Archive for March, 2004

Another letter

March 30, 2004

Another letter sent prior to my personal story:

Dear Dr. []:

I appreciated the opportunity to talk with you over the phone on November 11. The following is written as a followup to what we talked about.

Though the [] may not necessarily be able to disqualify a group on charges of their being authoritarian and applying excessive control in the guise of discipleship, I am sure that the [] recognizes that authority and discipleship can be taken to a degree that is harmful and even destructive to individuals and to the gospel. Sadly, there have been several real-world examples of this failure in American ministries.

Since the late 1970s, UBF has developed a reputation among cult watchers in the United States because its authoritarianism and excessive control over members have run out of control. Groups do not develop a reputation as cultic because a small handful of people have been harmed or their feelings hurt. Groups develop a reputation as cultic because of the outcry of the great many people they have harmed. One of the main reasons for UBF’s reputation is that during UBF’s history in the USA, the parents of many UBF recruits have alerted cult watchers about UBF because UBF affected drastic negative personality changes in their children, changes that are NOT consistent with what evangelical Christians would consider to be regeneration through the Holy Spirit. Most alarming to these parents was an apparent devotion on the part of their children to a group and especially to its leader, a devotion expressed through near-absolute obedience to that leader. Even the non-Christians among these parents knew the difference between a healthy devotion to God and an unhealthy devotion to man.

If there is any vestige of the Holy Spirit and respect for the truth in a group that has gone bad through out-of-control authoritarianism, there may be hope for the recognition of error, repentance, renunciation of past practices and restoration. Happily, there have been some real-world examples of American ministries that recognized and repented of the error of excessive authoritarianism and control. The shepherding movement of the “Ft. Lauderdale Five” was one such movement that recognized its error fairly quickly. Another example might be the [], a current [] member. A very recent example might be the International Church of Christ (aka Boston Church of Christ), a relatively young group compared to UBF. But in UBF, I see a group that for well over 30 years since it started in Korea has not recognized its error, that sees no need for repentance or for the renunciation of past practices in spite of its continued negative reputation. A movement was begun in 2000-2001 to reform the ministry. UBF’s reaction was to cut off the would-be reformers, nearly half its total membership. Talk to the current leadership of UBF, and you will find that they do not recognize or acknowledge that the group has done anything really wrong to deserve its reputation. They stubbornly cling to a fatal error that other ministries have wisely renounced and rejected.

I recognize that the [] is not an accountability body. But I believe there is little hope for any substantive change in UBF unless the Body of Christ begins to somehow hold UBF accountable. There are now some positive signs that this is already happening. In late 2001, the Korean Campus Evangelical Network (KCEN, http://www.kcen.or.kr), whose membership includes the Intervarsity Christian Fellowship and Campus Crusade for Christ, sent a message to UBF that their continued membership in the KCEN would be contingent upon UBF’s changing its conduct and unbiblical practices. Sadly, UBF’s response was to withdraw from the KCEN. I hope and pray that the [] in its deliberations on this issue can send a much needed message to UBF’s leaders that legitimacy in the evangelical community carries with it the need for accountability.

I have also attached to this letter a summary of some of the biblical/doctrinal errors that I saw as a member of UBF.

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A summary of some of UBF’s biblical/doctrinal errors

March 30, 2004

The following was actually sent in a letter prior to my personal story:

A summary of some of UBF’s biblical/doctrinal errors

One of the biblical passages often used to justify UBF’s much-criticized practice of leader-ordered and leader-arranged marriages is the Genesis 24 account of Rebekah and her marriage to Isaac. Rebekah is seen as exemplary because she made a choice to marry a man “sight unseen.” An unmarried female member of UBF is seen as “obedient like Rebekah” if she can declare that she will marry anyone, any time, anywhere in obedience to the “servants of God” (her leaders). Indeed, UBF members have been notified by leaders that they will get married, whom they would marry, when they would marry and where they would marry just one week or less prior to the marriage date set by the leaders. [Unlike the Genesis account of Isaac and Rebekah in which their parents played a large part in the choice of marriage partner, in UBF the role of the “marriage candidate” recruit’s parents in the marriage decision is usurped by the recruit’s “shepherd” and ultimately by the top leaders of UBF.]

