The Good, the Bad and the Ugly of UBF

the_good_the_bad_and_the_uglyThe good. UBF has many good godly Christians. UBF people are also generally very sincere. This may be a reason why many have come to Christ through UBF people, or they began to take their own Christian lives far more seriously than prior to coming to UBF. I still vividly remember the day I first walked into a Sunday Worship Service in Chicago UBF in 1980. I felt a “supernatural presence” during the worship service. The singing was spirited and electric. The people were genuine and happy. The atmosphere was warm and welcoming. The experience was moving and magnetic. Looking back I would say that the Spirit of God was present, and I was captured by Christ. Since that day, I have been devoted to Christ through UBF for 33 years. If not for UBF I would not be married. Since I am a practicing physician I have been able to offer over 1 million USD to UBF through tithes and offerings. Dozens of people who were mentored by my wife and I are also still committed to Christ in UBF to this day. My closest friends are in UBF, or are exUBFers. All my 4 children, ages 24 to 30, became committed Christians while in UBF. This is surely nothing but the merciful grace of Jesus upon my life and my family through UBF. Perhaps, countless thousands of people who have experienced UBF can echo something similar to what I have experienced and described above.

The bad/ugly. Despite many such wonderful things that have happened in and through UBF over the last half a century, UBFriends describes countless unpleasant negative experiences and abuses, which I have also witnessed, experienced and encountered. Sadly, there are longstanding members of UBF who would summarily discount anything shared on UBFriends, perhaps because they would like to hear ONLY my first paragraph above. Anything besides “good things experienced in UBF” has been categorized as UBF bashing, negative, discouraging, ungrateful, bitter, and the like.

How can we explain both the exhilarating highs of UBF (the good) and the downright depressing discouraging lows (the bad/ugly)?

Good and evil. The exhilarating highs experienced in UBF is clearly the work of God in the hearts and lives of people. The downright depressing lows are caused by the cunning devious schemes of the devil to create discontent, discord and division.

One major cause for the bad/ugly. I have lumped all the unpleasantries and negative experiences in UBF under “authoritarain leadership,” which lords over sheep and exercises authority over them, and which often results in spiritual abuse. In the 10 Commandments of UBF I addressed in 10 Commands what UBF must stop doing, especially Commandment #3: “You shall not be Lord over your sheep or replace the Holy Spirit in their life.” I also spoke out against intrusive coercive lording over shepherding of sheep in guidelines for best shepherding practice. But since this has been going on and ongoing for 50 years, it may be years or decades before such practices stop to a significant degree, since “bad habits die hard.”

Both good and bad/ugly. UBF loyalists might like my first paragraph, but regard the rest as unnecessary. Those who experienced authoritarian abuse would welcome this post, and perhaps have some discomfort about the glowing first paragraph. My contention is that UBF is both good and bad/ugly. I praise God for the good and give Him all the credit and glory. But the bad/ugly is the work of Satan that desperately requires God’s merciful intervention as we cry out to him.

To those hurt by UBF, can the good you experienced in UBF curb the bad you experienced? To UBF loyalists, can the good you experienced in UBF not hold you back from clearly addressing, confronting and condemning what is bad and ugly about UBF? Sorry for such awkward questions. But I ask them because the former are regarded as UBF bashers, while the latter are regarded as those who condone evil out of blind loyalty.


  1. Mark Mederich

    can Christ loyalists hang on yrs & decades for UBF loyalists to transition to Christ loyalists? have many over the yrs been able to find Christ, then hang on? have our own children been able to find Christ (not religion) & hang on?

  2. big bear

    Well said…I think bad and ugly can be summed up like this….no accountability for leaders so they dwell in self righteous pride not willing to change….not enough done for the poor and needy and for large families…….more balance is needed….so easy target for Satan attack……I was there myself so God took me out of leadership…but it has brought new life and freedom for my family……..some leaders should step down and let a fresh leadership take over that is healthy….I know God will purge His people….those who want to lead must be willing to change and be humble and like Jesus not lording over the flock

  3. Hi Mark, I may be wrong but most if not all UBF loyalists believe that they are Christ loyalists.

    I was probably a UBF loyalist for over 2 decades, until I felt that it affected my own relationship with God, and with others. In my opinion, UBF loyalists sometimes places UBF interests ahead of Christ’s interest; they seem more concerned about protecting UBF than about preserving the gospel.

