He/She is a Mental Patient

chickenTragic caricature. The labeling and caricature of anyone is never justifiable. It is certainly not loving nor is it Christ-like behavior. For decades I have heard shepherds and missionaries refer to one of their congregants or Bible students as “a mental patient.” Sadly, I said nothing. Even more sadly, I likely even agreed with them. Though I do not recall labeling anyone “a mental patient,” I have my share of caricatures by referring to others as stubborn, proud, unthankful, lazy, never listening, full of cursed woman’s desire or full of marriage problem. Only by God’s mercy and grace, God has helped me to not label or caricature others anymore. Then again, I think I might consider certain people as “Pharisee,” probably because I am closest to that label myself!

Tragic suicides. Earlier this year, Rick Warren’s son commited suicide at age 27 after decades of suffering from mental illness, depression and suicidal thoughts. Today, news broke of a mega-church pastor in Florida committing suicide. Isaac Hunter was 36 years old and the father of three. His father, Joel Hunter is also a megachurch pastor and a spiritual advisor of President Obama.

Even in UBF. I am not writing this to discuss why Christians commit suicide. Rather, I am posting this with the hope that we will no longer refer to anyone as a mental patient. Sadly and tragically, suicides occur in UBF as well–among Bible students, children of leaders, and notable leaders. The pain this has caused is unspeakable. Yet, I hope that some day these tragedies will be addressed publicly rather than keeping silent about and acting as though it is too discouraging or too shameful to discuss.

Despicable phrases. There are phrases that we use in UBF that are simply horrible and that hopefully is on the decline if not eliminated entirely. I think that “he/she ran away” is no longer used with any regularity to refer to anyone who left UBF. Hopefully, “keep spiritual order and just obey” is also on the decline (even if it might still be implicitly communicated). I am thinking and hoping that “selfish Americans,” or “‘P’ mentality,” or “Polish pride,” or any negative caricature of any ethnicity from Canada, Russia, Germany, etc, will no longer be used in UBF. To those who think that this is no big deal, it would be similar to saying “wife beating Koreans.” It is highly offensive and never ever justifiable or defensible. It is certainly not the way Christians should ever talk (Col 3:16; 4:6; ; Eph 4:15), not even in private (Lk 12:3).

Will we stop caricaturing others? Has UBF stopped referring to others as “a mental patient”?


  1. I say, it takes one to know one.

  2. It is definately a failing of the discipling movement. In any church is it possible for people to gossip and slandor? Of course it is. The main problem I see in the relationships we develop in UBF can be described as goal oriented. As I said some time ago – we are coworkers first and not really friends at all.

    The goal that draws us together should be to share the gospel. The love of Christ should be the first and foremost in our actions and there should be a desire to see others come into the forgiveness of sin. But sadly, the goal has been usurped by the reporting lists and wall charts. UBF the corporation has taken the place of the simple follower of Jesus Christ who acts upon earnest sincerity to see others form and develop a relationship with their saviour and Lord.

    The statistics have resulted in a competition between anyone attending UBF. It has resulted in a sense of ownership, success vs. failure, love vs. hate and so much more.

    Name calling is definately a show of “my” will and not “HIS” will. Jesus comforted his disciples even when they abandoned him. When he appeared to them he did not name call, he simply spoke to them with love and reassurance of his mission completed and gave them direction.

    When students fail to meet expectations any church leader should respond with love and care instead of impatience and negligence. Are we spiritually weak or strong? Do we have a “marriage” problem? Are we proud or rebellious? Do we need years of Bible study or simply just work like magic in one session? Do we question authority or just simply obey? Are we troublemakers or peacemakers? …. Comments can be endless ….

    Name calling is simply a byproduct of mission and purpose gone wrong. If we (as servants of Jesus) truly desired only to bring others the gospel than we would refrain from such behaviour. But, in the discipling movement as many of us have experienced there is punishment and reward for those who are “successful” or “unsuccessful” at raising and making disciples. Spiritual growth is not defined by actual spiritual behaviour or understanding. It is rather defined by obedience to rigid rules set in place for the growth of the church. This obedience to rules is seen as growth and for anyone who is rather taking the time to understand themselves in a relationship and context with God alone it is not seen as such.

