The Bible teachings of UBFism became my primary reason for staying. It was only after untwisting the Scriptures and unbinding my mind from UBF's flawed Bible teachings that I was able to finally leave after 24 years. I begin this blog series by noting that UBFism is a mix of Confucianism and fundamentalist Christianity. To untwist the Bible from UBFism, therefore, requires some understanding of the teachings of Confucius. In the UBF mind, this toxic mix of religions gives them pride to think they are the "best Christians". And it is one of several reasons why outsiders have difficulty pin-pointing the harmful nature of the group. To an outsider, UBF people may look like nothing more than extreme Christians.
Introduction to Confucianism
At the heart of Confucianism is the practice of ritual, particularly through sacrifice. With the belief that individuals are composed of two parts, a physical hun and an incorporeal po, Confucians believed that after death, the hun sank into the ground while the po rose up and joined the spirit world.
Confucianism is complex and has valuable lessons. My aim here is not to critique Confucian teachings. My aim is to untwist Confucius from UBFism and reveal a path others might take to understand the odd nature of UBF teachings. In order to understand Confucianism, I have read and learned much from personal study. I am not an expert in Confucius, but I have come to understand enough to recognize these ideas bound up in UBFism.
Repeatedly, I come across books and articles that mention "jen" and "li" as the foundation of Confucian thought. Jen is "human heartedness; goodness; benevolence, man-to-man-ness; what makes man distinctively human (that which gives human beings their humanity)" (source: https://philosophy.lander.edu/oriental/main.html).
Those who believe in this jen seek to preserve it. The concept is that sacrifice yields blessing, and nearly any sacrifice is worthy if jen can be preserved. "It is dearer than life itself--the man of jen will sacrifice his life to preserve jen, and conversely it is what makes life worth living." UBF never really defines this jen/goodness apart from a feeling of joy when doing UBF activities. In a real sense, the organization of UBF itself is their jen. The UBF member can barely distinguish God from UBF, and cannot see goodness apart from UBF activities. The UBF member lives with a sense of some future goodness that does not get defined. This vague notion of goodness eluded me for years, and after two decades, such promised goodness never materialized (see: Goodness Found: The Butterfly Narratives)
Why am I writing this blog series now?
It has been years since I had anything to do with the group. However, dozens of concerned students, parents, and friends of UBF members have reached out to me over those years. This week a concerned parent reached out to me and described the behavior of their UBF-bound child. The behavior described to me is identical to my behavior many years ago.
After decades of supposed change, UBFism continues to be at the core of issues the group creates. Stress on family relationships is still going on because UBFism instills a belief that skipping family events due to UBF commitment is holy and righteous. Giving up your "Isaac" is still a UBF teaching and encourages young adults to stop pursuing their college degree or to become willing to accept arranged marriage to any unknown UBF person for the glory of God.
How does UBFism persuade intelligent young adults to be so loyal to the group, even to the point of cutting off family and friends and giving up their prized possessions?
At the heart of UBFism is a reduction of the teachings of Confucius into simple ideas for students to grasp. UBFism also reduces the deep, robust theologies of Christianity into tiny snippets called the Spiritual Heritage. Then they proof-text these ideas with select Bible verses. UBF traditionally teaches 10 books of the Bible primarily and only recently started studying the other 56 books due to some recent Christian influence (like from Wheaton College in Chicago). Today I share the first idea that I had to untwist and unbind my mind from this toxic religious mix.
The emotional appeal of UBFism is rooted in the idea of sacrifice. The group's pathos is "We gave up so much, therefore you should also give up so much." They like to spur students on by saying things like "Jesus sacrificed his life, what will you sacrifice for Jesus?" They love to anchor this idea in the story of Abraham and Isaac. Here is how to untwist this emotion.
Ask them "Would you explain the story of Abraham and Isaac? I read in the UBF lectures that this story explains why we must sacrifice for God."
In UBFism, young adults are taught that they must sacrifice. They like to ask "What is your Isaac? What will you give up on the altar of God?" For most young adults, their answer is that they will give up what is most important to them-- their marriage choice or their college degree or their job. Some will say their family is their "Isaac". On the surface, this request seems logical-- God requires sacrifice, right?
These UBF ideas about sacrifice are proof-texted from the Isaac story and are not rooted in the Christian idea of sacrifice. Sacrifice, in UBFism, is rooted in Confucianism. UBFism simplifies Confucianism for students to grasp. The complex teachings of Confucian ethics (jen, yi, and li) are reduced to "sacrifice" and infused with a pathos of emotional giving. UBFism says that if you sacrifice more and more continually, then you are living righteously. They bind this idea with select Bible verses such as Genesis 22, the sacrifice of Isaac.
Did Abraham sacrifice Isaac?
The answer is no. No! Abraham did not sacrifice Isaac. Ask them to read to the end of the story. Genesis 22:13-14 is the teaching point of this passage. Abraham did not withhold his one and only son, BUT Abraham also did not give up his one and only son. Abraham sacrificed a ram instead. Abraham gave up a minor sacrifice here, not a major sacrifice. Abraham continued to have a relationship with his son Isaac. He did not cut off ties with Isaac and did not sacrifice this relationship.
God said, "Do not lay your hand on the boy or do anything to him..." (Genesis 22:12) The teaching here is love God but do not sacrifice your family relationships for God. The God of the Bible does not require this kind of sacrifice.
Christianity values sacrifice to a point, yes, but Jesus says, "I desire mercy, and not sacrifice" (Matthew 12:7) Mercy. Mercy is the pathos of Christians, not sacrifice. Mercy is God's desire. This is the message God gave through Hosea (Hosea 6:1-6). Mercy is the first antidote to the poison of UBFism.
God said "You shall put the mercy seat on the ark of the testimony in the Most Holy Place." (Exodus 26:34). Jesus said, "Go and learn what this means: 'I desire mercy, and not sacrifice.' For I came not to call the righteous, but sinners." (Matthew 9:13)