Consider Both Sides When You Express Yourself

bothsidesI asked a friend why some UBFers are upset with this post that I wrote: Sin is having an identity other than in God. He explained it to me so well in an email:

“It was a good article, Dr. Ben. I think with any critical self reflection, we can inadvertently dismiss the heart of an entire community’s efforts, which is ironically the antithesis of your article. It’s not necessarily your duty to always cover all grounds, but I can see why people would feel dismissed by what you wrote since you didn’t counter it with any mention of people’s good underlying, heart’s intention. It is probably true that not all people have the right heart’s motive, but some, even many do. Though they may have been misled to think that using social pressures is okay, I find many people just want to be used by God for the salvation of souls and the development of Jesus’ disciples.”

Very useful points for me to note are:

  1. “Dismissing an entire community’s efforts.” I failed to realize this.
  2. “It is not necessarily my duty to always cover all grounds.” Yet, I should do my best to do so.
  3. “Not countering what I write with any mention of people’s good underlying, heart’s intention.” I’ve done this occasionally, but not often enough.
  4. “Some, even many do have a right heart’s motive.” I believe that this is true, and that they would be hurt by the dismissive way I write.
  5. “They may have been misled to think that using social pressure is okay.” I keep pounding this point, but I perhaps should back off on this, or write about this very tenderly and gingerly (which I may not know how to do).
  6. “Many people just want to be used by God for the salvation of souls and the development of Jesus’ disciples.” Without a doubt I know that this is true. I should remember Phil 1:18.

I thought this is so useful for me to remember and consider every time I need to express myself or write something. Any additional useful pointers? Refutations?


  1. Dr. Ben, I’m going to post an excerpt from an article that Tim Challies wrote on Mark Driscoll’s book Real Marriage. I’m not seeking to apply this to you as some sort of zing; Challies’ comment (applied in a totally different context in his review, though a general principle in all areas of life)led me to seriously reflect on how I use my Christian freedom specifically in the context of my dialogues with others. When I converse with others about deeply personal, weighty or serious matters, do my tone and content reflect a stance of love toward them or am I using the concept of ‘Christian freedom’ as a guise for being overly self-interested, whatever that interest may be?

    Challies’ quote:

    Here’s the thing: Christian freedom is not just the freedom to do, but the freedom not to do. You don’t understand freedom until you willingly and joyfully deny yourself what is technically lawful (or not expressly forbidden in the Bible) but contextually unwise or inappropriate. Commentator David Prior says it well: “In chapters 8-10 we shall see Paul arguing passionately and persuasively that the essential Christian freedom is the freedom not to be free, i.e. a deliberate choice to restrain my freedom for the sake of the gospel. The man who has to express his freedom is actually in bondage to the need to show he is a free man. The genuinely free man has nothing to prove.” He has nothing to prove and understands that even though he has technical freedom in some areas, those things do not promote love and true intimacy. The Christians at Corinth were glorying in their rights and freedom and using this to express themselves sexually. Never mind love! They had freedom—freedom to gratify their desires. But freedom, if not properly understood and applied, can be used to express allegiance to idols just as easily as it can be used to pursue noble ends. It turns out that there is a counterfeit kind of freedom that is actually slavery. –

    • Interestingly, I stumbled upon this soon after I wrote an abrasive email to one of my brothers in Christ, who happens to be in a position of influence, questioning various UBF practices. I essentially vomited out, in long paragraph form, some long-standing issues I’ve had with the ministry that I felt were never adequately addressed. After this person wrote a truly gracious reply (which honestly was devoid of patronization and condescension) I questioned if my initial email was loving and truly interested in the welfare of the one whom I wrote it to. I know that on ubfriends we want to expose many aberrant UBF practices, which is in a sense a beneficial common good. But I’m beginning to question if a public forum like this is the best environment to do it.

  2. Thanks, Dave, for the excellent quote on (abusing our) freedom! I would say that this forum is ABSOLUTELY NOT the best medium for addressing the issues addressed on UBFriends.

    But yet I often wonder if UBF is genuinely willing and ready to discuss these issues on a continual ONGOING equitable basis until some degree of transparent authentic meaningful reconciliation, trust and unity is accomplished from both sides?

