When Christians Make Christianity Ugly

good-and-evilWe Christians are firmly convinced that we should choose between:

  • God and sin,
  • God and money,
  • right and wrong,
  • good and bad,
  • heaven and hell,
  • monogamy and polygamy…and rightly so.

Two categories. This can be regarded as dualistic thinking. It is to see everything in two categories and two categories only. It promotes elitism, exclusivity and exclusionary thinking, which invariably denigrates, disparages and denounces those who are not on “your side.”

Perhaps, some in UBF also divide people into those who:

  • are faithful to UBF and those who “ran away,”
  • write testimonies and those who don’t,
  • go fishing and feed sheep and those who don’t,
  • are shepherds and one-to-one Bible teachers and those who are not.
  • never miss Sunday worship service and those who do,
  • are faithful to UBF events (meetings and conferences) and those who aren’t,
  • obey their shepherds and leaders and those who don’t,
  • “marry by faith” and those who don’t,
  • focus on campus mission and those who don’t.
  • “keep spiritual order” and those who don’t.
  • are UBF Christians and those who are not non-UBF Christians.
  • are Christians focused on discipleship like UBF and those who are not.

This list can go on and on.

Dualistic thinking makes the church ugly. My contention is that such arbitrary categorizing of people is unhealthy. It distorts Christ, Christianity and the church into something that lacks beauty, majesty, mystery, transcendence, grace, gentleness, generosity, humility, magnanimity, freedom, rest, etc.

For instance, it causes Christians to live with the spirit of non-forgiveness, while insisting that they forgive others. For instance, some Christians say that they forgive those who left UBF and write on UBFriends. But it is not easy to perceive their spirit of love and forgiveness beyond their words of insistence.

What is the solution?

Shades and nuances. It is to have what contemplatives call “non-dual thinking.” It is to think in shades and nuances of good and right, instead of in absolute terms of good and bad, or right and wrong, or UBF and anti-UBF.
For instance, a decade ago I once said casually to a group of older UBF friends that one can grow spiritually in Christ even without writing testimonies every week. But what I said did not go too well with them. They looked shocked and surprised that I had the audacity to say such a terrible thing. I guess I was also shocked and surprised at their shock and surprise! So some years later I wrote: I’m Done Writing Testimonies.

To have non-dual thinking is to be like Christ. It is to be inclusive. Inclusivity is attractive and appealing. It is to embrace both those who write and those who do not write testimonies. It is to not regard that one is better than the other. It is to be like Jesus who so loved the world without prejudice, favoritism or discrimination.

To have non-dual thinking is to embrace people in all of the bullet points above.

Seriously, what’s the big deal if someone misses a Sunday worship service because they had something else to do?

What’s the big deal if one prefers small groups to one-on-one Bible study?

What’s the big deal if one prefers to attend a non-UBF Christian conference, or attend a non-UBF church?

I have no doubt that God’s love is far bigger than our small minds and dualistic preferences and biases.

Can we really be gracious, generous and gentle like Jesus if we insist on our dualistic view of Christianity and UBF?
How can we go from exclusive dualistic thinking to inclusive non-dual thinking?


  1. I happened to read this quote after writing this post: “The old painful duality will go down before a restful unity of life. The knowledge that we are all God’s, that He has received all and rejected nothing, will unify our inner lives and make everything sacred to us. This is not quite all. Long-held habits do not die easily. It will take intelligent thought and a great deal of reverent prayer to escape completely from the sacred-secular psychology.” -A.W. Tozer – See more at: http://provoketive.com/2012/08/22/the-dangers-of-dualistic-christianity/#sthash.XlevIlqE.dpuf

    • Great quote, and it describes well what has happened to me the last several years: “The knowledge that we are all God’s, that He has received all and rejected nothing, will unify our inner lives and make everything sacred to us.”

      We are all God’s. The great law of the Kingdom is to love everyone as Christ loved us.

  2. An interesting comment on Facebook equating non-dualistic thinking with being not critical: https://www.facebook.com/ben.toh.9/posts/10153635290859490?comment_id=10153635658094490&notif_t=feed_comment

    It sounds like what’s being said is that if you are critical (say of UBF) then you are being dualistic with a feeling a superiority.

    • That conversation is a bunch of goblety-gook.

