for a visit. After several years at ubf, a member discovers that they speak with Korean-english, eat Korean food and value the Korean Confucian ideas of loyalty, nobility, authority, etc. They also find a great disdain for their own culture.
5) Abuse of all kinds that is not acknowledged.
The final and most important reason why ubf is a harmful cult is because many incidents of abuse have been covered over since 1961 when ubf began in Korea. It is surprisingly well known among ubf leaders that there are incidents of sexual abuse, physical abuse, financial abuse, spiritual abuse and authority abuse. ubf teaches “covering doctrine”, which means leaders’ sins cannot be discussed or challenged in any way. They teach the notion that it is your duty to hide the abuse or sin of a leader. This flawed theology is again proof-texted from the bible with almost no reality check with the thousands of Christian authors and preachers who would expose such teachings. ubf has created an environment where abuse is swept under the rug and corruption thrives under the pretty masks of the appearance of godliness. While most ubf chapters are free of the sexual or physical types of abuse, verbal abuse and financial abuse is widespread.
6) Glory story fabrication
The ubf mindset is prone to rejecting perspectives and valuing intention over facts. Some people have told me no one will believe my story about breaking into a ubf leader’s house. They are correct in that I was foolish to break into James Kim’s house. Who would do such a thing? No one ordered us to do that with a direct command. The reason we did such a thing is that we were fed glory stories–we believed the narrative that James and his family had asked Toledo UBF for help to move while they were in Houston. We believed the glory story that we were blessing them to become missionaries. At the time we had no idea about the god-father power struggles with Samuel Lee. That is why we were so confused when James and Rebekah were SO furious when they returned. Didn’t they appreciate our help? Why are they so angry and unthankful? Well now I understand because I faced the facts of that situation.
7) KOPAHN/12 slogans/shepherding ideology
We’ve already discussed the “kingdom of priest and holy nation” shepherding flaws extensively here. I have no desire to talk about such things but you can read all about these teachings that are so highly prized and even guarded by a new ubf website. If your ubf chapter has not specifically addressed these ideological flaws, you are still in the cult.
Why did I join? Why did I stay? Why did I leave?
In my books (which are onsale now 3 for the price of 1!) I share all about these three questions. My second book, “Goodness Found: The Butterfly Narratives” is where I process these questions directly.
I joined because of the promise of goodness. ubf offered many low-commitment/high-reward promises. They offered a noble dream of being a shepherd, which I was keen to since I had wanted to be a Catholic priest since I was 16 years old. They poured on my life so much praise and flattery. Mixed in with all this was a genuine spiritual awakening due to my father’s death in 1989. I had joined ubf in 1987.
I stayed for 24 years, until 2011, because the ubf ideology redefined goodness. What is good? Well going to the ubf activities is good! Everything else is bad, even family. The ubf system is primarily what I rail against, all of which fed my own desire for glory:
- Six Stages of Training
- One Cult Identity
- Three Layers of Burden
- Four Elements of Control
- Twelve Heritage Slogans
I left due to my discovery of goodness. I started reading about Spurgeon and the gospel of Christianity. The goodness of transformation by the Holy Spirit overcame me when I read Christian books. The goodness of a virtual community (like ubfriends) brought much peace and light and healing to my soul. And the goodness of LGBTQIA people who accepted me helped me re-connect with goodness again. Most importantly my wife and mother and all my family became my bedrock of goodness again.
Here is a quote from my second book:
“For the most part, I feel that I was drawn out of UBF. One could say the Holy Spirit lead me to UBF and lead me away from UBF in order to display God’s goodness. That drawing out began in 2003 when my family moved to Detroit as UBF pioneers. My time in Toledo UBF was intensely regulated the entire 16 years, being consumed by attending UBF meetings on a daily basis. But my time in Detroit was free of such meetings. For the most part, our family was left alone. The downside of this was that we felt abandoned and had no support to actually build up a Christian church. The upside was that we had no more direct supervision from UBF missionaries. We were free! I used this time at first to defend UBF ideologies on the internet. But it was quickly pointed out to me by former UBF members that my situation as a “pioneering” family was very different from normal a UBF experience. I could not but agree. And one by one, all my defenses of UBF fell apart. I desperately wanted to defend the organization that I had given my blood, sweat and tears for. As my defenses fell apart, I began seeking Christian writings and sermons. I fell in love with the work of Charles Spurgeon. I met my grandparents’ pastor several times and read some of the Christian books he gave me. All this lead me to have a strong desire for community.”
One final note
In the end it was and has been the gospel of Jesus Christ that set me free from UBF ideology and is breaking every chain! Please read Isabelle’s book and process all these things: “I Choose: Subtlety in Cults“