Steven Hassan Interview

ScreenShot2015-03-20at9.38.57AMPlease watch this.

Steven Hassan and Brian Karcher discuss various topics from Steven’s book “Combating Cult Mind Control” and Brian’s book “Identity Snatchers”.

Steven A. Hassan, M.Ed., LMHC, NCC is a former cult member who has been educating the public about mind control and destructive cults since 1976. As a Nationally Certified Counselor (NCC) and Licensed Mental Health Counselor (LMHC), Hassan is the author three books that have received extensive praise from former cult members, families of former members, clergy, cult experts, and psychologists. Combating Cult Mind Control: The #1 Best Selling Guide to Protection, Rescue, and Recovery from Destructive Cults(1988, 1990, 2015), Releasing the Bonds: Empowering People to Think for Themselves(2000), and Freedom of Mind: Helping Loved Ones Leave Controlling People, Cults & Beliefs, (2012, 2013). He also co-developed “Ending the Game”, a non-coercive curriculum designed to educate and empower commercial sex trafficking victims.

He has appeared on 60 Minutes, CNN, NPR, Good Morning America, The Today Show, Larry King Live, Oprah, Dr. Drew, Dr. Phil, and many other programs, and has been featured in People Magazine, USA Today, Newsweek, The New York Times, The Washington Post, The Wall Street Journal, Chicago Tribune, The Guardian, and dozens of other major publications and websites. Learn more about him and the Freedom of Mind Resource Center, Inc. at

Hassan – Karcher 2015 – Interview University Bible Fellowship (UBF) from Brian John Karcher on Vimeo.


 hassan Combating Cult Mind Control: The #1 Best-Selling Guide to Protection, Rescue and Recovery from Destructive Cults
 IdentitySnatchers-CoverFront Identity Snatchers: Exposing a Korean Campus Bible Cult



  1. Just as personal comment from someone in UBF. I want to say that a lot of what you guys write about has changed me as someone in UBF who has suffered a lot of wrong thinking about how to live as a Christian. A lot of things in UBF I believe are not intentionally used to control people, but they are subtle and appeal to our desire to want to fit in and gain approval.
    I think it is very hard for people in UBF to stomach a lot what is posted (accusations) because it is natural to take things very personally and say, “That is not what I do!” “we are not a cult!” “You have no idea” (even though many of you have been in UBF for decades) etc… But beyond those reactions, what you guys post and discuss are really significant things to think about it and it has helped me a lot.
    I have personally stepped back from 1:1 Bible study because I prefer group studies and more topical studies. This also means I am not the sole mentor to tell someone what I think is the best way to take in one’s life. I also realigned my focus to think beyond about how students can serve campus ministry and accept that (duh!) people have all kinds of gifts and callings to serve. They are not restricted to do UBF campus ministry. I believe most students in UBF realize this and do move on themselves.
    I hope that UBF can take these accusations seriously and also trust that people who see these things can make up their own mind and not just see it as bashing UBF.
    I personally hoped leaders could respond, but then I realized, I am a leader and should speak up myself. I admit that I am not always comfortable doing so, but I hope I can contribute more.

  2. Thanks JD for stating clearly what many wish and hope would happen consistently: “I hope that UBF can take these accusations seriously and also trust that people who see these things can make up their own mind and not just see it as bashing UBF.” – See more at:

    UBF may do certain things quite well. But one thing she has lacked is to not receive critique well, regardless of whether it is done publicly or even privately. That is why any critique of UBF is regarded as “bashing.”

    As Brian and Chris have stated repeatedly, this is not a recent development. Those who have critiqued UBF have basically been denigrated and expelled from UBF in at least four mass exoduses, which happened in:

    * 1976
    * 1989
    * 2001
    * 2011

    Except for 2011, the first three critiques of UBF resulting in their mass departure were from Korean shepherds and/or missionaries.

    Only in 2011 did native indigenous UBF leaders in numerous countries begin to address and raise the exact same issues as in the past that were addressed, raised and critiqued by Korean UBF nationals ever since 1976.

    The difference might be that in those days they were not accused of “UBF bashing” ( a recently used phrase since 2011). Instead, they were labelled or referred to as “rebels” or “cockroaches.” I can’t decide which is more interesting! (I’m refraining from using the word “cute.”)