    What can we say to the one who wants to know their personal God first? How can we reassure them that they are no less Christian because they do not adhere to all of the corporate demands in the public eye? For the one who wants to know God deeply and personally through private study and prayer is UBF compatible? Should only seekers of community with no real love interest in God and His word be at the core of UBF administration? Are these people really looking ahead and climbing the “spiritual” corporate ladder?

    Focusing on a singular level of relationship with God is seen as disobedient and selfish (that is the believer and God). However, inviting and teaching (whereupon, there is little/no faith nor understanding of the comprehensive text of the Bible) is applauded and commended. I have a difficulty to accept that the status quo on Bible narratives and lectures or scripts should be central from a committee at the top level of corporate UBF. Yes, we need to be clear on fundamentals of faith and variance should be cut off on matters that are theologically understood. But, we have to be clear that UBF theology agrees with that of all Christian theology and sadly many aspects fail.

    So, why do we name call when students or coworkers fail to meet OUR expectations? How can we overcome this dilemma which reveals the lack of love that Jesus so preached to all of his followers?

  3. Thanks, gc, for your elaborate commentary that touches on many issues. Perhaps, if I may re-state what you shared, perhaps it is this:

    UBF does not deny Christ. In fact, I believe many UBF leaders love Jesus. But when they communicate/teach the Bible, Christ is affirmed or assumed but it is NOT central, pivotal or primary. Rather, instead of Christ and the gospel being central, the take home message is invariably some command, instruction or imperative. It is something UBF expects of her members to absolutely do, which is to keep UBF’s core values and so-called spiritual legacies, which everybody knows.

    Then when this is not kept absolutely, then name-calling and gossip unfortunately has happened, “You selfish, rebellious, proud, disobedient sinner!”

    • “UBF does not deny Christ.”

      Some ubf people may not deny Christ, but many ubf shepherd and missionaries do deny Christ, and the heritage does.

      The ubf heritage does deny Christ. The ubf heritage is a form of the shepherding ideology that denies Christ the role only He should have–Shepherd. ubf heritage is rooted in a binary view of God–Father and Son, and so denies Jesus as the Christ who came to send the Holy Spirit.

      ubf missionaries deny Christ’s rule in the lives of the converts ubf finds on campuses around the world. ubf missionaries tend to rule over young people’s lives, making their big choices for them such as marriage, lifestyle, location, etc. They deny Christ with subtle, manipulative tactics that are very difficult for an 18 years old to discern, so difficult in fact, that young people on their own for the first time in their life can’t possibly imagine how harmful it is to bind ubf heritage to bible verses.

    • I waited for more people to chime in for one direction or another, but I will add an additional comment. I agree with both conclusions drawn from you guys.

      But, for Ben, my only precaution about your summary is that it feels a little like the editing of a before/after testimony. I cannot really make a disagreement with the points gathered from what I wrote, but there are essential details that illustrate why I chose to say what I said. I want to be careful overall, especially with the new circumstances. I don’t want to strictly wave a finger at UBF, but more so at any church which focuses on discipling and shepherding. People are often the victims of name calling or judgment because they do not do all that is asked of them. It becomes like the old saying about a rock and a hard place. You want to leave, even you are often trampled, pushed aside and criticized for not meeting expectations. Yet, at the same time if you try to leave people will come at you and encourage you to stay – this leaves an individual conflicted and confused. The reality remains that if you step up and do all that is asked of you in the frequency expected name calling ceases. However, I caveat it because it is my experience at church and also in my workplace that first impressions or any negative impression may be emphasized and lorded over you for life in the context of our cultural environment. Once a negative impression has been made it seems impossible to break it by such a human standard. This is where Jesus is faultless.

      Regarding BK, the heritage is exactly the matter. The worst thing about the vulnerablity of future decisions for young people is so obvious. We can see it when parents have dreams for their children and their children are completely opposite. So much more, when I or anyone else attempts to guide and direct someone to the “best” calling in Jesus and all that is implied. All we can do is teach and encourage and love in fellowship – we should not be coersing people to do as we did and live as we live. We know how we feel behind closed doors when only God can see us. For those who are intolerant of being called this or that way go back to the Bible.

