Is UBF a Cult?

A quick Google search will turn up numerous results of people questioning whether University Bible Fellowship (UBF) is a cult or not. I have asked myself that question quite a few times since 1987 when I joined. On the surface, I found many good things about UBF, especially during my college years. I personally was not harmed much in any way during my 24 years in the ministry. Nor did I see many of the reported abuses from other places around the world. Yet just because I fared rather well does not mean other people were not damaged or hurt. In fact, as I look back on my time in UBF, I really was like an ostrich with my head in the sand, pretending not to know about the events I heard others talking about!

But my eyes were opened recently to see that I had hurt others. I had been treated quite differently from others, probably because I became one of UBF’s biggest fans.

From a historical perspective, UBF missionaries from South Korea first came to America in the late 1970’s. Almost immediately, cult-watching groups picked up on UBF’s practices. For many years, I became one of the primary defenders of UBF against such accusations of being a cult. Through my attempts to defend UBF on Wikipedia and various other websites, I came to realize that I could not defend UBF against the cult accusations. It is a fact that the basically sound UBF statement of faith has been negated by cult-like practices. People who study in UBF eventually find out just how much control the group wants over their lives, including who and when to marry, where to work, where to go to school, what kind of degree to have, and all the while demanding absolute attendance at daily meetings. These things are not known to those who initially join the group, and the control is instituted a little at a time over many years.

I will leave it up to others to decide whether UBF is a cult or not. But as a former Director in UBF, I can clearly say that the authoritarian, obedience-driven and honor-desiring actions of UBF leaders has created an unhealthy environment for spiritual, mental and even physical growth. I will certainly not defend UBF as a Christian organization any longer.

While students may enjoy the wonderful fellowship UBF offers initially, spiritual life often becomes stagnated after graduation. I observed this stagnation repeatedly as over 100 of my friends (counting husbands, wives and children), left UBF ministry over the past 20 years.

Here is a good summary of the current situation of UBF ministry in America (and around the world outside of South Korea) from a cult-watching group:

* Note: I was one of those who sent in emails defending UBF to this cult-watching group.

This entry on University Bible Fellowship (UBF) — as shown below the blue line — is in need of updating. Doing so is on our lengthy to-do list, and we do not know when we get around to it.

That said, the primary update of note is that on March 18, 2008, the Board of Directors of the National Association of Evangelicals (NAE) voted to re-admit the UBF as a member.

Since early May, 2008, we have received emails from a number of UBF members pointing out this fact. Some also point to a handful of endorsements the UBF has received, as well as to its membership in the Evangelical Council for Financial Accountability (ECFA). Most of the emails make clear that membership in the NAE — and, to a lesser extend, in the ECFA — is seen as a stamp of approval for the UBF.

We do take such memberships into consideration, but they do not weigh heavily in our evaluations of groups. Many organizations are ill-equipped to deal with issues surrounding high-demand organizations and cult-like groups. They tend to base their determinations almost entirely on whether or not a movement’s Statement of Faith passes their standard of orthodoxy.

Unfortunately, often a group’s Statement of Faith does not quite describe what it actually teaches in word and/or in practice. In other words, a church, movement or organization can have a Statement of Faith that is theologically sound — and yet teach doctrines ranging from aberrant to heretical and/or engage in practices that are sociologically and/or spiritually abusive.

Therefore when it comes to University Bible Fellowship, our concerns regarding the organization have not been diminished as a result of the movement’s re-acceptance by the NAE.

In fact, we consider UBF’s authoritarian, high-demand nature to be evidence of a faulty understanding of the Gospel of Jesus Christ — and of the Bible’s teachings regarding disciples of Jesus.

We do not accept the notion that much of the University Bible Fellowship’s cult-like ideas regarding authority, submission, obedience and discipline can simply be explained by the group’s Korean influences. It is not Korean culture that should influence a Christian’s walk with Jesus. Rather, it should be the other way around.

In short, we have seen nothing that suggests University Bible Fellowship’s teachings and practices should not — at the very least — be cause of concern for Christians. In our opinion, the UBF is an unhealthy organization whose teachings and practices provide a breeding ground for spiritual elitism and abuse.

Theologically, we consider the University Bible Fellowship to be at best an aberrant movement. In Christian theology, aberrant means, “Off-center or in error in some important way, such that the doctrine or practice should be rejected and those who accept it held to be sinning, even though they may very well be Christian.”

Our advice to Christians is not to get involved with the University Bible Fellowship.


41 thoughts on “Is UBF a Cult?

  1. I would like to give my answer to this question. In the past, I adamantly said no, UBF is not a cult. But I did not have clear reasons why. After 5 years of intensely defending UBF on the internet (and a total of more than 20 years passively defending and living UBF programs), I now give the answer of both “yes” and “no”. Here is why.

