Can UBF Divide a Marriage?


After a gradual, but long time struggle with leaving UBF I wanted to review an aspect not directly addressed by many people. As a single person the struggle really comes down to staying or leaving. There is nothing more and nothing less. However, a married couple faces different and possibly new obstacles. In fact, a growing family faces the largest issues imaginable combined with the sheer longevity of commitment and service to UBF ministry. Our stories are unique, yet at the same time complimentary by experience in UBF chapters around the world. I invite people to share this aspect of their struggle to leave UBF. There are many accounts found here and there on a wide variety of existing articles and topics, but the agreement to leave between a husband and wife has not really been opened up. It would be nice to hear from more women who visit and read UBFriends. The dominant voice has always been male even though there have become some regular female participants.

Broken Mission?

Where do we hear that our mission is broken? We hear this maybe in our own conscience, but most definitely in our UBF chapter and possibly even at larger UBF gatherings whereupon people have been gossiping. Our conscience might compel us to remain in UBF at all costs because it has become the only expression of our faith and our only understanding on how to receive Jesus’ words, command, purpose and most of all His grace in our lives. UBF teaches well that Jesus’ intent is not only about our salvation, but also narrows down our calling of service to define true Christians as those who go to campus preaching and teaching the Bible. UBF also instills that we should all be little compassionate Jesus’ and feed sheep. This serves to perpetuate the UBF corporate model more than it does the body of Christ, because it is not enough to share the gospel and bring more people to Jesus. It is more important that a shepherd begets a shepherd and so on. I have found that recent revision in UBF has attempted to acknowledge other gifts and talents from God, but the future of UBF as a church really rests in its legacy of campus evangelism.

Now, is participating in church activities a sin? Absolutely not. Naturally, any person who has received grace and has faith in Jesus wants to serve in some way and by any means. The trouble really stems from the list of requirements – UBF’s oral law. The heart is what matters in all circumstances and it is our heart that determines our end with Jesus as our sovereign. So, studying/teaching the Bible, having/being a shepherd, preparing testimony to share publicly, attending meetings, attending Sunday’s, and so on … becomes the model for worship and obedience. All of this just because you honoured a call to study the Bible in UBF. Failure to carry out the growing demands results in a judgment of one’s faith and most certainly some form of discipline. Knowing Jesus is a deeply personal and profound relationship, while knowing UBF is no different than knowing the impersonal corporate world. Simply, obeying UBF becomes more important than obeying Jesus. Is our mission to know and follow Jesus or to know and follow the UBF system?

Broken Promise?

Am I breaking a promise to commit to Jesus if I leave UBF? Personally, I don’t feel that I’m part of the group. I have never caught by this aspect of UBF emotional blackmail. If I commit to Jesus, then Jesus is whom I am bonded to. I have never seen myself in any other light despite the hostility and urgency to demonstrate human loyalties to those who sacrificed for you. I have seen many attempts to scare people about their promises before God. I suppose the conviction and guilt goes even deeper if you have left your country to become a “missionary”. It is difficult to simply accept someone who has left UBF. For a UBF member it feels like betrayal, that a promise has been broken with Jesus. In UBF it is a hard process and struggle. Those who leave UBF have more often been either referred to as unbelievers or great because they studied with UBF. Those who leave UBF are making decisions according to what they know as being right before God. How many times have you cringed when you learn something that is new to you within the UBF fantasy world?

Broken Community?

When someone leaves is the community really broken? When a young Bible student leaves it grieves the one who spent time with them. When a long standing member leaves it grieves everyone, but that grief is expressed with silence. How many examples are there of people who leave and never hear a word from UBF again? The fact is that UBF moves on and plods along its way with or without you. The system has been built to seek out new faces every season with an expectation that only a small number of people will stay – some of whom never become Bible teachers, but remain stuck as sheep. The system is built to block anyone suspect of glorifying themselves and not UBF – God. It also replaces any leader who leaves with ease and control. UBF is not a community of friendship and love, but rather one of numbers. It’s first a hierarchy in the years someone has been there. After that importance goes according to the success of disciples raised by each person. The community of fellowship looks more and more like some marketing department looking for someone to open and close a deal – The kingdom is contaminated with sharks!


