My Original Intent…

My post–Samuel Lee was not overbearing–“happened” as I was intending to write about authoritarian Christian leadership (again!): “NOT lording it over others like the rulers of the Gentiles” (Mt 20:25-26; Mk 10:42-43), “NOT overbearing” (Tit 1:7), and “NOT lording it over those entrusted to our care” (1 Pet 5:2-3). My original title was “Not Overbearing, but Meek.” But such a title was too bland and boring and it would not generate much interest or discussion. So I changed it to a more provocative title, and provocative it was! Sorry.

Meek and Gentle. I wanted to write about Christ’s leadership which was meek (Mt 5:5) and gentle (Mt 11:29; Phil 4:5). Many people (natives and missionaries) have been hurt, wounded and embittered by UBF leaders, because some leaders were not meek and gentle, especially myself. I wanted to appeal to our leaders to consider Jesus’ meekness and gentleness, because that is who God is. Jesus was so gentle and meek that he did not snuff out smoldering wicks or break bruised reeds (Isa 42:3; Mt 12:20). But some UBF leaders have smashed and wounded strong, intelligent, and very able people. How do I know? I have read and listened to what others have shared both publicly and privately. Also, I have smashed others. Such authoritarian leadership is a major indictment of UBF, which is being addressed gradually.

“The Ends Justify the Means.” I thank Chris, Vitaly and Brian for sharing in detail the abuses of Samuel Lee in my last post. Without in any way exonerating Lee for what he did, I sensed Christ’s love and grace in and through Lee many times a week for over 2 decades up close and personal. That is why I and many others love him dearly, even while knowing the inexcusable unbiblical things that he did. I know that this is very very hard to swallow by those who have been wounded by similar abuses by other UBF leaders, for they adopted similar unscrupulous manipulative tactics in their “shepherding.” A major error here is our erroneous unbiblical perspective of “the ends justifying the means.” I shepherded others likewise countless times. To “squeeze repentance” out of some Bible students, I said horrendous, threatening and even lewd and vulgar things. I justified it because “otherwise, they won’t listen to the Bible.”

Healing and Reconciliation. Mainstream UBF people will not like that I write about Lee. Those who have been wounded by abusive UBF leadership feel that I am too generous in my “defense” of UBF. I am not trying to expose Lee’s flaws, nor am I defending UBF. But without honest, open and vulnerable dialogue, no healing and reconciliation is possible. This can only happen through the gospel of God’s grace (Acts 20:24). We need to be uncompromising of sin and a lack of love (expressed as righteousness) in ourselves. And we need to be gracious, forgiving, and loving to those who have wronged us. Forgiving and loving Lee and other UBF leaders in spite of their abuses and offenses is not being compromising of their sin, but biblical, for that is what God extended to us freely by his grace.

Speak the Truth in Love (Eph 4:15). This is the toughest thing for any Christian to do. Only Christ did it perfectly and we killed him! It is easy for any Christian to “speak the truth” about the abuses of Lee and other UBF leaders. But can we really do so with a longing affection of love (Phil 1:8), which is the primary biblical command? This also applies to UBF leaders who “speak the truth” about those who, in their mind, are dragging UBF in the mud. Can they do so with a genuine affection of love, such that they are more than happy to welcome their accusers into our own homes and share a meal with them? I would personally love to speak about this with you before a meal of steak and wine! Yet, clearly, none of us are able to love as Christ loved us. Yet, we are precisely commanded to do (Jn 13:34), and to do so perfectly! (Mt 5:48)

Weakness and Vulnerability. As Sharon shared in a previous post (The Way of the Cross is Dialogue), the only place we can ever truly meet is with weakness and vulnerability at the foot of the cross. God help us to do so more and more.


  1. This quote might help us speak the truth in love: “The purest actions of the purest men need Christ to perfume them.” Richard Sibbes, The Bruised Reed.

    One more point: The Shepherd Playing the Role of the Holy Spirit.

    This is expressed by our (over)use of “Keep spiritual order” and “Just obey.” Some UBF leaders have “guilt-tripped” their sheep that obeying them = obeying God. As a result, some UBF leaders regard it as their absolute unquestioning right to decide whether you can keep facial hair, how you dress, what time you get up, when and who you can date, who and when you can marry, correcting your testimony, editing your repentance, changing your key verse, when you are “ready” (for anything – sharing your life testimony or message, marriage, planting a church). Such manipulative controlling “shepherding” clearly has to stop. By the way, I am describing myself!

