Christians Behaving Badly Toward Their Own Family

badbehaviorRecently, I spoke to a childhood friend who expressed to me just how hurt and disheartened he, his parents and his siblings were after his brother married and converted to Christianity. They are a loving Asian family and not religious. As adults they were very close and would visit each others’ families often. But soon after his brother and his family became Christians, he became increasingly estranged, disconnected and less intimate with his own siblings and parents. Without going into details, he treated his own family quite poorly for the last two decades and counting.

I was sad and sorry to hear how Christians treat non-Christians, including their own family. I shared with him how I understand his brother because like his brother I too had behaved similarly toward my own family after I became a Christian. I apologized to him for such unbecoming, unChrist-like, elitist, exclusive, rude and inexcusable behavior by Christians toward non-Christians, which is clearly unbiblical.

I explained to him why I thought Christians behave in such unloving ways. They seem to treat their own non-Christian family the worst. In my opinion, much of it comes from misunderstanding certain verses about a Christian’s “spiritual family” or “church family,” which then causes some Christians to behave as though our birth family is no longer our true family:

* Unless you hate your own family, you cannot be my disciple (Lk 14:26; Mt 10:37).

* Your true spiritual family are those who do God’s will (Mt 12:48-50; Mk 3:34-35).

* Those who leave their human family will be rewarded with eternal life (Mt 19:29; Mk 10:29-30).

* Shake the dust off your feet when someone (including family) rejects the gospel (Mt 10:14; Mk 6:11; Lk 9:5).

When Christians read such verses, they might think that they should be clear with their non-Christian family and friends. I am sorry that I more or less disconnected myself for two decades from my old friends and my family because of my misunderstanding and unbiblical practical application of such verses.

It should be obvious (but obviously it is not!) that when Jesus spoke such verses, he spoke them as the God of love, grace, mercy, kindness, patience, generosity, gentleness, forbearance, etc. There is no justification for using such verses to justify being rude, disrespectful, elitist, exclusive, superior or sanctimonious. Because of his brother’s behavior, my friend said he is agnostic and on the way to being atheist. Yet he is a kind, considerate, well-mannered, helpful, respectful, loving person, seemingly more so than his Christian brother. He also said how much kinder and gentler his Buddhist and non-Christian friends are compared to his brother.

God is the God of all people. Yet, some Christians act as though God is only the God of Christians, or the God who favors their particular brand of Christianity.

What has your experience been? How might we Christians emulate and exemplify the God of love toward all people?


  1. Gajanan Nial
    Gajanan Nial

    Ben, you are right in saying that leaders use certain verses to saver ties with family. I want to share two experiences, first of my own, and then about someone I taught and discipled and now has been a get friend.
    When I was about to share my first testimony, during that week a very close relative of mine passed away. I booked my tickets to travel 1600km and participate the funeral. That week I was going to share my testimony on God’s call on Abraham (Gen 12:1-3). My bible teacher challenged me with the calling to be an Abraham and persuaded me not to participate. I became an Abraham (so to speak), but till this day my family is very grieved about that incident.
    After my conversion, I was asked to write a letter to my father telling me to denounce all family ties and personal rights as I had become a Christian and what is more I had to serve the campus mission. My family was very hurt at that letter. Only by God’s grace my relation with parents and other relatives was restored many years later. To this day I regret of writing that letter and having allowed leaders to manipulate me.
    The second experience is about a student I was serving. He was from a Christian family but his parents had decided to get him married to a Hindu girl. Me and others at ubf strongly felt that he should marry someone from ubf to establish a house church. We persuaded him and he conveyed this to his parents who became so upset, especially on me. In due course of time he married to a shepherdess. In the lat few years as his parents observed his life and family, and the parents themselves went through some dramatic revival in their personal lives, they now thank God for his marriage. His parents have become excellent coworkers with us. Once his mother told me with tears how she had once thought of getting me beaten, but now she thanks God that the woman her son married against her will was best for the family.
    Even, me and my wife sometime discuss how much heartbroken our families had been due to our decisions to marry outside of our cultures and national boundaries. Now that we have left the campus mission and no more the house church we were supposed to be it puzzles us all the more. But we look at our lives, our growing love and adoration of each other, our present calling and assignments, our two handsome sons, our slowly restoring relations with family, and we think it is worth it all. We have made it a point now to visit my parents at least twice and her’s at least once a year. My father looks up to me for many deep questions of life.