    Your question about children finding Christ (instead of religion) will require a new post with elaborate explanation.

  4. big bear

    Mark good point…it is Korean pride and Sl legacy….may Sl become less and Christ greater…than revival and change will come..amin

  5. This is a public facebook comment based on this article:

    “I think it’s easier for some to say we are bashing when we openly discuss the real issues of spiritual abuse. Some refuse to acknowledge that spiritual abuse has even taken place. They argue it was in the best interest of the sheep/bible student. The abuse runs deep. Therefore respect and trust are gone. The abuse is still occurring and not being dealt with or acknowledged.

    When people are involved sin is involved. I can’t say the good outweighs the bad. I think there is good within people of UBF, how is it good when people allow the spiritual abuse. Some say well I didn’t say anything, it didn’t happen, or it didn’t happen to me, it was in your best interest?

    Spiritual abuse is still running rampant. Yes I pray, yes I have forgiven, yes I’m Christian and was Christian before going to UBF. Their are some who have never even said Hi or taken time to get to know me. Yet had time to judge me.

    I believe God has blessed people within UBF. I have made friends within UBF.”

  6. @big bear, agreed. Until there is clear accountability, then every UBF chapter is basically run/dictated by the most senior person. He may be a good person and a sincere Christian. But any person with absolute power (and no accountability) is placing themselves in a position where Satan can easily deceive him/her. That is why I asked the question:

  7. Ben’s article struck a chord:

    “How can we explain both the exhilarating highs of UBF (the good) and the downright depressing discouraging lows (the bad/ugly)?”

    I don’t think I am wrong to say that all of the former members on UBFriends had excellent experiences in the beginning. However, I believe it is the departure that has more presence in a memory. I think this is likely because almost every testimony ever written in UBF had to give praise someway and somehow to UBF, its shepherds and absolutely the Korean missionaries. As a result, once someone leaves there is a lot of pent up emotion based on experiences and observations and relationships. Consequently, when someone shares after they have left it is difficult to want to state the good things, because it has been done so many times before, but nobody ever allowed you to share the bad things.

    “To those hurt by UBF, can the good you experienced in UBF curb the bad you experienced? To UBF loyalists, can the good you experienced in UBF not hold you back from clearly addressing, confronting and condemning what is bad and ugly about UBF?”

    For me, when I entered UBF I also felt that people were very sincere, and I still do. In my case the experience and opportunity led me from an agnostic life to a full-meaning and deep relationship with God. My family has a rich combination of faiths, but by my generation my parents never took a stand. Faith was neither encouraged, nor dicouraged. When I was invited to Bible study my shepherd did not coldly just invite me. Something gave him better wisdom – he just simply sat down and had a friendly conversation with me. Now, some may critique and say that’s strategy – of course it is! – but it was a wise one, because I would otherwise have told him to stick it. It took time to be reliable (faithful). At first I only attended Bible studies and Sunday’s. Soon came a two day crammed conference – which despite what we have said about the upcoming one, was the turning point for me. In this, I really did feel a special spirit present – not evil spirit. As Ben said, it was like a “supernatural presence.” At this time I really did experience God’s grace in my life. I do not regret the involvement that I have had in UBF to this day. I regret situations and reactions that have occurred over the course of time. Abuses are the result of not measuring up to – the UBF standard!

    Can I be considered a loyalist? I would say no, but maybe I am wrong.
    Can the beginning curb my bad experience? No. The trouble is, even though there was so much benefit through the Bible studies and environment there developed serious issues for me personally (rebukes/disagreements aside).

    I would say that three aspects that bother(ed) me are:

    1) A primary focus on increasing numbers when some members may not yet have a relationship with God and/or be young in faith

    When a person comes to study the Bible or attend a church it does not mean that person can effectively share the gospel. (This does not dismiss those who are able.) I take issue with this in UBF because no one allows a relationship with God to take root – instead they say go by faith. What is faith if you have no relationship with God? The imperative is to get out and invite people – increase the numbers: record your weekly invitation and actual studies. People do not often do this out of God’s grace, but out of duty. In fact some people are told what their goals are.