    If you are willing and able to be a mediator of sorts, please do count me in!

    Honestly this public forum on UBFriends really does not need to continue once some kind of genuine ongoing equitable dialogue is established that is satisfactory from both sides learning to concede to each other.

  3. Dr. Ben, at one time I thought that I could be a sort of mediator, but I’m only now beginning to realize how much maturity and gospel-centeredness it takes to do so. I don’t possess a ton of either of these qualities. These days I’m allowing life to mature me and I’m also trying to assess how deeply I understand the gospel. Honestly, the quote from Challies’ greatly humbled me; it made me realize that I’ve been championing my own freedom to unabashedly express myself for quite some time. I thought that I was justified in doing so because I received so much push-back from others when I tried to express my angst over UBF issues/ideology; I felt spiritually stifled, like I desperately needed to breath. So blogging here helped me to untangle some important issues and gave me a voice. But one friend recently said to me that ubfriends is a stumbling block for many of the older Korean leaders. They just don’t understand it and it is hurtful to some of them. Are some hurt because their identity is so closely tied to UBF, an organization which is repeatedly skewered on this site? Probably, but I’m not sure that publicly tearing down UBF is going to bring them closer to Christ or repentance. I’m beginning to realize that while some key leaders in UBF may not in the near future (or perhaps ever) admit to the flaws in the UBF system or past abuse, some of them are beginning to warm up to the idea of genuinely conversing, in a ‘safe setting’, about said issues. As much as I desire to have ongoing equitable dialogue on both sides I’ve given up on this ideal, at least this side of heaven. We don’t have this gospel thing figured out completely and nor will we be thoroughly and completely changed by it in this life time. So it’s probably wise to work in any manner that you can which is simultaneously most productive and loving. Ultimately if this site truly hinders genuine dialogue with them, then out of love for them perhaps a change of venue, to something more private, might be in order from now on. I’m mainly preaching to myself here; I need to learn the concept of using my freedom to, at times, not be free so as to love others more. (though I would still come here for the neutral theological discussions :-)

    • Mark Mederich

      perhaps this site originated as a ‘last resort’ to ventilate concerns/seek change when more private attempts failed; probably constructive change is the point-whether private if possible, or public if necessary..

    • David, John and others…I respect you for your desire to remain in loving dialogue with elders of the Ubf community. To the extent that this is possible I want this too. But can you also consider that a person with the same desire to use their freedom for God’s purposes might look different than you, coming to a different conclusion about joining in this online discussion? Could a person with God honoring intention be compelled to give up much in order to speak openly and honestly and truthfully, at great cost to themselves, in order to love God and love others?

    • Sharon, thanks for bringing this up. I’ve actually been struggling with this question since the time that I wrote the statement which your’re responding to. I’m still conflicted on this front. On the one hand, our comments here may be divisive to some; long-time UBF members may feel hurt by our characterizations of the organization and some of its leaders. But on the other hand, if this forum had not been made public, dialogue which was vitally helpful to some (including myself), may have never happened. Certainly, a private forum will still be useful, but we would lose something in terms of spontaneous conversation as well as being able to capture a larger audience that has been struggling with issues similar to ones which are addressed here. But your point about freedom applied to the individual is well-taken. That is why I said that I am mainly preaching to myself here. I don’t think that everyone should follow my example but it is definitely prudent, from time to time, to address whether we are using our freedom in a productive and wholesome manner.

      I think back to the civil rights era where MLK and Malcom X approached this particular social battle in nearly diametrically opposed ways. Eventually, they began to learn from and rub off on each other in a positive manner; MLK became more bold and embraced the uniqueness of his cultural roots (something that he downplayed in favor of homogeneity) and Malcom X became less vitriolic and more accepting of those who opposed him. Likewise, I see our struggle and conversation to use our freedom to love as a significant opportunity for us to grow in a greater understanding of both love and Christ-centered freedom, which will in turn benefit everyone.