The life of a (single) student has less complexity in the decision to leave UBF. Now, single does not mean you are without a boyfriend/girlfriend or even spouse. By singleness I am referring to one person who has agreed to study the Bible in UBF. Leaving has no consequence to your social life outside the sphere of UBF and as long as you have not lost your identity there is hope to readjust as you walk with Jesus. Only now do I appreciate the easy circumstances of a single person in UBF. I did not have to worry about my wife or children. I only had to focus on recreating myself. I had enormous concerns about my life if I left. But, mostly these were about my identity and social life. UBF successfully desecrates a person’s social life and habits – routine. After becoming loyal to UBF I exchanged my common habits with UBF activities. This limited social relationships outside of UBF and even my interests, personality and character were sacrificed for my new holy identity as a growing disciple in UBF. When I did challenge and fight I was the only one to get hurt. Disagreements, misunderstandings and so on all had no consequences for others in my life. If I confronted anything I was the only one to receive hardships. The community of UBF could disgrace and shame me and me alone – I never had to worry about my actions having dire consequences for others close to me.

Married (With Children)

After marriage I realized on so many levels how much more difficult the decision to leave UBF was becoming. First of all, there is an understanding during the wedding preparations and ceremony whereupon an oath has been made to serve campus students with this new house church. Both man and woman are prepped to be the model Bible teaching house church. So, here begins the complexity of leaving.

What happens when one partner in the couple begins to object to UBF activities?

I have always been on the brink of leaving and somehow I managed to be married in UBF. I can honestly share with you that I really wanted to hold on as the Bible study had benefitted me, despite the pain that being in UBF had caused me. I had a small hope that maybe I could do things differently. However, I could no longer condone what I had been reading, hearing and in some ways continue to experience as I engage in UBF. Okay, so I feel badly about UBF … what’s next? Now I must sit down and talk with my wife about it. I must coolly and rationally explain myself. I believe my wife will support me on this – but actually I am not sure. (Marriage in UBF is for mission and UBF goals. How common in UBF is it to marry because two people love each other outside the context of mission?)

I do thank God that my family has entered a chapter of UBF that is more flexible, however, it does not cut us off from the umbrella of UBF ministry national and international. My wife has not had such negative experiences as I have and therefore has loyalist tendencies. However, I thank God that she also supports my decisions. To be clear, we are in some way divided, but supportive of each other and highly communicative in our marriage. One difference in our personalities is that I am frequently aware of certain injustices and she is insensitive to them – She is very care free and easy going.

When I arrived in UBF I observed an example like this where the husband remained part of the UBF leadership, but his wife had since left for a local church. It did not take long for the husband to unite with his wife at that church. So, in my example, I have had the conversation with my wife about our flexible chapter and if we had not been so lucky. She knows I would otherwise leave UBF. My decision has become local only – national or international matters do not interest me.

So, what would happen if my wife and I were in opposition? I want to leave, but she wants to stay. I hate UBF and she loves UBF. Clearly we would not be able to reach any reasonable solution. Big dilemma….there are children involved. But really … Who out there had to convince their spouse about leaving? Who was the first one to want to escape? How was the news and announcement received? How long did the process take?

What happens when UBF social culture invades the family unit?

UBF social culture is invasive and likes to compare its logic with the book of Acts. The perceived example of the early churches justifies UBF behaviours. The UBF community can be suffocating for a brother or sister, but knows no bounds after marriage. A married couple becomes an object to be used since the married couple made a vow to serve in UBF for campus ministry. In principle common serving does not look objectionable at first. But, it is the nature of relationships and influence of elders that can make problems in the family unit arise. With children the home invasion brings more privacy concerns and problems. Of course, this may be worse as your children get older.