    • Joe Schafer

      Talking about these things with UBF leaders, especially in a public forum, is a fruitless exercise. As Brian says: It’s like trying to nail jelly to a wall. Your goal may be to communicate, but theirs is to obfuscate. Their subtext is, “Stop talking about this.”

    • Trying to put myself in their moccasins, I don’t believe they think that this is what they are doing.

    • Joe Schafer

      Of course not. From their perspective, they are always taking the high road.

  3. “Inclusivity is attractive and appealing. It is to embrace both those who write and those who do not write testimonies. It is to not regard that one is better than the other.”

    Ben, from what I can still see going on in the ministry, from the outside looking in that is, is a relaxation of some of the long-held rules that you listed. I see some genuinely trying to meet others where they are at and not shoving those rules down their throats as was done in the past. That being said, the problem is that some don’t know how to help people to grow as disciples of Christ without tools like sogam writing, fishing and common life or attending weekly meetings and listening to the Sunday message without fail. While variations of these practices are being implemented, it is obvious that they are simply interpolations of the original core ones. And the implicit message is that if you are not on the path to doing those activities then, while you are free to stay in the church, there might not be much hope for you to grow or be fruitful in the way that ubf defines fruitfulness. Are there other ways for disciples to grow and be fruitful? I surely think so. If any ubf person reads this and objects to what i said, please feel free to correct me and also give me examples of what the ministry is doing outside its norm to foster robust discipleship.

  4. “a relaxation of some of the long-held rules that you listed. – See more at: http://www.ubfriends.org/2015/09/05/when-christians-make-christianity-ugly/#comment-19310

    That is common when there is a crisis/reform movement going on. That happened in 1990 and 2002 (after the 2nd and 3rd crisis/reform movements). After a few years, things tightened up again. And so we have the current 2011 crisis/reform. By God’s mercy, this crisis/reform will never end, but will be ongoing.

    In any case, the binding to rules is only one of many problems, and really only a surface issue. There are much more deeply rooted problems that need to be addressed. If we can keep the relaxation going, those other problems will surface and can be addressed in time.

  5. Ben, if I hear you correctly, you are pointing out the pitfalls of binary thinking. I’ve learned recently that dualism and dualistic thinking are two very different constructs in the theology world.

    I have also learned that binary thinking has a useful role in discussions. For example, I see Jesus using binary thinking, not often, but sometimes. He seems to use binary statements or questions in order to draw people into deeper, more analog type thinking.

    The best example I can find is Jesus’ words on good fruit and bad fruit. I find such binary thinking is critical in order to navigate complex situations.

    Such thinking helps me understand the massive complexities in ubf. How can ubf be a good tree when we see so much bad fruit? How can we explain why there seems to be some good fruit on the bad tree?

    The answers can be found by starting with binary thinking. We know that no good tree bears bad fruit, nor does a bad tree bear good fruit. Each tree is known by its own fruit. So when we see good fruit on a bad tree, we know the tree is bad. And we can see what looks good is tainted. The good fruit we saw at ubf is tainted with fear, excessive control and loss of identity.

    • I’m not sure what the difference is, but I think that Richard Rohr would regard binary thinking as dualistic thinking, which Rohr explains in many of his books and talks as the predominant expression of those in the first stage of life.

  6. This is a comment on Facebook by a senior UBF leader, which is posted for those who do not access Facebook. It’s a quote by Fr. Richard Rohr, who is an excellent author and great communicator, which makes for a great read:

    “Dualistic thinking is the well-practiced pattern of knowing most things by comparison. And for some reason, once you compare or label things (that is, “judge” them), you almost always conclude that one is good and the other is less good or even bad. In the first half of life, this provides ego boundaries and clear goals, which creates a nice clean “provisional personality.” But it is not close to the full picture that we call truth.

    Dualistic thinking works only for a while to get us started, but if we are honest, it stops being helpful in most real-life situations. It is fine for teenagers to think that there is some moral or “supernatural” superiority to their chosen baseball team, their army, their ethnic group, or even their religion or gender; but one hopes that later in life they learn that such polarity is just an agreed-upon game. Your frame should grow larger as you move toward the Big Picture in which one God creates all and loves all, both Dodgers and Yankees, blacks and whites, Palestinians and Jews, gays and straights, Americans and Afghanis.