    In words, documented teachings and official external interactions, UBF presents itself as a Korean-based, worldwide Christian ministry and not as a cult. Korean culture has influenced these interactions, so some see UBF’s emphasis on obedience. I believe this public-facing presentation of UBF is why people such as John Armstrong can make statements like this: “They wholeheartedly accept the Word of God as the basis for their ministry and their theology is consistently within the parameters of orthodox historic Christian faith.” (source) New college students attending UBF programs usually have this viewpoint also.

    In actions, UBF presents itself as a cult, however. So I say yes, UBF is a cult. Normally, it takes about 7 to 10 years for a Bible student to come to this realization, although most can immediately sense some sort of problem with the group. Most people seem to be afraid to use the term “cult”. Most seem to leave UBF in silence. UBF is an environment where cult-like actions are allowed to flourish, and sometimes, rewarded. Sometimes the leaders don’t even realize they are propogating cult-like actions. UBF is not a “hard-core” cult like the Branch Davidians or the militant religious groups we’ve seen in the past. UBF is more of a fringe cult, perhaps more correctly categorized as a totalitarian, authoritarian group or NRM. In actions, the Eastern religious values of honor, power, glory and obedience are made superior to Biblical values (again, usually not in spoken words, but in repeated actions).

    • Hi Brian,

      I spent 4 months with Jakarta UBF as a short-term missionary and was so convinced upon leaving that it is God’s calling for me to return as a full-time missionary that I purchased a plane ticket to return within 3 months. However I began having doubts of this calling, in particular from the influence of my family who aren’t saved (yet). So I agreed with the Philadelphia UBF director, Dr. Moses Noh, that I would postpone it until at least after the summer international conference, which is this coming weekend. Over the past week the Lord removed those doubts from me until I came across this website, so now I don’t know what to think.

    • Hi Anthony,

      I’m glad to hear from you. In general, I don’t give advice on these kinds of things, and I don’t pretend to know what God’s will is for you in this particular matter, except to insist that you make up your own mind, paying attention to your own conscience, and consider your own future.

      I do know the director you speak of somewhat. And I spent 24 years in ubf, becoming a director myself.

      In regard to being a short-term missionary, I also did that when I was a single college student in 1992. I went to Russia for 3 months. Upon coming back, I was convinced being a missionary to Russia was my calling. But ubf people told me that wouldn’t be possible and it never became a reality.

      If you want to talk further please ask any questions here or use my contact form to contact me privately.

    • Anthony, just thought of a question for you: are you single? are you non-Korean? I would assume so, since you went on a 4 month short-term journey. If you are single and non-Korean, then it would be highly irregular and very odd for ubf to send you as a missionary. To my knowledge, you would be then the first non-Korean, single man to be sent out to a foreign country as a missionary in 50 years. I suspect you will be required to go through the arranged “marriage by faith” process, and even then it would be difficult to be sent out.

    • Yes I’m a single American and went on the short-term mission trip a couple months after receiving my elementary teacher certificate last August. While I was there they told me I would go through the arranged marriage by faith process when I return. The hard part about returning is that I live with my parents who are opposed to me returning as a missionary to Indonesia and have even told me they think UBF is a cult. However, since they don’t know the Lord at all I haven’t taken them seriously.

    • Hi Anthony,

      Here is some food for thought…

      Have you discussed being a missionary with any Chrsitian pastors outside of ubf? I strongly suggest doing so.

      Do you see the wedge your ubf shepherd has planted between you and your own parents? Your parents love you. Your family loves you. Please consider what they have to say. What does it matter if your parents don’t pass your litmus test of “being saved” or “knowing the lord”? If that is indeed true, wouldn’t they need your love more than anyone else?

      I was already a Christian when I joined ubf, but my personal shepherds convinced me that I was not a Christian. They convinced me of the lie that all my life before ubf was bad and all my life now was good, and that if I ever left I would face terrible consequences. Well I’ve left and I’m doing very well! I resigned as a director in protest in 2011.

      Maybe you could read and participate in our blog Have you seen this? The website is a joint effort between senior ubf leaders and long-time ex-members (including myself). The blog is not officially endorsed by ubf. (Isn’t that telling?)

      We are attempting to have dialogue about many, many topics that ubf has kept hidden for 50 years. We are providing a place for ex-members to recover and process our time in ubf.

      When I shared my 24 year story with 4 Christian, non-ubf pastors, they all asked one question: Were you in a cult? As much as I loved ubf, as much as I thought they were my friends and as much as I hated to admit it, the answer to that question is “yes”.

      The first 5 to 7 years in ubf are wonderful. But then the training and life challenges set in, such as accepting arranged marriage.

      I actually do have some advice if you want to stay in ubf and survive:

      1. Don’t ever, ever question the motives or actions of your ubf shepherd. Never show any signs of disloyalty. Especially, never ask “What is dead-dog training?”