  3. There are AT LEAST two healthy ways to respond… defend against false accusations for the sake of the Gospel or acknowledge the truth to the criticism and work to make things right for the sake of the Gospel.
    In 2001, I could tell there was a lot of personal attacks and really personal accusations that maybe some were partly true, but also partly false which could really hurt people’s reputation. This made me want to defend UBF even when I didn’t really believe in God at the time.
    This website, however, is mostly thoughtful and healthy criticism. There are still times when UBF leaders can defend, but mostly, I have come to acknowledge a lot of unhealthy practices.
    It’s been talked about many times before here, but I think that there are many in UBF who have sincere hearts to want to serve and it is hard to acknowledge that even sincere motives can lead to unhealthy practices when left unchecked. UBFriends is doing a good service for the most part.

    • “There are AT LEAST two healthy ways to respond… defend against false accusations for the sake of the Gospel or acknowledge the truth to the criticism – See more at:

      Thank you for seeing this, jdkim. For the moment, I can work with these two options (though I think there are other options too). Back in 2003 I became disillusioned with my UBF lifestyle. So we pioneered.

      At that time, I took the first route you mention–defend UBFism. Within a few years I discovered all of my defenses fell apart. Not a single defense of UBFism stood the test of scrutiny.

      Then I became lost. What do you do when you realize your entire worldview is a sham? This led me to godly sorrow, then to repentance and then to urgent actions to make things right (2 Corinthians 7 describes this process). I realized that I was not innocent. I had done a horrible thing to James and Rebekah Kim’s family. We mistreated them badly. So I publicly recanted UBFism and my own sins.

      As you say, we must acknowledge the truth of the criticism. That also means we must face the consequences.

  4. jdkim, it has come to my attention a SECOND time that there are cases of sexual and physical abuse.

    1) I reported the first case to the NYPD in New York.

    2) I just reported the second case to Child Services in Canada.

    Part of acknowledging the truth is to also accept the responsibility and consequences of our actions. Both cases above were reported to the UBF Ethics and Accountability committee. The result? The committee failed to report these cases to the police, as required by both American and Canadian laws.

    Furthermore, instead of reporting the abuse case in Ottawa Canada, the UBF leaders felt it “wise” to invite the person to give a special lecture at the upcoming CBF/youth conference!

    In the NY case, the person doing the abusing was made to be a leader in the CBF ministry, and then later reportedly left UBF entirely.

    How outrageous is that?!?

    Both cases are confirmed. These are no longer allegations, but fact. And the “ethics” of UBFism leads people to not only mishandle the reports of abuse, but also to promote the abuser.

    These things cause normal healthy people to be infuriated. So while your sentiment in your latest comments is good, I would ask when will UBF leaders face the consequences of their actions?

    When will they deal with the following 12 cultic elements of the group?

    -Arranged marriages exclusively with group members
    -Replacement of identity with the Shepherd X identity
    -Lifelong moral supervision by a personal shepherd
    -Degradation of family as unspiritual
    -Koreanization of host cultures
    -Failure to adequately address various cases of abuse
    -Hagiographical re-writing of their own history
    -Traumatic process of leaving the group
    -Psychological issues found in former members
    -Theological departures from the tenets of Christianity
    -Reduction of the Bible canon to 12 books
    -Toxic leadership styles that foster hypocrisy

  5. Mark Mederich

    Such groups often take scripture out of context, the institute says, separate members from the outside world and practice “spiritual elitism.”(The New England Institute of Religious Research)

    Enroth wrote. “The perversion of power that we see in abusive churches disrupts and divides families, fosters an unhealthy dependence of members on the leadership, and creates, ultimately, spiritual confusion in the lives of victims.” (Newsweek/Max Kutner)

    • Mark Mederich

      Difficulty leaving is a key aspect of abusive churches, experts say. Lois Gibson, an abusive church survivor who now runs support groups through her website Spiritual Abuse, says the mentality is, “You will be doomed if you leave. They’re not like a healthy church where if somebody decided to leave for whatever reason, they wouldn’t feel like they were leaving the ‘truth’ or leaving God or something bad was going to happen to them.”

    • Mark Mederich

      toxic leadership/followership will not (perhaps can not) address/resolve significant issues until forced to by society (did catholic sex abuse issue begin to get addressed for decades world-wide before social/financial woes tipped the balance enough to ‘begin the beguine’?)

      but we are not defeated, His truth is marching on! whether some individuals/groups have yet reached the tipping point, we can be those who do/have & discover/move on in better ways (while holding previous absolutely/undeniably/inescapably responsible as well, whether individuo/groupo-familio/religio/educatio/politico/etcetero, out of love/rightness/redemptive restorative necessity for all:)

  6. “In 2001, I could tell there was a lot of personal attacks and really personal accusations”

    Yes, and most of them were directed against the general director Samuel Lee. He was personally responsible for the abuse, including pushing women members to have an abortion. So personal attacks and accustations against him were totally appropriate.