I am presently just scratching at the surface, because I want to hear people contribute. I want to see new voices. I also want to raise the controversy of weak marriages in UBF. If one spouse is in and the other out of UBF what holds the marriage together? In my case, my wife and I communicate often and she knows exactly my intentions and feelings. Now, you may ask about her prayer for me, but I have already told her not to pray for my renewal in UBF. I am getting older and I am tired of such nonsense. It’s a waste of time. I just want Jesus and not stupid politics of the who’s who at UBF events. As my children get older I also want to spare them the stress of UBF land – Oh! They are so cute until they can form opinions and then they must know their place in UBF social order.

One spouse calling it quits does have the power to break a marriage in UBF. This is very clear because people are committing to the UBF system and not necessarily the person they marry. I have nothing wrong with jumping into a marriage with someone I hardly know. (I did that already!) I do have a problem with being caught up in the dream or fantasy of UBF. Time and experience changes a person. UBF has problems.


In this article I am trying to make sense of breaking the relationship with UBF. I question a person’s broken mission, promise and sense of community, because these are integral matters addressed when someone makes the decision to leave. I also think about the contrast of a single voluntary decision to engage in UBF activities against that of an experienced married couple with/without children.

How about you? What else can you add to brokenness? What can you share as a single or married person who struggled to leave UBF? What conflicts did you face? Alone or with your spouse?


  1. Thanks gc for reflective, incisive and provocative reflections and probing questions!

    A major significant problem which I have been expressing more and more is that some older leaders feel as though it is their absolute right to be in control of UBF and that they are the authentic vanguards of UBF with all of her legacies, traditions and so-called “core values,” which Brian appropriately calls “UBFisms.”

    Until this is addressed and discussed in open forum (rather than in closed circles comprised primarily of the oligarchy) things will continue as they are.

    Recently, an older ubf leader mentioned that ubf is getting weaker. So I asked him an obvious question, “why?” He has not answered or responded.

    As Jeff Daniels of the HBO hit Newsroom says, “The first step in solving any problem is recognizing that there is one.” (

    Is UBF ready to recognize the truth about herself?

  2. “Until this is addressed and discussed in open forum…” – See more at:

    How many more open forums are needed? We’ve been discussing these topics in open forum since 2004, at least 11 years.

    How many more open letters need to be written? We’ve had well articulated letters that expose the problems clearly.

    • Good point. I guess I was thinking about the open forum in the local UBF chapters/church community, where this is basically hush hush and taboo and never publicly discussed, because “sheep need to just study the Bible.”

    • Oh you meant open, honest discussion inside ubf. Well then I suppose you’ll have to wait until hell freezes over.

  3. gc,

    This is a really good article raising critical questions that need to be processed. I am holding off sharing though so that others might chime in. I plan to be offline for a while, thanks.

    “How about you? What else can you add to brokenness? What can you share as a single or married person who struggled to leave UBF? What conflicts did you face? Alone or with your spouse? – See more at:

  4. In my case it was not so difficult after my wife and I had started to trust each other more than UBF leaders. In the beginning, the UBF director tried to play us out against each other, but when we started to speak frankly with each other, such attempts became obvious and separated even more from UBF. Since we discussed all the things together, we developed our understanding of the UBF problems in lockstep and it was exactly the same day when each of us felt things had accumulated so much that we needed to leave.

    However, I know we were very lucky here. There were many other highly problematic cases of marriages where one spouse wanted to leave and the other wanted to stay. Usually, the one who wants to stay will be called “spiritual” and given the mission to “help” the “weaker on”. This only serves to alienate the two even more from each other. As soon as there is a “helper-helped” “shepherd/sheep” “spiritual/unspiritual” division, frank discussion will stop. The “shepherd” will start to tell you only “helpful” things, not tell you what he/she really thinks and where he/she *also* sees problems.

