I begin with the end-game of UBF shepherds. Regardless of any good or bad motive, the truth is that the leaders want to pair up successful marriage partners who will remain loyal to the group. If the group told freshman college students what plan they have for their lives upfront, students would run for the hills whenever they saw a UBF Shepherd approach them on campus! So I begin by exposing the goal of that one-hour-per-week Bible study invitation. The goal is marriage. In fact the entire purpose of the group could be summarized as increasing the number of married couples loyal to the ministry. Such couples are called house churches and are arranged by group leaders. The common prayer topic is to raise 10,000 house churches by the year 2041 (80 years after 1961 when the group was founded).
The group uses marriage in three primary ways to institute control over a student. The self-appointed, personal, life-long shepherd finds a way to get the student to develop a “marriage problem”, accept “marriage training” and finally to “marry by faith”. The term marriage-by-faith means a marriage arranged by the group’s leaders but intended to be God’s divine will for the student. Consider this quote from a former member who grew up at UBF:
“Viewing UBF from a behind-the-scenes perspective wasn’t limited to my participation in the UBF orchestra. As a missionary kid, I was also witness to the process by which one is set up for an arranged marriage. According to UBF, these marriages happen through God’s will. Dating is strictly prohibited as everyone is expected to focus all their time and energy to serving God, all the while leaving the issue of whom they will marry up to God. Those who do not put their faith in God to choose the perfect marriage partner are said to have a marriage problem.”
–Anonymous, former Triton UBF member
Control starts with identifying the “marriage problem”. This rather odd idea comes mainly from an obsession with John chapter 4 in the Bible. This passage was a Samuel Lee (co-founder) favorite and often still remains the highlight of conferences the group promotes. Many misunderstandings of this passage are taught. Perhaps the greatest misunderstanding is that of a “marriage problem”. In this John chapter 4 passage, Jesus meets a woman coming to draw water by herself in the middle of the day. Jesus says to her at one point, “Go, call your husband!” The thought is that this woman is filled with lust and longs for fulfillment from a husband. This is interpreted as her “marriage problem”.
Students are then asked about their marriage hopes and dreams from time to time during their one-to-one weekly meetings with their UBF shepherd. When a student happens to express ideas about marriage, the student is made to feel as if all these dreams are “marriage problems”. Quoting John 4 seals the deal and the student is burdened with guilt about having worldly, unspiritual ideas about marriage. The intention of the UBF shepherd is to break down the students’ personal ideas about marriage. This will be necessary for the student to accept the marriage-by-faith arrangement that will come several years later. The UBF shepherd feels he has done the will of God and honored the will of God by interfering in the students’ personal life in such a personal way.
In 2001, at the UBF International Summer Bible Conference, the messenger on John 4 shared this:
“Humanly speaking, this was interference with her private life. However, Jesus did not mind violating her human rights to talk about her sin problem in order to heal her sin-sick soul. Her real problem appeared to be a husband problem or marriage problem as common people think. But it was a sin problem. Her cursed woman’s desire controlled her and drove her until she became a helpless Samaritan woman. As a result, even if she had married five times, she would remain with a severe marriage problem. In proportion to her gravity of sin, her cursed desire might have tormented her without ceasing (Ge 3:16).” [http://chicago.UBF.org/ISU01/messages.html]
As the student’s personal ideas about marriage break down, the time eventually comes for something called “marriage training”. This typically happens at the end of the UBF discipleship program. Some events that will trigger marriage training are asking your shepherd about marriage, mentioning marriage in your weekly Bible testimony and staying after meetings to mingle with other students who are not of your gender. Attempting to date someone at UBF will land the student in hot water and has resulted in more severe training. In recent years, an odd form of courtship has been created at some UBF chapters. Apart from this however, dating is frowned upon unless the student is a Korean child of a missionary. Such students, called “second gens”, are often allowed more slack in the ministry, perhaps because they have to deal with a severely restricted life at home.