How Should UBF Respond to Criticism?

respond2criticismHow has UBF handled criticism? Perhaps not very well? Do we embrace and listen to what our critics say?

My friend Brian Karcher is a critic of UBF (where he spent 24 years during the prime of his life). On Christmas day he posted this on Facebook: “And finally, to all those who de-friended me, told me I was listening to Satan’s voice, told me I was going to hell, played mind games with me by telling me no one wants to hear my thoughts, threatened to sue me, talked about me like I was possessed by an evil spirit or told me to shut up and go away– Merry Christmas! Here’s to an even more vocal 2013.”

As I read it, I wondered if any godly honorable God fearing Christian in UBF should have responded to him by:

  • De-friending him on Facebook?
  • Telling him he was listening to Satan’s voice?
  • Saying he was going to hell?
  • Playing mind games with him by telling him that no one wants to hear his thoughts?
  • Threatening to sue him?
  • Speaking with him like he was possessed by an evil spirit?
  • Telling him to shut up and go away?
  • Ignoring him? (An indifferent lukewarm response may be worse than the above.)

Would Jesus have ever done any of this? Would the father of the prodigal son (who represents God) have done this? Jesus pronounced seven woes on the Pharisees because he loved them and would die for them. Brian is not a Pharisee. But even if he is, do those who criticize Brian truly love him like their own children and are willing to die for him?

Honestly, I am disappointed/saddened by those who lambasted Brian or anyone else who dares to criticize UBF. (Yet I cannot be self righteous about this toward those who acted unbecomingly/unChristianly toward Brian. I did so myself for years.) Would they threaten to sue their children? Based on the Bible, should any Christian ever threaten? Sue? Even if Brian is possessed by an evil spirit (which he is not), did Jesus ever treat Judas like one possessed by the devil (which he was)?

Brian is not asking for an apology. But as loving UBF Christians, should those who did any of the above consider apologizing to Brian? Regardless of anything that Brian has said or done, should any Christian ever respond to him (or to any other CBF critic) in such ways?


  1. Just to clarify a couple things, Ben. Numbers 2 and 3 on the list were not UBF people who told me such things, but other Christians in some other non-UBF discussions. The others on the list are from UBF people.

    And in regard to a lawsuit, I fully expect one in 2013, but the threat was rather mild. Perhaps our friend Chris can share what it feels like to received legal threats from UBF, for it actually happened to him.

  2. this is not necessarily specific to Brian, but as for facebook, honestly i start defriending people if there are always updates about indirectly criticizing people/leaders/the church/overly extreme political views, etc… I just don’t care to see updates from negative nellies…

    again not to say brian was updating everyday about bad ubf principles or people …

    i can certainly believe that maybe people/older msn & shepherds have said things to those who have left UBF or criticize UBF that they are “leaving Jesus” or following satan etc, which isn’t always a fair statement.

    I would hope that if brian confronted those people who said those specific things to him, they would be open to discussion/communication. But that might be an ideal situation.

  3. Thanks, Brian, for clarifying. I have heard some comments that because of your relentless and ongoing “persecution of UBF,” you are thus possibly not a Christian. That was why I assumed wrongly that the list came from UBF people.

    • Yes, Ben, I’m well aware of such things, although I have no documented proof, so I didn’t mention them. I know I am viewed as a heretical, ungodly, bitter, wounded, sinful enemy of UBF. No one would dare say such things publicly though, nor even to me personally.

      But I also know that I am a sort of “badge of honor” for UBF people. Many UBF people probably think, “Well we must be doing something right. If someone doesn’t have critics, they aren’t doing God’s work.” So I am in a ying/yang relationship in some respects.

      Such things are partly why Hebrews 13:12-14 became so real to me in 2012.

  4. Thanks, MaryY. Welcome. Instead of “defriending” people on facebook, can’t we just “hide” their comments, so as not to be annoyed by whatever they post, rather than defriending them?

    Perhaps, because of increased communication (privately and online) over the last couple of years, I think UBF has stopped using the horrible phrase “ran away,” whenever someone leaves UBF. Thank God.

    My own kids rebuked me quite strongly for using “ran away” a decade ago, while I strongly defended my use of it. I realize a decade late, that this generation catches on to stuff far better than I do.

    I hope that we listen to them more and more.