    The most extreme case I experience was when a wife wanted to leave together with her husband who was considered the precious “ancestor of faith” of our chapter. The wife was considered immature. Yes, she was much younger than him, but their marriage had been arranged by UBF with that age difference in the first place. UBF often liked to marry people who do not really fit together, to make them focus their lives more on UBF than on their marriage. That marriage was such a case. Anyway, the wife didn’t want to divorce her husband, she just couldn’t bear with UBF any more and so she stopped attending UBF. After that, the husband was told by Samuel Lee to issue an ultimatum to her to rejoin UBF or he would divorce. Since the husband was absolutely loyal to UBF, he obeyed and filed for divorce when she refused. Only one year later, he was re-married to another girl in UBF. That marriage was also arranged by Samuel Lee. (My chapter was in Europe, but the first wife was from Chicago, that’s why Samuel Lee interferred directly). I know that there were many other cases in Chicago where UBF couples were divorced and re-married, by instruction of Samuel Lee.

    This fact alone shows that UBF and the worldview of Samuel Lee is not evangelical at its core, since in an evangelical church (and in Catholic church as well) divorce and re-marriage by order of pastor (and even abortion by order of pastor!) is unthinkable. Brian is correct to call Samuel Lee’s “theology” UBFism for that reason. I know that UBF chapters are saturated with UBFism to different degrees, but all chapter are still tainted by it, since the teachings of UBFs go top down and at the top was Samuel Lee.

    So gc, you’re touching a crucial issue. I have seen many unlucky and divorced marriages in UBF because on partner wants to stay and the other wants to leave, or because the partners were too different in their mindsets, or both. Their marriage was built solely for the purpose and with the background of UBF, and when that fails for whatever reason for one spouse, this creates a huge problem.

    But I learned there are people in UBF who are even worse off. I have a friend in UBF whose parents are UBF honchos, and whose wife and her parents are also UBF Koreans. He knows all the problems of UBF and hates UBF, but cannot leave, because this would immediately break his complete family who are completely irrational about their involvment with UBF, so he cannot even discuss with them.

  5. Kevin Jesmer

    I want to chime in here. Julie and I were married in UBF. I would say that my marriage has had its hard times over the years, but I would say that it is ordained and blessed by God. After 23 years of marriage, we have 5 wonderful kids and hundreds of pictures to prove we were involved with the kids. There were hard times. We never directly focused on marriage development. It was all ministry activities, every day. But God blessed us. I started exploring life outside the house church ministry by myself. I needed to…I was severely depressed and close relationships were strained. I started going to the morning service of a local church and having coffee with the pastor. Nobody wanted to come with me and so I went by myself. Then I returned to preach at our house church. This went on for two months. We believed in one principle however, our marriage and family is top priority under Jesus. We came to an understanding that something needed to change. God had shown us an open door, a church where both of us felt comfortable in exploring. And so we made the change together. We both set out into uncharted waters and made the Bible church our home church. I know that it was God’s will for us to be married and raise a family. Would we be better off to marry outside of UBF? No. Look around. The world is not doing better. The road had rough spots, but we are blessed by God. I would say, enter into honest conversations and prayer together as a family. Keep the oneness in your marriage a top priority. Acknowledge that God himself brought you together. And open your eyes to see how God is leading your family specifically. There are doors open around you, specifically for you. To stay or leave is a prayerful decision that your whole family needs to make.

    • That’s nice. The concern should be for those who were divorced. There are many ubf people who divorced and should have gotten help.

  6. “As soon as there is a “helper-helped” “shepherd/sheep” “spiritual/unspiritual” division, frank discussion will stop. The “shepherd” will start to tell you only “helpful” things, not tell you what he/she really thinks and where he/she *also* sees problems.” – See more at:

    When this is manipulated as such in a marriage it is tragic and unfortunate.

    Sadly such arbitrary dichotomous categorizations invariably applies to virtually most if not close to all relationships, conflicts, differences, disagreements, etc, in UBF.

    Additional dichotomies include: senior/junior, older/younger, controller/to be controlled, leader or elder/member, missionary/native, etc. Whenever it rears its ugly head, all it does is weaken the ministry, promote schisms and divisions, cause everyone to take sides, and breaks down trust, friendships and relationships.

