The Good Things I Saw Samuel Lee Do

LeeA monster? If someone had never met Samuel Lee and all they knew about him they read on the Internet, then he is an egotistical megalomaniac and a cruel, heartless, manipulative, abusive monster who has no redeeming factor or Christian virtues whatsoever.

A machtmensh? Whenever I state anything complimentary about Lee, it is questioned and interpreted in the worst possible light. He is manipulative. He is a power monger (a “machtmensch”). His motive and intent was to enslave you to him and to UBF. Etc. There are elements of truth to this.

Loving Lee. I am not disputing some questionable decisions Lee made, the indefensible things he said in his announcements or wrote in his manuscripts, or his unchallenged and unhealthy authoritarian leadership. Many in UBF know this to be true, even if they will NEVER EVER publicly say so. They still love him like their father, and as the co-founder of UBF, and as their leader, pastor and Bible teacher, through whose lips they heard the gospel of their salvation and became genuine Christians. Can anyone blame them for fondly loving Lee, even while knowing some of his inexcusable flaws and sins?

These are some reasons why many, myself included, have loving sentiments toward Lee.

He is funny. He had a sense of humor. He could make you laugh and cry, not with crass jokes, but with an understanding of the complexity and contradiction of humanity (perhaps like a Christian version of Chris Rock). Lee was often entertaining, just as George Whitfield and Billy Sunday were. As someone said, which I agree, Lee made serving God fun.

He is creative and inspiring. He was not boring or predictable. He often shocked and surprised you in ways that compelled you to think deeply.

Homo unius libri. He was always spirited and excited about Jesus and the Bible. In his own imperfect way, he was truly a homo unius libri.

Intuition. He had an intuitive sense about people. Of course he was sometimes wrong. But more often than not, he saw the very best in people. I always felt that he saw me with eyes of hope, love and potential. I know many others who feel the same way.

Embracing. He was generous and gracious toward those who are broken, wounded and weak. He helped me to be forbearing, gentle and kind toward those whom I often felt very impatient with. Yes, he was quite harsh with some, usually with the UBF staff and leaders under him. But he was unbelievably kind, warm, patient and embracing toward so many. I can never forget him saying, “If a man’s leg is broken, you can mend his leg. But if his heart is broken, who can mend it?” For over two decades I heard him express such similar sentiments with genuine heartfelt love, compassion and understanding. Through his good influence, I came to gradually understand the God of endless love and compassion, the God who is endlessly long suffering, patient, kind and tolerant.

Legacy. Yes, Lee embellished stories that were exaggerations or lies. But sometimes even these were funny (as long as it was not about you!). Yes, he was authoritarian; he had no accountability structures in place, and he expected unquestioning obedience to him. Yes, all UBFers were “scared to death” of him, and would never question him or disagree with him. Yes, he surrounded himself with “Yes men.” Yes, he trained people until many in UBF are homogenous clones. Yes, he was harsh and cruel to those who disagreed with him, or challenged his authority, or who who did not meet his expectations. Yes, he publicly and privately humiliated and caricatured people. Yes, he made fellow UBFers compete rather than collaborate. Because of these, UBF is NOT a healthy church today. Not a few leaders are untouchable. Our friendships, interpersonal relationships and trust are suboptimal.

The truth? I believe Lee had inner wounds that were not fully healed by Christ (perhaps like us). Yes, many of the negative things said about him were true. But it is also true that he was filled with the Holy Spirit and led many to Christ. Also, his leadership inspired many to love Jesus, the Bible, evangelism and mission, even to this day.

I am still excited about Jesus today because of the work of the Holy Spirit in me. I am sorry if some find it offensive and hurtful that I attribute this to Lee.


  1. Thanks for expressing this, Ben. I personally don’t know what to think about Lee. I met him only 4 times. My only comment is that a whole lot of ubfers should take the two pieces of advice I heard him give: 1) don’t build large bible centers and 2) be broad-minded and narrow-hearted.

    As you say, all people are good and bad, mixed together. Systems however are different. Systems are in constant need of change, otherwise they become enslaving.

    It is the 12 point heritage system and ideology of ubf that I continue to call out as harmful and abusive. With or without Lee, the ubf heritage is dangerous because it is divisive, whether some teach it knowingly or unknowingly.