    “This website, however, is mostly thoughtful and healthy criticism”

    I do not see any fundamental difference between the accusations made in 2001 and now. Maybe, since Samuel Lee was still alive, who caused all of this and refused to talk about it, the outcry was even louder. Today, we have some distance. So it’s easier to stay calm.

    I also don’t see how the reports and claims by the reformers in all 3 reform movements before 2001 where *not* thoughtful or *not* healthy criticism as you seem to imply. No, they were a thousand times more healthy than anything that was going on in UBF all the years. Blaming the reformers for not being thoughtful or criticising in unhealthy ways now is unfair and doesn’t do them justice.

    • Hi Chris, I see that you took some offense thinking that my words are saying that the past reforms weren’t thoughtful or were criticizing in unhealthy ways. I am biased and maybe it was just a few wild presumptions about people’s personal lives and understandably heated remarks, but it tainted my view of the 2001 message boards as a whole, even when I was highly critical of many things in UBF myself and agreed about the really serious issues.
      I remember reading certain things that read like a tabloid. I don’t want to bring up specific ones, but they were highly presumptuous. I don’t doubt that there were and are serious abuses in our ministry and I abhor that leaders try to hush it up or deal with it in improper ways. It really does disgust me.
      I recently read UBFriend’s prayers for blogging and commenting policy, and it is really wonderful that we can try to keep ourselves and each other in check with these and minimize flames and damaging people’s reputations.

    • Chris, you are correct. When SL was alive, everything was personal. At that time, UBF was a strong personality cult built around the person of SL.

      JD, perhaps you are referring to the offline interactions back in 2000? I remember talking to a Korean missionary at a staff conference (while I was still “in”) about the 2000 events. He only talked for a few seconds before changing the subject. But he was deeply hurt and mentioned all the “personal attacks”. This was not about the online discussions but the in person discussions.

      So there is an element of truth here: the first 3 reform movements were indeed more of a personal attack in nature– UBF was a personality cult, SL was personally responsible for most of the abuse and Koreans were very involved as reformers.

      In my experience with hundreds of Korean UBFers, they tend to be very personal in the way they approach life. They never care about WHAT but only about WHO. They ignored the facts of a situation and only tried to blame somebody.

      It is the nature of Korean justice. In Korea, even the courts historically do not care about the truth of a matter, but almost exclusively about the people of the matter. They care about questions like Who did something? Who was the victim? Who was the accuser? It is all about the politics of who to blame and who to protect.

      In the 2000 reform the Korean ubfers eventually found someone to blame– Chris. So they took legal action to remove Chris’ website and to take Chris out of the game. After that lawsuit, the 2000 reform came to a screeching halt.

      What about 2011? Almost no Koreans are involved this time. Now it is Russians, Taiwanese, Americans, Canadians and Germans and others. Most of the world outside of the Korean peninsula has justice systems based on FACTS. Especially in America, we care about WHAT was done. It does not matter WHO you are.

      Someone at ubf needs to honestly evaluate the refrom/crisis movements. I tried but did not do a really good job: Summary of the 4 crisis events at UBF

    • Oh and this time even the Ukrainians are involved!

    • Brian, since you mention that website, it was a bit more complicated. In fact, the reformers (yes, mostly Koreans, but also several non-Koreans in Germany and other countries) had their own reform websites around 2000 and 2001, two in Korean language, one for the US and one for Germany. So these were at least 4 reform websites with discussion forum which had nothing to do with my website. The reason why they all closed was that UBF expelled the reformers who then continued under the name of CMI. The UBF reformers did not see a reason to operate these “reform UBF” websites any longer and considered the matter “settled” with their final expulsion.

      The reason why I kept my website online was that it contained a lot of material (testimonies, articles) that were helpful to understand the deep problematic issues of UBF, both of its teachings (the “UBFism”) and of its leader/founder Samuel Lee, and other leaders who imitated him. Of course both is connected. UBFism has eventually been created and shaped by Samuel Lee.

      Personally I would have wanted such information to be available to me while I was in UBF, so I considered it my duty to keep this available for others, even though I did not have enough time to keep it up to date. The website did not only contain the testimonies about Samuel Lee, but also about Peter Chang in Bonn, Germany, which were particularly revaling and condemning.

