The Freedom of Self-Forgetfulness

tk2I would like to share with you about a book written by Timothy Keller. He talks about three parts; The natural condition of the human ego, the transformed view of self and how to get the transformed view of self. [Here is a link to the book “The Freedom of Self-Forgetfulness“.]

First about human ego. We all have strong ego, many different kinds of egos based on human conditions and education and background. Keller said ego always draws attention to itself. Our ego easily hurts and wounded in various situations in our everyday life. Here are some of his quotes.


“The ego hurts. That is because it has something incredibly wrong with it. –It is always drawing attention to itself.—It is always making us think about how we look and how we are treated. People sometimes say their feelings are hurt. But our feelings cannot be hurt! It is ego that hurts—my sense of self, my identity. Our feelings are fine. It is my ego that hurts.”

“It is very hard to get through a whole day without feeling snubbed or ignored or feeling stupid or getting down on ourselves. That is because there is something wrong with my ego. There is something wrong with my identity. There is something wrong with my sense of self. It is never happy. It is always drawing attention to itself.”

 “C. S. Lewis points out (in Mere Christianity) that pride is by nature competitive. It is competitiveness that is at the very heart of pride”

Keller talked about how to find the transformed view of self. Paul was a good example from 1 Corinthians 4:3.

“Paul is saying to the Christians that he does not care what they think about him. He does not care what anybody thinks about him. In fact, his identity owes nothing to what people say. It is as if he is saying, “I don’t care what you think. I don’t care what anybody thinks.” Paul’s self-worth, his self-regard, his identity is not tied in any way to their verdict and their evaluation of him.”

Many times we cannot live up to our own standards or other people’s (and parents’) standards. That makes us feel terrible. Lowering our own standards is not a solution because that also makes us feel terrible. Trying to boost our self-esteem by trying to live up to our own standards or someone else’s is a trap. It is not an answer.

Apostle Paul said in a Timothy 1:15, “Here is a trustworthy saying that deserves full acceptance: Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners—of whom I am the worst”. Keller said Paul did not connect his sin to himself or his identity even though he said he was the worst sinner. We often judge ourselves of our sins and do not feel good about ourselves. Keller said,

“But Paul would not do that when he says that he does not let the Corinthians judge him nor will he judge himself, he is saying that he knows about his sins but he does not connect them to himself and his identity. His sins and his identity are not connected. He refuses to play that game. He does not see a sin and let it destroy his sense of identity. He will not make a connection. Neither does he see an accomplishment and congratulate himself. He sees all kinds of sins in himself—and all kinds of accomplishments too—but he refuses to connect them with himself or his identity. So, although he knows himself to be the chief of sinner, that fact is not going to stop him from doing the things he is called to do.”

And Keller explains what it means the freedom of self-forgetfulness, which is the topic of his book. Self-forgetfulness is to stop thinking about yourself. Ego is there, but a very small functioning part of our body, like toes. Self-forgetfulness does not draw attention to himself or herself.

“True gospel-humility means I stop connecting every experience, every conversation, with myself. In fact, I stop thinking about myself. The freedom of self-forgetfulness. The blessed rest that only self-forgetfulness brings.”

“The truly gospel humble person is a self-forgetful person whose ego is just like his or her toes. It just works. It does not draw attention to itself. The toes just work; the ego just works. Neither draws attention to itself.”

“The self-forgetful person would never be hurt particularly badly by criticism. It would not keep them up late, it would not bother them. Why? Because a person who is devastated by criticism is putting too much value on what other people think, on other people’s opinions.”

Keller said the more we get to understand the gospel, the more we want to change. Here is the key. The more we get to understand the gospel, God himself would work in and among us and transform us gradually. Correcting or changing our outward action/behavior is not solution. If we are performance oriented, we are not Christians.

Then how can we get that transformed view of self? Keller gives an illustration of a courtroom scene.

‘Do you realize that it is only in the gospel of Jesus Christ that you get the verdict before the performance?—If you are a Muslim, performance leads to the verdict. All this means that every day, you are in the courtroom, every day you are on trial. That is the problem. But Paul is saying that in Christianity the verdict leads to performance. It is not the performance that leads to the verdict. In Christianity, the moment we believe, God says, “This is my beloved son in whom I am well pleased.” Or “Therefore, there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.”’

Keller emphasized we get the verdict before the performance, not the other way around. This is pure grace of Jesus to undeserved sinners.

“In Christianity, the verdict can give you the performance. Yes, the verdict can give you performance. How can that be? Here is Paul’s answer: he is out of the courtroom, he is out of the trial. How? Because Jesus Christ went on trial instead. Jesus went into the courtroom. He was on trial. It was an unjust trial in kangaroo court—but He did not complain—Like the Lamb before the shearers, He was silent. He was struck, beaten, put to death. Why? As our substitute. He took the condemnation we deserve. He faced the trial that should be our so that we do not have to face any more trials. So I simply need to ask God to accept me because of what the Lord Jesus has done. Then the only person whose opinion counts looks at me and He finds me more valuable than all the jewels in the earth.”

Like Paul, we can say, “I don’t care what you think. I don’t even care what I think. I only care about what the Lord thinks.” And he said, “Therefore, there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus” and “You are my beloved child in whom I am well pleased” Live out of that.


  1. Thanks, James, here’s my post of Keller’s book(let) which is basically from a sermon he had preached: I wrote this last year, retitled it “Pride and Ego,” and I hope to preach it or share it one of these days. I added the part about Michael Jordan, since he is a relatable Chicago icon, while Madonna likely resonates better with Tim Keller’s New York audience.

  2. I found the part about personally dealing with criticism most insightful and helpful. How do you respond when criticized? Keller writes:

    “Generally, people are devastated by criticism — or they are not devastated by criticism because they do not listen to it. They will not listen to it or learn from it because they do not care about it. They are proud. Their ego is distended. Their solution to criticism is pride, by refusing to listen to any criticism. But that is no solution. …pride (is a) horrible nuisance to our own future and to everyone around us.”

    How a self-forgetful person handles criticism/life:

    “Since their ego is not puffed up but filled up, criticism does not devastate them. They listen to it and see it as an opportunity to change. How does this happen? The more we understand the gospel, the more we want to change.”

    These are perhaps my favorite lines in the whole book:

    “Wouldn’t you like to be the skater who wins the silver, and yet is thrilled about the triple jumps the gold medal winner did? To love it like loving a sunrise? Just to love the fact that it was done? And not sulk because it was not done by you?”

  3. Thanks for sharing this James. I think this post, as well as Timothy Keller’s book perhaps, highlights the difference between a healthy “self-forgetfulness” and the unhealthy ubf practice called “forgetting everything I/we did and focus on new people.” The two teachings are very similar on the surface. Can outsiders identify this kind of nuance?

    This statement infuriates me: “Like Paul, we can say, ‘I don’t care what you think. I don’t even care what I think. I only care about what the Lord thinks.'”

    If we follow that advice, we are following the unhealthy practice of forgetting reality and we press on in our fantasy worldview/wishdream.

    For the sake of unity, we must care about what people think in a healthy way, and we must care about our own conscience. And who knows what the Lord thinks?

    Who knows? God may yet relent and with compassion turn from his fierce anger so that we will not perish. Jonah 3:9

  4. wesleyyjun

    Thank you, Dr. James.
    It is a great article. It reminds me of the last scene of a movie “Empire of the Sun.” The background of the movie is Japan’s invasion of China at the beginning of WWII. A British boy from a well-to-do family was left behind during the chaos of all foreigners, including the boy’s parents, fleeing the country. All foreigners were interned for the entire span of the war. To them survival was the single greatest struggle. It was extremely hard for the small boy. He had to steal or beg food for survival. Although he slowly got used to it, he was weary and tired, with no hint of being a beloved son of a happy family left in him. His weary life dragged on until the end of the war and his mom found him among the war orphans. He was struck with awe at the sight of his mom. He walked slowly toward her and plunged himself into her loving and sweet embrace.
    I see our daily struggle to perform and boost our egos and get some sense of ourselves being “right” or “righteous” is equivalent to the boy’s struggle to survive and pick up morsels of food from the street. I reckon that this weary struggle of ours will end only when we plunge ourselves in the loving and sweet embrace of our Father. This embrace will bring our weary struggle to “perform” to an end.

    • Very nice, Wesley! Since you started participating on UBFriends, your poetic majesty and poignant splendor seems to express itself more and more with each successive comment! I hope other missionaries can also see how much good UBFriends can do for them, even in a short time. Of course, this was always in you all along, like a cocoon waiting to become a butterfly.

  5. wesleyyjun

    By the way, is this James Jr or Sr.?


    • Sr. (the president of ubf)

    • wesleyyjun

      You’d better save “poetic majesty” for those who really deserve it. That’s gross inflation of grade.

    • Well, now we see as through a mirror dimly, but the fullness of expression WILL happen during the parousia.

  6. Joe Schafer

    James, thank you for writing this article and submitting it to UBFriends. I know that you have been a regular reader and frequent commenter, and now we welcome you as an author.

    I haven’t read this book. But I respect Tim Keller and regard him as one of the most important Christian voices of this generation. I always appreciate the thoughtfulness of his words and the gentleness and respect with which he relates those who may disagree with him.

    Having said that, I share the concern that Brian expressed in his comment above. There are times when a Christian needs to follow his beliefs and stay the course regardless of what others think and say. But as general advice, that can be a recipe for disaster. Discernment is not merely the job of individuals following their convictions. It is also the job of the Body of Christ. The Spirit is the gift to the church (all of it, not just the elders or leaders of one community) and when Christians refuse to listen to those who raise valid concerns and objections to what they are doing, it can be a disaster. I shudder to think of what an immature or unrepentant person, especially a leader, will do if he identifies himself with the Apostle Paul and disregards the wise counsel of those who warn him that he is dangerously off course.

  7. Thanks, Brian, Joe, for raising a most valid concern as both of you had correctly articulated. In fact, Keller is not at all advocating that you disregard what others say, or what your own conscience says to you. So the objectionable phrase that you both singled out (correctly) is really taken out of context.

    What Keller is in effect saying is that when you are shaped by what others say, it becomes an idolatry that feeds your own pride, so that when you should listen, you refuse to out of pride. Thus you only listen when it feeds your pride and ego.

    So only those who are truly self-forgetful and free in Christ are the ones who can truly listen to criticism objectively and change accordingly based on the gospel.

    Thus, those who are not self-forgetful are still ruled by their own ego, and believe their own press clippings, and so will never listen to constructive criticism, and thus will never change.

    Check out my 2nd comment where I quoted parts from Keller’s book which are not quoted in this post:

    My own blog post is almost a verbatim write up of his book with a few of my own editorial comments:

    • Thanks Ben, I appreciate your reviews.

      Still, the context does not help me in regard to the quote. I know Keller wrote it, but that I don’t care who wrote it :)

      I don’t see how 1 Corinthians 4:1-5 equates to this dangerous thought: “I don’t care what you think. I don’t even care what I think. I only care about what the Lord thinks.”

      1 So then, men ought to regard us as servants of Christ and as those entrusted with the secret things of God. 2 Now it is required that those who have been given a trust must prove faithful. 3 I care very little if I am judged by you or by any human court; indeed, I do not even judge myself. 4 My conscience is clear, but that does not make me innocent. It is the Lord who judges me. 5 Therefore judge nothing before the appointed time; wait till the Lord comes. He will bring to light what is hidden in darkness and will expose the motives of men’s hearts. At that time each will receive his praise from God.

    • Joe Schafer

      Ben, thanks for the explanation. It’s ao easy to take words that anyone (even the authors of the BIble) wrote our from their context and use them to support your pre-established position.

  8. James Kim

    Thank you Ben for explaining very well to Brian’s question. Ego, pride, competitiveness, performance are all closely related. We all have different degrees of ego, pride etc. Because of that we are very much concerned about our own performance and can be judgmental. But Paul knew who he was before the great grace of Jesus, “the worst sinner”. That’s why he could boldly say he did not care other’s opinion. When other’s opinion becomes our standard of performance,we are going to fail again and again. And the result is that we would feel terrible.

    Paul received the verdict from the Lord and that was the powerful engine for his performance. He was never the center of attention like toes of our body. But he did not care.

  9. James Kim

    @Joe, yes the leader who draws attention to himself has big ego and pride and he is dangerous. We all have some degree of that, seeking human honor and recognition in various degree. The lesser will be better.