      So, in view of our love for Christ and others, do we make this forum private or public? I don’t know, but I do believe that this platform is a massively significant development in UBF, therefore we should continually seek to make it as healthy and helpful as it can be. This will only happen if we question its merits as well as our intentions prayerfully and consistently.

    • Nearly half a century of history has shown that private talks had absolutely no effect on the UBF teachings and practices and were dismissed completely by the UBF leadership. Those who tried to talk privately were kicked out or have finally given up, frustrated. So I think it’s ridiculous to demand private talk about the problems of UBF.

      Plus, those who think UBF is a cult do not only talk about the abuse that happened in UBF because they hope to change UBF. They also talk about it publicly because they want to inform young members and potential members so they will not experience the same abuse. You may say, well, UBF has changed, there is not so much abuse any more. But as long as no official condemnation of the abuse and the former practices and teachings has been issued by UBF, there is no guarantee that it will not repeat. Therefore ex UBFers have all reasons to warn publicly of UBF and they will continue to do so. I think it’s better for UBF to lead an open and public discussion on their own websites or friendly websites like this one, than forcing people to write about UBF on other websites. Also, many other groups and churches can learn from the mistakes of UBF when we finally talk about them publicly. Personally I have learned a lot from the public discussions led in the ICC, particularly the letter by Henry Kriete. If all these things had always been covered up or “resolved” behind closed doors, nobody would know until now what spiritual abuse is, how it works, how dangerous and widespread it is.

      As long as UBF is still proud of their “community efforts” and stays without repentance, all of these efforts are in vain and serve only to hurt more young people make them waste their precious life and destroy families.

  4. Thanks, Dave. You’re absolutely right on so many fronts:

    * about not abusing our freedom in the name of freedom, including and perhaps especially on this site–especially for me.

    * about UBFriends being a stumbling block to some/many older Korean leaders.

    * definitely about a change of venue to something more private.

    * though you may be right that some leaders may NEVER admit to any flaws or past mistakes, this is nonetheless quite painful to hear, and it cannot but lead to the eventual demise of UBF, don’t you think?

    * though you may be right that an ongoing equitable dialogue might only be possible in the life to come, I am still hoping against all hope that it might somehow be possible before then. Maybe that’s wishful thinking on my part!

    I like this statement of yours in particular: “some of them are beginning to warm up to the idea of genuinely conversing, in a ‘safe setting’, about said issues.” – See more at:

    Though you say you do not possess sufficient maturity nor gospel-centeredness to be a mediator of sorts, I beg to quite strongly disagree. Yes, it will be painful, hard, frustrating, exasperating and even more (which you have likely already encountered), but I believe that you have the disposition, grace, self-reflection, and humility to do so because of the Spirit of God that is in you and with you.

    Again, Dave, to those who are warm/open/not hostile to an equitable ongoing dialogue, even if it is just ONE person, please do arrange a meeting for me to meet with them in the flesh.

    • Dr. Ben, sorry to leave you hanging on this comment, things got a little crazy on my end. Thanks so much for your kind words. Let’s pray about who we can dialogue with; I would be totally down for that. Whomever we talk to though, I don’t want to go in with the agenda to change anyone or reform their thinking; I believe that we all have much to learn from each other. So any conversation would be engaged in under the guise that we all want to learn from each other in regard to ministerial practices and Christian life in general.

      Also, you said: “though you may be right that some leaders may NEVER admit to any flaws or past mistakes, this is nonetheless quite painful to hear, and it cannot but lead to the eventual demise of UBF, don’t you think?”

      Absolutely, but my current stance is that I care much much more about the people in UBF than the organization itself. If UBF ceases to exist, I will still regard its former members as dearly loved siblings in Christ, both in word and deed.

  5. big bear

    It would be helpful if UBF worked more closely with the body of Christ and learned from the preexisting churches how to dialogue in a healthy way with others. The problem it is the UBF way or the highway. David and Ben you both have good points about the need for a real mediator. This site serves a purpose in helping us understand the problems. I know I came to believe such sites only hinder God work and just give all your energy in raising disciples and get to heaven and figure it out. It works until you hit real problems and begin to see the abuses. You justify them that we are all sinners and you demand sheep to repent but you fail to see your own blindness. I see my own brokenness and understand why it is so hard to change. In the end, God will have the final say. In a little while, I will leave this site for good. It has been helpful both sides of the issues to clear up what has been a 30 year battle to grow in the gospel of love and grace.