The neglect of children and family, a practice that UBF has been accused of in the USA and Germany, is often justified by comparing one’s family and children with Isaac, whom Abraham chose to sacrifice in Genesis 22. A UBF member’s commitment to the group is seen as exemplary when they can “give up their Isaac,” that is, when they are willing to neglect family life and even the care of their children to participate with full zeal in the UBF ministry.

Samuel Lee, the late director of UBF, was often given status akin to Moses, a “visible” representative of God, who knew God’s will at a much greater level than anyone else in the group. It followed then that UBF members who tried to challenge the abusive and cultic elements of UBF under Lee’s leadership were compared to Korah and his followers (Numbers 16) or Aaron and Miriam (Numbers 12) and were said to be “rebelling” against “God’s chosen servant.”

Romans 1:5 is often quoted by UBF leaders to equate grace and apostleship, such that a person’s acceptance of God’s saving grace is constantly called into question if they are not participating in the group’s main mission of recruitment. Apostleship, as UBF defines it, is the only fruit of grace that UBF recognizes, contrary to what Paul writes in Romans 12:6-8. As Samuel Lee often stated, “Those who have no mission (UBF apostleship) have nothing to do with God!”

Jesus’ pre-ascension command to Peter to “feed his sheep” (John 21:15-18) is interpreted into the demand on all UBF members to perform constant UBF-style evangelism, which is called, not surprisingly, “feeding sheep.” UBF-style evangelism is an activity in which UBF shepherds “feed” the sheep (recruits). The result is that a person who is successfully recruited tends to become assimilated into UBF’s pyramidal authoritarian structure, a structure in which a sheep remains a sheep to his shepherd and his shepherd’s shepherds, regardless of how long he remains and serves in the organization.

The cult extended family

March 20, 2004

The following is something I have personal experience of — the cult leader(s) become part of one’s extended family, e.g. Samuel Lee or Peter Chang (Bonn) becomes one’s “grandpa,” and they (not your own parents) make the important decisions for your life. Back in the summer of 2002, months after Samuel Lee died, I was having a conversation with my mother, and without my asking and maybe without even thinking about it and even though it had nothing to do with what we were talking about, she started talking in glowing terms about Ron Ward and Sarah Barry and Samuel Lee, Jr. She just couldn’t keep the conversation within our immediate family. These cult leader successors and budding junior cult leaders are such an integral part of her life that she couldn’t have a conversation with me without bringing them up. They are her extended family. May she find comfort in them, because so long as they are part of her extended family, I don’t see how she can ever really be part of mine.

FATHER IMAGES IN CULTS

Randy Watters

location: the South American Socialist country of Guyana in 1977, the new home of over 900 American followers of pastor Jim Jones, most of whom just migrated from San Francisco. Meetings are held at night to discuss their perceived enemies, and the discussions are fraught with paranoia.

Jim Jones asks his people, What do you think should be done to your relatives [who have left the church]? male voice: I’d like to KILL my so-called brother and Bill Aarons for the crap that both of them have caused over the years since they’ve left. female voice: Sandy knew that this was the last hope for many people including children and when she wants to ally herself with people who wish to destroy this place, I think she should be wiped out. How? female voice again: …If her skull was split it would serve a good purpose.

Parental bonds are not just a social phenomena, they are very primal. The mother is the nurturer, the father is the protector and also serves to provide the direction and religion of his children. If a child is abandoned or rejected by his mother or father, no amount of corrective reasoning can take away the emotional pain that is experienced by the child, and it does not go away with age.

The family unit also includes many primal experiences, so that if one’s family is missing one or more of such experiences, a distinct need may be felt to take part in what one has missed along the way. Among such primal family experiences are the following:

a heirarchy (chain of command)
a strong leader over all
direction/goals
common enemy to rally against
something sacred (a religion)
exclusivity (family pride)
customs and taboos
justice and punishment
favoritism

Such aspects of family life are not evil, they are normal and present in all human societies as well as in the higher animal kingdom. Good parents promote healthy experiences that become part of one’s personal identity and style. The trouble begins when a parent abuses his authority and commands others to their harm. Physically and sexually abusive fathers, dictatorial attitudes and harsh rules designed to legislate the actions of all without regard to their personal needs or desires are quite common. Negative experiences such as these also become part of one’s identity, hence the need for therapy groups dealing with children of alcoholics, the physically and sexually abused, etc.