    Sorry for stating the sorry facts point blank. Those on the unfortunate or receiving end basically has to suck it up, take it or leave it, and regard it as UBF’s way or the highway. Is there any wonder why people continue to leave, even after 30 to 40 years of being committed to UBF!

    But if you’re a beloved 2nd gen of a senior older missionary leader, then you have more rope, leeway and space with such games not played on you as much.

    When this happens in a marriage, as well explained by Chris, the result can only be devastation.

  7. Can UBF divide a marriage HECK YEAH

    The way I understand it is like this; UBF missionaries have a screwed up life. Their life was originally ruined when they joined UBF many years ago and are now (unfortunately) “trapped” inside the UBF cult culture.

    These men and women are so immensely dissatisfied with their own lives that they try to live through “sheep”, students and even their own children.

    It’s not enough that they ruined their own lives with poor decision making (joining UBF) as well as failing to have a spine and standing up to the abusive UBF leaders or false UBF doctrines. They feel they can help AND hold the authority to help others… But how could they when these so-called missionaries can’t even help themselves!

    When we left the NYUBF cult members began to attack my wife – God bless her heart… She thought these cult members were normal people. They tried to plant seeds of divorce into the mind of my wife saying things like ” since your husband is not UBF he is demon possessed and will hurt your daughters physically or mentally”.

    This is only part of the sick and demented cult that us UBF. I honestly pray that God have mercy because their is a God who will judge us one day and I pray that these people may turn away from this kind of Christianity.

  8. “This fact alone shows that UBF and the worldview of Samuel Lee is not evangelical at its core, since in an evangelical church (and in Catholic church as well) divorce and re-marriage by order of pastor (and even abortion by order of pastor!) is unthinkable. . . Brian is correct to call Samuel Lee’s ‘theology’ UBFism.”

    Yes and yes. Divorce, re-marriage and abortion by order of a pastor are unthinkable! And this is why I would add “broken logic” to your list of broken things. I am glad that Chris/BK made the distinction between evangelicalism and ubfism. There are a lot of things wrong about UBF and I’m going to be open and honest about that. Your Pastor should NOT dictate how you live your life, who you marry, what job you take, how you spend your money, where/if you go on vacation, etc. And they have NO right to make you feel guilty for the choices you make. If that is happening something is WRONG.

    I only say this, because for a long time I did not know it was wrong. I did not know I was able to speak up against these types of actions. I thought this was what God wanted for me. I thought God would never want me to enjoy my life because that is from flesh. The one verse used over and over was, “Deny yourself,” meaning if something hurts me it is obviously God’s will for me.

    And now, I am unlearning these things and undermining my jacked up view of God, by his grace. He is my Father who loves me and enjoys me. Not a slave driver who puts up with me begrudgingly. This is a drastically different way of viewing God and the world, and I cannot and will not see/live the way I did before under fear and shame.

    The gospel is too precious a message to be screwed up. God freed us for freedom, not so that we would be yoked to another burden. God is good. Praise His name!

  9. Charles Wilson
    Charles Wilson

    Hi gc, Thanks for sharing this article. This is a topic that definitely deserves discussion.

    Here are a few thoughts that came to mind while reading the article:
    * The answer to the title is a resounding, Yes!
    * I can think of several cases off the top of my head from the LA chapter where marriages were divided because one person either wanted to leave or had already left. In one case, with a good friend, a few of us actually encouraged him to stop coming to UBF for the sake of taking care of his wife and kids. He was coming by himself for a while but it was clearly not good nor was it necessary. His family should come first.
    * In my family’s case, UBF has and continues to cause division although we left 1 year ago. We left together, but I my wife and kids attended Sunday services for a month longer than I did. Unfortunately, I can’t say too much without breaking my wife’s trust and causing further division, but I can (maybe) say the following:

    – I was the UBF supporter in the marriage. My wife was uncomfortable about many things and often felt alone. I didn’t help her and listen to her as I should have. I tried to help her get along on most things, but it had to fit inside being a UBF family.
    – Our reasons for leaving were mostly different, but you can imagine that when I was done with UBF how selfish an act it appeared to my wife. Suddenly, when I think things have gone wrong and it’s time to go, it’s okay. We stayed on my direction, and left on my direction. Even before leaving, it was difficult to talk about issues of UBF and our family. Not because we would betray UBF or each other, but because it became too divisive, heated, and angry all too quickly. I avoided those discussions.
    – UBF haunts my marriage like a ghost. Having any kind of interaction with anything person UBF related causes division and tension in the house. It’s very unpleasant. Even mentioning contact with former members can make it uncomfortable in the house. You leave UBF, but UBF may not leave you.
    – We have kids. They were very happy that I stopped doing UBF activities so that I could spend time with them. In many ways, leaving UBF has and is uniting my family.
    – The next difficult struggle and division caused by leaving UBF: where do you go next? I’ve expressed here how I don’t even want to look anymore. I don’t want to go to church right now. I want to stay far away, actually. But my wife wants to go to a church. She also thinks that’s it good and necessary for the kids. I grew up going to Catholic churches and don’t have fond memories of that. I don’t want to subject my kids to what I had to go through each Sunday, just because you ought to go to church! So, we’re divided on that which is unpleasant. But the UBF history makes this doubly difficult. She continued at UBF because of me. But now when she wants me to go to a church with her, I don’t want to. Again, on this she tells me how selfish I am, and understandably so.

    • Really good thoughts Charles. Thanks for sharing, and thanks to GC for raising these issues in this article. These are so very important issue to examine. When you see the problems former ubf members face, you see that UBFism is harmful cult-control theology and that ubf is a harmful cult organization. If ubf were such a great Christian missionary-sending organization connected to the Presbyterian mainline church, then why do they damage so many people’s lives?

      One of my mantras since before I left ubf is this: You are not alone!

      That applies here, GC and Charles– I know there are about 7 or 8 other families from Toledo ubf who left in 2011-2012 who deal with these exact issues currently. Most don’t have the energy or the desire to share details here publicly, but know that they exist and their problems are real and similar to ours.

      When ubf shepherds snatch away your identity, they then pair you up for arranged marriage in order to puff up their own glory. They are seeking a kind of eternal life, lived vicariously through sheep. It doesn’t work.

  10. Charles Wilson
    Charles Wilson

    “This serves to perpetuate the UBF corporate model more than it does the body of Christ”
    Yup. This sums up much of UBF marriages and why divisions can be created, including divorce, which I have seen. UBF arranges marriages for UBF purposes first. As such, UBF acts under the assumption that it owns the marriage and can control the husband and wife as it fits the UBF agenda. Love and families are given the lowest priority, unless your part of a Korean missionaries’ family, in many cases. Cases I’ve seen for arranging marriages and choosing partners: getting a visa, acquiring/sending a missionary for bragging rights, getting someone to remain in the ministry through the bond of a UBF marriage, the couple both attend the same fellowship/school, the couple are the same race. One friend was repeatedly “suggested” to marry one woman simply because they were both Cambodian. Chicago once asked me if the LA chapter had any more spanish speaking men to send to S. America after marrying someone to a woman in a chapter in Brazil. Broken foundations / reasons to marry.

  11. Charles Wilson
    Charles Wilson

    Recommended reading: The letters of James and Rebecca Kim (former Toledo).

    • Speaking of Rebecca Kim… after sharing my confession, I made contact with Rebecca indirectly, via one of her friends. She said she appreciated my article and did not want to get involved in any of this. Out of respect, I did not include her letter in my new online companion for my new book.

      I did however post her late husband’s 1994 letter and several others that are very revealing, from the prior reform movements.

  12. btw, one of the big deceptions that duped me at ubf was that the shepherds back in 1987 claimed ubf was related to the Presbyterian Church and followed the Westminster Shorter Catechism. They even handed me a yellow booklet with the Westminster Shorter Catechism printed out. I thought I was joining a Christian student missionary training program.

    But of course that is just pure bullshit. SLee intentionally broke ties with the Presbyterian church and purposefully created ubf as an anti-church group.