      2. Accept the first woman presented to you during “marriage by faith”. If you don’t, you’ll be in for a world of training (especially if you end up outside of America, at least we have laws here). You only get one shot at arranged marriage, except in extremely rare cases.

      3. Decide if you will be willing to give up your furture children and your wife for the sake of mission. Whenever you marry across countries, ubf will keep you apart for at least 1 year so you won’t become “family centered”.

      4. Decide whether you accept your ubf shepherd for life, because that is his attitude. He is your spiritaul advisor forever now.

    • Well I come from a Roman Catholic background on both sides of my family, and my family is not even the religious type of Roman Catholic, but nominal. Although I’ve shared the gospel of Jesus with them, they’re still under the worldly deception, or Satan’s gospel, that since God is love, he will surely not send anyone to hell, unless they’re pure “evil” people, so as long as you are a “good” person (obviously by our double standard) or even just have “good” intentions, you have nothing to worry about. That’s why the message of the cross is foolishness to them. It was actually earlier this year, shortly after I returned from Indonesia that I realized this truth, although I had received Jesus as my Lord and Savior 2 years prior.

      However, you’re definitely right in the wedge UBF has placed between my family and I. I’m beginning to see how my gratitude to UBF and my personal shepherd for being God’s agent in calling me out of that darkness and into His wonderful light has misled me to view my obedience to God through the same lens as my obedience to UBF. Also now that I think about it I realize UBF’s overemphasis on Genesis 12:2-3, in that to be a blessing you got to leave your family behind. I believed that although nothing can separate me from the love of God if I choose my family over UBF, I would not be able to be as great a blessing. In fact I was led to believe that Genesis 12:2-3 is the true meaning of Matthew 6:33. “Seek first God’s kingdom and His righteousness by leaving your family and He will then take care of and bless them.”

      Thank you so much for helping me to see clearly what I was getting myself into! No I have not discussed being a missionary with any Christian pastors outside UBF, but I definitely agree I should look into other missionary opportunities from Christian churches or organizations as the Lord may very well have laid on me the heart for being a missionary in foreign nations.

    • I too was a Roman Catholic. I left when I was 18, to join ubf. I had those same conversations with my parents, and I regret it now.

      I’m now 44, which means my entire adult formative years were in steeped in ubf ideology. I spent my entire youth defending the ubf heritage and trying to make it work. I ended up a hollow shell of a man, a man who doesn’t know how to be a husband or a father. I spend so much time in bible study at ubf that I neglected time I needed to spend with my wife and children. A friend of mine spent 29 years in ubf, and he ended up literally standing in the Ohio river as a homeless man. ubf shepherds turn their back on you the moment you question their heritage (i.e. “one-to-one”, “daily bread”, etc. etc.)

      So I guess what I’m saying is not whether to stay or to leave, but to make your own decision and don’t end up like me and my friends.

      Do you know about the 4 reform movements in ubf? In 1976 Korean shepherds saw the same problems I saw. Then in 1989, 2000 and 2011, a mass number of leaders have left ubf, mostly in protest and mostly because we realized the danger of ubf teachings, especially toward family. These problems are dismissed by ubf leaders as just Korean cultural problems. But these movements were mostly led by Koreans, so that clearly cannot be true. ubf leaders try to hide these 4 movements, calling us “rebels” or “bitter and wounded” or worse, I’ve been called “spiritually dead and an evil spirit attacking ubf”. In reality, I’m just sharing my story of what ubf taught me and the poor decisions I made over the years.

      I see something else I feel compelled to point out about your words here. I notice how you put good in quotes, and I sense something ubf taught me. ubf shepherds taught me to despise what is good. If something was “good” then I was taught that it can’t be from God, and if it was something “good” from God, then I must sacrifice it. This is the heart of ubf teaching that distorts the gospel of Jesus. Yes the gospel of Jesus and His work on the cross is our salvation. But we are not called to despise what is good. As Catholics, I think your parents understand this, just as mine did. If you want a bible verse about this, check out Romans 12:9 (whole chapter). ubf taught me only the first couple verses of Romans 12, about sacrifice. But if you keep reading, you see this: “Hate what is evil; cling to what is good.” A common phrase among those who leave ubf is this: “call a spade a spade”. We are searching for reality, and I am SO thankful my parents were still there for me, with all their goodness and faith (yes Catholics do love the same Lord!) after 20+ years!

      Oh and one more thing: please be aware that your ubf shepherd probably already knows you are talking to me, and maybe read this. There are some in ubf who wish to shut down my blogs. So they will probably not be happy about our conversations. I’m not sure what to tell you, but just be aware of it.

      Grace and peace my friend.

    • Oh and one more thing: It is predictable that your ubf personal shepherd wants you to wait to make a decision until after the ISBC. Why is that? He will want you to make a decision at the ISBC, actually. During “reflection/testimony writing” your ubf personal shepherd will be looking for your decision.