The human psyche will look for ways to fill this family void. Perhaps we are still looking for that father image we longed for as a child. Perhaps life has become too uncertain; we just lost a job, a mate, or moved away to a strange place, and we need something more secure to put faith in. Maybe we are tired of being a nobody, and wish to tap into the power of a charismatic leader, and share in their limelight. Maybe we just want to live a good life away from drugs or alcohol, and a new family with a strong father will help us do that through the strict guidelines that are practiced. People don’t join cults over doctrine; they commit to the group because they want a new family. Doctrine merely becomes part of the family baggage.

Cults as Extended Families

Cults are simply extended families with a new hierarchy. There is a father image in most all of them, or in a few cases a very strong mother image instead. The pecking order in this extended family is obvious once one is initiated, the direction or goals become very clear, and the common enemy is preached against constantly. There is no question among the initiates as to what is sacred and what is profane. Such is learned through both written and verbal instruction, as well as observing and experiencing the rod of the judicial system of the group. Favoritism is unavoidable, but when coupled with the abuse of power it is oppressive.

The difference between the family experience and the cult experience is generally found in the degree of abuse experienced, as well as in the use of deception. Ministries and individuals who attack the concept of modern cults using mind control are missing the point when they say it doesn’t exist. In reality, it is their straw-man concept of what mind control means that is out of date, i.e., the picture of the cult that uses brainwashing techniques to change a person against their will. Such brainwashing techniques are really not that powerful in the long run and have been abandoned for the most part; whereas the extended family scenario with its complex and subtle forms of absolute control, deception and abuse is by far the most classic and powerful form of cult mind control. It is also a model that is much easier to understand, assuming one has been raised in a family of their own, especially an abusive one. The concept of cults is no longer mysterious or strange, but is quite predictable and readily observed in society.

Religion (as a belief system) is often cited as a major divisive force, both in ecumenical as well as political matters. In actuality, however, doctrine is only one of the many forms of control within the extended family. Most of the abuse and deception actually has its origin in the father figure who is the leader, rather than whatever scriptures are held in esteem. In the case of abusive father figures who use the Bible, all sorts of distorted concepts are taught using the Bible, where passages are usually taken out of context or totally misinterpreted. Why? For the sake of control, and for pretending that one has all the answers. Aren’t fathers supposed to have all the answers? Many people think so, and go looking for a system or ideology that provides simple answers to complex subjects. What they don’t realize is that for every over-simplified belief system (whether a religion or secular ideology), there is an abusive father image behind it.

The Evil Cult Model

Few natural fathers are intentionally evil, if you define evil as being morally bad or wrong. Abusive fathers justify their behavior as necessary to keep the family in line. More gentle and heartwarming ways of guiding a family are not even seriously considered. A firm hand is believed to be the only way to bring them up.

The root of such thinking lies in the lack of trust of the family members and the lack of candid communication with them. An abusive father may know very well the behaviors and tendencies of his family, but rarely becomes intimate with the individual members in a vulnerable setting, unless it is to use it as a further tool to abuse them. Since he doesn’t know them well, he can’t trust them, and ascribe all sorts of evil motives to them. His personal guilt over his own moral failure complicates it even further, making him less and less vulnerable to his family. He must provide a strong, invincible outward appearance so that the family will always respect him, lest the members of the family learn something that can be used against him as a form of revenge.

Using the God card is the ultimate tool; if the father is supposedly being guided by God in his actions, the family simply cannot question his actions or motives, and they will be labeled as fighters against God for doing so. This is intended to make them feel too guilty to question dad.

