Tuesday, October 30, 2007

John K. (former Triton UBF)

(Excerpted from http://www-personal.umich.edu/~jsku/ubf.html)

So I was born into this cult called University Bible Fellowship or UBF. Though their core founding members are Korean, their main headquarters is in Chicago and they focus on evangelizing university students. I imagine they have some difficulty attracting smarter, non-depressed or generally less desperate students so when I was five, my parents, got the brilliant idea of pioneering local community colleges and finding students there with low self-esteem. Thus, Triton College UBF (As Seen on TV! and Banned in Germany!) was founded in the small, quiet suburb of River Grove.

My goal here is to collect in one place excerpts of all the most outrageous practices of the cult, mostly UBF in general rather than specifically Triton UBF, as reported on various websites and media. From my own personal experiences in the cult, I was not exposed to the more extreme practices that go on behind the scenes, so to speak, but in hindsight, I can see how it all fits with the very authoritarian structure and heirarchy I was exposed to.

I did observe firsthand (and to some extent tried to practice) the manipulative love-bombing techniques used by "shepherds" to recruit "sheep." In the initial stages, members would be extremely nice and supportive to them, act very interested in the hobbies and interests of the recruit, buy them dinner and seduce them into the cult through various activities. This was usually followed by efforts to sever any ties they had with "unbelievers," i.e. non-UBF family and friends, and eventually get them to live solely with other UBF members.

For the most part, as a "missionary kid," I was exempt from such treatment since they figured they already had me for life. Though I shared that belief at the time, it's funny to see just how wrong they were. Perhaps the main way these practices affected me was that I had been indoctrinated to see my classmates at school and any friendships solely as more people to be brought into the cult. Needless to say, this didn't make me very popular. At one point, one of my friend's mom had to call me to tell me to stop asking her son to go to my church and study bible. Another classmate pretended he was interested but left halfway through just so that he could have more material to make fun of me with.

In addition to the tremendous pressure to recruit new members and devote all of your time and money to the cult, there was a lot of suppression of any independent thought and even humor. At a certain point, we were supposed to write a "life testimony" that describes how we used to be lost sinners, but then we were saved by Jesus through the cult. Writing mine was difficult because the cult was all I ever knew, but I wrote about how influential reading the Christian theology and arguments of C. S. Lewis was to my faith. I was supposed to read it aloud at a conference of a couple hundred people and turn in a draft beforehand. After turning it in, I didn't hear anything back until 20 minutes before I was supposed to present it. Then, they gave me my "revised" version that condensed everything I had written about Lewis to just one sentence: "Although I looked at other sources, it was ultimately the Bible that led me to a personal relationship with God." At the time, I was too nervous and probably too brainwashed to think much of it.

Another warning sign that ought to have been obvious was the attitude towards those who left or went to another church. For the most part, the cult was equated with service to God himself. To reject the cult was to reject God. Other churches were just full of lukewarm, worldly Christians. Those who were "rebellious" and "ran away" were a subject of condemnation, if even that. Usually, it became taboo to even mention their name anymore. It was understood that members in the church would refuse to have further contact with such bad influences. I remember thinking my sister was evil because she chose to go to U of I where there was no UBF chapter, not to mention that she would listen to the bad influences of rock and roll music on the Oldies station. In the cult, even Christian pop music was considered edgy.

I'm sure there are a number of other bizarre practices that I just took for granted, such as the extremely repressive atmosphere and arranged marriages. Perhaps some day, I'll try to write a fuller account of my experience in the cult, but they seem pretty bland and mild to me, especially in comparison to the stories above. It's never really occurred to me to feel bitterness or personal anger about any of it and it is mostly just a source of amusement for me. I remember when I was in grade school, someone was running for mayor of River Grove and the biggest issue on his platform was getting rid of the cult. He had put a flyer attacking UBF into every mailbox in River Grove, so me and my brother were darting around trying to collect them before the residents had a chance to see them.

I remember other weird things in my childhood such as my mom's involvement in another Korean church that believed Jesus's second coming was going to be on October 28, 1992, at 10:00am Chicago time. I guess just one crazy Korean cult was not enough for her. When the day we were supposed to be taken up to heaven came around, she had us stay home from school, called in sick for us (just to make sure we didn't get in trouble while we were in heaven), and made us pray in preparation for the rapture. Among the 20,000 to 100,000 other followers were several women who had abortions because they "were afraid of being 'too heavy' to be caught up to heaven." ("One More End-Time Scare Ends with a Whimper")

Click here for more on my experiences with religion and how I got out of it.

My sister's experiences described below also give a good description of the general atmosphere I experienced.