So-called youth cults and the occult wave

University Bible Fellowship (pages 132-146)

Aussaat Verlag, Neukirchen-Vluyn/1989
By Joachim Keden in "Sogenannte

Report by a former Korean woman missionary of the UBF translated by Cheong, Yoo Seong To those still wanting to lure me into the UBF and to those wanting to help me to resist:

I had to spend the last days full of fear and scared, after R. and L. (the names are known to the editor), both belonging to the UBF, suddenly visited me (on Dec. 28th) and repeatedly harassed and threatened on the phone (between Dec. 29th 1984 and Jan. 1. 1985). I have therefore decided to write down my request so that you can help me if anything happens to me by the UBF. I ask you for help, e.g. to inform my family and the police, if that will happen! I hereby express definitely that it is my absolutely determined decision to neither come back to UBF - for instance no participation any more at the Bible course or conversation - nor allow any search for contact with me, particularly if I am alone. My only desire is to get away from the UBF definitely and thus to be able to be free completely.

I have nothing else left than fear of the UBF which has held me and wants to hold me against my will; once I have been locked in in my room because I wanted to dissociate myself from the UBF. After that I even was displaced and held from my Dortmund dormitory to Cologne till I could escape in the night. That is another reason why I still fear, that the UBF people could come again and kidnap me ...

Now I would like to outline briefly my previous relation to the UBF and furthermore give reasons for my fear; expressing my point of view and my opinion at the same time:

a) My relation to UBF

- Getting to know: May 1975 (I was in the 12th class in high school at that time)

- Activities: After the getting to know with the exception of the period Sept. 1978-1980, in various activities like participation in the Sunday service, Bible course (both study and leading courses), visit service, seminaries, Christmas programs, donation collection etc.

- I came to Germany in Oct. 1982 as a missionary in the context of the UBF invitation program for students as missionaries

b) Reasons for my skepticism against the UBF or for my disapproval

- Another person affected, who has been invited to Canada recently in the context of the missionary program and is now working in a textile factory in Canada, wrote in her letter: "To be able to dedicate myself fully for the fulfillment of the Gospel, I am now determinedly decided to give up human relations with my family. For example, I will send no more money, but donate everything to the UBF."

- Although at first I was just as determined, I slowly started to question myself: Why shall the UBF members donate everything while sometimes they must get financial support even from home? My skepticism became larger and larger. Did the founders and leaders of the UBF maybe want to extend only their organization and their influence on the pretext of religion and especially based on their demand for absolute obedience, as it is the case for the Unification Church [Moonies]? Aren't they maybe "religious businessmen"? Primarily, what concerns the mission program for the students, it seemed to me as if it weren't all about the matter of faith but all about means for their propaganda. Eventually, the UBF seemed to me like a cult.

- The demand for absolute obedience shows clearly particularly in the 'marriage rule' within the UBF. Often the UBF conveys and arranges the marriage among the members. However, I haven't seldom seen such couples who were forced to marry against their will. To me the criterion of this 'marriage rule' didn't seem to be the will of God, but loyalty to the UBF. ...

- I believe the task of mission shall be fulfilled after only after a free decision. Obedience to me therefore means succession of Jesus in faiths, trust and love.

A Bible course for instance can lead to real faith only if the possibility to freely express your opinion is given. A Bible course performed in a fixed organizational frame only leading to a previously planned conclusion according to a predefined target, in which in the name of Jesus His words are misinterpreted arbitrarily and the weaker ones are suppressed by the stronger ones.

I wasn't a victim of a direct physical use of violence or financial exploitation, however, that spiritual violence was for me more terrible than physical. The know-all attitude and arrogance of UBF, believing that only they have the right faith and others should repent and accept the faith of UBF, was nothing else but 'religious violence' for me. I have just suffered from this unbearable 'religious violence.'

Report of a female student seeking advice, in excerpts I., 25 years old (name known to the editor), studied Roman Catholic theology in Bonn. When she read in her Bible in the "Hofgartenwiese" (a park in Bonn), she was addressed by a young Korean woman, who has lived in Germany for long time, regarding her religious opinions. The conversation ended with an invitation for dinner with M. (recruiter, the editor) in the UBF center in the Pfarrer-Martini-Str. 26 in Bonn.