      It is a shame I cannot expand beyond the example of UBF, but it is where my experience lies. The point of the article remains don’t call people names. But actually the title suggests an even worse reaction to people. To call someone a mental patient is typical of the cultural environment. However, how sensitive are we to those who are prohibited from dating and want to marry? How do we feel about someone who cannot conceive and cries when they are around children? How do support someone who has a history of miscarriage and consequently has obvious scars? How do look past someone with a wild past and maybe even a criminal record?

      I could ask many more questions, but the one’s I have touched on are directly from personal social relationships in my life whereupon people have been judged as maybe being unstable and yes a mental patient.

    • Mark Mederich

      yes heritage vs reality

  4. Thanks, gc, I think this nails it: “People are often the victims of name calling or judgment because they do not do all that is asked of them. You are often trampled, pushed aside and criticized for not meeting expectations. Yet, at the same time if you try to leave people will come at you and encourage you to stay – this leaves an individual conflicted and confused. The reality remains that if you step up and do all that is asked of you in the frequency expected name calling ceases.” – See more at: http://www.ubfriends.org/2013/12/12/heshe-is-a-mental-patient/#comment-11692

    To relate this to Joe’s article, UBF is in some sense crystal clear about herself and her message/mission (like Billy Sunday)–which has its own appeal at least initially–so much so that she often seems no longer able to truly listen to others, or to hear a different perspective or paradigm, such as UBFriends. Unless it is the UBF way all the way, there seems to be not much meeting of the minds.

  5. Joe Schafer

    From my perspective, the issue is this: Somewhere along the line, ubf-ers acquired the notion that we could diagnose people’s spiritual conditions and identify what their problems were. Some were called “mental patients.” Others were said to have a “marriage problem.” I was said to suffer from “honor student’s syndrome.”

    This is one of the saddest parts of the legacy of SL. Week after week, after every leader’s meeting and worship service, he would stand at the podium giving his announcements. He would spin elaborate tales about people in the ministry, claiming that their problem was this or that. In many cases, he misunderstood or mis-respresented or spun or simply fabricated the facts of what was actually happening in their lives. At a gut level, many of us knew that what he was doing was wrong. And yet we didn’t call him out. We allowed him to continue, and when he gave a diagnosis, we accepted it and repeated it as though it was truthful.

    And we began to emulate him. We actually believed that this was what a leader was supposed to do. We thought that, because God had called us to be shepherds and Bible teachers and disciplemakers, we had the right (in fact, the duty) to diagnose peoples’ spiritual maladies. We gossiped and slandered and bore false witness about many who passed through the ministry. And we had the audacity to believe that this was an effective and godly method of pastoral counseling. It was manipulative and dehumanizing. It was truly unChristlike and inconsistent with the gospel, yet we told ourselves that we doing exactly what Jesus and the Apostle Paul did. I am deeply ashamed to have participated in that. I hope others are ashamed as well.

    • Mark Mederich

      the real mental patient is not he with problem caused by legalism/who is seeking help to get better, but he who due to self-righteous elitism, thinks he has no problem/is actually living a fantasy..

  6. “For decades I have heard shepherds and missionaries refer to one of their congregants or Bible students as ‘a mental patient.'”

    I appreciate that you address such issues, Ben. But you probably guess already what I have to criticize about your writing. You say “I have heard shepherds and missionaries do that thing”. But if you’re honest, it was primarily one man Samuel Lee who used such language. If others started using that language, too, then only because they believed Lee was a prototype leader who should be imitated. But they were only poor copy of Lee. I have newsletter articles in which he called an ex UBF shepherdess “a fat lady who resembled a globe”. She was also labelled a “brainwashed vegetable woman” by Lee after she left UBF. If you go through his writings, you will find many such examples. Lee also liked generalizations; I remember one letter in which he claimed that “there is not single American police officer who is no fat”. And these were only the things he said publicly or put in writing. I really don’t want to know what language he used in private. So, I think it’s not fair of you to vaguely accuse “shepherds and missionaries” without mentioning the name of Samuel Lee. And at the same time you’re claiming that Samuel Lee was such a good mentor for you. How can any person who insults people in such ways be a good mentor? As you admit yourself, you once (while under the influence of Lee) even agreed with such wordings. Doesn’t this show that Lee influenced you in a wrong direction? Why do you still hold up the fantasy that Samuel Lee was somehow a good mentor for you? He wasn’t. He was a bad mentor for everybody, and it is time that you and other long time members start to recognize this and speak it out.

