For those affected by undue religious influence



last updated  6/6/2024

Prior versions

ubfriends 1.0 - 2010 to 2015

ubfriends 2.0 - 2015 to 2018

ubfriends 3.0 - 2018 to 2019

ubfriends 4.0 - 2021

aiubf (ChatGPT blog) - 2023

ubfriends admin

Media Wiki

Identity Snatchers 
I Choose: Subtlety in Cults
Other books about life at UBF

Reddit about a group practicing UBFism (but in a more Americanized way)
Gracepoint/BBC Ministry

2024 Petition for Change

The group tends to tell each new generation of students: "We've changed!" and "All that bad stuff was in the past!". They also like to say: "The problems are related to just a few disgruntled former members who had personal issues with their shepherd." That is what they told us 1987. That is what they continue to tell students in 2024. 

Please join over 500 petitioners and support the call for change at UBF in 2024-- stop controlling the lives of other people's children.

Support a mother in her letter to the UBF (500+ signers in two weeks)

Only a few disgruntled members?

Regarding the popular claim by UBF leaders that only a few disgruntled former members are the problem, I suggest reading the 3 public petitions against UBF (2004, 2016, and 2024 -- links on the right side of this page) as well as the 200+ open letters on the ex-member websites. The current petition in 2024 has 500 signers after two weeks. Our petition in 2016 ended with 100+ signers who agree with the three big problems still facing the group today: Victory Petition against 3 bad practices of UBF

Are the UBF problems in the past?

Another claim by ubf people is that their problems are in the past. The problems just resolved themselves... Take a look at the 1976 open letter written by seven Korean ubf staff leaders. The problems at ubf do not go away. The problems are embedded in the system itself and manifested from the beginning of the group. Over and over and over, dedicated UBF members have petitioned for reforming the system. Again and again and again, those members ended up leaving the group because they heard silence (and worse) from the primary ubf leadership, which has had little change apart from the death of the group's co-founder, Samuel Chang-Woo Lee. The document library capturing these problems over the decades is extensive.

The problems at ubf resurface nearly every year. Yet in spite of TV reports, media reports, cult watch group reports, and painful splinter groups-- the ubf leaders who remain refuse to address the three harmful problems with their group. Shepherding, marriage arrangement, and bizarre training programs continue.

Why is the UBF Shepherding abusive?

My definition of abuse is related to the most common form of abuse experienced in UBF chapters: An improper and/or excessive use of the bible and religion as treatment for the problems of a person.

UBF leaders like to pretend to be spiritual doctors who can sense your sin problem. Then they offer a diagnosis and a cure. They also like to pretend to be your new parents and disparage your old sinful relationships. The supposed cure for all this involves more activity in the UBF heritage activities, such as attending meetings, going to bible study, or participating in prayer meetings. However, all this "cure" from ubf tends to lead to identity loss.

At some point, when you grow older and graduate your college or university, you become "old sheep" or "junk sheep". Although you are still expected to remain bound to the ubf system and glorify its practices, you are cast aside as the leaders move on in search of new, young freshman students.

Primary evidence of an abusive system is found in the exit process. At ubf, the exit process is horribly flawed. The group is a "hotel California" with no exit door. Those who do manage to leave have found difficulty in adjusting to life outside the group. They typically develop strange insider language while at the group, which is not understood on the outside. Dealing with life after ubf has been traumatic for many.

2023 Netflix Documentary about Korean Cults 

*** This Netflix show is not about UBF but it does reveal the kind of toxic environment that exists at UBF

Netflix Show ‘In The Name Of God: A Holy Betrayal’ Exposes Cults Thriving In South Korea

Esther Ku was interviewed by Religion Unplugged about the documentary:

“The eight-episode series covered Jesus Morning Star, Five Oceans, The Baby Garden, and the God of Manmim cults. Comedian Esther Ku spoke with ReligionUnplugged.com about how the series unearthed an ecosystem of cults in Korea.”