    • Ben, did you ever ask yourself who started with this idea of shepheds playing the role of the Holy Spirit in UBF? I think it’s time for UBFers to speak out the obvious, namely that this idea was introduced by the founder to UBF, who was also your personal teacher, so it’s not amazing that you find describing yourself. Of course, this does not mean that UBFers should now start to shift all blame to the founder. We all share in the guilt of fearing men more than God, and paying more attention to men than to God, and also in the guilt of treating “our” sheep in similar ways, and in the guilt of not courageously speaking the truth in love to our leaders, so that these leaders had no human correctives. Particularly, since nobody corrected or challenged the UBF founder, he could always continue in his ways, even may have found himself confirmed by the appretiation of his people and the “effectiveness” of his methods. Many people in UBF, even those who seemed more reasonable and meak, acted more like enablers of the abuse instead of being correctives. Well ok, that’s not completely true, some challenged him, like the senior shepherds in 1976, but then he easily found those loyalists who would follow him no matter what and a new generation of leaders who would expel the critics and take their place. It did not matter to the founder that he divided UBF and members three times with his stubborn refusal to repent and have open dialogue. He used strategies like divide and conquer and played off the members against each other. And there were always enough members who let themselves be used in such games, unwilling to think and decide for themselves, just following and believing what they were told and what was convenient to believe.

    • This does not exempt, excuse, or exonerate anyone, but it can be explained by dysfunctional family, childhood and upbringing with abuse, hierarchical authoritarian Confucianist culture, and sinful nature.

  2. Thanks for your clarifications with which I agree.

    Just a side note about “intent matters”, because that phrase is sometimes also used to legitimate spiritual abuse: Think of what was recently done to the Ecce Homo fresco with good itentions ;-) If a spiritual leader harms people with good intentions, that does not make it much better. As a German proverb says: “Well meant is often the opposite of well done”. I think it applies very well to UBFism.

  3. Hi Chris, I agree that good intentions cannot justify abuse, and does not make anyone any less of a sinner. Did you watch the movie “Joy Luck Club” about good intentions?

  4. Conclusions
    So, then, what conclusions can be drawn from the biblical evidence regarding defense against serious and false accusations against leaders?

    First, it is clear that leaders are to defend their ministries and personal integrity when they are falsely accused. Jesus did it. He told the disciples that they should expect attack and, when it came, how to defend the gospel and their integrity. The apostles did it, and they instructed other leaders — including us — in how to do it.

    Second,leaders are to take attacks seriously because lies and slander against them and their ministries will hurt, confuse, and undermine the faith of those under their care.

    Further, false at tacks create barriers to others coming to the Lord through their ministry.

    Finally, leaders must publicly ac knowledge the truth of accurate criticism and repent in the appropriate, biblical manner. This too is done for the sake of the body, so members are not led astray by false or misleading teaching.

    Frequently, appropriate criticism of leaders is brought in an inappropriate manner. For example, in Matthew 18:15-17 Jesus offers a concise pattern for how to bring correction against someone
    who sins. First, Jesus says, go to him in private and show him his fault. For leaders this initial step can be done through a personal conversation, a phone call, or a letter. But not through a
    magazine article, a book, a radio talk show, in a preaching, or a conference. No Christian leader should ever learn of serious charges brought against him through the Christian or secular media.

    These forums are appropriate only after his wrongdoing has been proved and presented to him, he has been allowed to defend himself, and he has refused to repent.

    This process is exhausting to the one bringing the charges, which probably explains why it is rarely followed today. Perhaps this helps explain why the body of Christ is so severely fragmented.
    Of course, this process also works in reverse: When a leader is falsely accused in public, he should approach his accuser first in private and in the spirit of love, unity, and forgiveness in order
    to clarify the issues and be reconciled. If the accuser refuses to respond to a reasonable response, the leader may then go public with his defense.

    (A detailed description of how to handle public repentance and treat fallen leaders is beyond the scope of this article. I have written on these topics in the Summer 1988 and Fall 1990 issues of
    Equipping the Saints magazine.)

  5. For me it is very interesting how UBF leaders respond to the critique from the cult-watching organisations, such as Apologetics Index. Is it considered true or false? It is an outside critique that says that UBF as a whole is not a healthy christian church and is cult-like and abberant.

  6. Thanks, Vitaly, for bringing this up again. I am sorry I did not respond the last time you brought this up. I was preoccupied in the Philippines, but I have just returned to Chicago yesterday.

    I was going to ask you for a link to the Apologetics Index, but I googled and found it myself. Yes, what they write about UBF would cause anyone who reads it to not want to come, or not want their kids to be involved in UBF.