"I ran through a so-called 1:1 Bible study with M., to which I had been invited. There Bible sections are worked through using a questionnaire with predefined questions. This Bible study takes place once a week and is characterized by a strong teacher/pupil relationship. It has fixed beginning and closing rituals (prayer). The individual lessons last for 1½ hours each and have to be prepared before and after so that some hours must be invested every week. The Bible sections aren't gone through according to different topics but verse by verse. Individual persons are picked out apparently arbitrarily to fix certain attitudes of faith on them. There is no openness for other possibilities of interpretation. The Bible studies shall serve the personal faith. Additionally, a service takes place in the Pfarrer-Martini-Street every Sunday at 15.00 pm. No sacraments are given during the services, i.e. no Holy Communion held either.

I noticed that a classification of Christians was made, i.e. everyone who doesn't think in a similar way like UBF or comes to the same consequences as the members (e.g. unconditional priority of the mission before all other necessities like studies, family etc.) isn't a 'good' Christian. ...

Since the group maintains centers in many countries of the earth, a letter chain exists. The letters are put up in the Bonn center. It frightened me a little when I was mentioned in letters from other countries which called to pray for me so that I would become a sheep 'willing to learn.' ...

After half a year I ended my Bible study at the UBF. There were several reasons for it. The frame of the interpretation at the Bible studies had been put too narrow for me. In addition, I couldn't understand the behavior of M. and S. towards their little children: The parents left the children alone during the mission for a very long time every day. Even the baby often was alone in the apartment for hours. For me this behavior couldn't be brought together with the Christian faith. When I asked M. and S. about it, they only said that Jesus will already look after the children and therefore nothing can happen, since the children are 'in his hand.'"

Report of a female student who was a former follower of UBF Another female student made similar experiences, too:

"Soon I started a Bible study with E. (recruiter, the editor). This meant that I committed the Gospel of John to my mind with a defined questionnaire alone with her verse by verse. At home I prepared the lessons, later talking everything over with E. once again. In the Sunday services I heard Bible interpretations of the leader of the center who let himself be called a missionary. Besides this there were "sogams," a kind of personal testimonies with confession of sins and promise to change. The services closed with prayers for the success of the recruiting of UBF prospects (called "sheep"), for another 12 missionaries ("campus shepherds") and for the success of the 10 year schedule to evangelize the USSR ...

But E. put pressure on me, to finally deliver - at first written and then also verbal - "sogams" during the service. I did my best to work something out, but, E., my personal "shepherdess," didn't agree with that. I finally managed to delay the "sogam-sharing" using various evasions and excuses. I wanted to gain time because first objections and doubts concerning the group and it's biblical teaching contents and methods came to me. It lasted for a month till I - thanks to the help of well informed fellow students - could break loose from the group.

Chronology of the destruction of a personality From the viewpoint of a friend "Over one and a half years have passed since one of my best friends had been addressed by a UBF missionary, and this happened at a time, when my friend was in an emotional depression during his studies, since his examination work didn't make proper progress. The missionary invited him 'completely without obligation and casual' to tea and Bible studies in the local UBF center.

By the offer to be able to finish his master thesis there with a computer he was lured to spend as much time as possible in the UBF center daily. At the same time, the contact to me reduced more and more. When my friend invited me for a dinner on the occasion of his forthcoming move in a kind of common life with his "new friends" about one year ago, I learned about his membership in the UBF. I assessed the group at that time as one of religious eccentrics, whose effusive Far Eastern kindness didn't seem dangerous to me.

But then I noticed regarding my friend, that he had acquired for himself a strangely clipped way of speaking with an extremely sharp and sustained pronunciation of the letter 'R', particularly in the word 'Lord/e' frequently repeated. Having pointed out this change by me, he could, however, in the ordinary conversation immediately find his way back to his normal mode of expression. After a few minutes every conversation came back to religious topics or the Bible again and again and he increased, as also in prayer, in this strange way of speaking which also is practiced by all other UBF members I know.

Only when I heard that my friend, who usually was always a little mean regarding finances, had assigned his complete savings account to the leader of the UBF center because of "gratitude for the good completion of his examination," it was beginning to dawn on me that the UBF could be a cult, however not a completely unselfish organization.