“Esther Ku is a comedian who grew up in University Bible Fellowship. Her parents followed leader Samuel Lee to America to evangelize young college kids. Ku recalls what it was like recruiting the college kids, which UBF called "fishing." "They prey on very vulnerable kids," Ku said in an interview with ReligionUnplugged.com. "These college kids are away from home for the first time. They (UBF) target people who are alone or lonely. These kids are probably thinking, 'an, I thought I would have friends by now,' and during that time, the only people who would approach them would be these religious people.'”

See more of Esther Ku's content: Social Media videos revealing UBF cultic practices and lifestyle

Review of Netflix Documentary: In the Name of God: A Holy Betrayal

Three Problems Continue to Plague UBF

On one hand, the group has changed. They have reportedly ended the physical abuse training for shepherds. There are accounts of this training being an exercise in bouncing a soccer ball against your head a thousand times to show your repentance. Other accounts tell of walking two miles in the snow because you are late for a leadership meeting. Still other accounts tell of being locked in your room until you repent.

Based on current reports, this kind of physical abuse has thankfully ended. There are no longer reports of a ubf leader lining up shepherds to check their underwear for cleanliness or of a ubf leader taking women to get abortions for the glory of God (such reports do exist in the past). However, the system has not stopped the excessive control of members' lives. The core group practices remain toxic. ubf is still an abusive system--spreading spiritual, social, and psychological abuse.

1. Shepherding [spiritual abuse] - From the group's inception in 1961 in South Korea, and continuing with the group's expansion into North America in the 1970's, the group's primary characteristic can be labelled "shepherding". The group likes to claim their shepherding is uniquely supreme. ubf-style shepherding is not so unique however. It is a non-Charismatic, Koreanized version of the Shepherding Movement, which is flawed in similar ways.

Using one-to-one study sessions, the group slowly changes the student's identity into that of a "shepherd" (or "shepherdess" for females). These shepherd relationships are paramount in the minds of the group leaders. In fact, the chapters of the group are often structured along "shepherd lines", going back several generations. A student's shepherd becomes the student's life-long, self-appointed spiritual and moral advisor.

Shepherds are trained to obey and to become new parents for the college student members. Shepherds rarely respect personal boundaries for students and shrewdly intrude into every facet of a student's life over time. Students are pressured to put less importance on family and friends in order to join in the ubf lifestyle. A recent development in the ubf shepherding program is to get students to sign membership covenants, which helps guarantee obedience and submission to the group. These covenants may also provide the group with convenient legal protection in the US.

2. Arranged Marriage [social abuse] - The marriage-by-faith practice at ubf is not the same as cultural arranged marriage that is found in Korea, India, and other parts of the world. The ubf-style marriage process is the holy grail of their social manipulation of students' lives. The end-game purpose of UBF missionaries and shepherds is to pair up young couples into "families of faith" and "mission families" who can be part of their "holy nation". The leaders pressure students to avoid dating and accept a shepherd-appointed marriage candidate. Why do they do this? There are three main reasons: as a gauge of faith, as a training tool, and as an expression of their salvation ideology.

a. The group claims the process is modeled from the Isaac and Rebecca stories in the Bible. They call the process "marriage by faith" or "forming house churches". In their minds, this is an ultimate gauge of one’s faith. How much you blindly accept someone and how much you obey your shepherd in this matter is seen by them as how much faith you have.

b. The arranging process is typically used as training. Young people are trained to obey using their desire to marry. For example if you want to marry a specific person usually you would be transferred to another chapter or country (for women typically).

c. Embedded in their ideology called UBFism is the eastern religious idea of gaining eternal life via human lineage and succession. This arranged marriage means everything to the shepherds. It is their holy grail. It is their end goal when "fishing for sheep" on campuses (and exclusively on campuses).

3. Training [psychological abuse] - The high-pressure, authoritarian culture of the group allows various kinds of abuse, in the name of spiritual training, to foster without being addressed. The training at ubf goes beyond the abuse of a student's time and money (for offering and special gifts). The group has been imaginative when it comes to training programs for students. It should be noted that this training is unofficial, that is, the group does not document the training nor does the group provide guidance on training. Training of students is left up to individual leaders, who are free to create any kind of training program they want, as long as the ubf values are glorified.