  10. James Kim

    @Ben, your posting about “ego and pride” was much more detailed and comprehensive! I enjoyed reading it very much. Everybody should read it.

  11. Yes, this statement is confounding and can honestly be easily used unbiblically: “I don’t care what you think. I don’t even care what I think. I only care about what the Lord thinks.” It is based on 1 Cor 4:3-4.

    I believe Keller states it primarily to say that our justification is from Christ alone, and not from others or even from ourselves.

    But it can be easily misconstrued by a Christian or church to reject any and all criticism saying, “I/we only live before God’s justification/evaluation of me/my church.” This is actually arrogant and proud because it regards and rejects any criticism that challenges my ego because it is still obsessed with self and therefore is NOT “self-forgetful.” It is still ego-focused and therefore still unhealthily ruled by one’s own natural/fallen high or low self-esteem.

    The key phrase in 1 Cor 4:3-4 is “…but that does not make me innocent.” Only one who truly knows and believes that for themselves will be truly humble enough to not be hurt by criticism, and yet able to listen to criticism and make necessary changes according to the gospel.

    But one who whose ego is still fragile and brittle will not practically really believe 1 Cor 4:3-4 or even 1 Tim 1:15. They are not really self-forgetful. The evidence is that they will still be easily hurt and offended by criticism, and thus will self-righteously reject all unfavorable criticism and never change, transform, make progress, or be sanctified by the gospel.

    Sorry that I love such intellectual gymnastics! The gospel, I believe, is always counter-intuitive and humbling.

  12. James,
    I read this book by Tim Keller recently. Perhaps you will be surprised that I was not convicted by this book in the way that you expect. Just as you are not convicted in the way that I often expect by the books we have both read. I hear you warning us not to listen to our “hurt” feelings. If so, I want to explain that it is not my “ego” that has been hurt. A wound to the ego is one thing. But we are not expressing wounds to our ego. The ego is a psychological term for a part of the self. It is not the same thing as the self. What missionaries often do to people of other cultures is to invalidate a God-given identity and violate their personhood. This is another thing altogether and it is not being addressed in this book by Timothy Keller. Therefore too use this as a defense of missionary practice would be taking it out of context.

  13. Yes, Sharon, there is no hint or suggestion in Tim Keller’s book of defending the abuse of any Christian over another. It also clearly does not advocate saying to others who are hurt, “You should not be hurt.” As you and others have said, it is so easy to take things out of context and make it say or mean what was never intended.

    If there is any practical application with regards to criticism and abuse at all, it would be this: Only one who is self-forgetful in Christ is able to take criticism or abuse and not be hurt.

    If I have been hurt as a junior, then I can find my freedom and self-forgetfulness in Christ who justifies me and heals me.

    If I have abused others as a senior, then unless I am truly self-forgetful in Christ, I will not own up to what I did, but will keep defending myself or defending other abusers. Might this be what is happening?

    • “If there is any practical application with regards to criticism and abuse at all, it would be this: Only one who is self-forgetful in Christ is able to take criticism or abuse and not be hurt.”

      Hi Ben, I disagree with your statement above. What does being self-forgetful in Christ have to do with not being hurt by others? One who is abused and does not feel hurt would be a strange person indeed, not a real human being. If we are wronged, we are hurt. If we are so disconnected from our emotions that we are numb to our own pain, then we are very unhealthy. When I am numb to my own pain, how can I empathize with others’ pain? If I am not honest with the wrongs that occurred in my life and deal with them properly, how can I help others do so? We are not angels, we are people. When I look at Christ, I do not see One who is not hurt by the wrongs that were done Him. Rather, I see One who is deeply hurt and yet endured it so that by His wounds, the wounded can be healed.

      We can talk a lot about self-forgetfulness, but I think it’s absolutely the wrong conversation to have. UBFers are experts in self-forgetfulness and self-denial. We deny ourselves and take up our cross to such an extent that we are actually forgetting who we are as individual human beings. We aspire to be angels who don’t feel emotion and don’t have to deal with messy things like wounds and hurt and what happened here or there. I’m done forgetting myself and forgetting my family and sacrificing my identity and receiving my core values from others. I want to remember myself and understand who I truly am as a unique individual in Christ Jesus. As I’ve said before, healing is when you can remember the hurt without feeling the pain.

  14. Thanks, Joshua, I do fully agree with you, and though it came across otherwise, your explanation is virtually exactly what I meant by “not be hurt.”

    By “not be hurt,” I do not and did not mean you do not feel hurt. I meant, but failed to explain, that though you hurt because others had abused you, yet you find comfort and solace from the hurt because of Christ’s amazing grace and love.

    Just by your own gradual resolution of the hurt from abuses that you had experienced, I believe that your hurt, as you processed it by God’s help and grace, no longer hurt you as much as it originally did. That is what I meant by “not be hurt,” without adequate clarification.

    What I would add is that as you are “no longer hurt” (because of self-forgetfulness in Christ and his grace of taking our punishment for sin), it does not allow the perpetrators of abuse off the hook. They should still be accountable and responsible, regardless of their “good intentions,” and regardless of whether they intended to abuse others or not. The fact that they did spiritually abuse their sheep “absolutely” needs to be acknowledged, confessed and repented of, just as they themselves had required of their sheep to confess and repent when they instructed their sheep about writing their testimonies. It absolutely must also be sincere, which is also what they instructed sheep when writing testimonies.

    This is one of my major sticking points with some UBF leaders who, in my opinion, want to let their fellow missionaries off “easy.” It does not reveal the justice and righteousness of God, nor the justice and righteousness of the cross of Christ. Instead, it reveals favoritism and partiality toward missionaries, while natives and juniors have to just “take it on the chin,” “be thankful,” “don’t complain,” and “just forgive.”

    If this needs further clarification, please do say so. Again, I am truly sorry for using the insensitive phrase “not be hurt,” especially when there have been countless cases of very well documented abuses by UBF missionaries through out the world over the last few decades.

    Is this now the time for those who have abused others to be self-forgetful in Christ, so that they humbly and sincerely acknowledge, confess and repent of their sins of spiritual abuse?

    • Hi Ben, I appreciate your detailed response. I actually had guessed that’s what you meant. We’ve discussed this issue enough that I know that you and I are on the same page. But for the sake of others and for expressing my real feelings, I added my clarification.

      It seems appropriate to me that the cross was on the side of a mountain: it can be approached from above or from below. Those who are oppressed and wounded and broken can come up from their valley of pain to see their vast importance and value in God’s love, while those who are proud and self-congratulating can come down from their holy mountain-top to see their utter wretchedness, for which Christ died. And so self-forgetfulness leads to the same place as self-awareness: the cross of Jesus. The richness of the cross is so great that it brings the wounded and the wounder to the same place, where they find each other and–strangely, joyfully–also find that His wounds are sufficient to heal them both.

  15. Thanks Ben and Joshua, you’ve said exactly what I was trying to say.

  16. Good thoughts in this thread. Two things came into my mind:

    First, I don’t think the concept of “self-forgetfulness” is applicable for me in how to deal with abuse experienced in the church, because what has been done has not only done to me but also to others. I cannot just forget what has been done to others. Maybe I can forgive and forget what has been done to me, but how can I forgive has been done to others (in the name of God even)? How can I forget if the system that is producing the abuse still exists? When others are being hurt in my church, this hurts me just as much as when I am hurt myself. Don’t you think so? Why then is everybody only talking about personal hurt?

    Second, I think if UBF members would have more of self-forgetfulness, more of them would write here and join the discussion. Having fear of leaders and our “standing” in the church is a sure sign that people are not self-forgetful. The attitude of “I don’t care” isn’t a sign of humbleness, but a sign of lovelessness.

    • “Why then is everybody only talking about personal hurt?”

      Very good point, Chris. I suppose in my personal case, my tendency to focus mainly on personal hurt is because my chapter was so small, and there weren’t too many other people besides myself involved. But your point is well-taken; I need to increase my mindfulness of others in different places and have an ear and heart for their thoughts and experiences as well. Indeed, the first thing I did after moving on to a different church was to contact all my past Bible students and ask their forgiveness for the ways I had hurt them or trampled on them in the name of shepherding. Like everyone else, I had done everything with the motive of love, but that doesn’t change that I did some wrong things.

  17. Joe Schafer

    I would not recommend ignoring or putting aside your emotions unless you identify what you feel and why and understand why you are deciding to do that.

    For a long time, the main emotion I felt toward SL and ministry leaders was fear. I wanted their approval, and I was afraid of falling into disfavor with them. And I was afraid of losing the identity that had been crafted for me. The fear was very palpable. But I refused to admit to myself that I was motivated by fear.

    A few years ago, as I became more honest with myself and others, it suddenly dawned on me: Fear was not the right motivation for my spiritual activities. Nor did I have anything to be afraid of. When I shifted my understanding of who I was, resting my identity on my relationship to God rather than my relationship to these people, the fear began to vanish. I realized I was no longer afraid of ministry leaders. I stopped holding my tongue and began to express what I really felt and thought. The moment that certain leaders realized I was no longer afraid of them, our relationship fundamentally changed. They saw I was no longer manageable as I had been in the past, and many of them no longer wanted to have anything to do with me.

    • Joe, that sounds as if it was the moment when you started to experience the freedom of self-forgetfulness.

    • Joe Schafer

      Yes, Chris, I believe you are right.

      So what would I like from ubf leaders? At this point, what I would like is for them to just listen to Sharon me and so many others who have been expressing what we actually experienced under their leadership. I want them to hear what happened to us natives when we trusted them and followed them. And not dismiss or justify or minimize what happened. Not to tell us that we are speaking disrespectfully and unthankfully and that we have gotten the facts wrong and that we have forgotten God’s grace and that there is another side to the story and that ubf is not all bad and that all that training was actually for our good and that it’s time to get back to preaching the gospel.

      I would like for them to just acknowledge that this is what they actually did to us and say, “Wow, I never realized that this is how we made you feel.” And then sit quietly and let it sink in for a good long time.

      But that hasn’t happened. They respond with continued silence, not even acknowledging that they heard any of this.

  18. Correct me if I am wrong, but in my opinion, a simple singular reason why some UBF leaders “absolutely” refuse to hear is because by hearing, they have to admit and acknowledge that some things they said and did for decades was and is WRONG, and therefore they will have to stop, change, confess, repent, be humble, and be “born again.”

    In short, they are practically and virtually stuck in their own sin of pride as “senior” leaders, and are completely powerless to do what they have been telling others to do for decades: LISTEN, repent, confess, be humble.

    Oops, I did not realize that a “simple singular reason” would be so long and sound so complicated! Perhaps, someone may come up with a simpler “simple singular reason.”

  19. Joe, the watershed moment for me regarding fearing UBF leaders happened perhaps 6-7 years ago, because several people said to me, “Unless so and so UBF leader blesses you, God will not bless you.” Then a strange fear descended upon me and pulverized me.

    Next, I asked myself and others, “Is this true?” The answer was obvious. Prov 29:25 sealed it for me.

    Joy and liberation flooded my soul. Strangely, some UBF leaders did not share my joy. I’m still trying to figure out why not. One was even so incensed that he would no longer speak with me or even acknowledge my existence. A very strange Christian world.

  20. James Kim

    Thank you for all your comments. I agree with many of you. As one of the members of UBF, I learned several things. First, We have to be aware of many mistakes and wrong doings in the past and acknowledge those things. And we have to listen to many people who were wounded in the past and appreciate many people’s efforts to bring healing and reconciliation among us including ubfriends. For the record, I did not write this article to deny or minimize our past mistakes and wrong doings.

    However, as a physician I am more interested in the treatment of the problems. (We talked about the diagnosis a lot already)

    I wrote, “Many times we cannot live up to our own standards or other people’s (and parents’) standards. That makes us feel terrible. Lowering our own standards is not a solution because that also makes us feel terrible. Trying to live up to our own standards or someone else’s is a trap. It is not an answer.”

    Through Keller’s book I learned that better performance or the solution of the problems should come from knowing the gospel better. Better performance or the solution of the problems will come when we deeply accept Jesus’ verdict, his amazing grace with deep gratitude.

    Keller talked about wonderful solutions in the gospel-humility. It is worth to read one more time.

    “The truly gospel humble person is a self-forgetful person whose ego is just like his or her toes. It just works. It does not draw attention to itself. The toes just work; the ego just works. Neither draws attention to itself.”

    “The self-forgetful person would never be hurt particularly badly by criticism. It would not keep them up late, it would not bother them. Why? Because a person who is devastated by criticism is putting too much value on what other people think, on other people’s opinions.”