  6. I fully agree with this article. It will give your writings a balance that perhaps they lack. When I speak with a close friend about UBF, I always tell her that in spite of the things I don’t like about it, I love this church because it was there that I met Christ, and it was there that I got to know many sincere Christians in a personal way. And she admits that indeed there are many sincere servants of God, who love Jesus and are struggling to follow Him.

  7. I recommend a private UBFriends forum(s) on this site that would be moderated by Ben, Joe, Brian, and top UBF leader(s) in which serious issues can be discussed online, if necessary, since logistics might prevent ongoing in-person conversations. Other observers could potentially “apply” to join this private forum, either as a silent observers, or as an active participant but only on the condition that they are willing to reveal their identities to those who choose to use this forum to address serious issues, personal grievances and/or discuss personal details and circumstances that would not be appropriate to reveal in public.

    If I were to join a private forum and discuss my personal grievance to those who are willing to listen, I think it would be important for me to know in advance who I would be interacting with on this private online “safe” forum. The private discussion may get to the point where others would need to get involved and with the consent of all in the forum, others would perhaps be invited to join that particular forum.

    Again, the point is for this private forum to provide some kind of last-resort “safe space” for persons who would want to discuss a particular grievance or struggle and also know in advance who will be in this private forum so that requests can be made in advance that certain persons participate (or not participate). Multiple private forums could be developed, depending on the need and issue. It is not as ideal as dealing with these issues in person, but it potentially could be better than just simply carrying out such discussions in the open where it can lead (and has already led) to unintended collateral damage.

    BK, does this site have that kind of functionality? [if you are UBFriends-fasting for Lent, then I’ll expect a response after Easter]

    • forestsfailyou

      In my experience Ben and others are very welcome to answer any and all questions through email, facebook, and even phone.

    • Hi JohnY!

      I was fasting from ubfriends and all blogging for Lent, yes. To answer your question, yes this site can have a private forum.

  8. John, I don’t think anyone would object to an ongoing equitable dialogue where “both sides” would do our best to “hear the other side” with humility and tears and without power plays.

    My experience in the past is the reluctance to continue in a dialogue when it gets messy or when it touches sore spots. Thus, the need for it to be ongoing, despite it being uncomfortable.

    Also, one side tends to want to control the veto card and the agenda. Thus, the need for the dialogue to be equitable.

  9. We likely also need some positive and healthy attitudes in order to dialogue well. This might be my favorite quote regarding dialogue, which is by Pope Francis:

    “…we succumb to attitudes that do not permit us to dialogue: domination, not knowing how to listen, annoyance in our speech (or emails and blogs!), preconceived judgments and so many others (avoidance, silence, power plays, critical and judgmental attitudes and accusations). Dialogue is born from a respectful attitude toward the other person, from a conviction that the other person has something good to say. It supposes that we can make room in our heart for their point of view, their opinion and their proposals. Dialogue entails a warm reception and not a preemptive condemnation. To dialogue, one must know how to lower the defenses, to open the doors of one’s home, and to offer warmth.” Jorge Mario Bergoglio, On Heaven and Earth: Pope Francis on Faith, Family and the Church in the 21st Century, Jorge Mario Bergoglio, (Rabbi) Abraham Skorka.

    If and when we are truly able to pursue this, then I honestly think that they would be no interest whatsoever in UBFriends at all!!!

  10. Although I agree in principle with John Y, I have a problem with the belief that top leaders would handle cases in a positive manner respective of both sides. Unfortunately, I am flawed in my experiences of the past. A junior had always been able to raise a problem or concern, however, in the end judgment was left on the junior. I have witnessed and also experienced consequences for trying to raise an issue against an elder. These played out through either routine activities in the church life or even preparation for a conference. In either case, I was left being the one with “the problem”. I am almost of the belief that it is in fact the people who contribute here who demonstrate the desire to handle young members or potential memebers as suggested. However, how can I be sure (after my experiences) that senior leaders really have opened their minds?