    Let me ask you a hypothetical question: How do you think you would have developed if Samuel Lee had lived longer, and you had to continue to work very close to him, attending these meetings where he labelled people “mental patients” and worse? Do you think you would have recognized the problem and changed your attitude? You say “Only by God’s mercy and grace, God has helped me to not label or caricature others anymore.” But wasn’t it also the help of being away from Chicago headquarters, of reading good books by Christian scholars, of discussing with open-minded people like Joe, and spending more time with normal people like your wife or kids instead of top UBF leaders like Lee? Why don’t you give credit to these people and circumstances, as you gave to Lee?

    And a second question: Assuming you stayed close to Lee and still by the grace of God had been able to see the problem like you do today. Would you have challenged Lee because of this? Would you have “opposed him to his face” as Paul did when Peter started to behave wrongly? (Btw, what Peter did was a minor thing in comparison to the things Lee did.)

    And a third and last question, how do you think Lee would have responded when somebody like you challenged him? What would have happened? There were very few who dared to do this. One of them was Jimmy Rhee who criticize him because of an ordered abortion. Then Lee started throwing a chair after him (maybe we should donate that chair to the UBF museum?). And of course, Jimmy became an ex UBFer. Nobody who criticized Lee could stay in UBF. So you would have become one of us ex UBFers, too.

    • Mark Mederich

      obviously lee was insecure which led to compensational condescension of others; narrow-minded judgmentalism is contagious in a bad way..

  7. I dont think it is only SL who did this. I had a friend who loved being in UBF but had to leave after she was labeled with a mental disorder for starting a relationship (as a opposed to a courtship) with another UBF member.

    I never understood how they could go from won’t obey our courting traditions to…. mental disorder. As you can imagine, she was extremely hurt by all of this.

    • Yes, there were probably others who copied him, but Samuel Lee was still the role model and also the one who came up with all the strange ideas about marriage in the first place (wich are very different from “courtship” practices in fundamentalist churches). In my chapter, I did not hear it so often. But I heared people, usually women, being diagnosed with a “marriage problem”. These were all ideas made up by Samuel Lee and propagated in his messages.

    • Why didnt any of the other UBF members call him on this? Why did they allow him to think he was qualified to diagnose a mental problem? I just dont understand how this man (I never personally met him) could have that much charisma to get away with so much.

      Was it pure respect? Fear?

    • “Why didnt any of the other UBF members call him on this?”

      See my attempt of an answer below. But don’t forget that there were also people like James Kim (Toledo director), Peter Chang (Columbus director) and Jimmy Rhee (Chicago) who have called him out. The result was that they were marginalized, demonized and pushed out. This also happened to the reformers in 1976 and 2001. They all were pushed out of UBF when they dared to criticize Lee. It’s not true that they “left” or “ran away” as the history forgers in UBF always tell you. They were expelled. The real question is why did the other UBFers allow this to happen? Part of the answer is probably that they were misinformed, but another part is that they actually did not want to be informed. They also did not want to get cracks in their system in which Samuel Lee was “God’s servant”.

    • “I dont think it is only SL who did this.”

      Correct. Name-calling and name-changing is rampant in ubf. All Korean ubfers take on some famous bible name, often from the OT, to further bind your mind to their supposed identity as “God’s servant”.

      Only ubfers don’t call it “name-calling”, it is called “spiritual diagnosis”. ubfers love to pretend they are “high-quality” spiritual doctors who can diagnose your “sin disease” nearly instantly.