    Non-dualistic thinking or both-and thinking is the benchmark of our growth into the second half of life. This more calm and contemplative seeing does not appear suddenly, but grows almost unconsciously over many years of conflict, confusion, healing, broadening, loving, and forgiving reality. It emerges gradually as we learn to “incorporate the negative,” learn from what we used to exclude, or, as Jesus put it, “forgive our enemies” both within and without.

    You no longer need to divide the field of every moment between up and down, totally right or totally wrong, for or against. It just is what it is. This inner calm allows you to confront what must be confronted with even greater clarity and incisiveness. This stance is not at all passivity. It is, in fact, the essential link between true contemplation and skillful action. The big difference is that your small and petty self is now out of the way, and if God wants to use you or love you, which God always does, God’s chances are far better now!”

    • That same ubf leader, James Kim (Chicago), also said this before that quote: “Criticism is not bad. But criticism comes from feeling of superiority which comes from dualusm.”

      I asked him what that means, but he doesn’t answer. I think his name should be Missionary Quotable, because he rarely ever explains his real thoughts, just posts quotes in response.

    • Joe Schafer

      JHK’s point is abundantly clear. Those who criticize UBF have wrong motives. It’s the same thing that SL said in many of those highly offensive paragraphs from his Sunday messages. Anyone who stood up to SL did so with wrong motives. But “the servant of God” always had right motives, no matter how badly he treated people.

  7. This is my Facebook response to the Rohr quote: “Richard Rohr, an excellent author and speaker, writes in broad strokes and in generalities and sound principles, which is well suited for a broad audience. Many of our communications are an application of what Rohr writes and speaks. It is in reference to our specific community regarding specific practices, traditions and sentiments on the ground level of a real local church. I don’t believe that quoting broad big picture generalities is the way to respond to specific issues and practices.”

    It’s like a husband insisting that he loves his wife, even though he berates her, humiliates her and demands that she obeys him without question.

  8. To those who insist that their church should not/never be criticized, Frank Viola has an interesting quote. He said on his blog that “sectarianism and elitism are like body odor. The people who have it don’t know it, but everyone else can smell it a mile away.” I quoted this on Facebook two years ago: https://www.facebook.com/ben.toh.9/posts/10151856147584490

  9. bekamartin

    Excellent insights, Mr. Toh!! Thank you!

  10. Charles Wilson
    Charles Wilson

    “Whats the big deal with ______?” Because UBF has largely taught that there is no other way to do things and still be a “Christian” (not counting West Loop UBF). There becomes no distinction between UBF’s ways and teachings in light of the larger history and orthodoxy of Christianity and Christianity itself. Partly, because UBF does not recognize the rest of Christianity except when it is convenient to either affirm UBF teachings or to denounce “nominal / worldly / etc. Christians” who don’t follow the UBF ways and teaching.

    Here are some common responses I received when questioning why a UBF chapter should keep doing the same things in the same ways forever I’m sure people are very familiar with:

    1) In my chapter in Korea, we did such and such
    2) It is the best way to be holy and listen to God
    3) Dr. Lee / Mother Barry said such and such
    4) This is how we do things
    5) We can consider it for a later time
    6) Let’s pray about it (in order to make us quiet and let the time go by)
    7) If you don’t like it you can make your own ministry
    **we’ve covered this list before**

    My impression from your article and considering these things regarding UBF teachings and viewpoints is that maybe at a deeper level it’s really the lack of considering people as people that makes these views so extreme and viable to pit people against each other rather than love each other. I think it also violates the spirit and life of Christ, which you get at in the article with “To have non-dual thinking is to be like Christ.” Christ is the both the Son of God and the Son of Man. By his very nature and life, the the Word that has become flesh and dwelt among us, the one who died and lives again, the holy one of God who welcomed sinners and ate and drank with them, Jesus espouses this kind of different way of thinking that welcomes all people to him in the most loving way, and yet can be seen as something threatening even to Christians who fear that to love and live like Jesus is to invite Hell into the congregation and judgment on the nation.

    So, I guess a major factor on why we make things a big deal is that we don’t love as Christ did and instead love rules and labels and being praised by other people.

  11. Charles Wilson
    Charles Wilson

    “For instance, some Christians say that they forgive those who left UBF and write on UBFriends.”

    Forgive them for what?!