    In terms of identity openness I will repeat again what I said long ago. If I were single you would have my first name and last initial at least. I do not add my clear identity for two reasons, first, my online identity must be kept small (my cousins/community). But in addition, out of concern for my wife and children I refuse to do so. I do not believe that they should receive judgment because of my actions – but again experience tells me that they will most likely when it concerns an activity or conference etc…

    • forestsfailyou

      The only major issue I had with a pastor being wrong has been when my pastor accused me of jealous of my roommates fiance. He took my questions about marriage by faith as a sign of eagerness, rather than concern (hence me getting The Year the World Ended) I remember speaking with another ubf member and stating that I was considering not doing bible study anymore. Her response shocked me, something along the lines of “If you don’t want to do bible study the problem is with you.” This is the attitude suggested here. I will say she was rather old, and that younger UBF people had much differing views. Some told me that I must have misunderstood him, others told me he had communicated the message wrong, others outright refused to defend the pastor, some others said he was wrong and that he should apologize (but they told me I needed to speak with him myself). To make matters worse the genesis bible studies kept being reframed to suggest marriage by faith. I have been very eager to move on to studying John.

  11. All things considered, JohnY, I am of the firm unwavering conviction that it is ALWAYS good if an ONGOING, EQUITABLE DIALOGUE may be initiated by any willing mediator/peacemaker who is somehow (by God’s help) able to get “both sides” to the table.

    • No one has really succeeded for 50 years and counting! But surely there is one who will…by God’s grace.

  12. I think everyone should follow their conscience on this matter. Sometimes one’s conscience leads one to speak up; other times it leads one to remain silent. The mode of dialogue, whether online or in-person, is a matter of wisdom in my view. Sometimes it is wise to use one or the other mode, depending on the purpose and need. I’ve seen dialogue in-person that went nowhere. I’ve seen dialogue online that went nowhere. Although I have my own preferences given my personality (and general lack of writing ability), I would not want to constrain anyone’s freedom to speak out whatever that would look like for that person.

    I confess that I’m not a faithful interlocutor on these online forums, but I’ve read every single article and comment from its inception. I hope no one will accuse me of “not listening.” I may not always understand, but I’m trying to listen in order to understand.

    As a glass half-full person, I’m seeing positive signs toward more productive dialogue. Like the kingdom of God, it is already here, but not yet completely here. I guess in the area of true and meaningful dialogue in UBF, we are left praying with our Lord, “Your Kingdom come.”

  13. JohnY, As an introvert, I thrive on being alone, enjoying silence and solitude, rather than crowds. Also, without silence and solitude our soul may wither in self-centered preoccupation.

    But in my opinion, for the most part, I think that silence does not work well in dialogue and conversation with another. Perhaps silence is called for if the other party is belligerent and out of control. Perhaps that may be what some older people think of UBFriends, though I think that for the most part, we follow the commenting policies.

    Can you imagine if God were to remain deadly silent toward us for an indefinite period of time when we are petitioning him?

    That’s why I personally have a problem when some remain silent, evasive or they want to simply move on whenever a sensitive delicate matter is brought up.

    That’s why I’m praying and hoping for an ongoing, equitable dialogue even with one person who is willing to go the extra mile and venture into untold wonders and discoveries.

  14. Clarification: what I meant by “silence” was not what you meant by silence: the idea of people refusing to dialogue while you are trying to dialogue. Rather, what I meant is the posture of listening where you maintain the discipline of keeping silent until you truly listen to the other and come to an understanding. I guess I meant to say a “listening silence.” There might be a better word. Let me look for a thesaurus. I’m thinking of the James Bible verse of being “quick to listen, slow to speak.” That is what I meant by silence. I hope people out there were not fuming and foaming at the mouth over what I wrote previously. In-person dialogue allows us to correct misunderstandings like this on the spot. Or I could learn to better communicate online.

    Shouldn’t I be fasting from all this online interactions during Lent? :)

    • By the way, all props to you Ben Toh, for I felt you considered both sides before posting your last reply. :)