      I heard people called mental patient, lazy demon, fat demon, couch-potato demon, sports demon, on and on… some were called by army general names (can’t remember what ones) but if somebody made a mistake similar to a mistake by an army general, they were called that name.

      All those were temporary names, shared at a leader’s prayer meeting or fellowship meetings. But ubfers also practice permanent name changes. They create names to shame a person into “working harder” or “having vision” or “praying more”.

      And of course all these names are bound to bible verses as proof-text justification.

    • Mark Mederich

      those who proclaimed others mental have now been judged by the Spirit as most mental, HALLELUJAH!

    • Mark Mederich

      those who have marginalized, shall themselves be marginalized..

  8. Gerardo, you could ask the same question about all cult leaders, and all dictators in this world. Sure, a part of it is fear. While dictators threaten people with physical death or prison, cult leaders threaten them with spiritual death or bad luck if they don’t obey. Samuel Lee preached such things from the pulpit (I can re-quote some passages if you don’t believe), and that’s one of the reasons why I consider him a cult leader. Cult leaders and dictators also establish a “system” that gives members a framework of thinking and a vision. People want to stay in that system in order to not loose its blessing and become ordinary people like all others outside the system again. In that framework, everything the leader or dictator says and does makes sense. Also, it’s a slow process. Every small abuse that is tolerated sets the stage for the next step. People become used to it. You start considering these things as normal when nobody else complains. Much of it is psychology. I agree with you that it’s very difficult to understand why they do it and how they do it, but history tells us it just happens. Since I was a child I always asked myself how Hitler could get away with so much. Did he have that much charisma? To me, he looks ugly and his speeches are repugnant. No charisma at all. But people who were in the system and mood at that time apparently thought different.

  9. “I just dont understand how this man (I never personally met him) could have that much charisma to get away with so much.” – See more at: http://www.ubfriends.org/2013/12/12/heshe-is-a-mental-patient/#comment-11705

    Good questions Gerardo! I hope people around the world take time to think through your questions, instead of just quickly concluding that ubf is so good.

    Many Koreans, Germans, Americans, Canadians, Russians, Ukrainians, etc. have indeed called out Slee and the approximately 20 infamous power mongers in ubf leadership. Those who called out Slee were reformers but were labelled as rebels. What happened to them? Well they were officially kicked out in 1976 and 2001 and at other times. Others were mistreated in many ways and driven away.

    In regard to charisma, ubf Koreans including Slee were about as charismatic as a dead squid. They don’t control people with charisma. In fact ubfers usually say those charasmatic people are so sinful and one step above the dreaded hallelujah Christians…

    ubfers control with bible verses (binding shepherding ideology to the bible), with the threat of shame (who wants to endure shame?), with the “debtor’s ethic” (be thankful always) and with the “alligator tear method” (oh would you please give me a cup of cold water? I’m such a helpless missionary who doesn’t know what to do in this land). They also control young people with the “promise of blessing”, love-bombing them at first and “letting the sheep play” at first and the vague carrot-dangling of one day becoming a missionary with a “great name”.

    ubf is not a typical cult centered on a charismatic leader, but a cult centered around a deeply flawed shepherding heritage system, held together only by the loyalty of enablers.

    • Mark Mederich

      the kicked out & maltreated were saved from the deepest hell..they now increase wisdom/strength to rule God’s kingdom; the transgressors are starting to quiver in body & soul, realizing their error/secretly trying to make recompense before abomination leads to desolation

  10. The thing is that Samuel Lee successfully managed to make others believe that he was “the servant of God”. And when UBFers speak say “the servant of God” they mean a figure like Moses because only Moses had that title “the servant of God” in the Bible. This became apparent to me when during the 2001 reform, criticism of Samuel Lee was compared with the rebellion of Korah. That means that Samuel Lee himself was compared with Moses. And opposing a Mose-like figure was like opposing God himself. It didn’t matter whether the man had charisma or not. He was Moses.