Leaving the family due to the abuse is always portrayed as a moral flaw on the part of the member who leaves, not the father. Guilt and fear thus prevents most from leaving or even complaining. The father, lost in his own moral depravity and mistrust, cannot fathom how life could continue any different. He does not understand the concepts of grace, forgiveness and love, and seldom has any true empathy for others. He understands guilt and fear, the two most powerful forces motivating him, and so uses this power to control others in like manner. Whether he eventually becomes a monster such as Jim Jones or not will depend largely on circumstances and the degree of power he eventually accumulates. Put yourself in the situation, thousands of miles away in a jungle, totally separated from family and society as we know it, and you can imagine how you, too, might have eventually succumbed to such a monster.

Education is ultimately the best protection. Just being a Christian or good moral person is not; many of these died under the spell of Jonestown. Many Christians are even now being outwitted by an extended family or church, as they don’t understand the abuse scenario.

Educating people as to correct versus incorrect doctrine is not the ultimate answer, and will do little to confront the abuse of a father/leader. The victims of his abuse, while still under his spell, will always stick up for him in an argument with strangers. That is the nature of this type of control. Some call it hypnotism and some call it mind control, but it is primarily the power of a father image. Satan and his demons, hypnotic spells and black magic are not even needed for such control to work effectively. You are wasting your time discussing doctrine in such cases. While many ministries focus on teaching the cult member correct doctrine, or spend much of their time trying to sell you books on passages of scripture and how they are twisted by cult leaders, they often miss the boat by a mile. If a wife or child is being beaten by their natural father, you expose the abuse first, and later when you have time you can investigate the reasons the father gives for his crimes. Similarly, once the victim of an abusive father image is freed, it will be quite easy to discern how the abuser twisted the Bible, though it may require a little help from friends who can demonstrate proper study habits.

Quote

March 17, 2004

“Children’s talent to endure stems from their ignorance of alternatives.”

— Maya Angelou, “I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings”

Leader of Japan nerve gas attack sentenced

March 7, 2004

Some highlights (if you can call them that) from an article about an infamous Japanese cult leader, many of whose followers were highly educated scientists:

Leader of Japan Nerve Gas Attack Sentenced

By MARI YAMAGUCHI, Associated Press Writer

TOKYO – Former doomsday cult guru Shoko Asahara was convicted Friday and sentenced to hang for masterminding the deadly 1995 nerve gas attack on the Tokyo subway and other crimes that killed 27 people and alerted the world to the danger of high-tech terrorism.

The prosecution, however, depended on testimony from former followers who said Asahara planned and ordered their murderous deeds.

Asahara also was convicted of masterminding a June 1994 sarin gas attack in the central city of Matsumoto, the murder of anti-Aum lawyer Tsutsumi Sakamoto and his family, and the killings of wayward followers and people helping members leave the cult.

At its height, Aum claimed 10,000 [!] followers in Japan and 30,000 [!] in Russia. The guru used a mixture of Hinduism, Buddhism, Christianity and yoga to entice his devotees, who engaged in bizarre rituals such as drinking his blood and wearing electrical caps that they believed kept their brain waves in tune with his.

Some said they were saddened that Asahara never acknowledged responsibility for the crimes or apologized to victims. He rarely spoke during the trial, only occasionally babbling incoherently in broken English.

Aum’s weapons program was carried out by highly educated scientists from Japan’s best schools. Asahara’s flock was bewitched by his predictions of an Armageddon that only cult members would survive.

Police say the cult’s remnants — renamed Aleph since 2000 — show signs of greater allegiance to Asahara. Agents this month raided the offices of the group, which still claims 1,650 members in Japan and 300 in Russia.

The group released a statement after the verdict, apologizing to the families of victims of Aum’s crimes and vowing to compensate them.

Followup to my personal story

March 1, 2004

From a followup to the letter that I sent earlier:

I am writing to make two additions to the November 22, 2003 personal statement that I addressed to you concerning the unscriptural teachings and aberrant practices of the University Bible Fellowship (UBF) that I experienced as a member of the Chicago UBF headquarters from 1976 – 2001. These two additions deal with institutional racism in Chicago UBF and the abuse of scripture to extract a so-called “first fruit” offering from most regular UBF members.