    Keller said the more we get to understand the gospel, the more we want to change in true humility. The more we get to understand the gospel, God himself would work in and among us (both in and out of UBF) and transform us gradually and make us free. Correcting or changing our outward action/behavior based on many different human standards is not a solution.

  21. Thanks James, I do not believe that anyone is disputing what you wrote and quoted or what Keller wrote. But an ongoing problem in my opinion is that some UBF seniors have had a very defensive posture toward any criticism of UBF or of UBF spiritual abuses, both past, present and even ongoing.

    In my opinion, this paragraph in Keller’s book describes how UBF leaders respond toward any critique of UBF (which was not quoted in your article). I quoted it above in the 2nd comment:

    “Generally, people are devastated by criticism — or they are not devastated by criticism because they do not listen to it. They will not listen to it or learn from it because they do not care about it. They are proud. Their ego is distended. Their solution to criticism is pride, by refusing to listen to any criticism. But that is no solution. …pride (is a) horrible nuisance to our own future and to everyone around us.”

    Does this paragraph apply to some UBF seniors/missionaries? Are they refusing to listen to the countless criticism of spiritual abuses primarily by some UBF missionaries?

    You wrote in your 3rd sentence above: “First, We have to be aware of many mistakes and wrong doings in the past and acknowledge those things.” Is this happening? What specifically are the “many mistakes and wrong doings”?

    Maybe I am not hearing well, but I am not sure that I am clearly hearing any acknowledgment of “many mistakes, wrong doings,” which you refer to as “those things.” That is what many here on Ubfriends and in private emails and conversations have been asking for.

    Is a day of acknowledgment forthcoming? When might that day be?

  22. James Kim

    Hi Ben
    “Generally, people are devastated by criticism — or they are not devastated by criticism because they do not listen to it. They will not listen to it or learn from it because they do not care about it. They are proud. Their ego is distended. Their solution to criticism is pride, by refusing to listen to any criticism. But that is no solution.” I absolutely agree with Keller. I know the above things happened among us. This shows we are still immature and have a long way to go. I cannot say for other people. But in my personal opinion the first step is to Awareness and Acknowledgement of the problems. It can begin from me and somehow I can give influence to other people.

  23. Joe Schafer

    Hi James,

    Thank you for your willingness to come this far and admit in a public forum (one that is not sponored by UBF) that wrongdoings happened. The fact that one elder has done this is significant and I hope it is symptomatic of shifting opinion within the organization.

    I appreciate that you have done this.

    Having said that, I had a negative reaction to this statement that you made:

    “However, as a physician I am more interested in the treatment of the problems. (We talked about the diagnosis a lot already).”

    If by “we” you mean those who write articles and comments on this website, then you are correct. We have been talking a lot about this in recent months and years.

    But if “we” means ubf leaders, that is simply not the case. I’m sure that some of you have been discussing this privately in groups of two or three or four or five or maybe even ten or twelve. I have discussed this with the GD on numerous occasions and to his credit he has never told me to be quiet. But that’s as far as it has gone.

    For example, consider what happened at the Chesapeake retreat that we attended last fall. There were 50 or so people in that room on Saturday morning, most of them elder Korean missionaries. A handful of Americans brought up some issues that were uncomfortable but did not even directly mention the history of abuse within the organization. While Ben and a handful of Americans brought these things up, the vast majority of missionaries sat there in silence. A few spoke up here and there, but their basic posture was defensive. There was no admission, no consensus, no majority, and not even a minority of missionaries who agreed with our points, even in that private setting. After about 90 minutes of that kind of discussion, one of the missionaries (who had until then not said anything) made a statement like this (sorry, I don’t remember his exact words): “Okay, we’ve talked and talked about this so much, and all this talk isn’t accomplishing much. What are we going to do about it?” And at that point, the topics of discussion shifted to ministry prayer topics from the GD, conference and event planning, and so on. Once again, back to business as usual.

    To this day, I have not been in a room where missionaries and natives have sat down to talk about abuses and have missionaries actually admit that these things happened. Perhaps a few missionaries might be willing to do this now, and if so, great. But when have the key players in the environment of abuse — the most senior leaders and senior staff and family of SL and hardline chapter directors and hardline missionaries from other countries who in many cases are still doing these things — ever acknowledged even a tiny bit that any of these things happened? When have they even come to the table to discuss these things?

    When has even a hint of this ever been acknowledged in a Chicago UBF Sunday message or on or at a ubf conference or staff conference or senior staff meeting? If that has happened yet, I’m not aware of it.

    The community is a living organism and must be allowed to heal itself. That healing process cannot even begin until those hurt by abuse are able to stand up in front of the community and say what happened to them and have the community acknowledge that it did happen without leaders saying, “Ahem, well, you know, there is another side to the story.” There is no treatment, no committtee, no procedure that the elders can come up with behind closed doors that will bring about a quick cure or resolution. The only way forward is to create the environment for open, long-term discussion of these things among elders and then senior staff and then chapter directors and fellowship leaders and all members of ubf.

    The idea of stopping discussion now because we’ve already talked about this and moving on to a solution just won’t work. The living system will only start to heal itself when there is widespread, open acknowledgment that these things happened, coupled with honest and transparent contrition.

    Here’s a great example of a church with a history of doctrinal error and abuse coming clean about it and asking for forgiveness:

    • Thanks for this, Joe. The word that comes to mind is Luke 15:7 “I tell you that in the same way there will be more rejoicing in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous persons who do not need to repent.” I experienced that in UBF there is the idea that as individuals, we should be humble and repentant, but corporately as a body, we should be staunchly defensive of the purity of our church and ministry. Where did this idea come from? I think that the Old Testament shows us numerous examples that corporate repentance is as important as individual repentance, perhaps more important.

    • Thanks Joe,

      I have shared the link with some leaders in our chapter. Its amazing how much healing this acknowledgment and true repentance of their wrong doings must have brought to their church. Its something I am longing and praying to see happen in UBF as a whole, but perhaps it can start one church chapter at a time.

    • Joe Schafer

      Martha, it has to happen at the local level for sure. But if it doesn’t simultaneously happen at the top of the organization, then the chapters that reform locally will get marginalized one by one. That is what has happened thus far.

      The problems in the Worldwide Church of God were somewhat different from those in ubf. But there are some parallels. The story about how that organization was transformed from the inside is told by Ruth Tucker in this article.

    • @Joe, thanks for posting the apology and story behind Worldwide Church of God. It reminded me of an apology written by Joshua Harris to Covenant Life Church. I emailed you the apology because it’s too long to post here, but basically Josh Harris emphasized the importance of continuous communication and reconciliation, and he apologized on behalf of the church towards those whom they hurt and estranged. He also apologized for things such as reducing biblical principles into practices, e.g. implying that there are only certain ways of living a Christian life.
      An honest and genuine apology is an important first step, but I read that this apology by Covenant Life was met with mixed responses, including criticism and skepticism, and I’ve been reading in the news that the church has still been grappling with some complicated issues these days. I think after a church acknowledges past mistakes and apologizes, people will still be waiting and watching for evidence of real positive change.

    • “There were 50 or so people in that room on Saturday morning, most of them elder Korean missionaries. A handful of Americans…”. I would not participate in such a meeting. To solve problems in an US organization Americans should meet. May be it is possible to let a handful of “guests” be present but not interfere. When I see that only Koreans meet worldwide in ubf I see that ubf is much unhealthier than I could imagine. In our chapter before leaving some Russian shepherds started a meeting of their own to make decisions for the chapter. The director said, “I don’t approve your meetings, I am the director and I make decisions”. But the shepherds answered, “We will meet without you anyway, and we will follow only our decisions, not yours”. Then the director said, “OK then, I approve your meetings but you should respect me”. Why meeting and talking with these Korean “leaders”?! Let them make decisions for themselves and follow their decisions if they want. In US Americans should meet and decide what they are going to do in “their” organization. If it is not possible then it is better to leave and let Koreans “improve” their Korean organization called ubf. I think that every meeting in ubf connotes the idea of Korean “super-apostles” or “God’s servants” as they call themselves. Does anyone still believe they are “God’s servants”?!

    • Thanks for sharing the GCI link Joe. I had seen the WCOG websites and anti-WCOG material in the past. I’m glad to see where this has gone. What a day it would be to see such a public letter from ubf! But it won’t happen, so I hope no one is holding their breath.

      As Vitaly described, the “natives” just simply have to take normal, Christ-like actions and have the guts to tell missionaries to back off when they show their arrogance.

      What an awesome way to start, as the gospel is indeed at the heart of this mess… “The Worldwide Church of God [now named Grace Communion International]…has changed its position on numerous long-held beliefs and practices during the past few years. At the heart of those changes has been an acceptance that salvation is by grace through faith. While this was preached in the past, it was always coupled with the message that God owes us a reward for our works that build holy, righteous character.”

      For people like me, who have been called “Satan”, this means everything… “We were judgmental and self-righteous—condemning other Christians, calling them “so-called Christians” and labeling them “deceived” and “instruments of Satan.”

      Exactly what so many former ubf members have said… “We imposed on our members a works-oriented approach to Christian living. We required adherence to burdensome regulations of the Old Testament code. We exercised a strongly legalistic approach to church government.”

      Music to my ears… “These teachings and practices are a source of supreme regret. We are painfully mindful of the heartache and suffering that has resulted from them.”

      Wow… “We’ve been wrong. There was never an intent to mislead anyone. We were so focused on what we believed we were doing for God that we didn’t recognize the spiritual path we were on. Intended or not, that path was not the biblical one.”

      And there is indeed hope… “We have set our minds and hearts on Jesus Christ and trust explicitly in him. I have never been more thrilled about the state of our fellowship! We are pooling our energies and moving forward in preaching the gospel worldwide and equipping our local congregations to be healthy examples of the body of Christ. We are using the spiritual gifts we have been given and capitalizing on the intense dedication to Jesus Christ—now rightly channeled—which has long characterized our church.”

      Amen… “We desire to meet there with anyone we may have injured. It is only by the blood of the Lamb and the power of the Spirit that we can put the hurts of the past behind us and move forward toward our common goal. So to all members, former members, co-workers and others—all who have been casualties of our past sins and mistakes of doctrine—I extend my sincerest heartfelt apologies. And I invite you to join us in proclaiming the true gospel of Jesus Christ around the world.”

    • “As Vitaly described, the “natives” just simply have to take normal, Christ-like actions and have the guts to tell missionaries to back off when they show their arrogance.”

      I fully agree. But as always, I want to remind that this is not a struggle between Korean missionaries and “natives”. Don’t forget that there are also many Korean missionaries who have been suffering and still are suffering from the system as the 1976 and 2001 reform attempts showed. We should not jam a wedge between us and all Korean missionaries in UBF. Most of them are nice people. But the “natives” should not tolerate any arrogant and dominant behavior from their side any more.

    • Chris, I agree that “this is not a struggle between Korean missionaries and “natives”. Nevertheless I don’t think it is normal to have 10/1 Koreans/natives propotions at meetings outside Korea. And it is not normal to have 300/0 propotions in leadership in an “international” organization )) I tried to know from Wesley how many non-Korean ubf members in the US. I have no doubt that Koreeans are dominant in number as well. I agree with Joe’s article that missionaries should be very few in number (2-3 among thousands of native members). I also agree with Brian that 2011 movement differs from those in 1976 and 1989 and 2001. It seems that now natives come to understand that they are the “hosts” in their countries, and churches and cultures and feelings. But when they see that ubf is a Korean corporation what future can they have in this corporation? Even if Koreans say “I am sorry” one day will it make a difference? (Though the Koreans won’t of course). They will stay dominant in leadership and in number and the abuse circle will go on and on. And can you imagine that Koreans will go back to Korea?! I believe that ubf sent so many missionaries to “suffer” in the best countries of the world because it is not able to compete in Korea. So they are trying to make the “beautiful” statistics about many missionaries sent out and compete with other Korean organisations in this. But ubf have never been and will never be able to compete in natives number (that’s why there is no public stat about this) because they don’t have an idea how to serve outside Korea, they don’t know what the non-Korean gospel is and (as Sharon said many times) they can not force the Holy Spirit work according to their (unhealthy) desires. btw can anyone name an American ubf leader who is really a leader in ubf, who can make decisions without “consulting” with an upper Korean, and who is respected by natives as their leader?

    • (In Russian ubf there have never been such a leader. Those who could become such has left ubf)

    • Vitaly, you raise some excellent points.