    Brian is right in that the underlying problem is the shepherding/covering paradigm according to which shepherds are not ordinary believers like everybody else, but are “mediators”. Through these mediators you get all blessings, including marriage. You can proof your obedience to God by obeying the mediator. You can proof your thankfulness to God by being thankful to the mediator. And of course, you would never criticize the mediator because that would mean criticizing God. That’s the mechanism at work in groups that implement shepherding/covering like UBF.

    In his hubris, Samuel Lee usurped a role that no Christian should have, the role of a mediator and leader that is reserved to Jesus Christ alone. And yes, it was he himself who claimed to have that role, not others who attributed it to him.

    I think his trick was to turn all the happiness and thankfulness of new believers into thankfulness and obedience to himself, the “visible servant of God” as he was also called. He created a system in which it was impossible to criticize him or to even believe he could do anything wrong. A visible representative of God simply cannot do anything wrong. If we still feel something was wrong, that was because we simply were not spiritual enough. In the “system” we could not trust our feeling anyway. Obedience and “faith” replaced feelings.

  11. Thanks everyone for your replies. Many good points. I guess my surprise comes from the fact that I dont consider UBF a cult. I am extremely ignorant of the whole UBF system.

    I do have to admit that many of the comments here do make me wonder if UBF is, at the very least, “cult like.” I always chalked the whole cult like label to cultural differences which rub independent minded americans the wrong way. But I am beginning to think that it might be both cultural differences and cult like disciplinary practices.

    • Gerardo, while cultural differences play a certain role, I don’t think they play the major role here. Otherwise, how do you explain that all the reform movements including the 2001 movement were started by Korean members? Just read the open letter to Samuel Lee written by the 7 senior shepherd in Korea. There was no cultural difference between the people who wrote the letter and the recepient. The “it’s all cultural misunderstandings” excuse is one of the big perpetual lies of UBF, and I’m not getting tired of pointing this out. You can also look at it from a different angle, by comparing UBF with the ICC which is a shepherding/discipling movement of the same ilk, but based on American culture. Yet they have the exactly same problems. When I read the open letter by Kriete that talks about the problems of the ICC, it was like it had been written for UBF as well. So as you see it’s not an issue of American vs. Korean culture. Such systems can established everywhere. If you say it’s a cultural issue, then the culture of which we are speaking is the “shepherding/discipling” culture, not some national culture. Sure, Korean Confucianism added on top of Christianity makes things worse. While most American shepherding/discipling movements have meanwhile renounced their teachings, UBF is still going on, unable to repent for anything, but instead celebrating itself and its founder every year, despite of all the obvious sins and the swath of desctruction and hurt they have caused. But the Korean element is not the core issue of UBF. It’s in fact the whole UBF system with all its unspoken rules and practices and teachings established by Samuel Lee. Things can only changed when people start to see and address this very clearly.

    • Mark Mederich

      blaming culture is shedding personal responsibility & is unfair to sincere aspects of culture; aberrant practices which fail ‘gut feeling’ sense of rightness/goodness must simply be exposed/repented/avoided

  12. I was called many names by Cinti Ubf like point, live with street mentality…..It is insane but there is no love….Can’t wait to get our book out “the year the world ended” happy to share the truth in love….Happy to say we are close now…..Hope the whole world reads it

  13. If anyone wants a copy send 20.00 To BIG Bear 412 LEHMER STREET, Covington, KY 41011

  14. if send check. make out to MICHAEL Martin…..Proceeds from book will help children with couseling fees…..And the cost to publish…..

  15. if send check. make out to MICHAEL Martin…..Proceeds from book will help children with couseling fees…..And the cost to publish…..Do believe every new recruit and member of ubf should read…The truth in love…..Thank BRIAN Karcher for his awesome help…..

  16. Yes bigbear, your book tells a much needed story. The world needs to hear the hell you and your family went through. It is amazing that you are able to avoid blaming ubf and at the same time expose the ways in which your ubf community failed your family.

    And your story reveals the spiritually damaging aspects of the ubf heritage, some of which all of us ubfers experienced to some degree. And even more importantly, your story reveals the grace of God and inspires the reader to cherish and love their own family.

    2014 will be a year of an avalanche of former ubf members’ stories. ubf leaders wont listen, but thank God many “sheep” will.