Old news by now, but a well-known Wuhan coronavirus super-spreader event occurred in Korea in February, and of course, a "sect" was involved. The leader of said sect is tied to the disgraced former president, Park Geun-hye, and couldn't help but remind the nation of those ties during his televised apology. The sad part is that the cult problem continues unabated, in Korea and elsewhere.
Purity culture was a twisted mess of ungrace-producing, fear-based teaching on love and relationships. It was destined to produce damaged individuals and marriages. Naturally, UBF twisted it further by adding its own brand of legalism, hyper-control and, of course, disregard for ethics.
Young author, Joshua Harris, became the posterboy of purity culture with his book "I Kissed Dating Goodbye". I remember his book being passed around in UBF because it seemed to be validation for UBF's no-dating policy (no-dating-and-marry-the-one-that-God's-S
As he matured, Harris began to rethink his prescriptions against dating. He heard from people whose lives had been damaged by the movement and teachings that his book had helped launch. In recent years, he pretty much disavowed "I Kissed Dating Goodbye" and pulled it from circulation. He went on an apology tour of sorts. Then, his own courtship-initiated marriage dissolved, as well as his seemingly well-grounded faith; if repentance means turning your life around, a thorough repentance it has been.
An article in the aftermath of Harris' "deconstruction" begins:
"As we culturally deconstruct the dreadfully misguided marketing effort of purity culture, it’s important to recognize that isn't the truth of Christianity. As happens too often, fallible humans completely garbled the message."
At a certain point in my life, I was frustrated with the UBF life. My parents thought I was getting ready to split, so they used the common tactic of offering a marriage. And I--with no real social skills, no prospects and a feeling of crushing loneliness--said yes when they proposed 18-year old ________ ____ from _____. She had previously been arranged in her early teens to marry another guy, who rejected the whole idea and left UBF soon after going to college. I agreed to sponsor her as my "fiancee" so she could get a visa. I met her for the first time at the airport in ____ after she flew over from _____. I'd never spoken to her or even written to her before. As we were told to, we went to get legally married in Court to get the immigration process started for her; she was 18 years old. Immigration law dictated that we live together for at least 2 years and provide proof of this after 2 years; this was to prevent sham marriages for immigration purposes. My parents and UBF leaders had us live separately for those 2 years instead. She lived in ________. We did as we were told and lied to the Immigration Service that we'd been living together. We never actually even touched each other until the "official" wedding 2 years later. We weren't the only couple who were told to flout immigration law like this.
This account of a UBF marriage process is messed up in a lot of ways, but notice the UBF leadership involving the marriage candidates in the execution of what amounts to immigration fraud. What the hell is this? This is training. "Obey, even if you must lie and break the law." "See? God blessed you when you obeyed by faith."
Again, in a reputable church, you will probably hear that scrupulously ethical behavior is part of the Church's witness to a watching world, that ethical behavior that exceeds the world's standards of ethics is God's will. But in UBF--as modeled by UBF's founders--ethics are seen as an obstacle to the fulfillment of God's will, i.e., "mission".
P.S. UBF marriage defenders have stated that "marriage by faith" helps people maintain "purity". What is pure about the above account?
1. Lee's theology and biblical interpretations are very thin. They basically consist of two repeated themes only which are shoehorned into every message and Bible study. Those themes were: 1) increasing UBF numbers (through invitations to Bible study and worship service, called "fishing"), and 2) the Great Commission of Matthew 28: 19,20. One consequence of this practice was that Sunday messages and Bible studies were the same year after year, in UBF chapters all over the world.
2. Studying theological literature on one's own was discouraged and even disallowed unless it suited Lee's own purposes. All personal testimonies which were to be shared publicly at meetings were generally supposed to closely follow, even copy Lee's own message manuscripts. Any departure from these by a member were forced to be corrected by that member until they matched Lee's own manuscript themes. Any personal or individual touches in a member's testimony were mostly self-disparagement by the member or in praise of UBF leaders.
3. Fellowship leaders who carried out the duty of Sunday message delivery were called "pastors" by all members, and even wore ministerial robes during Sunday worship service, even though non of them were ordained ministers. This was to create a false impression of being a church, which UBF is not.
4. Lee had the last word in choice of music and how the orchestra was conducted, even though he had absolutely no background in orchestral music and little knowledge of classical music although he would often brag about it as though he did.
5. Members in UBF tended not to criticize or admit the many unethical, not to mention un-Christian behaviors that were (and probably still are going on) much less tried to change them, even though many of the members were fully aware of them. If they did, they received "discipline" of one form or another to keep quiet, or in fact just left UBF as many did and hopefully will continue to do so.
6. Those who left UBF after having become aware of the unethical, un-Christian practices were unfairly and even scandalously criticized without basis. Ironically, UBF lost most of its really good people (much better than me) years ago in this way!
Is it sad that UBF became a cult, but it did. I hope anyone reading this who is a current member of UBF can have the courage and independent faith to look around with eyes open, do some honest self-examination, and get out, and find an authentic church somewhere by God's grace. You will notice a very positive difference in your Christian life if you do.
The excerpt is below:
When I first became involved in UBF more than thirty years ago, I experienced the leadership of the late Samuel Lee, the organization’s founder and General Secretary. Lee was described as an exemplary disciplemaker, a role model for others to follow, and his influence on organizational culture was profound. Here are some of Lee’s activities that I observed firsthand or heard about through the testimony of credible witnesses.
- Lee reserved the right to change the name of anyone at any time. He reserved the right to name your children.
- Lee reserved the right to tell you to quit your job at a moment’s notice.