    What are your thoughts and suggestions for us?

  7. Hi Isaac, Welcome to UBFriends, if this is your first time to participate. Thank you for your comments.

    You mentioned about the need to defend our church ministries and personal integrity. I have 2 comments/responses to that:

    1) I would say that the primary role of the church is to preach the gospel and share Christ. Christ did not defend himself on the cross. Defending oneself and one’s church/ministry can easily border on prejudice, tribalism, sectarianism, and self-righteosness. If you have any Scripture references to support the necessity of defending the church or church leaders, please share them.

    2) That said, I wish that some of those who are “legitimately” accused may indeed humbly respond, instead of “taking the high road.”

  8. It’s not my words. I just copied it from an article.

    Jesus was quiet on the cross to fulfill the scripture.
    He was not quiet at all against false accusation during his ministry.

    Here are some Scripture references.

    Jesus also vigorously replied to his critics, by both defending himself against their lies and accusing them of sin. In defending himself against the Pharisees, Jesus accused them of being children of the devil: “You belong to your father, the devil, and you want to carry out your father’s desire” (John 8:44).

    Later, when the Jews at Solomon’s Colonnade asked him if he was the Messiah, Jesus claimed to be equal in nature to his Father. “I and the Father are one” (John 10:30). The Jews, accusing him of blasphemy (“you, a mere man, claim to be God”), picked up stones to stone him. But Jesus replied with an eloquent defense, rooting his claims in Scripture. They couldn’t deal with his arguments, so they tried to seize him, but he escaped. The Pharisees were at the receiving end of Jesus’ most severe rebukes, because they, as the respected religious leaders and Bible experts of their day, were especially dangerous to the people of God. They were constantly questioning, challenging, and misrepresenting his message.
    Jesus’ public ministry is marked by escalating hostility from the Pharisees, with his stern rebukes keeping pace with their false accusations and Scripture twisting.

    A typical interaction is found in Matthew 15, where the Pharisees accuse Jesus’ disciples — and him — of breaking the tradition of the elders by not washing their hands before they eat. Jesus
    responds quickly and devastatingly, first demonstrating the Pharisee’s disobedience to Scripture, then calling them “hypocrites” whose hearts are distant from God and who teach rules taught by
    men. When his disciples later told him that he offended the Pharisees, Jesus was unaffected:
    “Leave them; they are blind guides. If a blind man leads a blind man, both will fall into a pit” (Matt.15:14).

    It could be argued that only Jesus should defend himself, because, after all, he is God. But this argument breaks down when we see that Jesus prepared the disciples to defend the gospel against attack.

    He even promised them that, when they were falsely accused and imprisoned, the Holy Spirit would provide them with words for their defense (Luke 12:11-12; 21:12-15). His promise was fulfilled in texts like Acts 4:8-31, where Peter preached to the Sanhedrin, and Acts 7, where Stephen preached to the Sanhedrin before being stoned. And the promise of the Holy Spirit remains in effect today.
    Like Jesus, the apostles defended their message and character against false criticism and accusations. The basis for responding to their critics is set forth in specific texts. First, they replied to protect the unity of the body of Christ. For example, in Romans 16:17-18 they urged the believers to “watch out” and “keep away” from “those who cause divisions and put obstacles in your way that are contrary to the teaching you have learned” (also see Tit. 1:9-16; 3:10-11).

    Second, they replied in order to keep the gospel message and “the hope within you” from being distorted and misunderstood. “If anybody is preaching to you a gospel other than what you accepted,” Paul wrote to the Galatians, “let him be eternally condemned!” (Gal. 1:9). “Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have,” Peter wrote. “But do this with gentleness and respect, keeping a clear conscience, so that
    those who speak maliciously against your good behavior in Christ may be ashamed of their slander” (1 Pet. 3:15-16).

    Therefore, the apostles defended their message (the gospel), character, and ministry against false criticism (Gal. 1:8-9; 1 Cor. 4:9-21; 9:1-27; 2 Cor. 11:1 – 12:10). They mentioned their opponents in general (for example, the “Jewish opposition” in 1 Thess. 2:14-16), and even specifically by name (1 Tim. 1:20; 2 Tim. 2:15; 2:16-18; 4:14; 3 John 9-11).

