Questions Raised About Local Christian Group

WBNS-TV/March 2, 2005
By Roger McCoy

Recruiting members, studying the bible, gathering for services: They all appear to be normal church activities. But critics say looks can be deceiving for an organization called University Bible Fellowship (UBF). The Korean-based Christian group recruits students at OSU and Columbus State. It says it wants to help young people obey the bible. Its critics say UBF wants to control their lives.

Janet Lesko's son was invited to a University Bible Fellowship meeting last fall. The OSU freshman was 18 and away from home for the first time. "He was trying to expand and create friends," says Lesko. Weeks later, Lesko says her son was invited to attend a UBF retreat. "I said how long have you known these people. He said 'Oh, just a couple of weeks.' I'm thinking 'Wow, they really grabbed him up fairly quickly," said Lesko. Lesko's son was also taking individual bible instruction with a UBF leader. Lesko says she noticed a change in her son's personality; One moment carefree, the next, quoting scripture from the bible. "His personality was going back and forth," said Lesko. "They're teaching the bible but somewhere along the line they are mind controlling people. I'm very fortunate that my son has gotten out of it early."

John Wick belonged to the Columbus UBF chapter 20 years ago. He say he was a member for four and a half years and was being groomed for a leadership position in UBF. "It certainly has cultic tendencies," says Wick. Over time, Wick says he began having doubts because of the way the group treated members. "The environment is such that the individual instead of benefiting, it actually ends up costing them," said Wick. Eventually, said Wick, UBF leaders controlled his life to the point of suggesting who he should marry. That "somebody" was another UBF member Wick says he had never dated. "Four and a half years later I was a month away from marrying somebody that I knew very little about," said Wick. Not long after, Wick's father convinced him it was time to leave UBF.

"From the evidence that I've seen it is controlling," says psychologist Paul Martin about UBF. Martin heads the Wellspring Retreat & Resource Center in Ohio. It provides counseling for victims of group abuse, including dozens of former UBF members. "You have to have the approval of the leaders for just about every life decision," said Martin who adds that UBF's methods robbed the former members Wellspring has counseled of their freedom of choice. "From the evidence I've seen I would say UBF is abusive," said Martin.

Phil Hayman is a former UBF member who left an Illinois UBF chapter last month for counseling at Wellspring. Hayman says he became confused and depressed when a UBF leader told him to choose between his fiancee or UBF. "They flat out told me that if I marry my fiancee I'd be like the rest of Christianity, dead and that my future ministry would suffer because of it." University Bible Fellowship said it didn't have specifics about Hayman's claim, but said he may have been advised against marrying his fiance because she didn't share the same mission as UBF or wasn't a Christian.

UBF, its Columbus chapter leader and a spokesman from UBF's national headquarters in Chicago declined requests by 10 Investigates to appear on camera to answer claims by Lesko, Wick, Martin and Hayman. However, in a written statement from its Chicago headquarters UBF said: "When UBF members have appeared before the media to defend our ministry, we have been cornered to answer questions that insinuate that we are a cult, and what has been said has been taken out of context. Thus we are reluctant to give media interviews." Click here for UBF Statement, Pt. 1 AND Click here for UBF Statement, Pt. 2 UBF also claims some of its members were forcibly de-programmed at Wellspring in the 1980's. Wellspring, which is state licensed and certified, emphatically denies that claim.

UBF is a registered student organization in good standing at OSU. On other campuses, such as DePaul University and the University of Winnipeg, UBF has been banned for over aggressive recruiting and proselytizing according to officials at the two universities. UBF's membership in the National Association of Evangelicals was also suspended last year and is currently under review by the NAE.

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