- Lee reserved the right to tell you at any time to change your clothing or hairstyle.
- No one could marry without his specific approval. He chose whom you could marry, and the wedding would be at a time and place of his choosing.
- In some cases, the length of time between when Lee introduced people to each other and the actual wedding was less than one week.
- When Lee married couples, he made up the wedding vows himself, frequently inserting promises that had nothing to do with marriage (e.g. promises by the couple that they would to go as missionaries to Russia). These vows were not agreed upon by the couple ahead of time.
- If you turned down a marriage candidate that Lee chose for you, you could be severely rebuked and trained for it.
- No one could miss a Monday night meeting or a Friday night meeting or Sunday worship service. If you missed a meeting without what Lee considered to be a valid excuse, you would get rebuked and trained.
- Lee would impose quotas on fellowship leaders to bring a certain number of people to weekly services and to conferences. Those who failed to do so would be shamed or punished in various ways.
- If Lee thought you did not offer enough money at the annual Christmas worship service, he might rebuke you in front of everyone.
- Sometimes Lee told missionaries and shepherds whose families were well off to ask their parents to give large sums of money to the organization.
- When Lee denounced or rebuked people, he often did so harshly, without warning, standing before the congregation. During these denunciations, some of the things that Lee said had little or no basis in fact.
- No one in Chicago who was considered a shepherd or missionary could travel outside the Chicago area for any reason without Lee’s approval. If you did travel, it was understood that you needed to be back in town for the next Sunday worship service, otherwise you could be rebuked and trained.
- If you lived outside of Chicago and you were selected to go on a “journey team” to Korea or elsewhere, you were told to buy an airline ticket to Chicago with an open return date, which could be very expensive. The reason for the open return date was that, once you were in Chicago, Lee reserved the right to keep you there indefinitely for training activities of his own choosing.
- Lee prescribe unorthodox diets and medical treatments and, in some cases, surgical procedures, and the doctors and nurses in Chicago would carry them out.
- If you objected to any of Lee’s practices, missionaries and shepherds would immediately counsel you to obey Lee because he was God’s servant. Failure to obey even in a small matter could result in training, monetary fines, public shaming and shunning.
- Lee sometimes urged missionaries to send their infant children back to Korea to be cared for by relatives so that the missionaries could focus on their ministry activities. In at least one case, he told a missionary couple to give one of their children to another couple who were childless.
In a TEDx talk, Dawn Smith speaks about growing up in an abusive "evangelical" cult and what it took to leave the only environment she'd ever known.
The following paraphrased conversation was heard by a friend around December 2017:
Senior UBF member 1: Second generation missionary AA came to Chicago this summer and shared a gracious testimony. AA said that Missionary KK and HH had legally adopted her and brought her from Korea. We were so moved. UBF member: Yeah, Missionary KK and HH legally adopted AA when she was of college age to help her come to the United States for college study. AA's parents (both UBF members) are still alive and well in Korea. (Note: "UBF member" is just mentioning this as common knowledge in the UBF chapter that KK and HH run. "UBF member" is NOT reporting this in order to report possible malfeasance.) Senior UBF member 1: Wait a minute. AA's parents are still alive in Korea? UBF member: Yeah. AA's parents agreed to the adoption so AA could come to study in the US. AA was having trouble getting into college in Korea. Missionary KK and HH have helped more than one UBF child by adopting them for this purpose (schooling in the US). Some have been younger than college age. Senior UBF member 1: (showing a surprisingly vital BS detector in spite of decades spent in UBF) That's not a real adoption. That seems like a fake adoption (implying that this is all strange and unethical). Senior UBF member 2: (to Senior UBF member 1) That's just your opinion. (Crosstalk ensues, in which Senior UBF member 2 repeats, "That's just your opinion.")
As the conversation above indicates, there's a difference of opinion among UBF leaders whether this practice of fake adoptions is unethical or "sacrificial". Got that? Fake adoptions for the sake of immigration can be seen as "sacrificial" in UBF. In what mainline church or denomination can you find people making excuses for blatantly unethical behavior like this? Remember that international marriages in UBF have always been arranged with the ulterior motive of easing the immigration of UBF Koreans into "mission fields". (*) Why not extend that to adoptions of convenience? It's consistent with the historical standards of ethics in UBF.
In a reputable church, you will probably hear that scrupulously ethical behavior is part of the Church's witness to a watching world, that ethical behavior that exceeds the world's standards of ethics is God's will. But in UBF--as modeled by UBF's founders--ethics are seen as an obstacle to the fulfillment of God's will, i.e., "mission".
(*) And it is reported that immigration laws regarding foreign spouse sponsorships have often been ignored in UBF.
The Podcast "You Are Not So Smart", particularly the episode I linked to, is a great resource for those trying to understand why UBF members defend their cult (tribe) at all costs, defying all the evidence and explanations we dropouts have published over the years showing how and why it's clearly a cult and their leaders are abusing and fooling them. And now we're seeing similar stubborn rejection of facts and fact-based, rational decision-making in the world at large, which is entering a new age of nationalism and hate induced by tribalism. Staying part of their tribe seems to be more important to people than the pursuit of truth. Hard for me to learn that maybe all the effort we made to discuss and argue and explain and reveal critical information was in vain, because that's not what makes people change their view.
There can be no "peace" (unification) with a regime like North Korea. Unification with North Korea, like unity between a massively abusive evangelical cult and its vicitms, requires monstrous compromises. Sadly, too many Christians think these monstrous compromises are worth it. I don't know what the outcome of the current process in Korea will be, but the only just outcome is this: rescue and consequences.