    • Praise the Lord! Genesis 50:20 comes to mind: “You intended to harm me, but God intended it for good to accomplish what is now being done, the saving of many lives.” Praise God that His sovereign providence over-arches all the mistakes and blunders we or others have made.

      I’m glad this issue is being addressed here. Like Gajanan, I treated my family horribly as well due to the undue and un-biblical instructions from leaders. With time, with many long and tearful times of repentance and asking for forgiveness, and through doing my best to change, the relationship is gradually being restored.

      Actually, my main motivation in moving to UBC was not my academic position at the university, but so that I could attempt to reconcile with my family. It was after I had determined to move that the Lord blessed me with a professorship at the university.

    • forestsfailyou

      My pastor keeps telling me I am destined to be a blessing for many people starting with my brother. We are doing bible study, but it’s on my terms. Nothing about world mission. My brother needs to get somethings straight in his life before world mission is a remotely a consideration. I read Josh B.’s story about his marriage in UBF and how to damaged his relationship with his family. This was a major consideration in me telling my pastor that he was not to introduce me to anyone. I knew I would be pressured to make a decision fast, and I know my family would not approve and it would be very hard for her to be accepted as a daughter in law.

  2. Thanks, Gajanan, Joshua, for sharing.

    Some decades ago, I had so offended my dear mom that she cried and said, “Because of you I will never be a Christian.”

    My only sibling, an older brother who loves me, once said, “If you keep this up, I’ll disown you as my brother.”

    At the time, I foolishly thought that I am suffering persecution for Christ. Only by God’s grace, we are reconciled today.

    • “At the time, I foolishly thought that I am suffering persecution for Christ.”

      Did you believe this on your own, or was this the story that all UBFers reassured to each other in every meeting and private talk?

      “Only by God’s grace, we are reconciled today.”

      What do you think, if Samuel Lee was still alive without changing his behavior and methods, and you were still under his influence, would this have ever happened?

    • What do you think, if Samuel Lee was still alive without changing his behavior and methods, and you were still under his influence, would this have ever happened? – See more at:

      Ben, I also wanted to ask you this question.

  3. In UBF most people pray that their parents and relatives will be converted, even if they are already Christians. At the same time, they do nothing practical to help them become Christians or change their style of Christianity, quite to the contrary. They separate from their parents and relatives and stop spending time with them. Instead, they prefer to spend time with “fishing” on the campus, finding “sheep” who would buy their interpretation of Christianity and respect them as “shepherds” easier than their relatives and parents. This alienates their parents and relatives and makes them wish never to become like that. My parents and relatives used to speak among themselves about me and my wife and our small son as “the Holy Family” while we were still in UBF, as they later confessed. With other words, they made fun of us, our self-righteousness, our brainwashed absolutely obedient minds, our fundamentalist Bible-centeredness, and our elitism and high-handedness when we never came for visits because there were always UBF activities going on which we considered to be “holier” than any get-together in my family.

    But I want to emphasize again: This is actually not a problem of the UBF members, but a problem of the UBF leaders and the UBF system that conditions its members to behave like that and adopt a value system like that. Most UBF members actually want to spend time with their parents and relatives, but their shepherds and directors do not allow that and train them that if they do that, they behave badly (they are called unfaithful, unspiritual, disobedient) and if they ignore their own family they are doing it right (they are praised, flattered, are recognized and love-bombed in their replacement family UBF). This training, going on over years, is very effective.

    Gajanan gave a good example. I experienced similar things, several times, until I learned I should not visit my parents and should not care about them, but only about UBF. And I already posted the story where my marriage was cancelled by the director just for the reason that I wanted to spend an afternoon with my mom who had come to visit me before marriage, because we hadn’t really talked with each other for many years.

    Some years ago I attended a talk of a cult commissioner of the Catholic Church. The two examples of cults he presented were the Mormons and UBF. Concerning UBF, one of the examples he gave was the following: A student in Cologne visited her parents every weekend. They were living somewhat remote in the rural Eifel area, and they had paid her an annual rail ticket so she could visit them. After some weeks of Bible study, UBF began insisting that she attended the SWS in UBF Cologne. They pressed her so hard that finally in one meeting, she came forward and “sacrified” her annual rail ticket by handing it over to the chapter director. When she did that, the whole assembly applauded and praised her.