      1. “Nevertheless I don’t think it is normal to have 10/1 Koreans/natives propotions at meetings outside Korea. And it is not normal to have 300/0 propotions in leadership in an “international” organization ))” Yes! I am not anti-Korean even though my comments my come across as such. But let’s face the fact here: ubf is a Korean organization. It was Korean in 1961. It is still Korean in 2013. ubf Koreans are anti-missionaries who have gone out and implanted Korean culture in every place they go. That is how history will remember ubf: A proud, Korean, evangelical failure.

      2. “But when they see that ubf is a Korean corporation what future can they have in this corporation?” Yes ubf is a corporation. Check out the ubf owned and operated business called Nest41. Their mission statements are exactly what ubf is. ubf is nothing more than a business network with the bible as their product. There are a surprising number of ubf Korean missionaries who primarily care about creating a business network, hiding behind “self-supporting work”.

  24. wesleyyjun

    I am glad you liked my comment on Dr. James’ article. Isn’t it true we all long for the loving embrace of our Father? Yesterday I had to drive to New Jersey. I thought about the embrace of our Father throughout the one and half hour drive. The thought of our Father’s embrace of me made me feel as if I was not driving but flying in the air. There is indeed “poetic majesty and poignant splendor” in the thought of our Father’s embrace. I will always describe our Father’s embrace as poetically majestic and poignantly splendid. Who can embrace us with our sins as he does?
    I remember an anecdote Corrie Ten Boom wrote in her book “Hiding Place.” She gave a beautiful testimony about her experience in a concentration camp. After the meeting was over, one former German guard from the camp where Corrie had been incarcerated came up to her and offered to shake her hand. I don’t recall the details about the guard’s spiritual condition–whether he had repented or had served his term in prison. But it did not matter; Corrie could not simply give her hand for him to shake. She said her arm bent backward.
    Does our Father embrace such a sinner as the former prison guard or us? He does, right? Because of the power of the blood of His Son…Amen.

  25. Hi Susan, thanks for sharing about JHarris and Covenant Life Church.

    I have been following “this case” for the past 2 years, because some accusations of spiritual abuse leveled against them, their leaders and primarily at CJ Mahaney (the original founder of Covenant Church) have echoes of very similar complaints of spiritual abuse and authoritarianism by exUBFers.

    They have 2 websites run by ex-Covenant members that have been around for many years already, and with perhaps 10 times more traffic than ubfriends, I think. Here we try our best to keep the commenting policy, though we might perhaps slip up on occasion. :-) But on their 2 websites it is full of bull charging adrenaline, vitriol, and all forms of cynicism and sarcasm with no holds barred. Though I empathize with them, and understand that they may have been abused by their church leadership, they perhaps sounded more like the seething anger on anti-UBF websites, such as resqueUBF.

    JHarris was CJ Mahaney’s “top sheep.” Years ago Harris approached Mahaney to be mentored by him. Then CJ stepped down as lead pastor of his megachurch (Covenant Life) and appointed Harris in his place. CJ went on to head Sovereign Grace ministries, which oversees their 80 church plants or so, including Covenant Life, their flag ship. But a few months ago, Harris and Covenant Life disassociated themselves from CJ and Sovereign Grace, because of continued accusations and allegations about improprieties that all directly or indirectly point back to CJ. Perhaps that was when Harris issued his apology, which I did not read.

    Sorry if this is complicated, but I find it quite fascinating, even though it is truly quite sad, tragic and unfortunate. May God have mercy on them, and on us.

    • “the seething anger on anti-UBF websites, such as resqueUBF”

      Just some remarks concerning the old forums. It is true, the tone in this forum is exceptionally good and friendly, while it was often not so good on the old forums made by reformers or ex UBFers.

      But we need to understand why this is possible. Much time has passed, many of us have become older and wiser. UBF leadership changed. We now have soft leaders at the top; the UBF director and president are much different from their predecessors. The worst abuse happened years and decades ago, under the leadership of Samuel Lee in Chicago and some who copied him. The memory of the hurt done by them is slowly fading. These forums operated at a time when the big division of 2001 just had happened. It is no wonder that the discussions on these forums were much more heated.

      But I have been on these forums and can say that most of the commenters were polite and reasonable, not much different from how people are writing here. The “deafening silence” from UBF was much worse. There were no reasonable postings and comments from UBF defenders at all. The few UBF defenders either made completely stupid comments (“troll postings”) and some even posted obscene insults under the guise of anonymity. I was completely shocked, because to me it did not make any sense to be a defender of a Bible fundamentalist group and to use obscene language at the same time. But it was true. I was able to trace one IP address of a particularly annoying poster with foul language down to a computer that was also running the International UBF summer conference website. I guess it was a computer in the Chicago center, but I don’t know who had access to it. To be fair, bad language came also from the side of anti UBFers, and I was also annoyed by some who wrote against UBF. I would say it was a similar number of people from both sides who were “troublemakers” in that regard. But I would also say that over 90% of the posted comments were reasonable in content and tone. Unfortunately, at that time, many UBF members visited the forum only once, saw one or two offending postings, and never came back. Or did not even come once because they were told these forums were full of vitriol and hate only, which was not true. I wished you had read all the stories and testimonies and inspiring discussions.

    • Joe Schafer

      Chris, thanks for sharing this valuable perspective.

      You didn’t mention here the cyberattacks and other measures that UBF members launched to try to shut those websites down. But those things did happen.

    • Chris, thanks for explaining about the old forums. What you say is quite true. With my “old lenses” I read primarily AY and NT’s comments, which had vitriol, lambasting and sarcasm. Then I just assumed everyone else was similar. I must admit that JC Jr’s writing was objective and factual with little of his own emotion thrown into what he wrote.

    • Need to correct myself, after trying to remember: Not all comments by UBF defenders on the old forum were troll postings. Some were honestly trying to defend the undefendable. I remember ubfsoul who tried to deny the existence of arranged marriage for some months and then left when they tried to arrange a marriage on him. And of course Brian was also there and did not just troll. But people like Brian were really exceptional. Most defenders appeared to be more like trolls, they hit and ran away when they were challenged with reality checks and rational arguments or when they were to answer tough questions.

    • “You didn’t mention here the cyberattacks and other measures that UBF members launched to try to shut those websites down.”

      :) One reason I am so vocal and public now is based on my repentance in regard to the way I tried to defend ubf on the old Voy forums.

      It was wrong for me to take down 2 anti-ubf websites through various means! But thankfully former members have all the material. All it needs is some polishing.

      It was wrong for me to take advice from SB and others to “cleanse” the Wikipedia article on ubf.

      It was wrong for me to be so uncaring toward former members on my own pn website.

      And Excellent points Chris: “But I have been on these forums and can say that most of the commenters were polite and reasonable, not much different from how people are writing here. The “deafening silence” from UBF was much worse.”

    • @Ben, thanks for the background on Covenant Life and Sovereign Grace ministries. I was really surprised to read that, because I enjoyed hearing sermons from both Josh Harris and CJ Mahaney in the past and always viewed their relationship as a great example of a mentoring relationship. I hope the church is able to find reconciliation during this time, and I’m interested to see what steps they will take towards that.

  26. James Kim

    Joe, thank you for your comment and concern. Your question about “we”, I am referring to frequent bloggers of ubfriends website.
    You said, “The only way forward is to create the environment for open, long-term discussion of these things among elders and then senior staff and then chapter directors and fellowship leaders and all members of ubf.” I agree with you on this. It should start from elders and senior staff and chapter directors. And it is my job to make an environment for open, long-term discussion. Although this task may be not an easy and tedious, we should start from here and from me so that we may all be aware of the problems and acknowledge our mistakes freely. Through this process Jesus may be honored and glorified among us.

    I have not read your link yet, but I am going to read it. In my personal opinion, we should have two prong approach. First we should keep dialogue with love and respect. Speaking truth with love will solve a lot of misunderstanding, mistrust and hostility. We have to build up mutual trust and respect through continuous dialogue no matter how long it may take. Second, follow Keller’s solution. We may all come to Jesus and accept Jesus’ gracious and forgiving verdict and have right understanding of the gospel and repent and grow/ mature together. Of course, it is easier said than done. But I think other than these two prong approach, we have very few options unfortunately. When we focus on Jesus and his great grace and mercy, we can put our hope that He himself may do a mighty miracle and the work of healing and reconciliation among us in his own way. At least this is my prayer.

    • Joe Schafer

      James, I believe that you desire meaningful reform and reconciliation and pray that you and the elders can take appropriate steps.

      As I read your comment above, I still have qualms about your use of the words “we” and “we all.” It seems that you are still using “we” in a way that covers not only ubf leaders but also the critics and ex-members and people who comment on UBFriends and all those who have been hurt by ubf over the years.

      Please correct me if I’m wrong. But it seems that you are still declaring in a subtle way that those who are pressing ubf to correct itself are not speaking with enough gentleness and love and respect. Perhaps that is the case, or perhaps not; God will be the judge. But in my opinion, the time for “you” (meaning the ubf leaders who are making decisions and acting in the name of the organization right now) to try to teach others anything about love and ethics and proper modes of communication and so on has long past. Any moral authority and credibility that “you” (as I have defined that word) may have once had in those areas is essentially gone, and the only way that it can ever be regained is through focusing your attention now solely on the issues of ubf leaders’ actions and behavior over the years.

      If you carefully read the public apology of GCI, you cannot find any hint of that kind of preachiness. There is no place on their website where they say anything like “wrongs have been committed by everyone on all sides” and “we all” (meaning they and their critics too) “need to humbly come to Jesus and repent and love one another.” Of course it is true that all people always need to humbly repent and love others more. But when an organization engages in self correction, that kind of language is inappropriate and will only hinder the process of reconciliation.

  27. Just in case there are Google-challenged people reading this or people are curious as to what the forums were like, here are some snippets. These are from the Voy forums. I think there might have been other dialogues before that. In reading these now, I don’t think the discussions were all that bad. It was us ubf people (at the time) who were mucking things up…

    The Tom Cruise of ubf

    My Failed Defense

  28. Thanks Vitaly, you ask very good questions. I would say that at least Ron Ward and Mark Vucekovich are recognized as UBF USA leaders, and should be able to make independent decisions. They have both been in UBF for more than 30 years.

    But understand that for as long as anyone has been in UBF, there is the teaching that you MUST get approval, consent, permission and blessing from the “one above you,” who is invariably an older Korean missionary, director, pioneer, ancestor according to the hierarchy. So, this sentiment is still quite prevalent, even if it is subtle and subjective and NEVER addressed or questioned.

    I think that many in UBF subconsciously believe that “Unless (UBF leader) blesses you, God will not bless you.” This includes both natives as well as younger Korean missionaries. I personally conclude that there is no such teaching in the Bible.

    I am not advocating disrespect, anarchy or rebellion. But such a teaching (which I think has been referred to as “covering” or “orphan”) has functionally and practically replaced the Holy Spirit with the UBF leader.

    UBF missionaries do not have to go back to Korea. But they can humbly learn to be like “ordinary” natives, rather than think of themselves as “special, sacrificial, sanctimonious (God’s) servants.” If they just do this, I think that there would be substantial overall improvement in Honesty, Openness and Transparency.

    But is this asking too much? After being “in control” for over 30 years, can they “just let go” of their power, seniority and tenure, and be “born again,” so that they must now act like a subordinate and humbly “just obey” a (younger) native leader?

  29. I’ve been trying to catch up on the dialogues on this site with an open mind, especially when the perspectives and experiences are completely different from mine. I appreciate the honest observations and comments written here, especially from Sharon, and I’ve been learning a lot. Since I don’t see too many women posting, I’d like to throw my comments into the mix.

    @Vitaly, when I read some of your experiences, I’m genuinely sad to hear what you’ve gone through. But I’m going to be honest, sometimes your comments make me cringe, because they seem like strong anti-Korean sentiment. Maybe this is because I work in a liberal academic environment, where we’re very sensitive to this kind of language. But my instinctive reaction when reading your comments was to immediately think about the backlash and violence against immigrants in Russia, especially due to the decreasing unemployment rate. Whether you meant it or not, I understood your comments to mean that you don’t like Koreans and think Koreans should go back to Korea, and this honestly makes me feel uncomfortable.