All my efforts from then on to enlighten him on the character of UBF - which appeared cultic to me to be more and more clearly - and on his own situation, were coming too late. My friend admitted having found means to turn his intellect off, which hindered him regarding his faith and blinded him, as he said.

The clipped language at first being only an expression of an outward identification with the group, now it reflected a completely reduced way of thinking. This was shown as well by a put on, compulsive permanent smile and an absent facial expression. To him himself this metamorphosis is a mark of a purification and calling to God. He himself has got rid of every privacy and intimacy by his allegedly voluntary detailed "sogams" in front of the group.

I have got the impression that my friend seems to have gone through a kind of brainwashing, which has destroyed the personality and individuality of my friend, to possibly make him to an extremely available tool. Also the in my eyes low in protein and high in carbohydrate diet of which he talks, in combination with little sleep (he seldom sleeps more than five hours per night according to his own words) leave noticeable physical and emotional marks concerning his general health state. My friend obviously is exposed to heaviest inner stress and his state of mind worries me a lot. For example he seems to be accessible to my arguments for short moments, however recognizes the 'temptation' in a flash and increases again in an apparent illusion which can increase in extreme situations to real attacks. Since the UBF membership all his high put, hopeful professional plans of my friend are abandoned. Furthermore, because of his desolate and unstable constitution, he seems to be hardly capable any more of an independent lifestyle, due to the dependence from the UBF community. Apparently it is forbidden to him to speak alone with me. The decline of the personality of my friend goes on. It is terrible for me having too see this all without doing anything."

Founder, leader and historical development

Founder, leader and historical development cannot be cleared up fully unambiguous from the written material available. This organization started it's ministry in a small South Korean municipality in the economically poor provincial town Kwangju in 1960 or 1961. The today 50-60 year old (Samuel) Chang Woo Lee is named as the minister of a small church. In a retrospective publication he is given the title "reverend" or "pastor." The foundation phase has been influenced by the young missionary Sarah Barry, who belonged to the Southern Presbyterian Church of the USA.

The organization, founded as a native student movement in the beginning, was able to set up a large number of campus groups within the following years. It was described as a strong Bible movement with a nationalistic element, which sang the Korean national anthem before every meeting.

There were contacts with the "International Fellowship of Evangelical Students (IFES)" at this time of set-up, however no membership. But the contacts were broken off in 1979, obviously causally connected with the authoritarian leadership style of Chang Woo Lee. "In many a respect he was a 'mini-dictator'" IFES writes regarding that matter. A division within the UBF took place. A part of the more spiritually oriented students felt compelled to leave the UBF and founded an organization of its own: "The Evangelical Students Fellowship." Nothing can be found about these events in official self-representations of the UBF.

Apparently, the relations to a part of the churches in South Korea developed similarly. For instance, the UBF points out it's close relations to the International Council of Christian Churches (ICCC) which is known to be strictly anti-ecumenical and represents many opposite points of view with regard to the mind and the activities of the ecumenical council of churches in Geneva.

Therefore it doesn't surprise either that UBF representatives explained in a conversation in January 1987 that their organization unlike other student organizations doesn't have any difficulties at universities. Questioned about the violations of human rights in South Korea (torture and arbitrary arrests), there only were evading answers and no comment.

The present center of the UBF isn't in Korea but in Chicago. It is described as a 'training place for world mission.' Obviously (Samuel) Chang Woo lee conducts the internationally active grouping from there. But extremely critical voices are already coming from the USA with respect to the recruiting methods and negative personality changes of members. It is also reported that the organization according to information of a former follower has considerable funds which would mainly be used for the financing of the expansion of the UBF. The charitable ministry would therein play an insignificant part.

Worldwide 55 centers are reported to exist, ten of them in the Federal Republic (Cologne, Dortmund, Bonn, Aix-la-chapelle, Heidelberg, Stuttgart, Würzburg, Bochum. Presumably of newer date in Gießen and Mainz). Obviously the Cologne center functions as a European headquarter, which could be improved also as a world headquarter, since the economic situation of the UBF is presumably better here than in the USA. The long-standing leader of the Cologne center is called Abraham Lee.

The present attempts to get in contact with different church circles appear on the background of the exposed overall development but purpose alliances, pulling "the wool over the eyes" of the traditionally grown Free Churches and church communities, hereby covering up the true targets and methods of a completely independent organization. Obviously the remote study which the Europe UBF leader has recently completed at one of the many fundamentally oriented theological seminars and his ordination as pastor of a Presbyterian church in Korea is part of this new strategy of approaches towards existing church groupings.

