Easter 2012 Reflection: Reform?

It is Good Friday, April 6th 2012. Historically, Easter is the time of reform movement in the organization called University Bible Fellowship (UBF). And this Easter, I am moved to reflect on the reform attempts in UBF in the past. Unfortunately, such times of reform have been followed by times of excommunication and division. The prompt for today’s reflection came from a recent newspaper article that mentioned someone saying UBF’s so-called “cult-like” behavior may come from cultural misunderstandings. For the past 50 years, UBF leaders have used Korean culture as a scapegoat to hide the real issues. Korean culture does cause some conflicts, but such conflicts are normal and can be resolved in ways that do not result in cult-like behavior.

Some claim, as I used to, that UBF has changed and is changing, and is no longer cult-like, or never was cult-like. This is partially true, but such conclusions are made by those with blind eyes who are in denial of historical fact. Such people are those who praise God, but ignore division.

Indeed, internal changes are constantly happening in UBF. After every reform movement the past 50 years, UBF leaders adopt new and better language such as “theology” or “grace” or “Holy Spirit”, but these are nothing more than internal adjustments. The fundamental doctrines of UBF (i.e. the Spiritual Hertiage of God’s ways from Samuel Lee) remain unchanged. From time to time, I see small glimmers of the Spirit working, but see little evidence of the abundant, transforming power of the gospel of Jesus Christ. Instead, I see a constant re-writing of UBF history by UBF people.

In the past two years, UBF’s headquarters in Chicago has made much effort to keep a good public face to the larger Christian community. While this is unprecedented, given UBF’s absolutely closed past and severe criticism of Western Christianity, such public-facing activities have not made an impact outside Chicago. Indeed, from both an inside and an outside perspective, such attempts at being loosely connected with Western Christianity seem to be only a way of covering up the problems that have led UBF to be on cult-watching groups.

Yes, in 2012, there are six groups that list UBF as “being watched” or as “abherrant”.

1. Apologetics Index
2. Rick Ross Institute
3. New England Institute of Religious Research
4. Cult Information Services of Northeast Ohio, Inc.
6. Freedom of Mind

The Apologetics Index says this:

“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 spiritual 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)

In 2004, UBF was expelled from the NAE. What the public probably doesn’t know is that only the Chicago chapter was a member, and not as a denomination but only as an organization. In 2008, UBF re-applied, more officially, and persuaded the new NAE board members to accept them, partly because of the new UBF public relations activities.

But has UBF changed?

To answer that, I look back at the three reform movements and note the ongoing 2011 independence movement (called a crisis by the UBF 50th Anniversary Book). After reviewing the reform material, I’ve decided to focus on the 1976 reform movement and see what reforms, if any, suggested by the Korean staff shepherds in 1976 have been implemented as of 2012.

Below are the highlights of the Korean-drafted 1976 UBF reform letters. In follow-up comments to this article, I will share my observations as an American Director shepherd who was “Mr.UBF” and defended UBF for 24 years, from 1987 to 2011. I would hope others would share their observations (minus the emotion and focusing on facts).

The 1976 reform movement:

– Led by seven Korean UBF staff shepherds

– Reform letter was sent April 17, 1976 before Easter to Samuel Lee

– Their allegations are based on factual, eye-witness accounts, most of which are well-documented

– Allegations of Offering Abuses:

  • Misappropriation of offering money
  • Concealment of an accounting book in UBF headquarters
  • Obscure expenses and expenditures

– Allegations of Human Rights Abuses:

  • Examples of violence
  • Forced arranged marriage

– Allegations of Illegal Activity:

  • Theft
  • Forged documents and bribe
  • Destruction of family

– Allegations of Non-Biblical Education:

  • Forced repentance
  • Forced testimony sharing
  • Infusion of personal philosophy
  • Inhumane training

– Allegations of Ministry centered on Samuel Lee:

  • Committees unable to operate freely
  • Dictatorship style meetings

1976 Reform Direction

Ministry directions of UBF

UBF should be the ministry that God may use after solving the problems mentioned above. We suggest the following ministry directions based on the Bible. We want to change the regulations of UBF based on the following directions.

Main direction: The Holy Spirit instead of one person should lead ministry. The agenda should be discussed and determined together.

1. System

(1) Identical man-made system should be changed to creative and independent system that respects the ministry of local chapters (Ephesians 2:21,22).

(2) Each chapter is led under each chapter director’s responsibility. UBF discussion committee should be organized.

(3) Abroad chapters are independently administrated. Offering money for missionaries’ education and training should be sent to the main accounting department (Romans 15:25,26). Missionary sends offering to his home chapter by his own will.

2. Enforcement of committee

The function of committees should be reinforced to establish budget, audit, inspect accounting, and administer personnel (Acts 20:28).

3. Separation of administration

Administration personnel will control budget, accounting and auditing. (Currently, the president of leaders has controlled accounting even though he should concentrate on the
prayer and the ministry of the word.) (Acts 6:3-6)

4. Education of shepherds and missionaries

Impersonal physical training should be stopped and education should concentrate on spiritual inspiration. (1 Timothy 4:7,8)

5. Administration of personnel

Personnel administration committee should maintain the administration of personnel. (Currently, the president of leaders decides and maintains the administration of
personnel.) (Acts 1:15-26)

6. Protection of private life

The family of shepherds and laymen should not be inhibited by anybody for any reason.

So again I ask, did UBF change after the 1976 reform movement?

I present the letter from the 2000 UBF reform movement, again led by Korean staff shepherds, as evidence that nothing fundamentally changed in UBF from 1976 to 2000. The “change” was nothing more than internal adjustments and appeasements.

The 2000 reform movement:

God established UBF 39 years ago and has blessed her to send out over 1,500 missionaries to 87 countries. Being convinced that we need the mentality of reform, open-mindedness and an embracing attitude in order to grow and progress further, we declare the following in this beginning year of a new millennium:

First, the Lordship of Jesus Christ should be restored in UBF. It is God who established our fellowship. But in the last 39 years, everything has been decided and ruled by one man and many people have been hurt in the process. This ill must stop now. We need to accept Jesus Christ as the King of our fellowship. UBF should be guided by the Holy Spirit and grow and develop by the free consultations and cooperation of coworkers.

Second, our fellowship should become a Christ-centered community of love. Thus far, due to authoritarianism and number-emphasis in our fellowship, the personal relationships among coworkers has been jeopardized. Love and trust have been sorely missing. Now we need to get back to our Lord’s command, “Love one another.” Our fellowship needs to become a mature fellowship built around love and service.

Third, we need to embark on educating staff shepherds as spiritual experts in order to have spiritual quality.

It is our sincere desire to pursue the above goals in a spirit of dialogue and cooperation. We do not want UBF to be divided. We will keep the spirit of dialogue in the Holy Spirit to the end.

May 23, 2000

Initiating members of the committee for UBF reform:

MyungRoon UBF
DaeJeon UBF
MohkPoh UBF
JeonJoo UBF
SooWon UBF
DaeGoo UBF
InCheon UBF
KyoungHeemoon UBF
Pusan UBF
KyoungJoo UBF
ChungJoo UBF


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