    I’m aware that cultural differences play a major role in these conflicts and problems. And Korean msns. have done the same by making comments or sweeping generalizations of other cultures in the past, and I don’t like that either. But I like how Chris tries to maintain a balanced viewpoint by pointing out that there were also conflicts among just the Korean co-workers, showing that UBF problems are not only a Korean vs. native conflict.
    I know you were very hurt and angered by Korean missionaries, and I agree with you that msns. and leaders must change and repent for mistakes made in the past that have hurt people. I’m writing this comment to you, because I think it doesn’t help your cause if you give the impression that you just don’t like Koreans. A few friends have told me that they sometimes feel offended or angered by these kinds of comments in conversations about UBF. This might possibly close people’s ears rather than open them to dialogue.
    Your voice deserves to be heard, and I hope that my honest reaction to your comment is helpful.

    • Susan, I’m glad you shared the things that you see as “cringe-worthy”. It is healthy to share such things. And it is healthy to realize such cringiness won’t go away. I have similar thoughts about ubf. Every time I see a ubf group “family” photo, I cringe. Any thought of walking into a ubf “center”, I cringe. And remembering the ubf heritage/slogans/ideology makes me cringe.

    • Hi, Susan. “Whether you meant it or not, I understood your comments to mean that you don’t like Koreans and think Koreans should go back to Korea, and this honestly makes me feel uncomfortable”.
      I have good relationship with former Korean ubfers. And I don’t no a nation about which I could say “I don’t like …”. But surely ubf made me like Koreans less)) I don’t have an inner Korean/native conflict. I just think that it is normal and healthy to have American leaders in America. The church I attend has many Asian or just non-Russian comers. It is very good. Russians are famous for their generousity and historically many nations joined the Russian Empire themselves. But I think that it is good and right to have a Russian pastor and many Russian people in a Russian church. For immigrants there are special programs with national speakers. All those things are very good.
      I remember a report from ubf that some ubf people were invited to speak at a European conference. The report said that the ubf people (Korean) were invited to speak so that young European Christians could understand how they could better serve Asian immigrants. Nobody thought that these Korean guests could be leaders in a church in Europe or serve European people as missionaries. (They also thought that these Korean people could possibly serve Korean immigrants in Europe which is also very nice). I suppose that it is only in ubf that foreigners (in case of ubf – Koreans) think they can come to any nation and be life-long leaders for native people. ubf has a 50 years history. And for me it is very strange that missionaries go mostly to the best and so to say the most Christian countries in the world as missionaries for “perishing sheep”. What are the motives of such a missionary movement? To live better than in Korea? Maybe :(
      I think it is normal for a missionary to come in order to START a native movement and then to leave. (And in case of ubf missionaries go to the nations where the START took place many many years ago). If a missionary doesn’t want to leave but wants to rule and be called a “director” and demand “honour” then it is a very unhealthy case of doing mission.
      If for example Dr.Armstrong would submit and become a “just obedient” sheep and a student of a ubf Korean missionary then I would believe that ubf has future in the US and the structure, teaching and methods and the proportions of ubf are normal and nice and healthy for any nation.

    • “If for example Dr.Armstrong would submit and become a “just obedient” sheep and a student of a ubf Korean missionary then I would believe that ubf has future in the US and the structure”

      :) If that would happen I would join ubf again. But seriously, it is worthwhile to examine the reasons why such a thing would not happen.

  30. Brian, I never heard of Nest41 before. How do you find such things?

    It seems that their home base is in Korea, with a European subsidiary branch. They mention that they are comprised of 6 people, but did not say who they were other than Peter the CEO and Lucy. Do you know if they are German UBF missionaries?

    • Ben, email me your request privately and I’ll send you some more info. Some of this can’t be shared publicly. But I have screenshots of LinkedIn profiles that show who the members are. Publically, I can say yes this is related to Germany ubf and yes ubf Korean second gens are involved.

    • And how do I find such things? It is amazing what you learn when you resign from ubf and stop seeing the world through the ubf glasses and face the facts.

  31. James Kim

    Hi Vitaly, thank you for your comment. Russian situation may be a little different from America. This is my personal story. I came to Chicago in 1975, as an immigrant, when the door for the foreign doctors were opened. Many foreigners came to the States to improve their life and I was not an exception. My four children were all born here. I have been living here for 37 years and most likely I will die here, rather than going back to S Korea.

    UBF sent “tent-maker” missionaries to other countries wherever the doors were opened. This is quite unprecedented in the Christian history. The general norm was the rich Western countries sent missionaries to many developing nations. The founders of UBF encouraged the members not to go to other countries as “ordinary immigrants with immigrant mentality”, that means working hard and making money to live comfortable life. We were encouraged to share the superior gospel to all people of all nations based on Matthew 28:18-20.

    When I came to the States, I was ignorant in many things, language and culture. Most of the Americans are very generous and open-minded and helped me and others to adjust our new life in America. As immigrants and “tent-maker” missionaries, the cross-cultural ministry is not easy because we have to learn many things and grow continuously and overcome our fixed ideas and thoughts. Unfortunately we were not well prepared in this regard.

    In retrospect, I see some reasons why many Korean missionaries did not humbly learn many things in the host nations. The gospel of Jesus Christ is superior above all human culture, but we should not assume our position is superior to others. We are only entrusted the gospel to share with others. (We are nothing but “beggars” who can point to other fellow beggars where they can get free bread.) Second, we often tried to “give” the good news of Jesus one-sidedly and did not “receive” (or humbly learn) from the host. I see this as our blind spots.

    • “The founders of UBF encouraged the members not to go to other countries as …” The problem of UBF is that the founders/leaders always encouraged people to do things that they did not want to do themselves. Samuel Lee could have been a role model if he himself had practiced an ordinary, humble, honest job like Paul who worked as a *real* tent-maker. But Mr. Lee enjoyed a house, a life in pretty much the wealthiest city and country of the world and everything he needed that an ordinary Korean workingman could only dream of without ever working for it. Actually he lived from offering money. Some other leaders had jobs or businesses, but I have yet to see a real craftsman among them, like Jesus or Paul, somebody who produced something useful instead of only re-selling stuff (like Co-World company) or creating on-line games (Nest41 company). I cannot see real work ethics; to me the whole talk of “tent-maker” ministry sounds pretty presumptuous, just as talking about a “manger minstry” when you are really dealing with millions of dollars of offering money.

    • James, as far as I understand ubf is a Korean organization. there are regular world mission reports. There missionaries are called the frontline warriors and these warriors report about their great sacrificial life abroad and show some specimens of the “sheep” they had “fished”. The context of the reports is “look, we Koreans are able to fish any natives even from great countries and not just fish but also make them obedient and control their life and even marriage completely. How do we manage to do such things?! For those purposes we use the gospel. You know, the gospel is a very good instrument to manipulate peoples’ lives. You, Koreans who are not missionaries are not so great, so learn from us and follow us”.

      Why not just be sincere and report what you say in your comment – that you and other missionaries are not exceptions and that you went to the US and other nice countries for better living?

      About humble learning I would say that you would never learn and become like an “ordinary native” even if you tried hard because you are not natives. Yes, unfortunately ubf missionaries haven’t even tried not to mention hard.

      For example I am Russian. Yes I can speak some English. But can I become like a native American? Can I think about being a pastor or a “director” in the US? Of course not! Never! But I can use my knowledge for learning many good things from American Christians and authors and contextualize them in Russia. Can I think about being a pastor in Russia? Yes, of course!

      Yesterday on sunday a Kirgiz pastor spoke in our church. He is an Asian. His Russian is the same with the Korean ubf missionaries. I left ubf 1,5 years ago. Yeasterday I listened to a very weak Russian message. Of course I remembered the poor and weak ubf messages. And I thought, “Oh no! Is it true that I listened to such non-Russian messages for 17 years?!”. My wife thought the same. Many people laughed listening to the pastor. I can assure you that nobody would think that that pastor could one day become a pastor in Russia. In ubf nobody laughed hearing the many mistakes and so strange Russian because there was an atmosphere of fear.

      So may I give you an advice? If you are going to stay in the US and bury your bones there, would you take a back seat in an American church or “serve” only Korean immigrants. I mean humble learning won’t help. No native is obliged to become a Korean and be a member of a Korean organization, especially such an unhealthy one as ubf.

  32. James Kim

    Vitaly, thank you for your reply. I want to remind you of Keller’s words. “Do you realize that it is only in the gospel of Jesus Christ that you get the verdict before the performance?—If you are a Muslim, performance leads to the verdict. All this means that every day, you are in the courtroom, every day you are on trial. That is the problem. But Paul is saying that in Christianity the verdict leads to performance. It is not the performance that leads to the verdict. In Christianity, the moment we believe, God says, “This is my beloved son in whom I am well pleased.” Or “Therefore, there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.”’

    In this individualistic society, each person’s opinion is important. Everyone is entitled for his or her own opinion. And I respect your opinion.

    The fact is in spite of all our sins and mistakes, Jesus accepts us and forgives us when we accept his gracious verdict with grateful heart. In Jesus there is no condemnation. Of course verdict is only the starting point. Through the gracious “verdict” of Jesus, I realize my terrible sin and deep inner darkness (not others). And my performance gradually changes. Through the verdict I can bear the fruit of the Holy Spirit.

    If we only criticize or condemn based on our performances, there is no solution. Keller said, if we do, we are not Christians. The beauty of the gospel is that “No one is righteous, not even one” and Jesus opened the door of grace of forgiveness to everyone who accept his verdict and trust in Him. Forgive me if this sounds too preachy.

    • James, what you write is very true. The only problem is, it is not reflected by the reality in UBF. “that every day, you are in the courtroom, every day you are on trial.” This is what my reality in UBF was. We had to deliver our sogams every week. The sogam had to have three parts, 1) retrospect of the last week, 2) rumination of the lecture that his been preached on Sunday by the director, 3) perspective for the next week. In 3) you would promise you many new sheep you would invite and that you wanted to attend the early morning sessions without fail etc. In 1) you would admit how miserably you failed. Everybody in the group would do that week for week. Our chapter directors and shepherd missionaries attendeded the sogam sharing sessions. It was exactly like being in the courtroom every week, where your spiritual perfomance is assessed. This is what UBF taught in practice. You also wrote “No one is righteous, not even one”. Again, in practice UBF taught something completely different. For instance, our chapter director attended every such sogam session, but he never shared his sogam. This sent the message: “Look, there are people who are already perfect. They don’t need to confess their sins and failings.” The fact that the chapter director could also expulse or blame people or arrange and cancel their marriage at will also taught us that there are people who are very different from us, who are much more spiritual. We were not even able to decide on our own marriage, but they were able to decide on the marriage of others. You were never allowed to criticize these “servants of God”. How holy must they be compared to us! See, what you say is right, but what UBF preaches in practice every week is the exact opposite. And it is much stronger on the subconcious mind of UBF members than anything else.

    • Thank you, James, for the dialogue. I would add that not only if you are a Muslim but also if you are a Confucian or a ubf member, “performance leads to the verdict”.

      I want to share with you how your words sound like to me. You are saying that yes ubf has problems but no one is righteous and so Jesus accepts ubf leaders as they are with his abundant grace. Very nice! I’d like to hear how you would say that to a raped lady. May be you would say, “Yes, that guy is bad but you know Jesus’s grace is so nice that he accepts the guy. There is no condemnation in Jesus! He and you should accept the verdict of Jesus and grow together to a Christian maturity and mutual love and reconciliation. God bless you. And yes, take it easy that “the guy” is me, a ubf missionary. Now, excuse me, I have to go, I am very busy preaching the gospel to many perishing souls like you”.

    • And after some talking to a top ubf leader I understood that there are things ubf missionaries are just not able to understand. I agreed to the talk because I knew it would be a final talk to a ubf leader. The talk was nice but I completely despaired because I saw that the leaders will stubbornly stay cultish without even understanding that and no reasonable talk would be helpful. So how can I help the ubf missionaries leave Russia if reasoning doesn’t help? I don’t want any more Russian suffer from ubf in my city. I know that no Russian would join ubf here thanks to the internet. I know that there are so many healthy Chistian churches in our city and it doesn’t really need even healthy missionaries, it is sending missionaries itself. And you know now I clearly see the difference between a cult and a church in Russia. ubf in Yekaterinburg has been illegal all the years of its existence. A ubf chapter was closed by FSB (KGB) in the city of OMSK in Siberia. And a ubf missionary was sent out of Russia in Irkutsk also by FSB. And it is ironical thata in the city of OMSK there are 17 local Baptist churches and some Bible colleges and among members there are FSB people who are good and responsible Christians! Those Christians kicked ubf out of their cities. Now I understand why FSB is more effective than reasoning in case of ubf. May be if reason doesn’t help cult-leaders to leave us alone it is better to also report to FSB about our illegal ubf chapter? Has the 1,5 years been enough to prepare the leaving “the mission field”? Or maybe it is better to listen to some more “preachy” words of ubf leaders about Jesus’ grace toward cults and cult-leaders who accept Jesus verdict and continue their “life of mission” here and keep waiting? What are your advices, ubfriends?