Organization and Recruiting

The UBF can be classified as being part of the "shepherding/discipleship movement," because of it's organization form and structure, it's inner orientation and it's recruiting methods. This movement had it's origin in strictly fundamentally orientated organizations of the hardly comprehensible diversity of American churches which has left it's tracks in South Korea, too.

Shepherding means that a knowing shepherd looks for a sheep to be evangelized. Having found this person, he turns his attention personally to him in the long run to win him over for his understanding of faith. The shepherd or the shepherdess thereby appears as a brother matured in faith or as a sister who conveys the all-embracing, omniscient and unconditional will of God and the corresponding knowledge about God. So it is all about a special way for personal spiritual authority for a sheep to be led which covers all areas of the personal life. This spiritual authority is perceived in the UBF at different levels. At first by permanent visits connected with invitations for 'conferences,' for a 'Bible carnival' or for a 'Bible academy.' Then for '1 to 1 Bible studies' which a shepherd runs through with a sheep. Furthermore by the instructions to regularly and thereby frequent writing of sogams and delivering them on the occasion of UBF services and meetings.

Sogam means a kind of personal penitence sermon which shall be connected with a certain passage of the Bible. Affected persons report again and again of interventions into personally worked out sogams of the 'sheep,' because they didn't correspond to the ideas of the respective shepherds. This is the reason that sogams or 'life symposia' are often continually revised and replaced under emotional pressure. On this background they seem to be a kind of control instrument of the church leadership.

The shepherd/sheep scheme continues at the higher levels of the UBF hierarchy. Here a special relationship exists between shepherd and missionary, then. There apparently is an individual shepherd training which is applied by the respectively responsible missionaries. For example there was the following report on a world mission conference:

"He had come to faith by missionary H. in P. and had accepted the mission of campus evangelization. He is getting the hard training of missionary Samuel. He confessed that this training is really hard. Sometimes he had to run without means of transportation more than 20 miles. He expected human love. However, human love only makes the people ill or paralyzed. By this training, he slowly became the servant, who loves the suffering of Jesus and is independent. He wholeheartedly thanked for this hard training."

In this context it is shocking to read the report on a dance group: "After the life symposia we watched a Hungarian dance. Missionary R.S. from New York came to Chicago to exercise the American shepherds and shepherdesses. For a month she exercised them for the dance. Missionary R.S. sometimes rebuked them and beat them. Because they were humble and had accepted the training wholeheartedly, they danced really very well, like professional dancers. Because all spectators wanted to see the dance once again they had to dance twice" (world mission conference report).

It is apparently the aim of the respective shepherd training to mold a humble 'servant of God' who submits to the instructions of the missionaries or the directors and completely subordinates his personal lifestyle to the campus mission. It can be understood only in that way, that Abraham Lee as 'servant of God,' on the occasion of a marriage ceremony of two UBF members which he performed personally, in the sermon primarily reminded the married couple of their mission task in the sense of the UBF. Checking some letters transmitted by UBF members to the author, it is also hard to ward off the impression, that in UBF the "voluntary" subordination is equated with "obedience by faith."

Theological conception and objects

The UBF conception of Christian faith and Christian life can be characterized as a simplified orthodox biblicism. The UBF members thereby assume a narrow understanding of verbal inspiration, i.e. every word of the Bible is given by God into the pen of man and thus gains an absolute authority independent of time and situation. For instance it also was regarded as right by UBF representatives on the occasion of a conversation that the hare is a ruminant (Lev 11:6) although the progress of the biological knowledge stands contrary to this opinion.

[Remark by a former UBF member: Here and at some other places it stands out unpleasantly that the author is marked by the historical-critical mindset. Regarding the concrete example of the hare one should read for instance the article The hare -- ruminant? a contribution to the relation of natural history with biblical revelation by Reinhard Junker: "That is to say, it is known and published for over 100 years already in modern biology that hares actually are ruminants, however in a different way than cattle." The attitude of the author in this regard, however, doesn't damage the overall criticism and also doesn't invalidate the reports of the persons affected. He is also right with this point in the respect that UBF doesn't handle Bible criticism sincerely and on an intellectual level as it would be appropriate for an organization targeting students, but performs Bible study on a very primitive level. Details and proper understanding aren't interesting for UBF anyway, the Bible is used or rather abused solely to legitimate and enforce the objects of the group.]