      The ISBC is a big production, and you’ll be most “fired up” during this time. Your personal shepherd also knows that the longer you wait to decide after the ISBC, the less chance of being loyal to ubf there is. So if you escape making a decision during the ISBC, expect some pressure immediately following.

      Also, is this really a decision? I would test your personal shepherd. Tell him “no” right now. Could you do that? Tell him I want to wait and pray about it more. Would your personal shepherd accept that? Usually a “decision of faith” in ubf is a “glory story” that isn’t really your own decision. The “decisions of faith” are just you accepting the ubf identity to be a shepherd and missionary. Normally, ubf shepherds don’t accept any other calling as being valid. So your shepherd will say “You are free to make your own decision”. But he is really saying “You are free to do what I tell you. You are free to be loyal to ubf.”

    • Anthony, I couldn’t help but get involved in this conversation and echo some of Brian’s advice. Like Brian, I was also a Christian before coming to UBF, although my parents were strong Christians. When they expressed concern about my own marriage by faith process, I was told to treat their concerns as being “Satan’s attack,” and that I should decide whether to “obey men or obey God.” I chose to “obey God” by following the UBF leaders. In actual fact, it was because I feared the UBF leaders and I knew that if I honoured my parents, my marriage would be canceled.

      What I have since realized is that UBF persuaded me to break one of the ten commandments by dishonouring my parents. This commandment to honour parents does not apply only when your parents are believers or in UBF, but universally. To persuade or even insinuate that it is God’s will to marginalize parents is a lie straight from hell, from the enemy whose aim is to kill and destroy. My marriage got started on the totally wrong foot. It was started on expediency, fearing man not God, and disobedience to the basic commandments of Scripture while feigning obedience to the so-called “great world mission command.” This did not honour God. It did not place my family in a place of blessing, but in a place of wounding. By God’s grace, we were able to find forgiveness, but it has irreparably affected my relationship with my parents. Wounding people and alienating family for the sake of UBF mission is not honouring to God. And don’t let anyone convince you to “hate your family for Jesus’ namesake” from the gospels. That’s a classic example of straining at a gnat while swallowing a camel.

      There’s much that could be said. I wish people had gotten my attention when I was in your shoes, but God didn’t intervene in my case until later. God be with your decisions. Fear God, not man. And don’t worry too much about pleasing God, just focus on loving Jesus and obeying His word simply.

  2. This article explains why I have concluded that UBF is a cult of Christianity. I have enough documented evidence to explain my reasoning in a factual, clear way. I will introduce a new website soon that will demonstrate these things clearly:

  3. I think UBF is a cult. They use deceit in the beginning stages, luring a follower in for years until they’re brainwashed enough to see UBF’s true intentions without fleeing for the door-Arranged marriages, “fishing” for new recruits, and expanding their following by having many children to add to their numbers. Attending other places of faith is extremely discouraged, and you must must must attend their Sunday service only. Perhaps this is because they do not want you to undo their years of brainwashing you by seeing that other churches can worship God in a holy way as well. According to UBF, they are the supreme religion.

    • Thanks for sharing Sarah. I think you touched on some important cult-like behavior:

      1) deception
      2) performance-based faith
      3) elitism

      In my 24 years in ubf, I saw all of these. I wonder if you would share how involved you’ve been with ubf? If you don’t feel comfortable sharing details, maybe just on a scale of 1 to 10? It would help my readers to know if you are a casual outsider or an inside member. Thanks!

      Some other cult-like behaviors I’ve seen in the ubf fabric of ministry:

      4) group-think: the loss of individuality in the name of “crucifying self”
      5) isolation: controlled fellowship with the “true family”
      6) covering: elevating specific people to an “untouchable” (protected) class

      There are many types of cults and such a label is dangerous to throw around. But the idea of a personality cult, a fringe Christianized cult and an authority cult certainly do apply to most (not all) ubf chapters.

  4. The restless soul in need
    that does not rest satisfied in God
    surely wrests from within
    and without indeed.

  5. i am not sure of what to say myself,the organization helped me a lot i could ve dropped out of college and they made me realize who God is more than the church i grew up in.i became aware of the existence of Christ and learnt to appreciate him more.the problem i see in the church is dictatorship and promotion of human dependency for salvation.missionaries want to run the natives lives and think that without obeying whatever they say you are doomed to hell and cant be blessed by God.I myself want to leave the church too,i work with one of the missionaries and ve been appointed to go to a southkorean university as a missionary yet the living allowances are too small.they push me to go and says its God’s will for me to be undergo this.they view being in poverty as a way of learning God yet they cruise around in expensive vehicles and want us to see good life from them and criticize us for over dependence.and the other issue is in ubf you oppose the truth Of God you always lie to please the missionaries telling the truth is unheard of for they dont acept it.they like those who lie to please them.sisnce 2009 i ve been living in lies,creating them to please them and not God.i am always guilt whaen i look back and think of the lies i ve told to fit into the system.anyway they are excellent bible teachers with passion

    • Hi mina, and thank you for expressing your thoughts. Yea, ubf is often seen as a mixed bag. Now that I’ve been away from ubf for 2 years, I can see the contradictions quite well.