    • I used to YELL and fight with my mom whenever she would use that phrase.. or imply someone “left jesus” when they no longer attended UBF. Now I’m on that side of the fence, where people especially in Korea have assumed we left because we didn’t join the local ministry in our city and chose not to pioneer. Instead we chose to see what/how God could teach us through a local church community. And maybe one day to share those different styles to the UBF ministry.

      As for fb — i guess I could just ”hide” those comments but for me the bottom line is, i don’t care to have a million friends on facebook and I usually don’t like to friend people that don’t call or email me at least once a year. But again, in terms of Brian’s case — it definitely would be nice to get some dialogue going between the people who claim he is following the devil or whatever outrageous/hurtful opinion they have.

  5. Phil 2 Five

    Hello Ben and thanks for the article!

    In regards to your statement above, “I realize a decade late, that this generation catches on to stuff far better than I do.
    I hope that we listen to them more and more.” Any concern or suggestion the ‘sheep’ or ‘young leaders’ have often comes out as a complaint to the missionaries or the seniors ears. It seems that they don’t want to hear what younger people have to say (BTW, majority of those concerns are legitimate concerns and are what people talk about and discuss on UBFriends!). Should young people earn the respect of elders for their concerns to be taken seriously? How? Feeding sheep? Marriage by faith? Attending all conferences/retreats/events? Satisfying the shepherd’s desire for control? How?
    Most young leaders I know genuinely want to follow Christ and His footsteps, however their concerns are often not taken into account because they are ‘young’ and don’t know any better! Well, some concerns are very legitimate like I said before. For example, I was asked by a leader, “Should the shepherd, chapter director, be allowed to control every aspect of my life? Is that Biblical? Who I should marry? What my major choice should be? What job I should go for to better serve campus mission? How many kids should have?” Biblical?

    In reference to your question, “How should UBF respond criticism?” I honestly don’t believe that UBFriends has a negative impact on UBF or it’s members! I believe it’s a warning light! If so many bring up the same concerns over and over again, shouldn’t they at least be heard and not just brushed aside and ignored! Yes a church can and I believe will suffer from negative critics if they are striving to serve and glorify God! However, the comments, concerns, suggestions on this site are not, in my opinion, negative! They are again reasonable concerns that need to brought up and worked on–not covered up by the amount of ‘good works’ UBF does around the world!

  6. Thanks, Phil 2:5 for regarding UBFriends as “not negative.” I would guess that you are “younger” than some “older” UBF leaders who think that UBFriends IS negative, bad and should be taken down and removed permanently.

    To answer the seven questions, my short answer is, “No.” “No.” “No.” “No.” “No.” “No.” And “No.” Our “leader” and “shepherd” can certainly discuss, counsel, advice, instruct, persuade, and reason with the “sheep.” But it is NOT HIS JOB–NEVER WAS and NEVER WILL BE HIS JOB–to enforce the outcome or the decision, because he is not God, the LORD, the Holy Spirit, or the Trinity!

    Any coercion or imposition or enforcement on the part of the “shepherd” or leader is what the rulers of the Gentiles do, which is lording over and oppression (Mt 20:25; Mk 10:42; 1 Pet 5:3), which is akin to what the devil does (Acts 19:16).

  7. Ben, here’s one problem with your question, “How Should UBF Respond to Criticism?” When talking with UBF people, you first have to ask, “What is criticism?”

    When I was in UBF, I was conditioned to view criticism as “persecution”. UBF reacts with silence and “praise God, ignore division” attitudes because they (like me in the past) usually see anything negative as “from the devil” and “persecution for following Jesus”.

    I remember some former members came to an international UBF conference once, handing out pamphlets and trying to talk with UBF members. We were told by a senior UBF leader to walk out the door of the meeting place in a straight line. We were told not to even look at the former members, and by no means talk to them. We were even encouraged to walk fast and get to the lunch hall. I felt like we were in a war and were preparing to run through machine gun fire or something.

    At some point, such absurd, arrogant foolishness must come to an end. Former members are not enemies. We are vocal because we actually still care, which is a miracle itself.

  8. Yeah, Brian, UBF has historically tended to perceive any critic as unwarranted criticism. This is clearly unhealthy, if not unbiblical, and certainly not humble.

    That may be a reason why certain unhealthy UBF practices are continuing to be practiced for 50 years virtually unchecked in some places.