Various leaders at ubf have invented things like job training, marriage training, money training, tithing training, daily bread training, sewing training, food training, exercise training, comb-your-hair training, shave-your-beard training, cleaning training, and on and on. Furthermore, the group has not dealt with many cases, both alleged and proven, of severe abuse, such as sexual harassment and physical beatings. The toxic control element of the group's culture allows such abusers to not only avoid punishment, but affords them a way to be promoted into higher leadership levels where they garner more glory as God's trainers.

The very same leaders who committed the past abuses via bizarre training programs are, for the most part, still in leadership roles and visible within the group. The marks of abuse have been extensively documented by hundreds of accounts, both old and recent.


  • The ubf practice of shepherding is toxic by nature and has caused widespread spiritual abuse.
  • The ubf practice of arranged marriage, aka "marriage by faith" is harmful by nature and has caused widespread social abuse.
  • The ubf practice of training is bizarre by nature and has caused widespread psychological abuse.

Is UBF a Christian Organization?

The ubf people claim they are a "Christian missionary sending organization". This is a lie. They are not, and never have been, associated with any of the seven mainline Protestant churches. Nor is the group linked to the Catholic Church or to the Orthodox Church. In the world of Christianity, ubf is not to be found. The group is an outlier new religious movement (NRM), typically too small even to be listed as an NRM. Yes the Chicago UBF group does have a loose partnership with a Christian university in the United States. How does that allow them to claim to be a "mainline evangelical church" all over the world?

The group leaders don't know if they are a para-church or something else. How many non-Korean missionaries have been sent out as Christian missionaries? Zero. Yes I know there are about a dozen ubf people who are technically not Korean and have been "sent out" but not a single non-Korean has gone through the offical ubf missionary training. If there are any I don't know about, the number is very small compared to over 3,000 Koreans who have been officially trained as missionaries. This might be a good thing, actually, since the missionary training for Korean ubf people is not Christian in nature.

Many of the ubf recruits have not gone out to share the gospel or do charity work as a Christian group would be expected to do. Instead they go out to spread ubfism. They go out to a city with a university and preach their brand of shepherding. They form their own business or academic networks to provide better lives for themselves. This is spiritual abuse because they take the name of Christ but do not do Christ's work. They redefine such work to fit their agenda of self-preservation, seeking salvation in shepherd lineage instead of in the Christian gospel.

Feedback to ubfriends.org

“I wanted to say thank you so much for the work that you have been doing in regards to exposing UBF. Ive been following you for many years and currently am reading your book the Identity Snatchers. You are truly a courageous man willing to stand up for the truth. Im thankful to God for you. It will take me time or process all that has happened in UBF, but I am willing to trust in Gods goodness.”

“I was so surprised to have found you when doing research on UBF. I cut off from that church as soon as I left home but I came across your youtube interview with Steve Hassan and purchased your book recently and now it explains a lot.”

“Thank you for speaking with me a few months back. I wanted to let you know that I have officially left UBF/Shepherd's Church and since then I have had a great weight come off me. Thank you for trying to reform the UBF ministry. I am looking forward to what the future holds.”

“Your book has been really helpful in helping me understand why my parents joined.”

“I am a concerned parent whose children have been members of UBF for the past couple years. I see the extremism of this church and the control that it has over their lives and it leaves me heartbroken and terrified. I am looking for help, resources, counseling, anything that might help dissuade them from this course.”

Cultic groups have not gone away

Most people think such groups are things of the past: phenomena of the 1960s and 70s. This is far from the case; cults continue to flourish in many different forms, capturing and exploiting many thousands of people in their seemingly benign embrace.

Gillie Jenkinson | Hope Valley Counselling

Am I really in a cult?

Almost everyone thinks they would never join a cult. It is easy to think you make your own decisions. Take these quizzes to find out for sure.