    Any gathering of people will be a gathering of good/bad people and that’s why the ideology/system that is taught is highly important. And what is even more important is that the system/ideology taught is allowed and encouraged to be challenged, criticized and changed for the better.

    We can’t pretend that people in ubf who have a long history and passed the heritage tests are “ok” and “only do good”. Those “tests of faith” in the heritage are harmful because once you pass them, you are deemed “fit for service” and no one question you. My life in ubf became so much better after leaving Toledo and “pioneering” Detroit. Why? Because no one bothered me anymore! It was great at first. Then I realized the ubf heritage had given me unlimited authority and power and position within the realm of my own “chapter”. There were no checks and balances, and everything I did or said was accepted. And that scared me.

    So I blame the enablers (like myself) just as much as Lee and Barry. And my blame for Lee and Barry has more to do with what they did not do than with what they did do.

    The people who created the ubf system and we who gave over our key life decisions to the ubf system are both at fault for propagating the horrid shepherding ideologies.

  2. Ben there is something disturbing about your article though: Why do you often use the present tense when referring to Lee, such as “He is funny”? That is something I heard a lot in ubf, speaking as if Lee was alive even though he died 11 years ago.

  3. Why do you often use the present tense when referring to Lee, such as “He is funny”? – See more at:

    I was actually considering writing, “He was funny,” but I subjectively felt that “He is funny” sounded better. Even now when I remember Lee, most of my memories about him are “funny” and positive.

    The most traumatic thing he said about me was regarding my failure to “raise a 120 member fellowship,” which was the prayer topic he gave me. Since I failed, he once said during the Sun service announcements that God answered his prayer to raise 120 member fellowship through M. Peter Park of Nigeria, even though he prayed for “someone else” to raise 120 members.

    Maybe he shouldn’t have done that because everyone knew who the “someone else” was. And everyone laughed except me! I did feel sorry that I failed. But I took it as true. I did fail. I knew that I did not give my heart to Jesus. It was a humbling and sobering moment. I do not hold this against him, since I have known him for 2 decades. But I certainly would not advice anyone to do such things, because it causes people to become works and performance and number’s driven, which I strongly believe is not healthy.

    Despite this, my sentiments about him are still positive. I still thank God that because of him (rather than in spite of him) I love Jesus and the Bible.

  4. “It is the 12 point heritage system and ideology of ubf that I continue to call out as harmful and abusive.” – See more at:

    Brian, I tend to agree with this. Perhaps more so in the past, yet I still think that different chapter directors are implementing this to varying degrees.

    I am saying that it is likely that it is being “enforced” or implemented less today, partly (or mainly) because many of the strong advocates of this “12 point heritage system” are not able to influence their own adult children to embrace it.

    So to me, it would be highly hypocritical for any UBF leader or elder to try to implement and enforce this, when their own kids have either left UBF, or are not living by it in UBF, and are certainly not intending to teach it to their own children!

  5. I met SL a few times and he was there to pick a wife for me….the real question is can a church leader change his ways…in Ubf sheep are rebuked and asked to change but the leaders hide behind there is good and bad in everyone….this is true..but practices and behaviors that are abusive must be called out and changes must be made to help the flock….a ministry that wants its members to be quiet or does not have open dialogue is unhealthy and distructive

  6. Though extremely painful on “both sides,” this may be an appropriate reflection between UBF/Ex-UBF, pro-UBF/anti-UBF, UBFriends/UBFenemies, UBF leads people to Christ/UBF is a dangerous cult, love Lee/hate Lee, Lee is good/Lee is evil, etc, from Henri Nouwen:

    “Our enemy can be a parent, a child, a “friendly” neighbor, people with different lifestyles, people who do not think as we think, speak as we speak, or act as we act (a UBF sympathizer or a UBFer critiquer). They all can become “them.” Right there is where reconciliation is needed. Reconciliation touches the most hidden parts of our souls.”


  7. Ben, you raise a valid question: Why is there such a huge, ugly, messy chasm between ubfers and exubfers?

    The chasm exists for reasons that go way beyond a difference of opinion or differences in speaking or acting. The chasm exists for two root reasons: abuse and shepherding.