      For example, I hope you can see the contradictions you expressed here:

      “they are excellent bible teachers with passion”


      “missionaries want to run the natives lives and think that without obeying whatever they say you are doomed to hell and cant be blessed by God.”

      Sure you were helped in some ways by ubf missionaries, as was I. But who can live with such a contradiction? Can a shepherd also be a dictator?

      I have met several excellent bible teachers and Christian pastors. They make every effort to NOT run the lives of other people. Excellent bible teachers always encourage independent thought and personal exploration of your faith, never do excellent bible teachers demand such high obedience without your personal thoughts.

    • One more thing mina, you mentioned:

      “i am always guilt whaen i look back and think of the lies i ve told to fit into the system.”

      Excessive guilt and telling lies to fit into a system are not signs of a Christian ministry. Those are red flag warnings that indicate the group is a cult.


    • mina,


      I too will pray that you may be free. Bondage is the key problem of ubf, whose shepherds slowly bind up your life one decision at a time.

      Jesus’ mission statement speaks about freedom, not bondage:

      ” 18 “The Spirit of the Lord is on me, because he has anointed me to preach good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners and recovery of sight for the blind, to release the oppressed, 19 to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.” 20 Then he rolled up the scroll, gave it back to the attendant and sat down. The eyes of everyone in the synagogue were fastened on him, 21 and he began by saying to them, “Today this scripture is fulfilled in your hearing.”

      Luke 4:18-21

  6. This is an interesting blog. I was part of UBF’s Chicago Main Center Church for roughly 2 years and everything I have read about the movement in your blog is spot on. I have friends in the religious group that are still active and, of course, I am unable to hang with them. They intentionally marginalize themselves. Though I learned a lot about the Bible, NT & OT, I was turned into a “little pharisee”. I almost lost my biological family and my personality. By God’s grace I was prevented from turning into a complete drone. Like a bad breakup or car accident, my time at that church will forever be with me. I wish aberrant Christian groups like this didn’t exist. They pray on the naive & weak minded as I was in my early 20’s. It’s a shame the church is likely never to change. Thank you for this blog and for your honesty. It is so healthy to talk about and admit. Blessings in Christ, Rob

    • Thank you for sharing your thoughts, Robert! I am continually astounded by the resemblance of experiences like yours. The “little Pharisee” observation is nearly universal across ubf chapters around the world. Glad you had the self-awareness to recognize it! Grace and peace.

  7. Hey you guys!

    I find this article very, very, interesting. I have been actively part of UBF for about a year now, and now as I am ready to graduate college, I am considering leaving and being a member at my Missouri Synod Lutheran Church. For anyone who hasn’t known the lutheran church, it is very conservative, so actually when I went to UBF, I was relieved by seeing so many people who looked free from guilt.

    When I first thought about leaving, I was super afraid because I had read all these articles about how manipulative ubf is. I was afraid to be bullied or whatever; however, once I told everybody-even the leaders they said quite the opposite of what I was thinking: “Well, of course I would want you to stay part of this church, because I’ll miss you so much. However, if you feel that’s best for you, go for it! Just rely on God for guidance.”

    I have recognized some of the other thinks you guys talk about, the desire to tell you who they think you should marry, or apparent required attendance. So, me being me, lol I naturally brought it up to my bible study teacher, I simply said, “look, I feel a little to overwhelmed, like I have standards I have to maintain for you. And honestly, I’m not interested in pleasing you, not if it’s going to make me feel poorly about myself in the face of God.” After I shared my concerns with her, it was fine, she explained that she was sorry, that that wasn’t her intention.

    So, I’m not hear to disqualify any of your feelings, I realize that many probably feel hurt or afraid. But I have to say, so many of our feelings of fear and hurt come from a lack of communication. UBF leaders are just as much of sinners as anybody else. I have never heard anyone say they are more righteous then anyone else, but rather that is sometimes the impression we get when anyone stands up in front of us and tries to teach us the Bible. The first day I had Bible study, I said to my Bible teacher: “How do I know to trust what you are saying to me, that you aren’t trying to manipulate me with Bible passages?” She replied: “Don’t trust me, trust the Bible. Whatever I say, go back to the Bible, if anything goes against scripture, please tell me, I’m still learning too.”