    As you see, it is not the members who choose to neglect their family. The UBF leaders and the UBF system condition and manipulate the UBF members so that they get another value system that virtually forces them to neglect their family, teaching that this is the way to please God. In the article, you again blame yourself and generally “Christians” for doing so. But I don’t think you should blame yourself, and you should not blame all Christians for doing so. Most Christians do not behave like that, at least not in such extreme ways. The way UBF is doing it is a problem of its own.

    On the one hand, it seems spiritual to blame yourself rather than another person for things that you have done. But when it comes to subtle manipulation in the name of God, such taking the blame on yourself can blur the view for what is the real problem and who is really responsible. You only wanted to do good by concentrating on UBF. Who was the one who shaped your understanding of what’s good and what’s bad? I think you should blame Samuel Lee who as you said was your “mentor” and taught you all these things with his manipulative and psychologically effective training methods. You don’t want to admit this because 1) you want to keep up the delusion that Samuel Lee was a good mentor and a good friend, instead of a really bad mentor, and 2) because you don’t want to believe that you were so easily manipulable and trainable like Pavlov’s dog, but rather hold up the delusion that you were always in control of your own mind even under the influence of Samuel Lee. The truth is that we are all human beings who are all responsive to the same psychological tricks and means of mind control, and Samuel Lee was a master of using mind control methods.

    Sure, I also blame myself for following and obeying UBF leaders against my gut feelings and conscience. But on the other side, I see how really clever, subtle and powerful the manipulation was, going on so slowly over the course of several years that I didn’t even notice it. So in this case, I try to stop blaming myself (though subconsciously I still do) and give most of the blame to UBF. Blaming myself would mean to become a victim of the UBF system again and allow its guilt tripping to continue. We should be very clear that UBF is the problem here, not the people in UBF. And with UBF I mean the whole “UBF system” with its doctrines, methods, practices and its value system, established by Samuel Lee. Actually I believe that even Samuel Lee himself became a victim of that system. Playing with mind control methods is like playing with fire. The problem with Samuel Lee is that he did not only burn himself, but many others as well.

    • forestsfailyou

      I have never experienced a directive that said that time with family should be disallowed. In fact I told my Pastor that i would be missing next Sunday service because my mother needed help moving her boyfriend in and my pastor said if she moved on Saturday we could help (she lives several hours away). My roommate spends a lot of time at home as well and nothing has been said of this (I am sure he would spend less time at home if asked to, but that is neither here nor there)

    • forestsfailyou

      That does not mean my experience is typical however…

  4. Hi Chris, I love your real stories of how the UBF system hurt and wounded countless people, because you are articulate and you tell the stories clearly without ambiguity. I’m very sorry that some UBF people absolutely refuse to hear anything you have to say, probably because they feel that you are out to shame and dishonor them, and to discredit everything they have ever done as UBF missionaries.

    So I understand why they won’t listen to you. That is why I encourage you to seriously tone down the rhetoric, if you truly want to be heard, because I think that what you have to say is very good and correct for many UBFers to hear.

    Would you rather be heard by saying a few things gently and kindly in understatement? Or are you determined never to be heard by coming across as though you simply want to tear down and destroy everything that is UBF?

    Yes, there are some UBFers who will never ever change. But most if not the majority of UBFers are “good people.” I’ve met them. I know them personally and reasonably well for several decades. But when you tear UBF apart by your statements, you simply close their hearts. Then all your attempts for good will simply fall to the ground unheard.

    As I wrote in the article, Jesus, the Word “spoke as the God of love, grace, mercy, kindness, patience, generosity, gentleness, forbearance, etc.”

    Jesus is the Father of the prodigal son, who was gracious and kind even toward his angry self-righteous older son who was rude and belligerent toward his father.

    I am not asking you to stop sharing the horrible stories of spiritual abuse in UBF. But I hope that whatever painful stories you share, you may also reveal kindness, mercy, grace, patience, tolerance in the choice of words you use when you write, even toward those who are determined to perpetuate the UBF system until their dying day. Jesus suffered and died even for them, and not just for those who were spiritually abused by them.