    2) Determining when a growing leader is actually part of the church – big or small

    This begets a big problem: that person has given up friends, family, personal interests, time, money, effort, attention etc….to be a part of the church community. Soon they realize that nothing matters because they did not fulfill some expected goals imposed on them not by God, but by a group people caught up in the system. If emphasis was placed on the growing relationship with God I believe the Holy Spirit would use those people to serve and honour God. Willingness and desire can be swayed by the church environment. The fact is that UBF obligates people to carry out works and then after many hard, long years MAYBE embraces them into the church leadership and community.

    3) The constant re-evaluation of Self vs. God

    One of my professors (who was evangelical) expressed this problem a good way, “In evangelical churches you frequently get ‘the talk.’” For evangelicals, he compared the relationship one has with God to a couple that is not yet married. In UBF you are frequently accounting for each minute as a means to define where you are in your relationship with God. If you are not doing ministry work such as fishing, daily bread, testimony writing, early morning prayer, attending meetings, attending conferences… DO NOT have a good relationship with God. You have a bad or broken relationship with God. When the community is an audience for testimony sharing you are measured according to what has been written in your testimonies. You are not, however, measured by your actual real life situation and circumstances – so you either dress up the testimony to your audience or you bury yourself in condemnation because you cannot measure up as a shepherd. May I mention that any communal prayer can actually be done at home or in a quiet place any time of the day – it does not have to be seen by the congregation to determine that you are actually praying to God.

  8. @gc: “Abuses are the result of not measuring up to – the UBF standard!” “…you either dress up the testimony to your audience or you bury yourself in condemnation because you cannot measure up…”

    Some UBF leaders think that the UBF standard is a “high standard,” not realizing how pathetic and pitiful it is compared to the gospel.

    • Not too long ago I showed a ubf message to a senior pastor. His only comment was “It is very shallow”.

    • Mark Mederich

      let’s face it, if religion doesn’t wake up & smell the coffee, it’s heading for an apocalypse of it’s own making

  9. Someone I do not know sent me an email with this quote to say that what I write suggests bitterness in me:

    “People who have a root of bitterness find it easy to get upset over things that other’s are doing around them. It is easy for them to look at the circumstances around them as the source of their problems, rather than seeing how they are handling those circumstances. Instead of letting it go and forgiving, they let it get to them, and it devours them alive. This is a very common route by which demons enter people today.”

    I do welcome correction and rebuke for any comments of mine that suggests bitterness in my heart, which I may not be able to see or perceive, or which may be my own glaring blind spot.

    • Mark Mederich

      sure, people in North Korea are not starving/tortured, they’re just bitter..

      kids were not abused by priests/covered up by bishops, the kids were just bitter..

      women are not raped, their just bitter..

      the world & religion gotta learn a lesson: the problem bigger than the transgression is the coverup which continues it

    • Mark Mederich

      let’s face it, if religion doesn’t wake up & smell the coffee, it’s heading for an apocalypse of it’s own making

    • “sure, people in North Korea are not starving/tortured, they’re just bitter..”

      Right, Mark. We could go on and on.

      Those who are still talking about the Holocaust are just bitter.

      Paul was just bitter in 1 Cor 5 and 2 Cor 11:19-21 and Gal 2:14. Even Jesus was bitter in Jn 2:15 and Rev 2:14.

    • Mark Mederich

      @Chris: yeah, Jesus was bitterest of all:)

      those doggone Pharisees just kept pulling Woes out of poor Jesus mouth..

  10. Ben, that person’s advice is assinine. The bible speaks almost nothing about how demons enter people. Revelation 16:14 indicates one possibility is that demons enter “kings of the world”. So a more accurate route by which demons enter people would be through excessive power and authority more than bitterness.

    I think bitterness is allowed at times, as in Job 7:11 or Job 10:1. Proverbs and Psalms speaks many times of expressing bitterness, so I think it is healhty from time to time, as in Proverbs 14:10, Psalms 71:20 among others. The bible speaks to accepting that bitterness is a human emotion that does exist.