10 Signs you are probably in a cult

7 Signs you might be in a cult

Would you ever join a cult?

Professional advice

If you find yourself in an undue influence group with cultic tendencies, professional help from therapists and psychologists may be helpful. A word of caution--some professionals may not yet be aware of the harmful, long-lasting impact from years of undue religious influence.

● Phase 1: leave physically and psychologically.
● Phase 2: cognitively understand.
● Phase 3: emotionally heal the trauma, loss and pre-cult vulnerabilities where relevant.
● Phase 4: recognise recovery and posttraumatic growth.

source: "Out in the World: Post-Cult Recovery" by Gillie Jenkinson

People who have worked with ubfriends.org

Brian Karcher (the ubfriends admin) has spent numerous hours talking with the following people, including video interviews. These friends have had an incalculable infuence on his family's recovery. Brian recommends reaching out to the following people for help understanding undue influence groups, especially the UBF group. The information here will also likely be helpful to those recovering from hyper-evangelical religious organizations.

John Armstrong - ACT3 Network 

Steven Hassan - Freedom of Mind

Ashley Easter - The Courage Conference (especially for marriage and family issues, and students)

Bob Pardon - MeadowHaven Center (especially for couples)

Brian K - former UBF member

Resources for Help

For help with recovery and dealing with undue influence groups like the University Bible Fellowship (UBF), professional therapy may be helpful. Some resources below are paid memberships. Please be aware that cult recovery often requires specialists who understand the nature of undue religious influence. 

Therapy Route 

Whether you find the thought of seeing a therapist daunting, or you look forward to your first meeting with excitement and intrigue, you should feel proud of the fact that you are considering taking steps to improve your life. It might feel like defeat, but deciding to get help is a sign of strength, resilience and courage.

Therapy Route - Find a Therapist near you.

Suicide and Crisis Hotlines in USA

Suicide and Crisis Hotlines around the World

Rachael Bernstein

As an educator and therapist, I see the value in teaching and offering practical information along with listening. My job is not to judge. I want you to feel heard, and understood. People do what they do for a reason. It it’s something you want to change, let’s look at it together so you understand why you’re doing it and how to start to change it. I want to help you get what you are hoping for, and where you want to go in your life.


More resources

Hope Valley - UK: https://www.hopevalleycounselling.com/services

Betterhelp: https://www.betterhelp.com/

Talkspace: https://www.talkspace.com/


Here is a website that gives pointers on how to detect signs of depression, suicide red flags, and how to make conversation starters of such topics: https://seizetheawkward.org/

Resources for LGBTQ and UBF

Groups like University Bible Fellowship are rarely friendly for LGBTQ people. Here are some resources for help for you or family members related to LGBTQ. Brian Karcher is also fully affirming in this arena.

It Gets Better: https://itgetsbetter.org/

The Reformation Project: https://reformationproject.org/

Book by Brian Karcher: Uncircumcised - Welcoming LGBT People Into the Family of God


Public Petitions

2024 Petition to UBF

2016 Petition to UBF

2004 Petition to NAE

Historical Letters

1976 Open Letter

1989 Open Letter

1994 Open Letter

2000 Declaration

2001 Report

2004 Petition

2010 Survey

2012 Open Letter

2013 Open Letter

2013 Report

2015 Open Letter

2016 Open Letter

2017 Open Letter

2017 Report

2018 Declaration

Ex Member Sites


RSQUBF (archive)

Ex Hong Kong UBF

Ex Winnipeg UBF

Ex Russia UBF

Ex Chicago UBF

Ex UBF (Voy Forum)


Ex UBF International

Ex UBF Germany

Ex UBF History

Former Member Interview

This website has no official connection to University Bible Fellowship and makes no guarantee in regard to the legitimacy of any material presented here.

Comments, content or articles submitted to ubfriends that identify contact information, location, copyrighted material, or other personally-identifiable information will be removed with or without notice. All comments and articles are made at-will by the respective contributors.