    • Ben, instead of responding to the questions I raised or staying with the topic you originally raised, you are deflecting the discussion to the question of tone again.

      Actually, my comment is already a toned down version of what I really want to say. I’m not talking like Jesus in Mt 23:33, or am I? I’m already restraining myself more than even Jesus did.

  5. I’d like to share a ubf story as well. There was a student in Yekaterinburg. Her friends invited her to attend a ubf conference in Moscow. After that she was blessed to see ubf missionaries come to Yekaterinburg and plant a new chapter. She lived with her family but the missionaries told her she should live ” a common life” with another young Korean missionary in the center or near it. She felt strange but obeyed. Still she regularly spent time with her parents. After some time of Bible study she was told to “sacrifice” her family for the sake of campus mission. It was difficult for her to obey but they persuaded her it was God’s will. She started doing the standard ubf activities of writing and sharing sogams and fishing many sheep. Her parents were very nice people, both were scientists with PhD degrees. They couldn’t understand her daughter but the daughter marched on in her “serving God”.

    Well once upon a time her mother became very sick and they took her to the hospital. The student hurried to visit her mom. But the kind ubf missionaries stopped her at the door. They told her to trust her mother to God and stay at the center. She tried to explain that it was absolutely necessary to visit her mother in the hospital. But the missionaries didn’t allow her. There was a long “discussion”. After the student lost all her arguments she started crying with tears and loud begging, “Please, please!!! allow me to visit my mom! please, allow me visit my mom!…”. She cried and cried… At last the missionaries ALLOWED her to visit her mom…

    This was the beginning of the first glorious ubf chapter (and the only one) in the Ural region. Thank God there is no ubf in Yekaterinburg now. But… the kind missionaries are still there hoping that “the rebellious Russian shepherds” would come back, or that God would send them “new sheep” in this “spiritual desert” whom they would “sacrificially serve”. The missionary used to “create a new history” and be “history makers”.

    • Ben, I hope that I understand you. But I think that what you write is of the “sheep” level. You are a ubf director. If you were a pastor what would you say to this ubf victim from Yekaterinburg ubf?

      I mean that you always write that Lee was Christian and that all who are saved are saved by grace. So Lee was a “real sinner” who was saved by grace. Writing this you are responsible for your influence as a pastor. And you are sending a message that ubf is a “christian” church among many other christian churches which have some problems. Are you saying that ubf victims should consider their ubf missionaries christian just like you do? And if the student from my story came to you, pastor Toh, what would you advice her to do? “To be or not to be?” To stay or not to stay?

      You might remember that e.g. Apologetics Index advices Christians not to involve with ubf. Chris says about another cult expert who says that ubf is a typical cult (and there are so many experts and many people including former ubfers who say that ubf is a typical cult). What is your opinion for many “sheep” to read, not as Ben Toh, not as a ubf director, but as a christian pastor?

    • Vitaly, I am really not writing as UBF but as a Christian. In fact many in UBF say that I am not and really no longer UBF.

      Yes, I am pained to hear her story. I would absolutely condemn such inexcusable and reprehensible behavior, and if the person feels she needs to leave UBF I will certainly bless her, support her, continue to be her friend and definitely not guilt trip her, or try to make her stay.

    • Do you pray that God may send many new “sheep” to ubf? What would you advice to those being “fished” by ubf shepherds? Is it good for them to become ubfers?

  6. Chris, Vitaly, I assumed perhaps wrongly that I have addressed your questions before. I’m really not trying to be evasive but “If Samuel Lee is still alive” is a moot point, since in the perfect and mysterious sovereignty of God he died in 2002 to allow what is happening today. Ultimately God is in control, not Samuel Lee.

    But if Lee was alive today, I would address everything I have ever written on UBFriends with him, and I will let the chips fall where they fall.

    Lee–flawed, authoritarian, abusive, manipulative, controlling as he was–was my friend. His preaching and communication, which I heard for 2 decades, often had power, spirit, grace, joy, humor, humanity, reality, hope, etc. I learned the spirit of perseverance, hard work, discipline, self-denial, etc from him. I am NOT denying his bad and horrible influences that are still pervasive in UBF today. I am sorry you cannot bear to hear that he had positive and loving and godly traits as well.