    Why can’t ubf people just live in reality? Bitter is bitter. Sin is sin. Anger is anger. Joy is joy. Love is love. Just live your life and be yourself.

    • So if ubfers want to talk about “giving the devil a foothold”, let’s have Ephesians 4:25-27 as a main message as the ISBC. All of Ephesians 4 actually.

    • Mark Mederich

      they don’t want to resolve the problem, they want to blame the reaction to the problem

  11. So let’s be truthful. We can be bitter. We can be angry. We can be sad. We can be happy. We can display an entire beautiful array of human emotion.

    BUT WE CANNOT LORD AUTHORITY OVER ANOTHER HUMAN BEING! Demons do not enter people through their emotions but through their pride, arrogance and lust for power, glory and authority.

    • Mark Mederich

      AMEN. so when first coming they want to pretend to praise us to distract & control, or incite bondage along with them (demons inspire hosts to find more hosts)

  12. @Brian, if you care to read it, this is the article this person sent me regarding “bitterness and unforgiveness in my heart”:

    If I may ask, are not some UBF missionaries “bitter” because those sheep whom they loved and served for decades just upped and left without any clear articulation to them as to how grateful, indebted and thankful they were for being so loved and served?

    • Yes some ubf missionaries are bitter, I agree. But I don’t agree with that reasoning, Ben. In my case, I gave “clear articulation” as to my gratefulness for 24 years. And I took the route of a 4 month process to leave, so it was not quick. And most of us never wanted to leave. I tried for 9 years (since 2003) to find a reason to stay.

      Any ubf missionary who claims such a thing as you say Ben is just playing the “alligator tears” card. Yet another card in the deck of deceit used by most ubf missionaries.

    • Ben, I would say the “great bible study” site needs some “great help”. But of course I am Hereticman, so what do I know?

    • Mark Mederich

      gee i’m not a bit bitter, but if i was it seems the “great bible study” would tell me to vent it out/talk it out so as not to harm self by bottling up..

  13. Ben, in regard to your article, we have only seen the tip of the iceberg of the “ugly” in ubf on this website. The ubf rug cannot hold anything else because so much has been swept under it. Either stuff under the rug will just explode or the rug will be ripped off. What other options are there?

    • Mark Mederich

      don’t tempt ’em, they’ll find a bigger rug..

  14. Ben, speaking of the ugly side of ubf, the ugly keeps going on as we speak. Take a look at the change to the ubf Wikipedia article someone from the Washington D.C. area tried to make today:

    Original article text:

    “Some outside observers and former members describe the group as cult-like and/or “abusive.”

    The Washington D.C. person tried to anonymously make it:

    “Many former bible students view this ministry as effective in their life, and although a tough lifestyle, an overall benefiting one.”

    Glad the Wikipedians don’t allow this kind of drive-by crap.

    It is so important for us to keep speaking up, even if we become bitter from time to time or even if we re-cycle some of the same stories. We must raise our voices. If not, then ubfers will just re-write history and blot us out.

    • This should be a red flag for any person seriously considering the integrity of UBF that instead of addressing the allegations of abuse, it is resorting to changing it’s profile on Wikipedia. The revision that someone (likely a member of Washington UBF) tried to make is pitiful and a complete distortion of truth. Most exUBFers I know, myself included, would agree that UBF has abusive elements.

  15. “It’s not the abuse or rape, but the bitterness and unhealthy feelings that build up within a person who has been taken advantage of.”

    This quote from the article you referenced is revolting. I don’t find the “” great at all!

  16. More Ugly: Now, I just received a reply from a close brother who used to be part of my home chapter. I emailed him recently because of thinking about true friendships that were once made, but then became roadkill on the highway of UBF:

    “It is great to hear from you after all this time. I too had thought of contacting you many a time, but was afraid to do so. I was afraid that you may of been upset at my leaving UBF.”

    Had he been aware that I valued his friendship he would not have been afraid at my reaction, but it is clear that once he left UBF that meant he lost all of his friends too! About me, this is not true.