    To name just one, it would be the general thought and idea that it is the UBF shepherd/leaders job to ultimately have the final say regarding a single UBF person’s marriage:

    * who they can marry,
    * when they can marry,
    * what “training” they need before marriage,
    * who they should invite to their wedding,
    * why they should not date,
    * how much money they should offer,
    * the authority to cancel/postpone the marriage/wedding, etc.

    Should this stop in every UBF chapter, regardless of the country or precedent?

    • Yes, a thousand times over. The problem with UBF is not the specific activities, but the attitude of permanent, universal, mandatory “directing” by shepherds over self-chosen sheep. Such directing has nothing to do with Christianity. It is the result of one man’s narcissistic break with reality, perpetuated by other broken people (like me).

      That is why I believe so strongly that the only 2 things that will ever change UBF positively are to admit abuse has happened and to release the bonds of shepherd/sheep relationships, as I pointed out already. These are the same two basic problems of the 1970’s Shepherding Movement.

      I had dinner last night with some former members and one current director in UBF. He sees the problems and yet continues to attempt to direct the lives of others. Purging the “director” mentality will take decades, but it must happen. The Holy Spirit is our director (John 16:13).

    • Phil 2 Five

      Thanks Ben! In reference to your question “Should this stop in every UBF chapter, regardless of the country or precedent?”

      Like Brian, my answer is also yes! “Feeding Leader’s Ego” is not biblical at all! Why should a leader hint or even initiate to ‘help’ someone in regards to their marriage? If that person, whoever that may be, wants to initiate a relationship for the purposes of courtship, then they should do so based on biblical principles (1 Corinthians 10:31; 2 Corinthians 6:14; Mark 10:6-12; Proverbs 31:11-31). Obviously there are many more! The leaders/shepherds/directors MUST STOP controlling other’s in regards to their marriage! Do I mean they should remain silent and not say a word if someone seeks their advise for marriage? No, not necessarily, unless the advise is going to be how you want the marriage to be done or according to the 50 year UBF custom! Pastor’s/shepherd’s/leader’s main role is not picking out a “suitable” marriage partner or even suggesting a marriage partner! Their job is to teach God’s Word and allow the Holy Spirit to guide their lives! Again, this does not mean to remain silent and refuse to help if someone is seeking godly/biblical advise.

    • I am coming to understand how important it is to use my reason and will as a responsible individual. I thought for a long time that the best way to deal with my will/reason was to ignore it and just follow the program laid out by UBF. But the Holy Spirit really began to burden my heart that I should make deliberate choices according to my best understanding of how I should follow God’s commands in Scripture.

      I think this sums up the experience that my wife and I received: we were told specifically how we ought to obey God’s commands, with very little opportunity to exercise our personal freedom as individual Christians. The result is that our lives became very much under the authority and control of our pastor in areas where we should have been given freedom to follow our conscience before God.

    • Amen Joshua! One of the first truths the Spirit taught me during my year long process of leaving UBF was this: God needs your conscience. I had cut too deeply with the knife of self-denial. God needs the clay of conscience, emotions, dreams, etc. in order to transform us into His instrument. Just as the Lord called out to Abram to stop before killing Isaac, so he calls out to us to put the knife of sacrifice down before we gouge out our “self”.

      I have now become convinced the one Scripture most needed in UBF is Genesis 22:11-12. And this respect for conscience is the very reason I respect the Well ministry.

      Now I’m “wide awake“!

  9. Recently I read this comment by a UBFer on Ben’s Facebook stream: “Criticism is useless unless the motives of the critic are pure.”

    I think believing such fallacies is at the core of the reasons why UBF can’t change.

    When I talked with several Korean missionaries about ovious grievances, they told me “I’m not in a position to address these things.” They believed that they were 1) too low in the UBF hierarchy, criticism may only go top-bottom, never bottom-up, 2) they were sinners and had no right to speak about sins of others. This is the reason why the sin of the leadership never got addressed.

    And actually, not only the Koreans believed these things, but even non-Korean members, though their reasoning is more shifted to 2) than 1). Every week we had to deliver “testimonies” in which we had to expose how we are sinners, and how miserably we failed in doing campus mission and feeding 12 sheep. Through this, the feeling of being a sinner, or rather a failure and underachiever, or even of being an impostor (claiming to be a “royal priest” but not really living as one) was deeply ingrained in us. On the other hand, the chapter director never read his testimony. It seemed as if he was already perfect since he obviously did not have to struggle with such problems. Instead, he fed us with the word of God every week. So who were we to criticize such a man, “the servant of God”? That is the mechanism by which the silencing of criticism works in UBF.