      In fact the driving force behind the lawyer attack against the website was Peter Chang in Bonn. He had created his own personality cult inside UBF since the 1980s (some called it a cult inside a cult), and around 2001 many shocking testimonies about Bonn appeared (beatings, child neglect etc.), and there even was an investigation by the state attorney (not because of reformers as some claim, but because of neighbours and kindergarten teachers who saw the issues). Unfortunately, the investigation did not lead to a conviction of Chang – it’s very difficult to sue cult leaders if they are backed by their followers and people do not have enough courage to speak out. Also, Chang was very clever and had good lawyers. Some victims said the beatings were “voluntarily” and unfortunately this is not punishable then. Others blamed the parents for the child neglect, though clearly it all happened because of the demands of the cult. Anyway, there was no official conviction of Chang. Still, there were all the testimonies about him on my website. For years, Chang did not dare to do something about this, since witnesses were still around, and he didn’t want to create a sensation. He never even contacted me. He tried to keep a low profile for a while. But then around 2004, he reappeared, even became Europe and CIS UBF director, engaged in “business mission” and other activities like a youth orchestra, the Korean community etc. My website was disturbing his activities and ambitions. That’s why he paid lawayers to sue me with a threat of 100,000 Euros. At that time I did not have the time and energy to update the website and make it safe against any legal attacks (copyright and trade mark violation, complicance with rigid German imprint regulations, alleged “defamation of character”, violation of personal rights or privacy of people named in the testimonies etc. – they fired attacks from all sides), deal with Chang’s lawyers, hire my own lawyers, and risk my health because of the trial, so I closed the site. Contrary to Chang, I have a day job and do not have a budget to pay lawyers. So that’s the story behind the closing of that website, it did not have much to do with the reform movement – as I said that was already over in 2002 after the reformers were pushed out and became CMI.

      So, in Germany around 2001 we did not only have the case of Samuel Lee, but also the case of Peter Chang, who was backed by the top leadership, and who even got promoted instead of fired for all his abuse. So many things have been going on in 2001, and hardly anybody who is still in UBF now knows about it, because it all was covered up so well and labeled as “personal attacks” so that people would not look what really was behind it. Samuel Lee was the first who called any legitimate criticism the “crazy dog fights.” It is this spirit of brushing off any legitimate criticism as “personal attacks” that is so deeply entreched in UBF and is so harmful to it, that I really get upset when people still argue along these lines. The size of the abuse and wrongoings was so extreme (forced abortions, misapproriation of money, beatings, humiliation, arranged marriages and divorces, mental and physical torture like putting red-pepper in the eyes or pulling toe nails out as reported already in 1976) that it is totally unreasonable to call out critics for being too blunt or too personal. Whatever they said and however they said it, they were in the right, and UBF and its leaders were in the wrong. Period. And again, no, it’s a myth that reformers in 2001 were aggressive, operated only on a personal level. That’s not true. They were the most thoughtful, civilized, sincere and honest people UBF had at that time. And UBF kicked them out. Please don’t look down on them, but on the top leadership who kicked them out, and at the other members who let this happen.

    • Thanks for all the detailed info Chris. I try to not say too much about the reform events in the past, since I was an ostrich with my head in the sand at hose times in 1989 and 2000. I think you are right–the Korean reformers distinguished themselves as honorable and Christian in their behavior.

  7. So what have we “native” ubfers been criticizing in this 4th reform/crisis?

    We have criticized UBFism. We have pointed out the real poison that SL kept talking about, which is the UBF ideology called KOPAHN. UBF used to be a personality cult. Now that SL is dead and gone for over 13 years, the undue influence cult nature remains. UBF was perhaps worse in the past because both cultic influences were present.

    In my books I criticize the abuse, the apathy and the theology of UBF Korean missionaries. UBFism is and always has been the true source of the cult label applied to UBF.

  8. I just re-read my 2012 article about the 4 crisis events in ubf. I very much still agree with what I wrote:

    “Some have told me that if I want to see UBF change, I am going about it the wrong way. I agree.

    As I’ve said several times, I am not seeking change or reform of UBF. I seek redemption. I believe UBF should not continue to exist as it is, or as it plans to be as described in the 50th Anniversary material.

    Why do I have such an attitude? I think this way because there have been four attempts to reform or change or improve UBF. Each time, the result is a stronger adherence by UBF members to the UBF spiritual heritage.

    NOTE: There are a small number of UBF chapters who are in the process of re-founding their ministries. The best example is Westloop UBF in Chicago. To such men and women of God, I simply say Amen!”

    And also….