    • @James, I was going to share how your words sounded to me, but Vitaly beat me to it. I want to ask though, how long do ubf people need? Hasn’t 50 years been long enough? Are ubf people so dull that they don’t understand how to take the first step toward reconciliation?

      @Vitaly, yes, I heard the same thing as you. James’ words sound good but are like a cheese-grater to my soul. I have some thoughts based on your comment above:

      “And after some talking to a top ubf leader I understood that there are things ubf missionaries are just not able to understand.”

      — Correct. ubf people just have almost no capacity to grasp the messages of the gospel of Jesus. Reconciliation is perhaps the most important message (and mandate) of the gospel. But ubf people tend to turn the tables on former members, making us seem like the source of the problems. In fact, former members are like mirrors, reflecting the reality of ubf back to them.

      “I agreed to the talk because I knew it would be a final talk to a ubf leader.”

      — Yes there is always one final talk. Then the expectation by ubf is “shut up and go away”. But I am soooo thankfulll for that now former members have the option to share their stories here on ubfriends.

      “So how can I help the ubf missionaries leave Russia if reasoning doesn’t help? I don’t want any more Russian suffer from ubf in my city. I know that no Russian would join ubf here thanks to the internet.”

      — I share this concern for Americans. Were any ubf people watching what happened in Boston last week? The two brothers thought they could get away with the bombing. But guess what? Mess with American freedom and we will hunt you down and expose you! You will be found out. I am rather ashamed that America became the largest base for ubf outside Korea. But no matter. We Americans extend grace to the utmost, but f up our freedom, watch out!

      “May be if reason doesn’t help cult-leaders to leave us alone it is better to also report to FSB about our illegal ubf chapter?”

      — Yes I would report them. I think you’ve done a great service to Russian young people and former members and even current ubf people through your stories here, Vitaly. In the absence of real stories like yours, ubf people can only believe the deception of the ubf nostalgic hagiographies about Yekaterinburg. The news about Yekaterinburg suddenly stops in 2011. ubf people should be asking why? What happened to our brothers and sisters there? There are many chapters like this around the world.

      — The big news that opened my eyes even wider in 2011 was the new ubf mission statement. It does not mention Jesus! That means ubf has committed themselves to being a non-Christian cult. How can you claim to be a Christian missionary church when you don’t mention Jesus in your mission statement? That is something SO refreshing in my new church: They are BLATANT about JESUS! All they do is expressly for and through JESUS! How wonderful that was to my soul!

    • “ubf people just have almost no capacity to grasp the messages of the gospel of Jesus.”

      I should point out that the American, and perhaps other nationality, shepherds and shepherdesses do have an ability to still hear the gospel, even though most are like dry wood. The fire of the gospel of Jesus has been lit newly the past 3 years or so. I have no doubt that fire will consume ubf. So hardliners (who want to resit or quench the Holy Spirit or who want to ignore Jesus’ gospel and focus on preserving ubf heritage) should put on fireproof suits! The gospel fire is burning through the dead wood in ubf and many souls are coming alive and throwing off everything that entangles them.

  33. It’s OK being preachy, James. < ^_^> I sin in my own way, Vitaly sins in his own way, some UBF leaders sin in their own way. All of us finds redemption only in Christ alone. But that does not in any way negate, minimize, or diminish the sin in me, Vitaly, you, or any other UBF leader.

    When the gospel is heard, sin must ALWAYS be acknowledged, confessed and repented of, possibly in this precise order. If sin is not acknowledged, confessed and repented of, then the gospel has not been heard and the desired result of the gospel is not yet accomplished.

    For whenever the gospel is heard and taken to heart, repentance and faith ALWAYS follows.

    See, James, I can be preachy too!

  34. James Kim

    Chris, if you read my previous comments, you will find out that your opinions are not far from mine. We should begin from “Awareness, Acknowledgment and repent and grow/ mature together”. It is easier said than done. It will take some time in my opinion.

    • James, yes, you put in in the right order: “Awareness, Acknowledgment and repent and grow/ mature together”. It was often pointed out that UBF must change or how much it already changed. But in order to change, we must first understand what’s actually wrong.

      What I don’t understand is why UBFers always point out how difficult it is and who much time is needed. I have been told these same phrases already 12 years ago. Well maybe. But a Chinese proverb says “a journey of a thousand miles must begin with a single step”. Koreans also say “sijakun pan ida” which means, starting is already half of solving a task. I really want to see this start happening and not always hear “it is so difficult”. I heard this already twelve years ago, but I did not see anybody beginning to solve the problems. As you say, this beginning is becoming aware of the problems. I think this website is a great way of raising awareness. I just wished more people from UBF would participate and see it as something positive. Or provide alternate platforms for raising awareness.

  35. James,

    You wrote: “I want to remind you of Keller’s words.”

    Although I don’t know why you are suddenly drawn to Timothy Keller’s writing, but I want to use this as an example of typical ubf strategy. I want our ubf readers to realize something:

    ubf people tend to look for the “authority people will listen to”. Probably this is an Asian war strategy, but anyway. ubf missionaries learned a long time ago that some Americans won’t listen to them or fully submit to their authority. So what do the missionaries do? They find the authority that Americans will listen to!

    Many of us in this ubfriends community have shared our respect for Timothy Keller. So now I see your article James and the rather forceful demand for us to listen to Keller, who makes some points that you want us to hear and obey (but says them better and is an authority some of us might listen to).

    Former members and current members need to be aware of this tactic. I believe that is why outside speakers were brought into North American staff meetings, both as an appeasement to Americans and as carefully chosen authorities who would support the ubf heritage in a round-about Christian way.

    But in JA’s case, the hardliners got more than they bargained for :) His teachings actually began exposing the ubf ideology, and he is committed to a long-term relationship. So now the hardliners want him out.

  36. Hi Brian,

    “ubf people tend to look for the “authority people will listen to”. Probably this is an Asian war strategy, but anyway. ubf missionaries learned a long time ago that some Americans won’t listen to them or fully submit to their authority. So what do the missionaries do? They find the authority that Americans will listen to!”

    I do not know who James Kim is ( where does president of UBF fall in the hierarchy)nor what his intentions are. I hope that this is not the reason he writes this. Our only spiritual authority as Christians is Christ himself who calls us to speak and practice His truth. We may honor and respect the wisdom of authors and preachers, but ultimately we submit to Christ’s Spiritual authority.


    So far I have heard you say the right things, the problem is many missionaries say “im sorry, im such a sinner, I have sinned”, but when you question what they mean by that, they are unable to tell you clearly. I heard testimonies about how sorry they were but in reality they don’t understand what they have done wrong. They have not really listened without becoming angry or defensive or hurt. How can they really understand the real issue when they are blinded by their own pride? In their minds and heart all they can see is the ungratefulness toward the hard work and sacrificial life they have lived. The people that left are “labeled” as rebellious,proud, unthankful, and full of complaints. (I know this because I was like some of the missionaries, I never took the time to listen but just believed what I was told and judged those who left harshly. I am now the one who is ‘labeled for expressing myself… you honestly believe this is pleasing to God? ). People want to move forward without really understanding what the true issues are. You say you know what the diagnosis is, but do you really? You say you know what the issues are, but I have not seen you nor anyone specifically come out and denounce old ungodly practices that have caused so much pain and hurt. But instead I see great efforts to eliminate any program that can actually bring about true revival into our ministry. I am disgusted by the political infestation that has overtaken UBF. Isn’t this what Jesus so radically fought against?

    • +1 Martha.

      I think that it is good to remember what sorry means. Sorry is spelled S-O-R-R-Y. It means:

      S is for Sin. Identify the sin that you did. If this is not done, there is absolutely no weight behind the sorry, just lip-service. How do you find out? Listen! 1 John 1:8

      O is for Openly admit. OPEN IS THE KEY WORD!!!!! John 3:20-21

      R is for Repent.

      R is for Request forgiveness. And in case there is any doubt, this doesn’t count: “There is no condemnation in Jesus, so forgive me.”

      Y is for You change.

      I suggest we add SORRY to the UBFriends list of acronyms, after HOT. If you’re not SORRY, you’re not really sorry, so why even bother saying sorry?

    • Yes, +1.

      And great acronym Joshua! I second the motion to be HOT and SORRY.

      Martha, you mentioned “I do not know who James Kim is ( where does president of UBF fall in the hierarchy)nor what his intentions are. I hope that this is not the reason he writes this.”

      — There are 2 hierarchies in ubf. One is the “spiritual” lineage of shepherd/sheep relationships. The other is the “corporate” structure. Actually it is more of a complicated web or network. Apart from the General Director, it is very difficult (for me) to know who has what authority. I’m not sure anyone knows these days. The ubf hierarchy is about as transparent as a piece of wood.

      — Yes I hope that is not James’ intentions, and I suspect he sincerely was not trying to appeal to an authority figure that we ubfriends people would respect. But that tactic has often been used.

    • +1 Martha! SORRY may replace my HOT!

    • Indeed, that’s the proper spelling of “sorry”, joshua.

  37. James Kim

    I thought this essay written by Charles Swindoll might be worth reading to understand each other when we have two different opinions. I fully agree with Charles Swindoll.

    Agreeing about Disagreements,
    by Charles R. Swindoll

    1 Corinthians 12:12 NLT

    “As much as we may pursue peace, and as positive and tactful as we may be, there will still be occasions when disagreements arise. As one wag put it, “Life ain’t no exact science,” which brings me to the last two of four facts with which everyone (well, most of us) would agree. (I shared the first two facts yesterday.)

    In every disagreement there are the same two ingredients: (a) an issue and (b) various viewpoints. The issue is usually objective and involves principles. The viewpoints are subjective and involve personalities. And therein lies the sum and substance of a clash, which could be defined as a disagreement over an issue because of opposing points of view. I will be candid with you: Every time I have remembered those two basic ingredients in the midst of a disagreement, I have been able to keep calm and think clearly. When I have forgotten them, almost without exception I have failed to negotiate my way through the clash with wisdom. Furthermore, I have regretted something I said in the heat of verbal exchange. Those two simple ingredients have never failed to help me keep cool. Why? The next fact will explain.

    In many disagreements each side is valid. As “liberal” as you may think that sounds, chew on it before you toss it aside. On numerous occasions when I have encountered a brother or sister who felt as strongly as I about the other side of the argument, I came to realize it was not so much an I-am-right-and-you-are-wrong matter as it was an I-see-it-from-this-perspective-and-you-from-that-perspective matter. Both sides of most disagreements have strengths and weaknesses, which means neither side is an airtight slam dunk. Nevertheless, any disagreement can lead to a serious, permanent rift in a relationship . . . and sometimes (this may surprise you) that is God’s will. There are times God chooses to spread the good news of His Son rapidly in different directions by having two capable servants of His have a major disagreement.”

    • James, the issue that we have (the main issue, we have some others as well) is “abuse of authority in the church”. This is what happened in UBF and what people complained about from its beginning (see the 1976 letter) and even if some things have changed and it has become a little bit better after the death of Samuel Lee, the issue still exists, as well as the fact that UBF has never officially admitted and apologized for this.

      What different viewpoints can Christian have about this issue? I can imagine to “agree to disagree” on a lot of disputable viewpoints with other Christians. But not on abuse of authority. It’s wrong, simply wrong. Jesus clearly and unmistakably explained in Mt 23 that even thumping spiritual authority is wrong, not to speak about abusing spiritual authority.

      “In many disagreements each side is valid.” Right. But there are also disagreements where no side or only one side is valid. The idea that authoritarianism in the church is fine, and that it is okay to ignore critical members and expel them as rebels, this idea is not a valid viewpoint. But this is the major issue we disagree on. Otherwise UBF would have issued an apology long ago.

  38. Joe Schafer

    James, you wrote (quoting Swindoll):

    “In every disagreement there are the same two ingredients: (a) an issue and (b) various viewpoints. The issue is usually objective and involves principles.”

    It seems to me that you want to move onto the second ingredient without ever facing the first.

    So let’s do first things first.

