A quick Google search will turn up numerous results of people questioning whether University Bible Fellowship (UBF) is a cult or not. I have asked myself that question quite a few times since 1987 when I joined. On the surface, I found many good things about UBF, especially during my college years. I personally was not harmed much in any way during my 24 years in the ministry. Nor did I see many of the reported abuses from other places around the world. Yet just because I fared rather well does not mean other people were not damaged or hurt. In fact, as I look back on my time in UBF, I really was like an ostrich with my head in the sand, pretending not to know about the events I heard others talking about!
But my eyes were opened recently to see that I had hurt others. I had been treated quite differently from others, probably because I became one of UBF’s biggest fans.
From a historical perspective, UBF missionaries from South Korea first came to America in the late 1970’s. Almost immediately, cult-watching groups picked up on UBF’s practices. For many years, I became one of the primary defenders of UBF against such accusations of being a cult. Through my attempts to defend UBF on Wikipedia and various other websites, I came to realize that I could not defend UBF against the cult accusations. It is a fact that the basically sound UBF statement of faith has been negated by cult-like practices. People who study in UBF eventually find out just how much control the group wants over their lives, including who and when to marry, where to work, where to go to school, what kind of degree to have, and all the while demanding absolute attendance at daily meetings. These things are not known to those who initially join the group, and the control is instituted a little at a time over many years.
I will leave it up to others to decide whether UBF is a cult or not. But as a former Director in UBF, I can clearly say that the authoritarian, obedience-driven and honor-desiring actions of UBF leaders has created an unhealthy environment for spiritual, mental and even physical growth. I will certainly not defend UBF as a Christian organization any longer.
While students may enjoy the wonderful fellowship UBF offers initially, spiritual life often becomes stagnated after graduation. I observed this stagnation repeatedly as over 100 of my friends (counting husbands, wives and children), left UBF ministry over the past 20 years.
Here is a good summary of the current situation of UBF ministry in America (and around the world outside of South Korea) from a cult-watching group:
* Note: I was one of those who sent in emails defending UBF to this cult-watching group.
This entry on University Bible Fellowship (UBF) — as shown below the blue line — is in need of updating. Doing so is on our lengthy to-do list, and we do not know when we get around to it.
That said, the primary update of note is that on March 18, 2008, the Board of Directors of the National Association of Evangelicals (NAE) voted to re-admit the UBF as a member.
Since early May, 2008, we have received emails from a number of UBF members pointing out this fact. Some also point to a handful of endorsements the UBF has received, as well as to its membership in the Evangelical Council for Financial Accountability (ECFA). Most of the emails make clear that membership in the NAE — and, to a lesser extend, in the ECFA — is seen as a stamp of approval for the UBF.
We do take such memberships into consideration, but they do not weigh heavily in our evaluations of groups. Many organizations are ill-equipped to deal with issues surrounding high-demand organizations and cult-like groups. They tend to base their determinations almost entirely on whether or not a movement’s Statement of Faith passes their standard of orthodoxy.
Unfortunately, often a group’s Statement of Faith does not quite describe what it actually teaches in word and/or in practice. In other words, a church, movement or organization can have a Statement of Faith that is theologically sound — and yet teach doctrines ranging from aberrant to heretical and/or engage in practices that are sociologically and/or spiritually abusive.
Therefore when it comes to University Bible Fellowship, our concerns regarding the organization have not been diminished as a result of the movement’s re-acceptance by the NAE.
In fact, we consider UBF’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 the University Bible Fellowship’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.”
Our advice to Christians is not to get involved with the University Bible Fellowship.