    “In 2011 and the years prior, reform movements were sparked around the world. The notable and most vocal movements were in: Toledo UBF (USA), Penn State UBF (USA), Westloop/Chicago UBF (USA), India UBF, Kiev UBF, Russia UBF and Hong Kong UBF. The result was a mass exodus of dozens of long-time UBF leaders. One result was a large exodus of longtime UBF native (national) leaders. Another result was a large number of UBF leaders (Korean and native/national) who decided to remain as members of UBF in order to initiate new reforms internally.

    The fourth attempt was initiated by native (national) UBF leaders around the world.

    Based on this pattern, I predict another reform attempt will be made sometime around 2019 unless there is divine intervention.”

  9. I realize I’m slow to catch on. I never thought of UBF as a personality cult directed primarily at the founder. But as pointed out, it is indeed true that the first three reform movements in 1976, 1989 and 2001 were directed against him.

    I was around in 1989 and 2001 and looking back I can see that the result was that those who sought reform were disparaged and basically expelled, while those who remained dug in more strongly in their support of Lee.

    Since we are now living in the aftermath of the 2011 reform movement, it has sadly evolved into what may be perceived as racist. Natives who were abused and left have spoken out against UBFism. But some missionaries have accused native shepherds of “hating Koreans.” As has been pointed out, this is NOT a “Korean” racial issue, but “spiritual abuse in the name of shepherding,” which was already brought up three prior times by ALL Korean UBFers in 1976, 1989 and 2001.

    I have a response to this statement by Chris: “most of them were directed against the general director Samuel Lee. He was personally responsible for the abuse, including pushing women members to have an abortion.” – See more at: I would say that I was only aware of one instance where he asked a missionary to have an abortion in the 80s. There may have been others which I am not aware of, but the statement sounds as though SL was doing this regularly, which I do not believe is the case.

    Yes, once is bad enough. But no one in UBF today would ever approve of or support such a practice. I still say that it is quite unfortunate that to this day, no public statement has been made to denounce that this was done, even if it was only done once.

    If I were to hazard a guess as to why no public statement is ever made, it would be something along these lines. “This was done in the past. No one does it or approves of it today. There’s no need to bring it up or draw attention to it since this is no longer an issue today.”

    • “I would say that I was only aware of one instance where he asked a missionary to have an abortion in the 80s”

      In a discussion with Brian, and when reading the letters of the 1989 reformers, I learned that there were at least 2 or 3 such cases, and I can imagine the dark number is particularly high for things likes this. Nobody would want to talk about it, not even the victims. Anyway, let it be only 1 case, it shows the mindset of Samuel Lee, it shows that image was everything for him, and ethics nothing, and Biblical teachings only a means to an end. Also, in the 2001 reform there was another report about ordered abortions by a Korean UBF leader. I make Samuel Lee responsible for this, too, because he created the cult-like environment and mindset that made it possible, and maybe gave an example.

      “But no one in UBF today would ever approve of or support such a practice.”

      The point is, people in UBF in the old days didn’t approve either. People like James Kim from Toledo or Jimmy Rhee protested against such practices already in the 1980s, but they were kicked out. The reason is, again, that Samuel Lee was a cult leader. It did not matter what people approved or not.

      “I still say that it is quite unfortunate that to this day, no public statement has been made to denounce that this was done,”

      Exactly. It’s not unfortunate but inexcusable. A ministry that is based on preaching people to repent, but does not repent or even admit its own sins has no legitimation and reason to exist at all. And it cannot be considered a Christian ministry, since the essence of Christianity is repentance.

    • “I would say that I was only aware of one instance where he asked a missionary to have an abortion in the 80s” – See more at:

      Yes there is the one famous incident with MY in Chicago, where he drove a woman to the abortion clinic. He met me in a coffee shop in Detroit a couple years ago and shared his regret for participating in that.

      There are others however. I had dinner with the “USA UBF ancestors of faith” a couple years ago. The Korean woman missionary saw the letter from SL commanding one missionary candidate couple to have an abortion as a requirement to be missionaries.

      There is another case from a missionary couple in Toledo who did actually have the abortion, for the sake of “world mission”.

      I suspect there are many more incidents based on the 150+ testimonies shared on the internet. The details are fuzzy on the rest but there appear to be numerous cases.

    • “Since we are now living in the aftermath of the 2011 reform movement, it has sadly evolved into what may be perceived as racist. – See more at:

      I must admit you are right Ben. In reading my words, I do sound racist against Koreans. I apologize for that. It is very difficult to not be racist about Koreans. I will try to do better.