    For example, here are some of the things that I remember about being in Chicago UBF when SL was directing. These are the some practices that defined UBF style discipleship for me when I entered the ministry.

    I will state these things as objectively as I can, without making any value judgments. Then you can tell me whether I am making these things up. You are well qualified to do that because you were there at the time.

    * SL reserved the right to change the name of anyone at any time. He reserved the right to name your children.

    * SL reserved the right to tell you to quit your job at a moment’s notice.

    * He reserved the right to tell you at any time to change your clothing or hairstyle.

    * No one could marry without his specific approval. He chose whom you could marry. The wedding would be at a time and place of his choosing.

    * In many cases, the length of time between when he introduced people to each other and told them that they ought to marry and the actual wedding was less than one week.

    * When he married couples, he made up the wedding vows and regularly inserted promises that had nothing to do with marriage (such as promising to go as missionaries to Russia etc.). These vows were not agreed upon by the couple ahead of time.

    * If you turned down a marriage candidate that he chose for you, you could be severely rebuked and trained for it. One woman who didn’t want to marry a Korean missionary was told by him, “If you say no again, you will go to hell.”

    * No one could miss a Monday night meeting or a Friday night meeting or SWS ever. If you missed a meeting without a good excuse (or even if you had an excuse) you would get rebuked and trained.

    * SL would often impose quotas on fellowship leaders to bring a certain number of people to SWS and to conferences. Those who failed would be shamed or punished in various ways.

    * If SL thought you did not offer enough money at Christmas worship service, he might rebuke you in front of everyone.

    * Sometimes he told missionaries and sheperds whose parents were well off to ask their parents for large sums of money.

    * When SL rebuked people, he often did so harshly. Many of his comments to people and about people were far more brazen and brutal than the comments that have appeared here on UBFriends. But no one objected to SL’s language because they got used to it. They believed he had a right to speak that way because he was “God’s servant.”

    * No one could take a trip or travel outside the Chicago area for any reason without SL’s approval. And if you did travel, you had better be back in town for Sunday worship service, otherwise you would be severely rebuked and trained.

    * If you were from another chapter (not Chicago) and you were selected to go on a “journey team” to Korea or elsewhere, you were told to buy an airline ticket to Chicago with an open return date (which was very expensive). The reason for the open return date is that once you were in Chicago, SL reserved the right to keep you there indefinitely for training. You were not allowed to leave Chicago until he told you that you could.

    * SL would often prescribe unorthodox diets and medical treatments and in some cases surgical procedures and the doctors and nurses in Chicago UBF would carry them out.

    * If you objected to any of these practices, all of the missionaries and shepherds would immediately counsel you to obey SL because he was God’s servant. Failure to obey even in a very small matter could result in Skokie training, monetary fines, public shaming, etc.

    I could go on listing many more of these practices.

    Perhaps some people will object that I have aired UBF’s dirty laundry on a public website. But this is not UBF’s dirty laundry. These were the standard operating procedures for the fellowship. They happened on a regular basis, and everyone knew about them. (There are many, many more scandalous things that I could mention but won’t.)

    If we can agree on the objectivity of these happenings, then we have a basis for charitably disagreeing over what to do about them.

    But in my experience, UBF leaders will not open their mouths to talk about the first things first. They dodge and weave like champion dodgeball players, talking about principles without acknowledging the facts.

    You are entitled to your own opinions. But you are not entitled to your own facts.

    • ++1
      Almost all these things in the list were my and my family experience in ubf (some more, some less). Thanks from my wife.

  39. Yes, in light of these facts and many more, this is not a question of agreeing to disagree, this is about the ministry of reconciliation. The process of reconciliation ALWAYS begins with acknowledgment of sin and the consequences of sin. This is a long and painful but necessary process. You just can’t skip it, as much as you might like to. Many of us would prefer to skip it, to keep burying the fact of sin and the consequences of sin. But for the sake of the gospel and our own spiritual well being and the wellbeing of others, we cannot.

  40. The ministry of reconciliation according to Jesus:

    “If your brother or sister sins,go and point out their fault, just between the two of you. If they listen to you, you have won them over. But if they will not listen, take one or two others along, so that ‘every matter may be established by the testimony of two or three witnesses. If they still refuse to listen, tell it to the church; and if they refuse to listen even to the church, treat them as you would a pagan or a tax collector.” Mt 18:15-17

    “Therefore, if you are offering your gift at the altar and there remember that your brother or sister has something against you, leave your gift there in front of the altar. First go and be reconciled to them; then come and offer your gift.” Mt 5:22-14

    • Thanks for sharing these Sharon. I think we should have an article about “the ministry of reconciliation”. It’s not optional for Christ-followers.

      I think we should combine Jesus’ teaching with other Scripture, namely 1 Timothy 5:1-25, especially 1 Timothy 5:17-21:

      “17 The elders who direct the affairs of the church well are worthy of double honor, especially those whose work is preaching and teaching. 18 For the Scripture says, “Do not muzzle the ox while it is treading out the grain,” and “The worker deserves his wages.” 19 Do not entertain an accusation against an elder unless it is brought by two or three witnesses. 20 Those who sin are to be rebuked publicly, so that the others may take warning. 21 I charge you, in the sight of God and Christ Jesus and the elect angels, to keep these instructions without partiality, and to do nothing out of favoritism.”

    • What is happening here is not “Satan’s attack” as many like to see it. This ubfriends thing is a necessary airing of the reality of sin and it’s consequences and the struggle for healing and reconciliation. Reconciliation with those who have sinned against us with won’t happen without coming into the light. James, I hope you can hear the sadness and frustration which come from the desire for reconciliation. Maybe all you can hear is the anger. Do I wish it wasn’t happening in cyberspace? Of course! But no one planned it this way, and things might have been very different if not for the actions or lack of action on the part of insiders.

  41. James, it seems to me that you are quoting Swindoll to say that UBF has 1 viewpoint while those who disagree with UBF has just another viewpoint. Thus, that both UBF and exUBF viewpoints may be EQUALLY VALID and that they are just different viewpoints.

    Joe listed a series of “facts that happened.” Chris says that UBF leaders abused their authority (for 50 years and counting). Are you saying that UBF’s viewpoint of spiritual abuse is “just a different viewpoint”? That UBF’s viewpoint is equally valid and just different from those who are calling it “spiritual abuse”?

    Maybe you contradict yourself when you did say in a previous comment that UBF is immature and needs to acknowledge her problems: Though you did not specifically say what the problems were, many UBFers and exUBFers will agree with your statement. In fact many will have the exact same viewpoint with your statement.

  42. Joe Schafer

    “There are times God chooses to spread the good news of His Son rapidly in different directions by having two capable servants of His have a major disagreement.”

    Can the good news of Jesus Christ be spread through abusive discipling practices? I don’t think Swindoll would agree.

    In fact, I know he wouldn’t agree.

    Here’s an article by Chuck Swindoll about churches that abuse. He gives a list of telltale signs indicating that a church is off-base and tells you that, if you belong to such a church, it’s time to leave.

    The list he gives sounds a lot like UBF.

  43. James,

    Thank you for your willingness to dialogue here on ubfriends. By what I understand it takes courage and its not easy to do so.

    I would like to hear your perspective on the facts that Joe has listed above. I would like to try to understand why you think the above is pleasing to God or even humane or just in anyway. Personally, it makes me cringe just to think that these things happened in UBF and I represent this Christian organization. It baffles my mind to think that these things were done and that no one would say anything. Not only spiritual boundaries were broken but also civilian laws ( i.e. surgical procedures).

  44. @All: Wow, good replies everyone. I was formulating my reply to James, but you’ve all already articulated the points I was going to make (well minus the swear words…)

    And before anyone says “Oh that was just SL in the 1970’s…”, remember that the same ideology that affected Joe’s list affected Chris in Germany in the 90’s. And we’ve already heard an over-abundance of testimony that 2013 is not any different from 1976, in terms of ubf ideology.

    @Martha: You might already know this, but the ministry in Toledo that lasted from 1990 to current day was founded on some inhumane and illegal practices, such as my confession. To many ubers however, such inhumane and illegal actions are redefined to be “grabbing the blessing” and “helping others to be like Jesus” or “just the marines of Christianity doing their God-given job.”

    • Joe Schafer

      Brian, even if these practices weren’t continuing today in the same degree (and in some places they aren’t), the fact that they did happen on a regular basis, and that all of the current leaders and elders of UBF experienced these things and agreed to them and had these things done to them needs to be reckoned with. You can’t just bury this history and pretend that it has no long-term impact on people or the community.

      It’s as though someone were saying: “My daddy used to wup me upside the head with a 2×4, and it never hurt me none!”

    • Indeed, I agree. The further away from ubf I get, the more I realize the numerous layers of problems, all twisted together like a big tornado.

      One of those layers twisted into the mix is as you say: historical abuse. It happened. Now what do we do about it? That is the objective reality ubf must face head on. And saying we should forget about the past doesn’t cut it.

      When I was defending ubf, one of my defenses was “so what”. I thought, so what if SL did something abusive in the past? That doesn’t affect me, I thought. Am I my brother’s keeper, I thought. Such thinking is futile and reveals nothing about the gospel Jesus preached. Such thinking came from my hard, empty heart.

      Until the historical abuse is admitted and dealt with, the current problems will continue.

    • To repeat a dusty platitude: those who don’t learn from history are bound to repeat it. And this from people who emphasize so heavily on having a “sense of history.”

      I had a great conversation with a UBF leader in a more “progressive” chapter over the weekend. He told me that he’s convinced that UBF has become an idol in the eyes/heart of many in the ministry. To admit any failure in UBF or in the people of UBF exposes the idol for what it is, just an idol made from wood and stone. My take-away from the Old Testament is that human beings naturally gravitate towards worshiping and serving idols, which are things, rather than God, who is a person.

  45. Thanks, Joshua. Sorry for keep plugging The 10 Commandments of UBF, but check out Commandments 1 and 2. Is it possible for UBF to intentionally strive to not break them??

    • Matthew 19:26 “With man this is impossible, but with God all things are possible.”

      I believe that God can accomplish what He wants. I wait on Him to change the unhealthy hearts, minds, and practices in UBF. I cannot force the change I want to see, because then I would be doing the same things as them. Grace must go both ways.

      1 John 1:6-7 “If we claim to have fellowship with him and yet walk in the darkness, we lie and do not live out the truth. But if we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus, his Son, purifies us from all sin.”

      Before the change can occur, those who claim to be walking in the light must stop lying to themselves and come into the light (expose themselves in repentance), live out of the truth, and seek to restore fellowship with one another and with God through the purifying blood of Jesus Christ.

  46. Thanks, Joe for the Swindoll link. Here he explains the progressive process of “bad leadership causing blind sheep”:

    “Unfortunately, when you’re blind, you no longer see error. In fact, you lack what I often call a sensitive antenna. That doesn’t suddenly happen, you realize… Slowly, gradually, as imperceptibly as tiny chunks of soil breaking off a cliff at the beach, clear and discerning sight begins to fade. First, peripheral vision gets blurred. Next, tunnel vision occurs. Then, the light even in the tunnel decreases. Finally… “follow the leader” becomes the only acceptable rule for all in the tunnel. The leader becomes Lord. Heresy replaces orthodoxy.”

    Is this what is happening to UBF today? Do you think that “the leader” may not necessarily be one particular UBF leader today, but the blind enforcement of conformity to “UBF core values”?

    • Joe Schafer

      Ben, I don’t think that anyone is willing to give their lives to uphold any of the UBF core values. Those values are somewhat arbitrary. What people are committed to, what they will live for and die for, is the myth, the narrative, the self-told story of ubf that fuels their self worth and validates their sacrifice.

  47. James Kim

    “I’ll go one step further, for I am now convinced that God is not nearly so narrow as many of His people are. I find that God is much easier to live with than most of His followers . . . far more tolerant, certainly full of more grace and forgiveness than all of us are.”—Chuck Swindoll

    Joe, you pointed out many facts of S Lee. You were there, I was there. Nobody will deny these facts. But I can assure you that people have different opinions and interpretations about them. Some people can say it was an abuse of authority and other people may not agree with that. We are all entitled to have our own different opinions. Still we can love and respect one another and listen to one another. To me the most important thing is how God would think about these things. My opinion is not so important. I am not a judge. I am not defending anybody in this matter. My personal opinion is that only God knows everything, much more worse sins than we know of; plus all the motives behind all these facts. He is the only righteous Judge. As Swindoll said, God is more tolerant and full of grace and forgiveness than we are. (in spite of all our mountain like sins)

    • James, it is these kind of responses which really infuriate me. Honestly, I had physical reactions after reading this, like my heart beating stronger and blood pressure raising.