    Bottom line, it’s good to be cautious whenever someone is trying to teach the word of God. We should not just openly and naively listen without going back to God’s word. I don’t disclaim that UBF can be authoritative. However, if you feel this to be the case, I think it’s important to go to the people who have done this to you, and explain the problem to them. People are human, and we all make mistakes, and hurt one another. The only way to work through these things is through communication. If after communication you still feel like you haven’t been heard, find a witness to go to that person and talk to them, if they still don’t listen, then leave that friendship. This is the model Paul established in Romans and I think it fits for this situation. I know it certainly has for me.

    As of right now, I still do Bible study and attend church at UBF. However, I made it clear to my Bible Teacher that I might or might not be leaving. I do not want to leave because of any resentment or anger towards anyone, just because I feel like I should give back to the lutheran church and school I went to as a kid. As of now, I’m just praying for God’s discernment, and so is my Bible teacher. She says that she is a bit biased, because she doesn’t want me to leave, but she also prays with me for GOD’S WILL TO BE DONE not her own.

    Anyway, I hope this might be interesting information for everyone!

    • Hi again Desiree. Your comment here has stayed with me and I’ve mulled it over. This morning I realized something and want to ask you a question: Did you stop to think about asking me a question? In your comments I noted that you did not ask me even one question.

      Do you realize what your comments above reveal? Even after one year at ubf and even after what you describe as a good experience, you are already displaying the cult mindset.

      The cultic mindset rejects critical thinking and never asks questions when encountering new situations. So while it was good of you to ask your bible teacher those questions, your mindset is being trained to do what ubf does best: dictate your viewpoint and command others to do something.

      I would plead with you to keep asking critical questions, as you did when you began bible study. That is why I didn’t respond to your comments above: you are dictating and commanding me instead of getting to know me or even making an attempt to understand me.

      Right now you are polite and still show signs of independent thought processing. But already I can identify signs that this is being eroded. Much of your advice is good, but are you aware that there are hundreds, actually thousands of former members of your organization out there who are hurting with a whole range of psychological problems? Have you tried to understand them?

  8. Hi, I live in the NYC area and am part of the leadership at my local church. A beautiful young lady in the church has recently become involved with someone within the UBF movement. Her mother is concerned but couldn’t express exactly why. Just because this Christian lady had become a mentor to her daughter, why should she be concerned were her thoughts. She asked me to do a bit of research. The UBF’er is suggesting she turn down a scholarship to a Christian college and instead become a more involved member of UBF. Can you shed any further light on UBF since your last post?

    Thank you,

    • I was also mentored in UBF for 10 years, leaving last fall. My mentor helped me a lot in various ways, especially in helping me through a time of very difficult pain. His help was meaningful and real, and I think it was motivated by his love. However, after I became a committed member, the help continued and continued. I became spiritually abused and so did my wife. As Brian mentioned, the mentoring relationship is often very beneficial at first, but it is considered an inseparable relationship for life, as inseparable as the relationship with Jesus. There is even UBF literature stating that in heaven we will bow down in thanks to our UBF mentor. It’s that extreme sometimes.

      My parents were in exactly the same position as your parishioner’s mother several years ago. They tried to encourage me to listen to a pastor and counseled me to leave. My UBF mentor said that they were being used to distract me from my real spiritual calling in UBF, and I must obey Jesus’ command to deny myself and hate my mother/father/sister/etc from the gospels. I was discouraged from visiting family for more than very brief visits.

      UBF is not all bad; there are many wonderful blessings that God gave me through UBF. When I was thirsty in my soul, they gave me a fresh drink of water. But then they proceeded to drown me in the works-righteousness, legalism, authority, and control.

    • Someone wrote about the ICOC (a group very similar to UBF): “First they save you, then they enslave you.” I think it’s a good summary of the problem Joshua has already explained, and it was also my experience with UBF.

      Another problem of UBF is that even though they became somewhat softer after the authoritarian and abusive leader/founder figure died, they never have publicly and openly admitted, apologized or repented for all of the misconduct and abuse of the past (different from the ICOC). I see a stubborn inablity to repent and admit mistakes which in my opinion makes the top leaders look more like Confucianists than Christians. Image and numbers is everything that counts for them, and they think they are not accountable to anybody, neither Christians from outside UBF nor long-time members from inside who start asking critical questions. I’m lucky that I was able to leave after 10 years and I recommend everybody not to get involved with UBF until they have issued a clear statement of repentance for all that happened in the past. They have many hidden teachings and practices like “marriage by faith” that are only revealed to you slowly over time, in lock-step with your indoctrination process.

  9. Hello EMC,

    Yes I can shed a lot more light on the situation. The mother is concerned but as you say she “couldn’t express exactly why”. I stayed 24 years in ubf and became one of its leaders. I also had concerns, but I could not articulate why, so I just dismissed them.