    I have already stated too many times on UBFriends and in person to countless UBF people that the UBF authoritarian hierarchical system is unhealthy, unbiblical, allows leaders to be unaccountable and unable to apologize, the cause of countless people who have been wounded and abused in the name of shepherding, and the source of virtually all problems faced in UBF today.

    I do not want to blame them to the end because UBFers already know my clear stance and my position. If I keep blaming them, I am going to break relationships and prevent reconciliation, which is my ultimate goal. Despite all of her ugliness UBF is still my church and the church that I love, because she, imperfect and stained, sinful, scared and marred as she is, still is the bride of Christ and the body of Christ.

    Also, people change when they experience grace, not when they are blamed and slammed with the truth they cannot bear to hear, even if the truth is the truth. Yes, the truth sets us free, but the truth is Christ who is ultimately gentle and humble, and the truth includes grace.

    I want to try to be gracious when I bring up painful truths that some people may not want to hear.

    Also, some of our strong criticisms is really not effecting change, but only heaping blame upon blame, accusation upon accusation.

    Still, your stories need to be told. Every time I read them, I cringe and am saddened and I am all the more resolved to work for change for the future by the Spirit, so that my grandchildren will experience a better UBF than both you, Chris and Vitaly (and countless others), experienced.

    • “Despite all of her ugliness UBF is still my church and the church that I love, because she, imperfect and stained, sinful, scared and marred as she is, still is the bride of Christ and the body of Christ.”

      Ben, pardon me, but I find such sentences obnoxious, for two reasons:

      1) If you strip all subordinate clauses from this sentence it claims that “UBF is the bride of Christ and the body of Christ.” You simply combined the two sentences “UBF is my church” and “the church is the bride of Christ and the body of Christ” into one sentence, without caring that the word “church” is used with different meanings in both sentences, namely “congregation/denomination/ministry” in the first sentence, and “the whole body of all Christians” in the second sentence.

      2) It denies the necessity of repentance. As we know, even after 50 years, and even after horrible sins have been revealed committed by the organization and its leaders, there is still no corporate repentance. Just as individual believers need to repent, ministries need to repent as well. Rev 2+3 is a good example where Jesus does not address only individual believers, but whole local churches as such. He says to these churches “Those whom I love I rebuke and discipline. So be earnest and repent.” As long as there is no sign of earnest corporate repentance, there is no need to “tone done” and downplay things.

      A church that is content with being “imperfect and stained, sinful, scared and marred” and does not want to do anything about it, and counsels people to “tone down” when they point out their “imperfections” is no church of Christ. And yes, we’re not talking about small “imperfections” here. This is again UBF rhetorics. We’re talking about grave and fundamental things.

    • “But if Lee was alive today, I would address everything I have ever written on UBFriends with him, and I will let the chips fall where they fall.”

      But this presumes you would have come to the same insights that you have today, while still being in the hamster wheel under the influence of Samuel Lee, who would have told you to not read or write on the Internet, to not “fight with crazy dogs” as he called the critics of UBF, to undergo training to overcome your critical thinking, to focus on fishing and writing and sharing testimony and spending your time with Bible study and fishing sheep. It is very difficult to “see the light” while running in the treadmill of UBF and while being manipulated by a psychologically strong person like Samuel Lee. I am very strongly convinced that your way of thinking changed not only after but because of your disconnection from the strong influence of Samuel Lee and your relocation from the Chicago UBF headquarters to your own chapter.

    • I don’t disagree. But as I stated earlier, Lee is dead according to God’s sovereignty. Thus, God is in control, not Samuel Lee or UBF, even if some people act like they are in control.

  7. Chris, it seems like u pick out my isolated sentences and statements without considering everything else that I have written. Anyone who reads what I write in total knows that I have been and I am calling out to UBF to repent.

    • I can only appeal and state my case. Repentance is a gift of God and the work of the Holy Spirit.

  8. Vitaly,

    Do you pray that God may send many new “sheep” to ubf?
    My prayer is to join the Spirit that blows wherever it pleases (John 3:8).

    What would you advice to those being “fished” by ubf shepherds?
    I have never been asked this. But those who privately correspond with me or speak to me in person, I have no hesitation saying everything I’ve said on UBFriends.

    Is it good for them to become ubfers?
    It really depends on who the chapter leader is.