    “I would of loved to be at your wedding, however I probably wouldn’t of come if you had invited me given that I’m not on the best of terms with some UBF members (nothing ruins a wedding like a heated argument).”

    Please note, I could not invite many extra people to my wedding because of space limitation – in his case, I didn’t because we had been out of contact for a long time.

    • Mark Mederich

      sad how organizations promote division under pretense of piety

      simply a way to get bigger share of pie by reducing members

      better to be true friends than have false connections

  17. Mark Mederich

    the time of helpful dialogue is ending, the time of definitive action is coming

  18. Let’s be honest.
    The good, bad and ugly all exist.
    Some like to say there’s only good, some like to say there is only ugly; neither are true.
    This is a fact you can’t wave away with politically correct terms and sweet words like “unintentional” or “accidental” or “unaware of the culture”. Or “they’re all heretics”…
    And the good does NOT justify the bad nor the ugly. Life doesn’t work that way. A good deed doesn’t nullify a bad one.
    Furthermore when the ugly resurfaces; it is all the more reason to stop it, not ignore it saying others went through it, survived and are fine.

    Christian theology is all about admitting you’re wrong, ‘fessing up. Being honest, living in the light. Let’s shed some light on the state our church and theology is. Like it’s been said before, there’s gangrene and if it’s not removed it’ll destroy everything.

    • Mark Mederich

      gangrene leads to amputation, so the wise will do right before it’s too late;
      (it’s never too late to do right, until it’s too late)

  19. “And the good does NOT justify the bad nor the ugly. Life doesn’t work that way.”

    That’s right, MJ. Even in the world, it doesn’t work that way. But in the spiritual world, it doesn’t work at all. Pauls makes it so clear when he wrote “A little leaven leavens the whole lump of dough.”

  20. and James 2:10

    “For whoever keeps the whole law and yet stumbles at just one point is guilty of breaking all of it.”

  21. Yeah, MJ, the good in UBF does not and can never ever justify the bad/ugly in UBF. That was what I was attempting to say in a previous post:

    UBF missionaries have clearly done many many good things. But the good things they have done cannot negate, cancel or balance the bad/ugly things that were done.

    I believe that when the senior UBF leadership accepts this basic biblical truth, we will begin to make some progress. Until then, some UBF leaders will keep making excuses, justify the bad/ugly, misquote the Bible and take Bible verses out of context, simply to insist that UBF is good and that UBF’s good exceeds and excuses her bad/ugly.

    • Mark Mederich

      whatever our “holy grail” is will imbibe us; if we seek a leader, a leader we shall find; if we seek an organization, an organization we shall find; if we seek truth, then truth we shall find; Paul sought to know Christ, Christ he found

  22. North Korea news agency started to show its news on facebook. You can be sure that NK news are always ABSOLUTELY POSITIVE, good and there is no bad, neither ugly side of this “country of people’s happiness”. ubf’s newsletter and conferences and sogams and messages and reports, etc are the same. Does ubf want to be ever similar with NK?

  23. btw I know with what Bible verses this Korean Confucian idea is clothed. I was taught to be absolutely positive and never think negatively especially about “the servants of God” with Rom.8:6,7 “For to be carnally minded is death; but to be spiritually minded is life and peace. Because the carnal mind is enmity against God: for it is not subject to the law of God, neither indeed can be”. “Carnal means negative and spiritual means ever positive” – such was the teaching.

  24. @Chris, I am linking your comment to my article because it addresses a major ongoing problem among older UBF leaders:

    In my post, I asked an awkward question: “To UBF loyalists, can the good you experienced in UBF not hold you back from clearly addressing, confronting and condemning what is bad and ugly about UBF?”

    Chris, your response seems to say that perhaps some cannot simply stop the bad/ugly “spiritual abuses.” I won’t go so far as to say that they are not born again. But I would say that longstanding cultural Confucian influences hinder it from being urgently addressed. It totally violates the “junzi gentlemen ideal” and the other Confucian words mentioned in Brian’s article on Confucius.

    It is messy, it exposes weaknesses and shame, it creates vulnerability, and it challenges those who want to safe face, etc. Even after 50 years, it apparently can’t be clearly confronted and dealt with.