    Your point is invalid and Nouwen’s words (though good) are irrelevant to the schism that has surrounded ubf for over 50 years. Why? Because of the same two reasons: abuse and shepherding.

    Abuse of many kinds has happened in ubf. We cannot just turn a blind eye to it. Many have left ubf for 50 years because they either experienced some kind of abuse themselves or got fed up with nothing being done to end the abuse. I am talking about abuse of family, abuse of authority, abuse of sex, abuse of money, abuse of the bible, abuse of human rights and abuse of friendship. In that regard, ubf is nothing more than a smaller version Moon’s Unification church.

    Shepherding continues to be enslavement and abuse of loyalty in ubf. Shepherding in ubf is the equivalent of lording over type authority. Shepherding in ubf has caused so much pain and hardship, and destruction of families in the name of serving the shepherding mission.

    Until abuse and shepherding are publicly admitted, dealt with swiftly and renounced once and for all, the chasm will only grow wider and more grotesque. I am committed to make my dying wish a renouncement of both issues. I will be a voice of criticism and whistle-blowing on abuse and shepherding as long as the Lord gives me breath.

  8. Thanks, Brian, I do not disagree with you. I also personally desire for the authoritarian abusive practices in the name of shepherding to be acknowledged as bad/wrong and for it to end.

    To some degree I believe that it is diminishing. People are not as arrogant or authoritative, perhaps partly because they know that anyone can write on the internet about what they said or did, which I absolutely believe is a very good thing. So, some people are even hesitant and tentative when they speak with me, because they sincerely believe and think that anything they tell me will be immediately broadcasted to the whole world with all of its gory details and in living color.

    Yet, bad habits die hard. Human loyalties and commitments are as complex and complicated as human beings are. Please don’t misunderstand me in thinking that I am justifying or excusing such practices. Far from it. I have been calling it out and will continue to do so whenever they happen.

    But I hope to do so as someone who never left UBF (even though some people regard me as though I am as good as one who left!). I cannot do so by continually pointing out all of their sins and mistakes and abuses. I believe that I have already made my points loud and clear. Now I need to think of them and communicate with them in amicable ways, rather than in combative, dichotomous and accusatory ways.

    Brian, I still think that we are both on the same page, and that we both desire the same result. I believe that there are also many who are still in UBF who also desire the same result, even if they will NEVER EVER speak up.

    Thank God that God is in charge and in control of the entire process!

    • “To some degree I believe that it is diminishing. People are not as arrogant or authoritative, perhaps partly because they know that anyone can write on the internet about what they said or did, – See more at:

      Abuse and shepherding needs to be renounced and removed, not merely “diminish over time”. Indeed, social media has sparked revolutions around the world, holding even the most brutal dictators of countries accountable. Social media will naturally cause ubf people to think twice about what they say and do.

      For example, at any time I could publicly publish the two Christmas threats I received last year. I keep electronic media of both the voice-mail (where I was accused of harassment) and the Christmas card (where I was told explicitly to stop communicating by email). I consider both of these as threats to my safety and well-being.

  9. Ben I know we are on the same page (might be on the front and the back of that page…)

    “But I hope to do so as someone who never left UBF”
    > I hope to do so as someone who categorically renounces ubf and will never return.

    “I cannot do so by continually pointing out all of their sins and mistakes and abuses.”
    > I won’t air dirty laundry and I will respect people’s rights, but I can and will continually point out all of ubf’s abuses and shepherding ideology.

    “I believe that I have already made my points loud and clear.”
    > Yes you have, and I agree heartily with almost all of those points.

    “Now I need to think of them and communicate with them in amicable ways, rather than in combative, dichotomous and accusatory ways.”
    > That’s fine with me. I respect your conscience in doing this, and I wouldn’t want you to “come over to my side” or adopt any of my methods. I will however continue to speak to and about ubf in absolutely clear terms using the words cult and abuse.

    • Brian, I think we are tackling the exact same issues, but from opposite directions. I think we make a good team!

    • I suspect most people reading this thinks we are some sort of crazy, evil dynamic duo. And oddly I’m ok with that.