    After leaving in protest in 2011, I am now processing ubf ideology and the ubf heritage to understand why I had those concerns, and why I stayed so long. I have so far discovered that there is a lot of Korean Confucianism in the mentoring of ubf people. Often their advise is based on Confucian concepts (loyalty, social peace, obedience, etc) and not on the Christian gospel (grace, justice, freedom, etc). Also I found that ubf actively practices the Shepherding Movement ideals. This was a failed movement in the 1970’s. I have more info if you want on that.

    In regard to the specific advice you mention, I’ve heard that same story a thousand times the past 24 years. ubf mentoring has some fundamental rules for the “sheep” (new bible students).

    Rule #1 is that the mentoring is permanent. Your friend will not be able to leave the mentoring any time soon. And she will be convinced that she doesn’t want to leave. It will look like her own decision but really it is the shepherd’s decision for her (sort of like leaving someone with only one choice). ubf mentors expect lifelong commitment that begins like a frog boiling in water but the temperature is turned up only 1 degree at a time.

    Rule #2 is that the mentoring is opposite of the sheep’s desire. It is predictable that your friend would be advised not to take the scholarship because most people would want the scholarship. And it is doubly “bad” in ubf eyes if the scholarship would take your friend to another city or away from that ubf chapter. And I notice it is a Christian college. ubf mentors (shepherds) normally think they are better than all Christian colleges even though they have no formal training. They don’t’ want sheep (who they think they own) to be exposed to Christian schools or Christian doctrine.

    Rule #3 is that you must sacrifice, always. Taking a scholarship may be seen as an easy way out in ubf. But the decision itself is not so important, ubf wants a “glory story”. They want to hear how your friend turned down a scholarship to sacrifice it on the altar like Isaac (they live in the old testament often) and how she made a “decision of faith” to study in ubf (God’s best ways).

    I have much more to say. I would be glad to talk or meet in person. Here is another blog me and some friends started that sheds more light on ubf practices and beliefs:

  10. Desiree, (I hope I’m not too late for you to see this) UBF leaders are deceived about the meaning of the gospel and its practical applications for their lives, but they are not stupid. They are fully aware of the criticism they receive and have received for years from a range of people both within the Church (by that I mean all Christians), as well as from unbelievers. (When I say “criticism,” I do not mean “negativity.” I mean “looking at something with analytical ability to make an objective statement on its value or quality.”) What I’m saying is that the leaders are smart enough to give you answers that you would want to hear. They are not going to say to you, “Yes, I do intend to manipulate you with Bible passages.” But that does not mean that they won’t.
    Leaders’ answers to your questions and concerns which seem nice do not negate their practices or the practices of UBF for the past so many years. Don’t be too easily satisfied by their answers. Watch what they do. Not only to you, but also to others.
    Your words about communication and relationships make sense, if you are dealing with honest people. But the truth is that many people in UBF are not honest – they are deceived, and then further deceive themselves and others. When I left (read “escaped”) my UBF center, my Bible teacher, who was also the leader of the center with her husband, told the other UBF enter members that I moved to another state. Of course, I did not leave my job suddenly one weekend and move to another state. And she knew it. But, that is what she told them.
    Anyway, what I want to say to you is stand your ground, keep asking hard questions – and if the leaders answer well, that is good. But also keep your eyes open. So many times when I reflect on my time in UBF, I ask myself how I was so stupid not to see what was really going on . . .

  11. Anthony, my advice is, get out before they make you marry someone. I liked someone in my UBF center, but they got him married to someone else, and to this day I thank the Lord because it means I was free to get out when I realized it was craziness. If I had married, it would have been nearly impossible to leave. And the death of my soul would have continued. They use marriages very strategically. Please be careful for your own sake. God loves you and does not need the help of UBF to sanctify you or give you a meaningful purpose for your life.

  12. I attended a previous UBF chapter and they never seemed pushy and did not seem to meet any of the claims I read on this blog. The place I have moved to (and am living in common life with) seems like to display some of the characteristics. I mentioned becoming a missionary today and the pastor seemed rather excited. There has been no mention of marriage- except when I have brought up concerns that it sounds arranged.

  13. Hi forests,

    I am glad that you have not yet experienced the harmful control and authoritarianism that I and thousands others have experienced. However, I must point out that you describe exactly the way ubf looked when I first joined. Like a frog in a pan of water that won’t jump out when the heat is increased 1 degree at a time, I didn’t react in a healthy way when I saw many kinds of abuse.

    I lived in common life too. It was great. I was so excited to be a missionary too, until I realized ubf is a Korean organization intent on sending Korean missionaries.

    Of course there was no mention of marriage. I asked the same thing– is it arranged? They said no not really. The ubf people don’t want you to jump ship, so they won’t reveal the 12 point heritage all at once. They want to be “not so pushy” at first and are very sneaky about entraping your life.

    Do you have a personal shepherd? If so, that shepherd has big plans for you. He/she will be your weekly morality supervisor for the rest of your life. And he/she will eventually approve/disapprove your major life decisions.