    My opinion is that even though your Yakateringurgh director and Chris’ director in Heidelburg are clearly authoritarian with some bad theology, don’t u think that they are both Christians?

    • Christians, in a strict sense, are those who follow the teachings of Christ. However, these leaders consciously disregard these teachings (particularly, the teachings about authoritarianism in Mt 23) and regard their self-glorifying UBF-“heritage” and tradition higher than these teachings. Therefore, I agree with Vitaly, in a strict sense, I don’t view them as Christians. Most liberal Christians are much more credible than UBF leaders in my view, because at least they don’t claim they follow the Bible and Jesus’ teachings literally, yet most of them show more traits of Christianity than those leader who are praying and waving the Bible every day and yet blatantly ignoring what the Bible says. Another example is the case of forced abortion by the general director. Until now I have not found a single UBF Korean leader who has condemned this act as a sin. Again, this shows image is everything for them, and Christian values and principles subordinate.

  9. I am sure they are not Christian. They are cult leaders. They don’t know God and won’t enter God’s kingdom if they don’t repent and if the Holy Spirit doesn’t change them into new creation in Jesus.

  10. big bear

    Image is everything and damage control. They only way change will come is if the leaders find themselves homeless and living in a blue mpv van by the river. In short, they have to lose everything.

  11. The recent dialogue here is unfortunate. Ben’s article was inspired by a childhood friend who is not a part of UBF. Rather, the context was simply kept as Christianity – Not denomination or anything else. It is quite true for Asian countries in addition for many more. There are many cultural traditions and aspects that have caused many misunderstandings about faith and doctrine as Christians practice. The division among families is not uncommon.

    However, I do agree with comments about UBF as they were (A) Witnessed or (B) Experienced
    I think maybe it’s best that we offer our own experiences to avoid the rhetoric. But, I am in no way dismissing what we see and hear and remain silent about.

    I will recap my own experiences regarding treatment of my family:
    I never really treated my family poorly as a result of my faith. In fact, my faith was essential for restoring and healing my family relationships. However, I can contrast three situations that reflect poorly on my previous chapter. One year my parents joined in on a Christmas worship service at my home chapter and were very comfortable and enjoyed the environment very much. Fast forward a few years and I am in a different chapter getting married….

    My family was all but pushed aside. My parents were given respect in context that almost everything was carried out by the UBF church. It is a reminder that your typical wedding is not about the couple but the families. SO, in the church context, the wedding is not about the couple, but instead it’s about chapter directors and spiritual order. But, when looking back at wedding photos, that day I can see that my sister was kicked in behind everyone all by herself – which I was told about after the honeymoon anyway. (The photographers are in fact to blame, but actually, the priority of photos is also dominated by UBF and each chapter associated with the couple and process of the arrangements. Family comes amidst everything else, what can I say – hindsight is 20/20).

    When my sister introduced herself as “my sister” the director’s wife rudely said, “I can see that.” Moreover, when one of my brother’s was confronted with the director he was also treated poorly. I might add that my brother played a pivotal role in getting my wife to the church and driving us to the reception and he even drove us for the outdoor photo shoot. What can I say? I was caught up in my own moment, but was unaware that such things would happen. By my previous experience, my home chapter had handled my family members with love and courtesy, but it had not been the case in the chapter where I was married.

    One more thing. When my parents came to visit my family in 2012 the chapter here took care of them like family. My parents were able to have time with my daughter and my wife and I, but they were also shown around the area a couple times by full-time staff shepherds. I could not have been more blessed to know that my activity in UBF was redeemed by the attitudes of UBF shepherds in my present chapter.

    None of my positive comments are to undermine any negative comments from others. Moreover, I am not intending to repeat unecessarily about my previous chapter – BUT – it must be understood that the handling of my family was not a solitary event. It was the result of chronic, unchecked co-working issues that are plagued with a sense of megalomania. There are brutal chapters out there. So, if UBFers are not listening than let potential students or present students be the readers. It is possible to find yourself in a healthy UBF chapter, but it does not dismiss what has happened or what is happening in many parts of the world.

  12. I am grateful for my friends response to me when I sent him the link to this post:

    “I read the email you sent out about my experience with my brother. You wrote it well, covered the subject matter correctly without making any judgements. Thanks for your words, I appreciate your kind thoughts.”