This understanding of the Bible makes it hardly possible to consider the texts of the old and new testament as sermons, instructions, admonitions and counseling which are addressed to certain people in a certain situation. For UBF members passages of the Bible are transferable in a kind of 'blind automatism' in today's time. They deny that the work of God in history meets a certain place and a particular time.

This way of interpretation from time to time produces strange bloomers in UBF circles, which shall be clarified at a train of thought. For instance an interpretation of Gen 3:16 says: "Since the Fall of Man the women torment themselves under this desire. Many young girls cherish such longing for a man. Because of this sinful desire they destroy their lives. They shall worship God instead of a man in spirit and in truth. Only God who is spirit can satisfy all longings of a woman and be her true safety."

In another interpretation the story of the conversation of Jesus with a Samaritan woman (John 4:1-26) becomes a "romantic love story" and the meeting with the risen Christ at the lake of Gennesaret is subtitled "a beach party at the sea of Tiberius."

Generally, the assessment of the woman as an equal creature of God with equal rights seems not to be worth much. It is conspicuous that the word 'wife' is often avoided and the word 'co-worker' can be read instead. Accordingly a text interpretation with penitence character (sogam) says: "But then, I recognized that shepherd D. was not the type of a good husband, but the type of a great man. In addition, I had to serve many sheep which came into my house and shared in all our meals. I cried much because I had to cook so much as a housewife in the kitchen. When I accepted my task of being a cook for the honor of God, God blessed for shepherd D.'s ministry for the university Y. and E."

One can suspected what grievous experiences must be lying behind these few words. At the end the sogam says, obvious according to the interpretation of Gen 3:16 quoted above: "Praise God, who has saved me from being a source of curse to become a mother of prayer for all nations."

In a similar sense also other biblical passages are interpreted, so that one cannot talk about intellectual honesty in dealing with the text and spiritual statements of the Bible in this context. UBF shepherds and UBF missionaries light-footedly think to be able to overcome the "nasty broad ditch" (according to G.E. Lessing) of about 2000 years. The result appears extremely doubtful, though UBF members state that they occupy themselves with books of more or less known theologians like Dietrich Bonhoeffer and Johannes Busch. The completely different way of thinking of these authors are obviously lost in the daily "Bible bashing" of the UBF members. There is hardly anything reflected of the understanding of these two theologians regarding the justification of the sinner which has happened once and for all or the political responsibility of the Christian in the world.

Things are not better regarding the understanding of the sacraments and creeds, understanding of the church and ecumenism. One receives the impression, as if parts of the "Apostles' Creed?" and the "Lord's Prayer" were simply left aside in a UBF member's awareness. Regarding this point, a former follower writes after a one-year intensive participation in the UBF church life: "I also had noticed, that no member is baptized and also there is no Holy Communion ... held. Creeds and the Lord's Prayer aren't spoken as well, neither at conferences nor during services.

At least according baptism there seem to be exceptions in UBF circles.

[Remark by a former UBF member: With regard to the others mentioned things there are exceptions as well, which are however proving the rule. Particularly baptism and Holy Communion aren't taken seriously in UBF, not taught and hardly ever practiced.]

The most important commandment which has been set by UBF for itself, is obviously the one of world mission. Accordingly, everything has to subordinate under this commandment. The authority of the missionaries experienced as absolute, seems to be based here as well. In reference to this a conference report says: "He had repented and began to pray and to follow the direction of missionary Samuel C. Lee absolutely. God richly blessed his humble attitude."

Recently, the UBF seems to focus on the "500 universities in the USA" and the "263 universities and colleges in Germany" as well as "33 European countries" and "154 countries of this earth." In conversations and prayers the world mission in France and the USSR is mentioned again and again and it is even thought of evangelizing the USSR within ten years.

Campus mission starts with "pioneering" a university. For this purpose shepherds and missionaries are often sent out solitary. As causing the failures, which don't fail to appear, usually one's fault is considered, again being reason to repent. The object is to become an "ancestor of faith" for the respective university or the mission country and to "plant faith into" the students and to "raise them as Bible teachers."