    Just be careful and keep your eyes open and by all means ask for the “50th ubf Anniversary” blue book. Read it and see what you think. Study the 12 point ubf heritage system and see if you can find any contradictions. Look for confucian teachings that are often presented as the Christian gospel.

    And finally, are you sensing fear or love? Be ready to jump ship when the fear sets in. That usually takes about 7 years of ubf training– then things suddenly become clear.

  14. I am very much not Korean. The problem I have with your claims is that they are unattackable to some point. Its like telling a lunatic he is crazy- to his observation nothing is wrong. Am I a lunatic- or am I the one who sees clearly. Saying they are deceptive is fine but could it not be that *you* are deceptive. This is in no way an attack- its just your blog I have learned a lot here and it has made me very cautious of their teachings. But why should I believe you anymore than them?

    The first thing that gives evidence to you claim I noticed yesterday at bible study.The interpretation of the story of Noah and his sons is worrisome. My bible teacher (who is the pastor) said that this shows that Spiritual Order must be maintained (a phrase that appears no where in the bible) and that Gods punishment of Canaan shows us the correct response when someone in higher position sins.
    I pointed out that God does not curse Canaan- that Noah does, and that Noah in fact sinned. I talked to my common life brother who mentioned that it is possible this was not a good example, I mentioned it sounded like something from Confucianism and he commented that many things in the old testament incidentally sound that way.

  15. Reading anthony’s post I find it unlikely I will be “married off” when I go to Brazil- since you mention I am not Korean, and they have known me 1 month.

  16. Hi forest,

    You mention some very valid points.

    “But why should I believe you anymore than them?”

    Exactly! Why do I share my story here? The title of my blog is “my journey of recovery from University Bible Fellowship”. I could care less if people believe me or not. I am not telling my story to persuade anyone to leave ubf or to stay in ubf. What do I want? I want my story to be heard! I speak of facts and events and my real recovery after spending 24 years in ubf (from 1987 to 2011). I was a sheep, a shepherd, a fellowship leader, a adminstrative servant, and a director of a chapter.

    I really only want people to make their own decisions, and my blog offers some unique insight into things rarely spoken of within the walls of ubf. Most people who leave ubf after a few years have to deal with severe emotional and psychological trauma, and have difficulty adjusting to the normal world. I know because many of those former ubf members have contacted me from around the world.

    “I pointed out that God does not curse Canaan- that Noah does, and that Noah in fact sinned.”

    Awesome! I hope you keep pointing those things out. But be fore-warned, ubf bible teachers don’t take kindly to such things. I hope you don’t experience their dark side, which is another reason I write this blog and our other blog, I want to shine light on the dark underbelly of ubf so no one else gets hurt.

    In regard to marriage, one of my friends wasn’t in ubf too long, and he was invited to go to Korea. My other friends pleaded with the Koreans not to talk about marriage by faith, but of course they already had someone picked out for him.

  17. forest,

    “I mentioned it sounded like something from Confucianism and he commented that many things in the old testament incidentally sound that way.”

    No, the OT does not incidentally sound like Confucianism, unless you are steeped in Eastern thought and study the OT through the lens of obedience or one of the other major values of Confucianism. I wrote about this here:

  18. I was recently reading Gods work in America UBF 2003 (there are books around here- I am living in the bible house) One pray topic was intriguing. It said “To raise up an Abraham and Sarah” What does this mean?

  19. Ah yes, I have many of those “God’s work” publications. The older ones are a couple inches thick. I contributed to some of those.

    An “Abraham of faith” is the first non-Korean recruited by a ubf chapter. Although many pray for a “Sarah of faith” I don’t recall ever meeting a “Sarah of faith”. By default the wife of the Abraham becomes the Sarah. Usually they will change your name to actually be Abraham. For many years I did not know the Abraham of faith in my first chapter (Toledo) was actually named Bob. I know him and his family.

    Speaking of Bob, he was THE Abraham of faith for America ubf, beginning bible study somtime around 1978 or so. But he left ubf in 2001 for what he calls matters of conscience.

    In order to understand all the ubf terms, you need a glossary. Some of us former ubf leaders have put together a glossary of ubf terms and slogans. Here is our entry for Abraham of faith:

    “Term to describe the first Non-Korean male to become a sufficiently indoctrinated member of a UBF chapter. This person ranks highest in spiritual order among chapter members who are not UBF Koreans. Usually, he acts as the right-hand man of the Korean chapter director. He is usually praised and is looked upon as a role model for all initiates. The term “Abraham of Faith” derives from a twisting of the meaning of Genesis 12. Just as Abraham was called by God to leave his home and family and go to an unknown place under God’s direction, so UBF initiates are expected to leave their life behind to become completely devoted to UBF. See also Sarah of Faith. Note: The “Abraham of Faith” in the USA left UBF, citing matters of conscience in 2001.