    When public criticism is true, it should be publicly acknowledged with repentance. Paul writes, Why I Respond To Criticism ! “Those [elders] who sin are to be rebuked publicly, so that the others may take warning” (1 Tim.5:20). Paul publicly rebuked Peter and Barnabas in Galatians 2:11-21 for separating themselves from Gentiles out of fear for the “circumcision group” — Judaizers who believed that circumcision was necessary for salvation. In 2 Timothy 4:10 Paul exposed Demas as one who loves the world and deserted him.

    Personally, as a second gen from Korea,I think UBF have not defended themselves in the biblical manner against (False or True) accusations.

    They have never gave us any clear defense against false(or true) accusations in public. They kept silent and tried to delete all accusations on the internet. That brought more confusion to many members in UBF and hindered the work of God and ended up the division.

    Also, in case of true accusation, I have never heard about the public repentance except some of writers here. UBF leaders must publicly ac knowledge the truth of accurate criticism and repent in
    the appropriate, biblical manner.

    Leaders must rely on the leading of the Holy Spirit. Jesus says he will teach us what to say — and when to be silent. There are, however, dear biblical criteria that must be met before speaking out publicly. In general, a public response is appropriate when false
    criticism is:
    • Believed by a significant number of Christians;
    • Seriously misrepresenting our views and practices; and
    • Hindering significantly the work of God.
    I have never heard about public explanation about the two painful divisions in UBF.

    Doing justice and righteousness is the work of God. David performed justice even after his death. That’s the foundation of God’s kingdom.
    If the foundation is shaken, it is not easy to build up the work of God, such as preaching the Gospel, raising disciples. All things will collapse all of sudden if the foundation(Justice and righteousness) is weak. Biblical response to the criticism is very important and serious issue in the church(Holy nation). Look at the elections. Even the world knows that.

    I think it is still not too late to correct things.

  9. Dr.Ben I am a professional teacher. And I was taught that when I don’t know something and have no answer for a student’s question I should say, “And what are your thoughts about it?” )

    First, I’d like to share a lesson from Calvin on Jn.13. You say, “I would say that the primary role of the church is to preach the gospel and share Christ”. Calvin said something like, “the primary role of the church is to love each other”.

    Second, my suggestions. I agree with Isaac that UBF leaders haven’t given any foudation for its members to feel that they are members of a healthy christian church. They haven’t respond to any even true critique, they have been busy with deleting “negative” information from internet and preparing for some next Bible conference. Brian wrote about some UBF leaders’ reaction that shows that no suggestions can be helpful for UBF. They are not going to change anything, they are in the “perfect” church with “God given methods”.

    When I left I wrote a letter to Abraham Kim, the general director of UBF with my suggestions. I didn’t wait for a respond for I am nothing in the UBF hierarchy. And, of course, there was no response. But six months later when some other people began to leave my former chapter, all of a sudden there was a response to me from the UBF general director! Unbelievable! Somehow it came to my box as a “spam” )) The meaning of the letter was “Why not reconcile with the missionaries?”. He wrote that “he was too busy to respond” to me. There was a suggestion for me to become a new UBF chapter director. But the problem is that now a fully agree with Apologetics Index. I have studied the Bible without any UBF pressure since I left UBF. And I cannot consider it as a christian organisation. I can’t “reconcile” with UBF because the suggestion to reconcile means, “We, UBF people, are not going to repent or to change anything, but would you please stop your critique against UBF and be silent!”. Jesus led me out and met me there “outside the camp”. I am very thankful to God who saved me and my family from sins and from UBF! And I pray that God may save all my brothers and sisters from my chapter. And the Lord has been doing something about it. I am sure that UBF has no future in Russia and those 20+/- russian “obedient” shepherds who are still in UBF won’t be able to make Russia a UBF “kingdom of priests and holy nation” and send thousands of missionaries. It is “hard to kick against the goads”. So I am sure that I made the only right decision and will never regret it: to leave UBF. And this is my suggestion fo all who seek God’s kingdom, not a man’s kingdom. I’ve read the book Chris recommended, be Edin Lovas. Edin wrote that to leave or even to fleet is the best way possible. Still if there is enough strength, – to expel the power mongers out of the church.