      “Some people can say it was an abuse of authority and other people may not agree with that.”

      Really??? What other people? Do you really claim any people with a sane mind could not agree with that?

      Abuse is abuse. No matter how you “interpret” the allegedly pure motivations of the abuser.

      “My opinion is not so important. I am not a judge.”

      If you think so, you should not be a leader or elder in a church. Have you ever read 1 Cor 5:12? “Are you not to judge those inside? God will judge those outside.” You need to judge what’s happening in your church. That’s your God-given task as a shepherd and elder. Have you ever read 1 Peter 5:2? “Be shepherds of God’s flock that is under your care, watching over them.” Elders have to watch over those in the church and should cry out and defend people if they are abused in such ways.

      You basically say nobody can judge Samuel Lee. Well, I know that’s what he said about himself; though he himself judged all others, so it seems you bought into his own wrong teaching. This is simply not true. Everybody has the right to judge Samuel Lee. Even if you don’t want to judge the person of Samuel Lee, you at least can judge his actions. That’s the crucial point that we need to talk about. Whether God for some mysterious reason may forgive him anyway without repentance or not is not our thing to discuss. Does his behavior reflect how leaders should behave or does it reflect the opposite of how leaders should behave so that nobody should learn from them?

      “God is more tolerant and full of grace and forgiveness than we are.”

      Yes, he is very tolerant to those who do not know him. And to the “little ones” as they are called in the Bible. But towards those who puff themself up as leaders and his representatives and abuse people under his name, he is not so tolerant. I am very sure of that, and that’s what the Bible says as well.

      Another aspect of God’s grace and forgiveness is the repentance and brokenness of the person who is forgiven. 1 Jo 1:9 says: “If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness.”

      If you say we are not to judge others and God is tolerant and will forgive anybody anyway, then I wonder why you’re engaging in campus mission, why you want to convert people to God, telling them their life style separates them from God etc. Why do you judge these people? Leave them alone on the campus and don’t interfere into their lives!

      “We are all entitled to have our own different opinions.” No, that’s simply wrong. Certain opinions are not to be tolerated in the church. I a member of my church would tell me he adores Adolf Hitler and makes parties with his neo nazi friends on Sunday afternoons; I would kick him out of the church. Not all opinions are tolerable.

      Formershep and Ben have made adequate responses to your comment as well, please read them.

    • The other reason why this comment infuriates me is that by writing “Some people can say it was an abuse of authority and other people may not agree with that.” you conveniently avoided to state your own opinion whether you think it is abuse or not. What we really want to get so much is a personal “sogam” of top UBF leaders concerning these matters. You know better what that Korean word means. It is the personal reaction, personal intellectual and emotional response and opinion on a certain issue. All UBFers are pressed hard to always give their sogam, every week, on the Bible passages studied in UBF. We are used to not indifferently hear something, but always respond in a personal way to these passages. For decades we have tried to press UBF leaders to share their sogam concerning the abuse and all we get is such a lousy non-statement that sounds like a politician who does not want to make a commitment and tell how he really thinks. I remember how my chapter director accused reformers of “political” thinking, but this way or dealing with the issues is more “political” than anything else.

  48. James, you seem to imply that there is no grace or forgiveness when one brings up these things. Yes, some people will say that what SL did is not an abuse of authority. I used to think that. I no longer do. But I do not judge him. (In fact I am still grateful and thankful for him.) As you said, God is the only Judge.

    But clearly people were hurt and are still being hurt by UBF leaders who do this. So what do you say? Some people have a different opinion? They should not be hurt? It was for their good? The answer should come from Scripture.

    Are UBF leaders lording over sheep/juniors? Are they shaming, humbling, humiliating, marginalizing those who do not “just obey”? Or will you still say, “some people don’t think it is lording over”? God is far more tolerant and full of grace?

    It still sounds to me like an “absolute” refusal to acknowledge the obvious: UBF has been and continues to be an authoritarian (abusive) church. Do you not agree?

  49. formershep

    I don’t mean to be rude or disrespectful, but I cannot agree with James’ statement. We have to make a judgement call when we see injustice, wrongs and all kinds of evil in the world. We already know God’s opinion on many many things from His word. And there is a real difference between condemnation and judging. It is unbiblical and sinful to condemn but as Christians we have the responsibility to make proper judgments based on the word of God. So to say that you don’t have an opinion or that your “opinion doesn’t matter” I respectfully believe that by saying that it is just a cop-out and an excuse not to say anything.

    • Thanks formershep.

      From my perspective, there is only one person’s opinion that really matters in distinguishing if a shepherd’s practices are abusive: the one who was abused. Abuse is defined by the one who experienced it, not the one who doled it out. If criminals got to decide whether their actions were criminal or not, no one would ever go to jail!

      We cannot judge someone’s intent, which is intangible, but we can judge the result, which is tangible and actually quite obvious. Even Jesus said that you can judge a tree by its fruit (Matt 7:16). If SL’s and others’ shepherding practices are not abusive, where the heck did the body count come from? Kimchee overdose?

    • @formershep: I agree with your sentiment, and at the same time I understand where James is coming from. He values loyalty above all else. The Confucian value system leads people to speak like James does. And in case anyone is in Korea and commits a crime, get used to it because Korean law is also based on loyalty, not on facts or truth. It is this sense of justice based on loyalty relationships that must be permeated somehow by the gospel of Jesus. I don’t agree with James, but having met him in person, I do acknowledge he makes one exceptional point: the way of resolution and reconciliation here is the gospel of Jesus. I pray for justice based on truth and grace to catch fire among the elders in ubf.

      @Joshua: “If SL’s and others’ shepherding practices are not abusive, where the heck did the body count come from? Kimchee overdose?” +++1 This has to be my all-time favorite comment ever! I have the body-count from Toledo if anyone is interested.

  50. Joe Schafer

    James, thank you for your candor and willingness to participate in this discussion. I know how uncomfortable and difficult it is.

    As an elder in the church, I believe that it is your job to provide leadership in matters like this and weigh in on whether or not these practices were/are beneficial. People who have supported this ministry deserve to know where the ministry actually stands. If the saying “actions speak louder than words” is true, then can we guess that the elders believe these practices are acceptable, because nothing of substance has been done to discourage or stop them?

    If the elders are not willing to take a stand on these matters, then I suggest that they ought to step down. The office of elder exists for purposes such as these.

    • After responding to the demands of leaders for a long time, isn’t it time that leaders respond to the demands of the congregation? Who is serving who here? Why is it that those who had so much to say whenever we shared a testimony or something personal are now so silent when a response from them is requested? Do they have any idea how quickly this conveys hypocrisy and lack of credibility?

      Sorry. Like Brian said, it is hard to comment without getting emotionally heated up. Emotions are the check engine light of the soul; you can only ignore them for so long before you face real trouble.

  51. James Kim

    “-As I think about our becoming people of awakening grace, I believe at least three things are involved in the process:

    First, it takes time. Learning anything takes time. Becoming good models of grace, it seems, takes years! Like wisdom, it comes slowly. But God is in no hurry as He purges graceless characteristics from us. But we can count on this, for sure: He is persistent.”—Charles Swindoll

    I cannot resist to quote Swindoll. If I did not agree with most of you, I would have not engaged in this dialogue. I hear many of your comments and know abuses happened in different places of UBF chapters. That’s why I said in the previous comment that we need to start from “Awareness (of abuses), Acknowledgment, Repent and Grow/ Mature together”. I also know by the fact that many of the members have different opinions from me. Many of them never read this website. That’s why I agree with Swindoll’s statement that it would take time. Especially it would take time to build up consensus among leaders and members. No matter how great, fantastic ideas they may be, we cannot forcefully impose them upon others. We should go through the process of continuous dialogue and persuasion even though it would be tedious and take time. In the mean time what should we do? As swindoll said each one of us strive to be good model of grace. Awakening grace more and more, and practicing the essence of the gospel among us could be one of the solutions.

    • Well-said James: “We should go through the process of continuous dialogue and persuasion even though it would be tedious and take time. In the mean time what should we do? As swindoll said each one of us strive to be good model of grace. Awakening grace more and more, and practicing the essence of the gospel among us could be one of the solutions.”

    • Joe Schafer

      James, I will say it once again: I really appreciate your willingness to come to this website and engage everyone here. In doing so, you have made yourself vulnerable, and that vulnerability is one of the unmistakable marks of Christ. You and I and everyone else who has written anything here have made ourselves vulnerable. Revealing ourselves to one another in vulnerability is the starting point of fellowship and community.

      I appreciate that change will take time. It may take a very long time. But as this change moves along at a snail’s pace, please understand that there are many people who cannot afford to wait around indefinitely for this change to occur. Many have had to leave the organization, and many more may need to leave, because they cannot continue to subject themselves and their spouses and their children to the unhealthy environment created by the practices that I have listed above. We will have to flee and then watch from a distance. And your motto “Grow/Mature Together” won’t actually happen because we won’t be together anymore. Perhaps you can wait around forever for opinions to change. But most of us simply cannot.

      Sooner or later, Jeremiah 10:21 will take effect:

      “The shepherds are senseless
      and do not inquire of the Lord;
      so they do not prosper
      and all their flock is scattered.”

      In many places, it already has.

    • Joe, your words remind me of something that has been in the back of my mind for long time. Sometimes we must lose our life for Jesus in order to find it. What if this gospel principle is true not only for individuals, but also for communities? Matthew 16:25

    • @Joe: “And your motto “Grow/Mature Together” won’t actually happen because we won’t be together anymore.” Excellent point. I just want to assure everyone in ubf of one thing: Your relationships get WAY BETTER after leaving, even with ubf people. Don’t believe the hype that you’ll be struck by lightening if you leave. The fact is, you’ll be able to begin dealing with the pain. And in my case, I even got to rebuke the highest leaders of ubf! For some reason, ubfers start opening up and being honest once the authority over you is removed. Of course, a select few may remain silent but that was easy to deal with because they used to be so loud.

    • “I … know abuses happened in different places of UBF chapters.”

      James, this still may be interpreted as if abuse only happened in remote places and dark corners of UBF. Would it be possible for you to formulate this a bit more concretely and less politically? Our issue is that abuse happened in the headquarters, was practiced by the general director, and was “pushed” down to even remote places. Would you agree or would you not agree with that statement? To know your opinion on that is a necessary basis for any further dialog.

      “Becoming good models of grace, it seems, takes years!”

      That may be. But in the meantime, wouldn’t it be good to deal with the issues, starting by frankly admitting them?

  52. James, I truly echo Joe’s appreciation of your willing participation on this website, where countless UBF leaders regard this site as total garbage. Also, I am very thankful that you are willing to hear disagreement after disagreement with your comments, and still be willing to stay engaged.

    Incidentally, I do like your last comment. Yes, no one can change others. UBF people who want to shut down UBFriends will not succeed, just as much as you or exUBFers wishing to have dialogue and reconciliation cannot force it either. I believe we both understand that.

    Nonetheless, we do have an ongoing abuse crisis that I think requires serious, urgent and priority consideration. In my opinion, the UBF abuses is far far more important than the upcoming ISBC. By focusing on the ISBC exclusively sends the message that the organization of UBF is more important than individual people who have been hurt and wounded by UBF’s authoritarian abuses.

    If you read the comments of liveforchrist over the last few months, you know that he is currently in a UBF chapter when he is rebuked, trained, humiliated, threatened, warned because he was caught dating a girl in his chapter. He told his chapter director that he dated the girl honorably, but was accused of being a liar. He had to write pages of lines, clean the bath room daily, meet his director daily even though he has much homework, and was told, “I will never allow you to marry the girl.” The chapter director wants to make him a shameful example of anyone who dares to date in his chapter!

    Are there going to be 2 different UBF opinions on this real case that is actively going on at present?

    Should not any leader in UBF with the love of Christ want to seriously address this case? Or we should just work for the ISBC? What if this kid was your own son?

  53. Yes, I think we have to be careful not to pressure or place blame on anyone who chooses not to participate in UBF activities.
    I also appreciate your participation, James. I know how much you would like to bring about open dialogue. But we have all lived under burden of guilt, shame and pressure for a long time. It is up to each of us to decide before God how to practice the essence of the gospel and continue a dialogue of reconciliation. For many it may require backing out of UBF controlled activity in order to heal, think, and grow.