    The problem here is the misbelief that criticism gets its legitimation from the person of the critic and his/her motivation. That is simply not true. Any criticism is useful, if it is legitimate and relevant. When I read a Wikipedia page I often find the “criticism” section very helpful. I don’t care about the motivation of the writer of that section at all. I just ask myself: Is that criticism legitimate?

    The statement that “criticism is useless unless the motives of the critic are pure” is only a variation of the well-known ad hominem fallacy.

    Don’t be confused by such fallacies. Start decoupling your own sin problem from the sin problem of UBF, since both are very different unless you are a chapter director. You will never be really “pure” in the sense that is implied in the above statement. Even if one day you feel really “pure” you will be immediately impure again because of such haughty feelings.

    You may object that there is a verse in the Bible that sounds similar: “Why do you look at the speck of sawdust in your brother’s eye and pay no attention to the plank in your own eye?” But this verse talks about something differently. It says, very literally, don’t criticize a person for doing something if you do similar things in a worse manner. The “sawdust” and “plank” are the same kind of sin. I don’t think the sins of the UBF leadership are just “sawdust”, and I don’t see the ordinary UBF members doing the same or worse, quite to the contrary, their sin is that they are too subservient towards overbearing leaders. I often heared UBFers, but also other Christians derive from that verse that nobody should ever criticize or judge. This is simply not true. Just read Mt 18:15ff to see that Jesus never taught this thing. Or read 1 Cor 5:12 to learn from the Bible when we even have the obligation to judge. Read more about this issue here: Are Christians to judge or not to judge?.

    Interestingly, at the end the article says: “We are never to judge the innermost motives, or personality of another believer.” And here we come to a full circle, because in order to apply the statement “criticism is useless unless the motives of the critic are pure” you would need to assess the innermost motives of the critic. The fact that this is ultimately impossible and/or sinful should be enough reason to totally dump this statement as a wrong and potentially harmful idea.

  10. Probably things are changing a little, but UBF’s refusal or reluctance to listen to criticism for the longest time has caused us to remain in an exclusive club and an untouchable box that has caused some UBF lovers to be unbearable elitists and even sadder it has caused many UBF members to be non-critical thinkers and cowards who are afraid to speak up because they have been indoctrinated with “keep spiritual order, just obey.”

    btw, Chris, it is things like the above that I say that just gets me killed in the UBF community and church to which I belong. Yet, I cannot stop saying what is so obviously sad and true for many UBFers, most of whom I believe are genuine believers.

    • Yes, Ben. Though I think it’s not good to say “many UBF members are non-critical thinkers and cowards” because I don’t think that’s what they are in their deepest inner being – it’s rather what the UBF system has made out of them. But it’s certainly correct to say “many UBF members behave like non-critical thinkers and cowards” in their dealing with the misbehavior of UBF leaders. And that’s indeed a sad thing. Let’s not forget you and I behaved like that, too, when we were deep in the system. Maybe others believe we are over-critical or too blunt because we recognized this problem and now rather want to fall from the other side of the horse than ever being blind followers and cowards again.

      Btw, I’m not sure whether the person who said “criticism is useless unless the motives of the critic are pure” was really a UBFer, but it’s a typical UBF statement anyway. And there was a very similar statement on the same Facebook thread by a UBFer: “The problem with criticim is it’s not often rooted in love.” Yes, ideally all criticism, actually all we do, should be rooted in love. But you should not conclude back that criticism loses its legitimacy if it’s not rooted in love which is something only God can know anyway. It’s always the same trick of turning the tables, shifting the attention from the nuisance itself to the person who is pointing out the nuisance.

  11. Yes, Chris. It is not that UBFers “are not critical thinkers and are cowards” but that UBF teaching and top-down pressure and expectation of unquestioning obedience caused many of them to be like that, including both you and I, as you said.

    The one who said that “criticsm is useless unless the motives are pure” is not a UBFer. He is a friend of a friend whom I have not met. But yes, the one who commented that criticism is not rooted in love is a long-standing UBFer whom I know personally for decades. He is truly a good man and an honorable noble Christian man of integrity. But in my opinion, I think he hears almost every critique of UBF as uncalled for criticism and rejection of God’s sovereignty, because he regards almost every criticism as discouraging God’s people and not planting faith in God.