    But what are my suggestions for you and UBF as it is now? I agree with Isaac that public repentance is absolutely necessary. You should leave the 100000 missionaries prayer topic and the like. All the missionaries who are more that 3 years in their “mission field” must go home and “let the local leaders lead”. I mean it! Must! There must not be any hierarchy and no single pastor in any chapter. I think two pastors are not always enough for a UBF chapter. There should be at least three really equal pastors or leaders. A foreigner shouldn’t be among them. And I would suggest Joe to be the UBF general director and make his suggestions which will be surely better than mine. You know, UBF is in a great crisis and it is like Egypt in the time of Jacob. UBF needs a Joseph to be saved and go through the crisis. And you have Joseph! may be “It is still not too late to correct things”. But is it possible? I don’t think so, especially after some missionaries’ words about Joe. The leaders must do something (to pulicly repent)to cleanse the name of “UBF”, otherwise it is better to have another name for the church and, of course, to become a completely new church with biblical principles (not with Lee’s 12 point legacy)).

    • Joe Schafer

      Vitaly, thanks for your support. But I don’t want anyone to get the false impression that I am trying to become a leader in the UBF organization. It would be a bad move for me and my family and a disaster for UBF. My organizational skills are poor. By nature, I am a thinker, a researcher, a writer and a teacher. And sometimes I am a home remodeler and a cook. But I am poorly suited to be a pastor (in the traditional sense) or a manager of anything that requires organizational skills.

    • Joe, the problem is that usually those who claim they are bad leaders would be much better than those who want to become or remain leaders with a vengeance ;-) Anyway, I think UBF should not search for the next big leader, but change their hierarchical leadership “single director” model completely. Chapters and the whole organisation should be lead by a committee of different people with different skills and opinions. This has already been suggested in all reform movements in the past. Already in 1976.

    • Vitaly,

      I’d like to point out something to our readers based on your comment:

      “You should leave the 100000 missionaries prayer topic and the like.”

      Guess what? UBF just did that over the summer, at least publicly. Take a look a the official prayer topics now:

      The new #1 prayer topic has silently dropped BOTH the 100,000 number AND the 2041 due date:

      “1. May God raise Bible teachers and missionaries through one-to-one Bible study and discipleship ministry.”

      From 1961 to 2012, UBF “raised” about 2,500 missionaries (I am being generous with this number, and I’m not counting the other thousands of people who would have been counted as missionaries but left the ministry).

      So that means UBF would have had 29 years left in order to raise 97,500 missionaries. That equates to about 3,362 missionaries every year for the next 29 years.

      I know that several high-ranking UBF leaders still believe in this pipe-dream. But at least publicly they have changed the prayer topic.

      I would like to point out that this kind of slight-of-hand swapping of prayer topics and direction is what infuriates, confuses and damages people’s trust. They played similar tricks with the concluding lecture of the 50th anniversary celebration. They made one private, paper-back version and another, public electronic version.

  10. Many ignored clear passages of the Bible that taught leaders should defend the gospel against attack. For example, Paul wrote, “When we [Paul and Apollos] are cursed, we bless; when we are persecuted, we endure it; when we are slandered, we answer kindly” (1 Cor.4:1-12).

    Don’t endure(ignore) slander, answer kindly! That’s the biblical way!

    If it is not slander but the truth, and not responding correctly, There could be two conclusions. They are not seeking God’s kingdom, or they are blind to the truth. That’s very dangerous situation.

    Dr. Ben
    My suggestion for you is to make an official written answers from UBF leaders against various issues (including some leader’s past or current accusations, divisions, UBF methods etc). I believe that will strengthen the body of Christ through understandings and forgiveness in Christ.

    • Hi Isaac, thanks for joining the discussion. I liked a lot of what your wrote. I want to add one crucial point: We must distinguish when leaders are criticized, mocked, slandered or even persecuted because of the gospel and when this happens because of their own wrong conduct or bad teaching. That makes really a big difference. Also, we must distinguish between people criticizing, mocking, slandering and persecuting leaders. These are very different things, but they are also all to often lumped together. I have hardly seen any real “persecution” of UBFers or UBF leaders. Don’t confuse criticism with persecution. The word “slander” is also used much too easily. It should be only used if people are claiming things that are not only defamatory, but also *false*. In such cases leaders should reject and clarify what is told about them. But Samuel Lee used to dismiss his critics (even inside UBF) as “crazy dogs” who do not deserve any answer, even when their accusations where verifiable and legitimate. Such is a behavior is typical for power mongers. What really bothers me is when UBFers claim “we are persecuted because of the gospel” when in reality they are just rightfully criticized for their bad teachings and practices which often have little to do with the gospel or are even opposed to the gospel (like authoritarianism, favoritism etc.), or when they simply equate UBF with “the work of God” and then interpret any criticism of UBF as “hindrance to the work of God” so any means are appropriate to silence that criticism. UBF is not the work of God, it’s a man-made organization. Whether UBF is doing things of God or not can only be an implication, but never a premise.