* Institutional racism

From the early 1980s, when I was old enough to be expected to engage in Chicago UBF recruitment efforts, I can remember hearing that “white Americans” were the most desirable kind of recruit. The rationale for this, as expressed by Samuel Lee and by the Korean immigrant UBF missionaries under his authority, was that recruitment efforts should focus on the “natives” of the foreign land, and they considered white Americans to be these natives in the United States. Members would share in their regular weekly written testimonies who they recruited (“fished”) that week and would emphasize with some pride that a particular recruit was a “white American.” Members would also share in their weekly testimonies about certain “sheep” (recruits) being “good leadership material,” that is, that these “sheep” might become future leaders of the group. The “good leadership material” always referred to white American recruits. I cannot recall one African American, Hispanic or Asian recruit being referred to as “good leadership material.”

In the late 1980s and into the mid-1990s, the emphasis on trying to recruit white Americans became more “politically correct.” “White Americans” were now to be called “North Americans.” Then in the late 1990s to the present, they were to be called “Holy Nation Men” and “Holy Nation Women (or HNWs)” And there was a particular and constant emphasis in 1999-2001 on recruiting “HNWs.” But it was still clear that these politically correct terms still referred to white Americans.

Between 1993-2000, when I served both as a fellowship (small group) leader and assistant fellowship leader, I attended the weekly meetings of fellowship leaders led by Samuel Lee. At these meetings, as I have earlier written, Mr. Lee exerted constant pressure on the fellowship leaders to keep up with his demand for greater numbers at the Chicago UBF Sunday worship services. However, in spite of his unrelenting demand for greater numbers, Mr. Lee never seemed to lose his focus on the importance of recruiting white Americans. During the fellowship leader meetings, Mr. Lee would frequently declare that only white Americans would be counted as a valid attendant of the Chicago UBF worship services. In other words, the number of people who were not white Americans attending the worship service would not count and would not be credited to the fellowship leaders. Sometimes, Mr. Lee would go further and declare that recruits of a certain racial background (other than white) would count against the worship service attendance total for a fellowship. One particular fellowship had a number of Chinese recruits attending the worship service on a regular basis in the mid-1990s. Mr. Lee declared that Chinese recruits attending the worship service would count as a “minus one,” that is, one would be deducted from the worship service attendance total for every Chinese recruit that attended. On other occasions, Mr. Lee would declare that each non-white attendant to the worship service would count as a “minus two” deduction from the worship service attendance total. In this way, he sought to penalize fellowship leaders who recruited anyone other than “white Americans.”

As an illustration of this type of institutional racism, in 1996 Kevin Albright, a current fellowship leader in Chicago UBF, shared the following at the annual UBF national staff conference:

“Second, focus on North American (NA) freshman sheep to raise disciples. There was a time when I had all black [African American] sheep or Chinese sheep or street sheep. Once Dr. Lee [Samuel Lee] gave me a direction to give away my black sheep. Reluctantly I did so. Then God gave me 3 NA [white American] boys to study with. Several months ago, Dr. Lee told me to give away my non-student sheep, which meant basically all of them. … Dr. Lee sensed my stagnant shepherd life. When I obeyed his direction from my heart, God granted me 5 new sheep in 2 weeks. These sheep are unfaithful. But God granted me 6 new sheep in the last two weeks, all NA [white American] freshmen, through diligent calling follow-up.”

(The full text of Mr. Albright’s report can be read here)

All of the former fellowship leaders and members mentioned in my November 22 statement should be able to testify to this form of institutional racism in Chicago UBF. Mr. Lee was never reprimanded or disciplined for encouraging this form of institutional racism.

* Abuses related to collections and offerings

In addition to the abuses related to collections and offerings that I mentioned in my November 22 statement, there is also the abuse of the Old Testament Law by UBF to justify the collection of a mandatory, so-called “first fruit” offering from most regular members who are employed. Most regular members are told that they must offer the first paycheck from any new job to UBF as a “first fruit” offering, and if they are hesitant to do so, then compulsion and shame are applied until they comply. I had to give this “first fruit” offering three times during my stay in Chicago UBF. All of the former fellowship leaders and members mentioned in my previous testimony should be able to testify to this form of spiritual abuse for monetary gain.