What are the marks of abusive religion and movements?

This list of abusive qualities describes what former UBF members have been saying for decades, and what we former UBF members still testify to in 2013:

  1. Control-oriented Leadership
  2. Manipulation of members
  3. Rigid lifestyle
  4. Frequent name changes
  5. Denouncing other churches
  6. Persecution complex
  7. Targeting young adults primarily
  8. Painful exit process

University Bible Fellowship as of 2013 scores 8 of 8 in these marks (source)

In fact, UBF is one of the examples used in the book Churches That Abuse.

UBF leaders are very crafty and cunning in hiding the abuse. Take mark number 4 in the list above, for example. UBF used to be called “University Bible Research Society” in Korea before it came to North America. And UBF has been inventing many other names on campuses and elsewhere.

Abuse in UBF Ministry

The abuse in UBF is has taken many forms, fanned into flame by an environment where leaders are protected and their sins are covered up. The abuse has been testified to be physical, financial, spiritual, sexual, relational (family) and psychological abuse.

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 as treatment for the problems of a person.

UBF leaders like to pretend to be “spiritual doctors” who can “sense your sin problem” and offer a sure-fire “diagnosis and cure”, which always involves more activity in the 12 point UBF heritage activities, such as daily bread, one-to-one, or pioneering.

Apologetics Resource Center

Often in cult ministry we focus on groups that deny central aspects of the Christian faith such as the Trinity, deity of Christ, salvation by grace etc. Many Christians believe that if they simply look at a doctrinal statement, they will be able to spot potentially harmful organizations. Such may not be the case. There are many groups, such as University Bible Fellowship and International Church of Christ which look very good on paper but are involved in practices that can prove spiritually damaging. Our Kansas City office has recently become involved with one such group. It is important that believers are able to move beyond the doctrinal statements to recognize other telltale signs of danger.

Commitment to God = Commitment to Group. In abusive groups a subtle switch is made that causes commitment to the activities and beliefs of the group to equal commitment to God. This may be extremely difficult to spot at first because most of us express our commitment to God through faithfulness and ministry in our local church. The difference is one of degree. Imagine a student in college. Abusive groups may ask the student to lead small-group studies on multiple nights of the week. Other nights may be consumed with gatherings of the entire group and leadership training. On weekends the group has evangelistic outreach activities and of course there are regular special emphasis weeks. The student may find that their class work or family life is suffering under the burden. However, if he questions the amount the group is requiring he will be told he needs to stop loving the world and go wholeheartedly after God. Never is the thought allowed that God may actually want him to study or spend time with his family.


Newsletter of the Apologetics Resource Center

The University Bible Fellowship is another fairly large Bible-based cult on some college campuses. After the controversy at Wheaton College last year (Wheaton allowed them to rent their facility for a conference), the National Association of Evangelicals removed UBF from membership, as the facts were presented about their abusive methodology. Yet they are still active. Beware.