The methods which shall lead to the intended object have been described in some detail at another place already. The knowledge that only God can produce faith, independently of methods and human efforts or achievements in repentance, falls into oblivion regarding the belief in methods of the shepherds and missionaries. As the reports of affected person show, these misinterpretations of the Gospel don't remain without consequences.

Dangers and criticism

Especially the reports by affected persons, but the other characterization of this group as well, clearly show for which personal consequences prospects may bargain, and which dangers a life in the UBF student church can entail. This is necessary to take into consideration if somebody is willing to become a "sheep," "shepherd," "missionary," "father of faith" or "mother of prayer," in the sense of UBF.

In this context it must be pointed out:

that conspicuous behavior or personal problems are passed on without knowledge of the future followers in letters to other centers to cause a positive decision for the UBF by prayer chains, that particularly the 1:1 Bible study leads to a tight relationship of the "sheep" with his "shepherd" what has the consequence that the members get into a dependence to the UBF and more and more reduce or even completely interrupt their previous social contacts, that the dependence can also include the more or less unconditional readiness to be available for the UBF mission in other cities and countries, that it can get round to transferring property to the group and give "voluntary payment obligations," that the life also in the UBF community can also mean to accept a partner for marriage arranged by the leader and whom one did not or only briefly knew before.

One of the causes for these far-reaching interventions in the personal arrangement of life of the mostly young adults is in my opinion in the unconventional understanding of faith which is propagated in the UBF. A key concept hereby is the term "shepherd." Unlike the understanding of the UBF Jesus Christ is alone the good shepherd according to the new testament (John 10) for. In Eph 4:11 only one single time the office of elders of a shepherd is mentioned, however bound to a church assembly and accountable to God and the church. This also applies to the other places in the new testament using the picture of shepherd and flock. F.W. Haack clarifies this: "The pastorate doesn't involve an earthly representative office of the power of God towards the 'sheep.' It is an office of leadership and care, an office of defense of spiritual threats. It isn't an office with dictatorial power over the members of the church assembly entrusted to the shepherds" (in "Shepherding - a leadership method with spiritual claims questioned" / unpublished manuscript p. 3/4).

The results of this unbiblical UBF understanding of shepherding can be seen primarily in the practice. For instance, a UBF text interpretation regarding Rom. 1:18 to 2:16 says about a certain shepherd W.: "Sometimes he couldn't sleep well despite the holidays because he was busy every day early in the morning with Daily Bread (UBF Bible devotional, editor's remark) and built up an altar of prayer for the 45000 students in Bonn. Sometimes he had to write sogam messages repeatedly, despite of the eye pains, despite of the lack of time for his ... studies." How much self-imposed or external compulsion must be lying behind this short report?

The practice carried out by the UBF, that somebody who is already a believer has to be a personal shepherd for another person especially, points past the Bible to the "Shepherding/Discipleship"-movement, including besides UBF in the USA among others 'Christian Growth Ministries,' 'Crossroads,' 'Maranatha' and 'Boston Church of Christ' (Linda Blood loc.cit.). A former sheep reduces the acute danger of the dependence of a personal shepherd to a common denominator: "You must be like a dumb sheep and follow blindly" (Linda Blood, p. 236, see bibliography).

If a member wants to come loose, however, the leadership of the group in individual cases obviously doesn't shrink back from exerting physical and emotional pressure, to hold members bound to the group and it's ideology.

It is therefore not surprising that the American initiative of parents and self organization against 'destructive cults' has published an assessment which takes a clear stand: "As long as shepherding promotes authoritarian control of one man over another one, this stands contrary to the tradition of our culture, which respects the personal independence and permits the right for everybody to lead his life in accordance with his own carefully thought out opinion" (according to Linda Blood, p. 245, loc. cit.).

Our culture includes very particularly the heritage of the reformer Martin Luther. In connection with this, the contents of his document On the Freedom of a Christian have lost nothing in topicality and is recommended to UBF prospects as a reading. However, regarding Luther, the search for theological findings which can be brought into harmony with theory and practice of shepherding/discipleship ideas will be in vain, for good reasons.

Note: If not noted otherwise, are taken from materials which were handed over to former followers on the occasion of UBF events.

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